tiistai 26. lokakuuta 2010

Robert Owen on Ownership

Robert Owen (1771-1878)

Children should be collectively educated

Robert Owen is probably best known in connection with the co-operative movement in England and the United States. Owen criticizes the education of his time for failing to take into account the truth that "character is formed for and not by the individual". Human character is molded by the environment and education thus; Owen's cure attempts to capitalize upon this carefully controlling early education. Children are to live in dormitories separated from their parents. They will be collectively educated not only in practical skills needed for work and in theoretical knowledge needed for understanding, but also in what Owen calls principles of unity and universal charity.

"... have created an aggregate of wealth, and placed it in the hands of a few, who by its aid, continue to absorb the wealth produced by the industry of the many. Thus the mass of the population are become mere slaves to the ignorance and caprice of the monopolists, and are far more truly helpless and wretched than they were before the names of Watt and Arkwright were known."

Private ownership forces workers to be employed by others

Owen has no theory of exploitation although he does recognize that private ownership of land and industry forces workers to be employed by others. Workers are not able to privately own sufficient quantities of land to be self-sufficient and self-employed. Workers who own neither land nor instruments of production must work for wages from others. Private ownership, therefore, permits the relatively small number of owners to enormously increase their wealth at the expense of the industrious classes who become, "poorer, more numerous, and more degraded". Without access to land workers cannot become self-sufficient or improve their conditions.

"But the lowest stage of humanity is experienced, when the individual must labor for a small pittance of wages from others - when he is not suffered to have land, from which, by his own labor, he may produce the meanest necessaries of life."

Owen further believes that private ownership fosters individual interests which place workers and owners in competition amongst themselves and with each other. Owen believes that competition among the owners also stimulates competition among workers. He believes that there is competition between workers and owners. He thinks that raising the wages of the workers inevitably will reduce the owners' profits.

Collectively owned home colonies

Owen's cure for these evils is the creation of a new kind of community for living and working. He calls these communities "the cottage system" and "home colonies". The home colonies are intended by Owen to be self-supporting, voluntary unions for mutual co-operation. These are communally owned, self-contained communities which provide for the needs of all their members and, if possible, their rational wants and desires. Owen envisions home colonies to be composed of members who freely choose to live there and who collectively own all of the land, buildings, machinery, and other assets of the colony. Colonies originally will be founded by privately financed joint-stock companies with the private investors ultimately being bought out from the surplus produced by the colony. Membership in the colony either will be generated from the children of its members or new members will be admitted from outside by a vote of the members.

Owen believes that agriculture should be the mainstay of the colony's production. He advocates the use of hand cultivation rather than the mechanical plough. Hand cultivation puts more people to work, he believes, and he thinks hand cultivation is more productive. Over and above producing the means of its own subsistence, a home colony is to provide decent living quarters, free education, medical care, baths, lecture rooms, art studios, dormitories for young persons, ets. The children of the colony live in dormitories, not with their parents and they are educated together.

Individualism is replaced by the principle of union

The work of each colony is to be shared and rotated among the members. While Owen is opposed to "minute division of labor", he believes in a division of labor based upon age and sex. Women are to cook, wash, clean and make garments. Men are employed on farms, buildings and manufacturing. Work should be performed in healthful conditions and no one should work so long as to endanger mental or physical health. Under these working conditions, Owen predicts that the products will be far better made with less labor. The home colonies shall unite all classes with good feelings to one another because working together and sharing in the products will destroy all contest and competition. Individualism will be replaced by the principle of union.

"There will be no occupation to be performed by one, which will not be equally performed by all; and by all far more willingly than any of the general affairs of life are now performed by any class, from the sovereign to the pauper".

Spirit of universal charity

As a result, members of the colony do not have the right to make individual decisions about the content or direction of their labor not do they have the right to the product, or the fraction of the product, produced by their talents, abilities, and effort. Owen would not believe these communal rights over the labor of the member of a colony to be a source of concern. He predicts that in the home colonies all classes will be united by good feelings and will be infused with a "spirit of universal charity". Further, he believes union will benefit all members because co-operative production will create more and better goods with less labor than will competition. Members should therefore have no reason to complain about subsidizing other of feel any loss or autonomy and self-determination.

Source: James O. Grunebaum. Private Ownership. 1987. p. 116-128

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