Blue-collar capitalists

IDA TARBELL, the great muckraker of the early 20th century, not only wielded her pen against Standard Oil. She also used it to advocate for better versions of capitalism. In “New Ideals in Business”, a book from 1916, she explained how William Cooper Procter, a pioneering Episcopalian, introduced profit sharing in 1887 and eventually share ownership for workers of Procter & Gamble (P&G), a consumer-goods firm. Lauding the impact on the company’s performance, she recounted the words of one employee: “Do you suppose I’m going to let a new man come in and loaf on his job…? It’s my profits that I’m looking out for now.”

Over a century on, P&G still grants about a tenth of its shares to its employees and retirees. Other well-known firms, such as Southwest Airlines, Starbucks and even Huawei of China, are part or wholly worker-owned. But today left-wing politicians are pushing capitalism for the masses perilously close to socialism. On June 5th Bernie Sanders, a senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, gatecrashed Walmart’s annual general meeting in Arkansas, demanding that the retail giant put a worker on its board. He has also unveiled a policy that would force big firms to give a portion of their stocks to a fund controlled by employees, which would pay them a regular dividend. This shares...



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