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Published on Tuesday, February 22, 2000 in the Cape Cod Times
America Needs About 200 Million More Capitalists
by Sean Gonsalves
Almost every week, I get some correspondence in which concepts are attributed to me that I neither support nor understand. I've come to expect it. But this past week, regarding my cursory thoughts on the gun industry, the mostly polite projections of naysayers reached a fevered pitch, unsurpassed in the five years or so that I've had the wonderful privilege of writing this column.

Let me quickly say that I also received engaging and perfectly reasonable remarks from anti-gun control proponents. So if you didn't know, you better ask somebody: There's more than a few anti-gun control folks who are not "conservative" or - for lack of a better term - "rednecks."

I raised the question: Is there a coherent gun-rights argument? This was enough to convince some readers that I'm for a total ban on gun ownership. (For the record, I don't think such a position is currently realistic, as morally desirable as it may be).

But I did try to make three points: 1.) The gun "rights" debate has red-herring droppings all over it; 2.) Common assumptions about guns, violence and non-violent action need to be re-examined in light of arguments laid out by Tolstoy, Gandhi, King and the Dalai Lama; and 3.) the gun industry ought to be regulated at least as much as the tobacco industry.

The either-or thinking that led intelligent people to make erroneous conclusions about what I allegedly believe - if you are against X you must be for Y - is indicative of a serious lack of imagination. That's understandable in a political culture permeated by propaganda. It's difficult to imagine that there are social and political ideas that do not fit within the narrow confines of a conservative-liberal, either-or framework.

Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to talk of economics. "Sean, you critique capitalism, then you must be for communism or big-government control."

Although this particular piece is not about guns, it is about the pursuit of genuine freedom. Incidentally, I haven't come across a single anti-gun control proponent who has read the book that I referred to - "Making A Killing: The Business of Guns in America" by Tom Diaz. I highly recommend it.

Changing gears here, this one goes out to all those who have a hard time imagining alternatives. It might also be of some interest to those who can see deep contradictions between the ideals of democracy and our present economic order, referred to by ideologues as the "free-market."

First, a few observations: Social power in America is rooted in ownership. Democracy in politics without democracy in economics is a watered-down version of plutocracy that does not provide equal opportunity for as many as possible; paralyzes the political process because of the apathy and cynicism such a hierarchy breeds; and is an affront to the dignity of those who lack considerable capital - the overwhelming majority of people in the world.

The right to life implies the right to earn a good living. The cause of poverty in a capitalist society is simple: Poverty is caused by a lack of capital. As in the game of Monopoly, ownership is the key, not income. The lethargy, sense of hopelessness and violence found in the "underclass" is largely a symptom; an effect of being dispossessed. And we've never had a war on poverty in America. We've had a war on the effects of poverty, which has become a cowardly war on the poor.

From a strictly economic point of view, there is such a thing as having too much money. When your income exceeds that which you or your family can possibly spend on consumption, the only thing that excess money can be used for is accumulating more capital, which only increases the wealth and power gap and erodes healthy competition. Not good for the economy.

A big part of the solution is to get adequate capital in the hands of as many people as possible. To put it another way, America needs about 200 million more capitalists. How? Workers should completely own the businesses that employ them. Where is the money going to come from? The company's own income - right out of the profits.

This idea can be traced right back to Adam Smith. Unfortunately, "free-market" conservatives spend more time praising Smith than they do actually reading him.

This is not a top-down redistribution of income. Nothing is taken. Nothing is given for free. It's all bought and sold. With such a set-up, there would be no need for minimum wage laws or vacuous talk of welfare "dependency" devoid of any real understanding of human psychology. And we could do away with most unions and government oversight of industry. What we need is a kind of modern day Homestead Act.

The Homestead Act offered land in the West to any settler who would cultivate it for five years. As the late financier and inventor of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, Louis Kelso, pointed out, "It was paid for by sweat equity."

The vision is there. The moral and political leadership is what's missing.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist. He can be reached via email:


Copyright 2000 Cape Cod Times.

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