The best books on principles for a fair and just private property market economy

Who am I?

Ever since my graduate student days in philosophy and economics, I have slowly come to understand more and more the case for workplace democracy based on normative principles (i.e., the inalienability, property, and democratic principles), not just the obvious consequentialist or pragmatic arguments based on increased productivity (people working jointly for themselves), less worker alienation, and eliminating the divide down the middle of most enterprises between employers and employees. In addition to two decades of teaching university economics, I have co-founded several consulting companies dedicated to implementing these principles in practice, the Industrial Cooperative Association in Massachusetts (now the ICA Group) and the Institute for Economic Democracy in Slovenia, where I have retired.

I wrote...

Neo-Abolitionism: Abolishing Human Rentals in Favor of Workplace Democracy

By David Ellerman,

Book cover of Neo-Abolitionism: Abolishing Human Rentals in Favor of Workplace Democracy

What is my book about?

This book focuses on the key institution in today’s economy, the employment relation wherein the employer hires, rents, employs, or leases the employees in a conventional company. In slavery, the master has involuntary ownership of workers. The abolition of slavery led to our economy based on the voluntary renting of workers. This book gives the inalienable rights, the fruits-of-your labor, and the democratic theory arguments against the human rental contract and in favor of workplace democracy where the member/owners of a firm are the people who work in it. In spite of being voluntary, the human rental or employment contract still treats persons as rentable things. The book calls for a new abolitionism, the abolition of renting human beings in favor of democratic worker-owned companies.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Ownership: Reinventing Companies, Capitalism, and Who Owns What

Why this book?

This is the best book about worker-owned firms in America by two authors who have each worked on the issue for almost a half-century. It focuses on the Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) developed in the US. There are now almost 7,000 ESOPs in America and 10% of the private workforce work in ESOPs so one out of ten workers are co-owners of the company where they work. Hence worker ownership is not just an academic pipe dream but a growing reality in America.

Ownership: Reinventing Companies, Capitalism, and Who Owns What

By Corey Rosen, John Case,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ownership as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the William Foote Whyte and Kathleen King Whyte Book Prize from the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing

Employee ownership creates stronger companies, helps workers build wealth, and fosters a fairer, more stable society. In this book, two leading experts show how it works—and how it can be greatly expanded.

Wages don’t cover the bills. Wealth inequality is growing. Social trust is eroding. There are endless debates about what to do, but one key factor is inexplicably left out: who owns the companies that drive the economy?

Ownership matters. Ownership by a few…

Book cover of Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism

Why this book?

This short book by the late Staughton Lynd is the best summary of the radical principles upon which America was founded. Lynd goes deep into the intellectual history of the underlying principles in English and European history. In spite of writing such an important book and perhaps due to his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, Lynd was not given tenure as a historian at Yale University. He then became a labor lawyer and lived the rest of his life as a labor activist.

Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism

By Staughton Lynd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now an established classic, Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism was the first book to explore this alternative current of American political thought. Stemming back to the seventeenth-century English Revolution, many questioned private property, the sovereignty of the nation-state, and slavery, and affirmed the common man's ability to govern. By the time of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine was the great exemplar of the alternative intellectual tradition. In the nineteenth century, the antislavery movement took hold of Thomas Paine's ideas and fashioned them into an ideology that ultimately justified civil war. This updated edition contains a preface by the author, which…

Book cover of A Preface to Economic Democracy

Why this book?

This book is the follow-up to Robert Dahl’s influential Preface to Democratic Theory—published in 1956. The newer Preface to Economic Democracy applied democratic theory to the workplace. Dahl, as the Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale, was arguably the foremost democratic theorist of his time, so it is important that he applied the democratic theory arguments to the organizations where most people spend much of the waking time. I am particularly thankful for knowing him and when he set out to describe his vision of economic democracy (p. 91), he had a footnote reading, “In clarifying my ideas on this question I have profited greatly from a number of unpublished papers by David Ellerman, cited in the bibliography....”

A Preface to Economic Democracy

By Robert Alan Dahl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Preface to Economic Democracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tocqueville pessimistically predicted that liberty and equality would be incompatible ideas. Robert Dahl, author of the classic A Preface to Democratic Theory, explores this alleged conflict, particularly in modern American society where differences in ownership and control of corporate enterprises create inequalities in resources among Americans that in turn generate inequality among them as citizens.

Arguing that Americans have misconceived the relation between democracy, private property, and the economic order, the author contends that we can achieve a society of real democracy and political equality without sacrificing liberty by extending democratic principles into the economic order. Although enterprise control by…

Book cover of Private Property: The History of an Idea

Why this book?

This book is the best history of the old idea, the natural rights theory of property, that people have a natural right to the fruits of their labor. In a firm based on the employment relation, the total fruits (both the positive products but also the negative liabilities) of the labor of the people working in the firm are appropriated by the employer. The call for the abolition of the human rental relation is not a call to abolish private property (e.g., “private ownership of the means of production”), but a call to re-establish private property on its natural rights foundation. The natural rights to the (positive & negative) fruits of people’s labor are only respected when the legal members of the firm are the people working in it.

Private Property: The History of an Idea

By Richard Schlatter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Private Property as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The philosophy an history of the idea of private property as a means ofjustice and social control. What are valid claims of ownership? What are the principles of ownership. From Greece to Marx.

Book cover of Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

Why this book?

The third leg of the stool supporting workplace democracy (in addition to the democratic and property arguments) is the inalienable rights argument based on the factual inalienability of people’s responsible agency, which the legal employment contract pretends to be alienated in the firm based on employment. The truth comes out when an employee commits a crime at the behest of the employer; then they suddenly become partners in crime. Since the responsible agency is factually inalienable in both criminous and non-criminous actions, the contract that legally alienates all agency to the employer in the non-criminous case should be abolished. Garry Wills traces the history of the inalienable rights clause in the Declaration of Independence back to its roots in the Scottish and European Enlightenment.

Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence

By Garry Wills,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Inventing America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From acclaimed historian Garry Wills, author of Lincoln at Gettysburg, a celebrated re-appraisal of the meaning and the source of inspiration of The Declaration of Independence, based on a reading of Jefferson's original draft document.

Inventing America upended decades of thinking about The Declaration of Independence when it was first published in 1978 and remains one of the most influential and important works of scholarship about this founding document. Wills challenged the idea that Jefferson took all his ideas from John Locke. Instead, by focussing on Jefferson's original drafts, he showed Jefferson's debt to Scottish Enlightenment philosophers such as Lord…

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