Posted by: Kenn Hermann | March 10, 2006

19th Century Profit-Sharing

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Let me add one more book to my list of books that remind us of alternative economic instutions and frameworks that may reflect more clearly what the Lord expects from us.

Nicholas Paine Gilman, Profit-Sharing between Employer and Employee: A Study in the Evolution of the Wages System (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1889).

Gilman, writing at the height of the agitation surrounding the “Labor Question” in the US, hoped his book and the movement it represented would “reconcile the antagonism of employer and employee.” Similar efforts were underway in England, France, and Germany. Following a sharp criticism of the prevailing injustices of the wage system, he surveys many different kinds of product sharing, more equitable forms of wages, and then concentrates on profit-sharing as practiced throughout Europe. The hero of this part of the story is M. Leclaire, whose Maison Leclaire became the model of a successful profit-sharing business in painting houses in France (1842-1872). Gilman then surveys the wide variety of profit sharing schemes that were practiced in many different industries, from printing to transportation. I am inspired by the book. It was once possible to create enterprises that were healthy, just, and productive; history offers many more examples of normative economic association than our blinkered present seems able to imagine.

Perhaps it would not be amiss to conclude with this quotation from the end of the book:

The fraternity which participation promotes is thoroughly moral, thoroughly Christian. Profit sharing recognizes the advancing democratic element which has made itself felt so forcibly in the industrial world of late in wars and rumors of war. It meets that advance with a hearty recognition of human brotherhood and the duties of prosperity. Economic science is good, but ‘economic science enlightened by the spirit of the Gospel, the spirit of enthusiasm for humanity, is better. Nay, it is, in the last result, the only solution of the problems which beset, with Fate’s persistence, the too complacent commercial spirit of our day. A plutocratic development, which has far outrun the slow evolution of conscience among modern men, has at length received sullen challenge from the great majority who live by the labor of their hands. Peace between master and man will come as both begin to entertain a new spirit toward each other, and readjust thereby the relations of the labor contract. In this industrial reformation the voice of the men whose duty it is always to remind us that man does not live by bread alone should be potent on the side of a finer justice and a more philanthropic spirit. The Christian gospel has had a re-birth in more than one perplexed age. The labor difficulties of the troubled nineteenth century will find no more effectual solvent. Economics must be aided by ethics; the commercial spirit should be tempered by the Christian feeling of the brotherhood of man. The pure Christianity to which Leclaire gave expression in his last will and testament is still the strongest force making for industrial and social progress.

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Responses

  1. “Economic science is good, but ‘economic science enlightened by the spirit of the Gospel, the spirit of enthusiasm for humanity, is better.” – What an awesome quote


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