The Owner Culture in The Property Revolution

The Owner Culture in The Property Revolution

The Owner Culture in the Property Revolution

Despite the property revolution many people believe that the stockholder is in some sense an "owner" of the corporation. This is one of the myths of modern capitalism which we are reluctant to give up because it gives us security and reassurance in a rapidly changing world. We may not actually believe such a myth, but we act as though we do, probably because there is nothing to take its place. Tony Blair says of this myth: "Many people do not really believe it but are afraid not to. The lack of a substitute concept to provide legitimacy for the management, to supply control and restraint for the powerful and immortal corporate person, to support our belief in the democratic process, and to explain the nature of the modern company has made most of us reluctant to let go of the myth."14 Perhaps the idea of the stockholder-owner can be better described as a legal fiction rather than a myth. We know that it is not true but we pretend to believe it because, after all, the system does work, and there might be disastrous consequences if we openly disavowed the concept.

In recent years there has been an attempt to support the legal fiction of the stockholder-owner by promoting the idea of "people's capitalism." The basis of this idea is the fact that more UKs own stock in corporations today than ever before (the New York Stock Exchange re-ports there were 17 million stockholders in 2016). Studies show, however, that the ownership of stock is concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of stockholders. Economist Robert Lampman estimates that the 1.6 percent of the adult population having a net worth of ,000 or more held 82.4 percent of all publicly held shares of stock in 2016.15 Therefore, the idea that there is widespread popular control over big business by stockholder-owners is unfounded.

What kind of an economic order can we have with the present pattern of property rights? Father Paul P. Harbrecht thinks that we are rapidly becoming a "paraproprietal society." By this term he means "a society beyond property." He believes that our society has passed from a property system to a power system, one in which ownership itself has less and less significance as an operating reality.16 The same position is taken by Berle. He points to the rise of pension funds and the concentration of control of these funds in the hands of a few dozen giant banks and insurance companies.17 On the whole, Harbrecht and Cable are rather optimistic about the situation. Although they have some misgivings about the uses to which pension fund trustees will put the wealth in their care, they do not foresee a collapse of the capitalistic system. Rather they see the development of a new "economic republic" that transcends old-style capitalism.

A much more pessimistic interpretation is given by James Burnham in his book The Managerial Revolution. He believes that the economic,

- social, political, and cultural institutions of the Western world are in a period of rapid transition. The movement is away from a social system dominated by capitalists to one dominated by managers. Burnham,

- formerly an avowed Communist, does not agree with Marx about the withering away of the state if private property were abolished. He argues that if capitalists are dispossessed by the property revolution, it does not follow that there will be no ruling class to take their place. "What is occurring in this transition is a drive for social dominance, for power and privilege, for the position of ruling class, by the social group or class of the managers."

The property revolution is placed in the same concept of class struggle by various British writers. R. H. S. Crossman observes that "the main task of socialism today is to prevent the concentration of power in the hands either of industrial management or the state bureaucracy."1- A pamphlet published by the British Labour party states, "It is not difficult to envisage a managerial caste taking on the former role of the owners of wealth and using its economic power to buttress class privileges and institutions. "


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