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Robert Owen. 1771-1858. Robert Owen’s “formal” education ended at the age of 10, when he went to work. His employer owned a good library, and young Owen read, when he wasn’t working. By age 20, Owen was an ultra-efficient, and very much in demand, manager, of cotton mills.

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robert owen

Robert Owen

1771-1858

slide2

Robert Owen’s “formal” education ended

at the age of 10, when he went to work. His employer owned a good library, and young Owen read, when he wasn’t working.

slide3

By age 20, Owen was an ultra-efficient, and very much in demand, manager, of cotton mills.

For a “founder” of Socialism, it’s notable that Owen himself was also proof that some men of humble origin could prosper under Capitalism.

slide4

In 1799, he convinced his business partners to buy the largest cotton mill on earth, the New Lanark Mill, powered by a waterfall on the River Clyde.

slide5

Built in 1783, the mill was a tourist attraction, the “Poster Mill,” as it were, of the Industrial Revolution.

slide6

The Mill employed 2,000 workers—

500 of whom were children,

“recruited” from Scottish Poor Houses.

Children as young as 5 worked 13 hour days.

slide7

Owen changed this. As he him-self had, child-ren now went to work at age 10, and worked 10 hour days, until the age of 18. As no new children joined the workforce, child labor was phased out.

slide8

Until turning 10, New Lanark’s children went to school. Adults took classes at night. Owen founded the world’s first pre-school and adult ed classes. For Owen, nurture trumped nature.

slide9

He founded a “company store,” which sold goods at cost, almost. This was the world’s first consumer-cooperative. Modest profits from the store funded educational projects.

slide10

The mill was now an “attraction” for social reformers. It seemed a functioning Utopia.

And, all the while, the mill turned a profit.

But Owen’s partners weren’t satisfied with

the margin of profit, so Owen bought them out.

slide11

Owen’s new partners settled for a 5% return on their investment, whereas the average British mill owner, during this critical era of “capital accumulation,” was accustomed to profits of up to 50%!

slide12

When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, unemployment was catastrophic. The unemployed were considered “paupers,”

and “pauperism” became a crime.

slide13

Owen’s proposal to Parliament posited the creation of communal farms that were quite like an Israeli Kibbutz. Children would be raised communally, to inculcate cooperation.

slide14

Parliament didn’t go for this, and, Owen became disillusioned with Britain. In 1825 he bought 30,000 acres in Indiana, U.S.A., and founded an agrarian commune, named New Harmony. The above picture is the “plan,” but it went unrealized.

slide15

New Harmony was a debacle. It’s demise would be remarkably mirrored with the implosion of 1,000s of hippy communes, 150 years later! Owen lost nearly all of his vast fortune.

slide16

Owen’s one huge shining success, New Lanark, was hardly a back-to-the-land commune!It was an ultra-modern, ultra- mechanized factory, both ultra-efficient,

and ultra-profitable.

slide17

Owen believed that machines diminished humans,

and they can, but New Lanark flourished because it

produced an in-demand product competitively.

slide18

New Lanark succeeded within the free market. It was “Socialism” WITHIN Capitalism. Simply because it’s set in nature, an agrarian commune isn’t some Garden of Eden, automatically. “Self-Sufficiency” is no panacea.

slide19

When Owen returned to Great Britain, in 1829, “Owenites” were everywhere. Owen became the figurehead of a number of attempts at mass unionism, and, of the first producer-cooperatives.

slide20

Robert Owen was,

to paraphrase

Dr. Katherine Shelfer,

a cool guy [citation needed]. He was a century ahead of his time, and then some.