The Cooperative Road to Abundance
Eugene Rider Bowen
[An excerpt from the book published in 1953
by Henry Schuman, New York]
In my final report as Executive Secretary of the Cooperative League I
stated that I was glad to be relieved of administrative duties in
order to undertake a number of special research studies. I had in mind
especially a study on the motives and methods of a cooperative
Active for many years in private and cooperative businesses, I felt
that now I too, in the words of Lester Ward, "wanted to dig the
foundations deeper and build the structure higher."
Early in business life I was challenged by John Ruskin's description,
in his book Unto This Last, of the duty of a businessman as
compared with that of other callings: "The soldier's profession
is to defend the nation; the pastor's to teach it; the physician's to
keep it healthy; the lawyer's to enforce justice; the merchant's to
provide for it.
The duty of all these men is, on occasion, to
die for the nation - the soldier's rather than leave his post in
battle; the physician's rather than leave his post in plague; the
pastor's rather than teach falsehood; the lawyer's rather than
countenance injustice." He then asks: "The merchant - what
is his due occasion of death?"
Ruskin's answer expressed in one word would be: "Nothing."
The merchant is not expected, on occasion, to die rather than not to
provide for the nation. Thus, all other callings are preferred to that
of the merchant in "public estimate of honor," because "the
merchant is presumed to act always selfishly." I could never
reconcile myself to the fact that society rated my life's work lower
than the others and considered it motivated by private selfishness
rather than by public service.
My awakening to a realization of the significance of today's great
physical and social changes came about as a result of the evolution of
the farm-machinery manufacturing business in which I was engaged. This
was at a period when the extensive application of gas and electric
power to farm and factory was beginning. Coincident with this era was
the early development of cooperative organizations. I entered the
Consumers' Cooperative Movement in order to assist in building an
economic system which would distribute to all the abundance which the
power machinery I had helped build had in part made possible.
In addition to my day-to-day experiences and observations, I wish to
pay special tribute to the help I received from Fred Henderson's book
The Economic Consequences of Power Production. In this book,
Henderson, an English journalist who sensed the signs of the times
clearly, traced the relationship between the major changes in forms of
power and the changes in economic systems which accompany them. He
pointed out that each new form of power requires the development of a
new economic system of distribution. Hand power was accompanied by
economic slavery; animal power by economic feudalism; and steam power
by economic competition. The present use of automatic gas and electric
power for production necessitates the development of a new economic
system to distribute to all the resultant abundance. [By an extension
of Henderson's thinking, the enormous expansion of automatic power
through the application of atomic energy to production purposes which
will take place in the foreseeable future makes this necessity an
Automatic mass production of abundance naturally requires automatic
mass distribution and consumption through a cooperative economy. We
cannot go it alone as individuals any longer - we must accept the fact
that we are all members of one great family of people.
Later in life I was challenged by the concluding words of Henry
Demarest Lloyd's Wealth Against Commonwealth: "When it
comes to know the facts the human heart can no more endure monopoly
than American slavery or Roman empire." I began to realize more
and more clearly as time went on that America would remain in crisis
until we had learned to solve the problems of competitive monopoly.
Albert Einstein once said that "the impulse to grapple with
problems is like a demoniac possession." The intensity of
national and international problems today has impelled me in much this
manner to make the present study. I trust that others will find the
thoughts expressed here a help in deciding their own course in life.
MAN'S AGE-OLD DREAMS COMING TO BIRTH
"Each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to
birth." At no time in history has this been truer than it is
today. We are in the midst of a period of change more significant than
the dying struggles of any previous era with its accompanying birth
pains of the next era. We are witnessing the last days of the
centuries-old one way of life, and are at the dawn of a new life.
Throughout the centuries man has had great dreams: the dream of
abundance for all and the dream of cooperation by all; the dream of
universal prosperity and the dream of world peace. The philosopher
James H. Tufts expresses man's dreams in these words: "Agencies
for mastery over nature and agencies for cooperation among men remain
the two great sources of human power."
Man's dream of abundance for all is realizable for the first time in
history. Automatic power and physical science have now made abundance
possible. The long centuries of scarcity are nearing an end - the time
of abundance is near.
Man's dream of cooperation by all is today dimmed by industrial and
political conflicts. But in the very midst of these conflicts, one can
see the struggles of the people of every nation to take the road of
cooperation. The long centuries of conflict are nearing an end - the
dawn of cooperation is breaking.
Analyzing all the great social changes of the past and surveying the
present, Arnold Toynbee, author of the monumental work
A Study of History, says: "This twentieth century will be
remembered not as the age of the atomic bomb, or as the conflict
between Christianity and communism, but as the first age in history in
which man thought it practical to distribute all the benefits of
civilization to all men."
The dream of cooperation will become a reality not only as a result
of the deep desires of the people. Necessity itself is forcing upon us
the inevitability of cooperation. No longer are large numbers of
people migrating from one country to another, no longer are people
moving on to new frontiers. The settlement of available agricultural
areas, the concentration of industry, faster transportation and
communication are drawing us more closely together. We cannot live
happily, if indeed we can live at all, if we continue to engage in
conflicts with one another.
THE AGE OF AUTOMATIC POWER
Of all the discoveries and inventions that men have made in their
search for abundance, the element of power has been the most vital.
Although men advanced from hand power to animal power and then to
steam power, they were not able to solve the problem of scarcity.
Abundance was still a mirage on the horizon of the future. It was not
until the discovery of electricity in the air and petroleum in the
ground, and their harnessing in electric- and gas-power motors, that
the winning of the struggle for abundance became possible. Automatic
power now drives automatic machines - automatic factories loom ahead.
And today we are in the atomic age!
Nations which were blessed by nature with iron, coal and oil
deposits, and with mountain streams for generating electricity, and
which at the same time were free to develop their inventive abilities,
lead in the process of achieving abundance. The people of the nations
which were the first to see the production of an abundance of food and
goods becoming a reality were the first to face the necessity of
organizing in new forms of economic associations to enable them to
share in that abundance. They organized in labor unions, professional
associations, marketing cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, fraternal
groups, and mutual-aid societies. Through such forms of economic
organization the people are nearing the goal of abundance for all.
MATERIAL AND CULTURAL ABUNDANCE
Material abundance is now potentially realizable as a result of the
development of automatic power, especially of atomic energy. However,
"life is more than meat and the body is more than raiment."
Many attempts have been made to picture the meaning of a life that is
more than material. A well-known marching song used by labor groups
suggests the double meaning of an abundant life in the title "Bread
and Roses." Educational leaders in various fields commonly speak
of a material and cultural life. Probably the word "cultural"
is as expressive as any single word to summarize what is meant by
spiritual and intellectual abundance. John Dewey, America's greatest
philosopher, has described the lack of both material and cultural
abundance by the masses of the people today. In his
Liberalism and Social Action, we read: "Back of the
appropriation by the few of the material resources of society lies the
appropriation by the few in behalf of their own ends of the cultural
resources that are the product not of the individuals who have taken
possession of them but of the cooperative work of humanity."
The potential material and cultural abundance that are available to
mankind, if we will only reach out our hands and grasp it, is beyond
description or even imagination. "What limited lives we live,
compared with what we might" is one poet's way of expressing this
THE CHOICE BEFORE US
Men can turn their dreams of abundance and cooperation into the
hideous nightmare of poverty and strife and postpone the realization
of their dreams. Men can also abandon poverty and strife and turn
toward the road of happiness through abundance and cooperation. The
question is: When will man be ready to realize these dreams? Let us
hope that the spirit and mind of man will soon abandon scarcity and
competition and turn toward abundance and cooperation. Only when man
begins to understand his own strength and power will the goal of
material and cultural abundance for all be realized.