From Utopian Socialism to Transition Towns

Robert Owen (1771 -1858) was a “social reformer and one of the founders of socialism and the cooperative movement.”

The wikipedia article on him is quite fine, and one bit leaps out

“One of the most interesting features of the movement at this period was the establishment in 1832 of an equitable labour exchange system in which exchange was effected by means of labour notes; this system superseded the usual means of exchange and middlemen.”

Hmm. Beautiful thought, but as that nice young Mr. Moby sings “Then it fell apart, like it always does…”

“The London exchange lasted until 1833, and a Birmingham branch operated for only a few months until July 1833. “

Why? Well, according to here….

[Owen] opened two ‘Equitable Labour Exchanges’ in London and Birmingham. Workers exchanged their goods for special notes, which were valued according to the time needed to produce items: these notes could then be used to buy other goods, which were valued in the same way. An hour’s work was worth sixpence. This note from the Birmingham branch is worth ten hours; Robert Owen’s name can be seen to the lower right. The experiment failed because the exchanges became overstocked with goods which did not sell.
G.D.H. Cole, The life of Robert Owen, 3rd edition (Frank Cass, 1965)

And from unionhistory.info something I didn’t know but am not exactly amazed about -

but disputes over the value of products and the time taken to make them led to the failure of the experiment and all the branches closed in 1834.

Women workers at the Grays Inn Exchange mainly needlewomen and shoemakers, were initially paid at a lower rate than men and many refused to sell their goods there unless they were offered equal terms.

History does not have to repeat, maybe the new money will take on. Here are the big buts;
Those who do not know their history a) do not know where they are coming from and b) are quite likely to repeat it.
And just because someone has a good idea for how the world can and must become a much better place, doesn’t mean that everyone is going to do the graft to make dreams reality.

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About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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One Response to From Utopian Socialism to Transition Towns

  1. Pingback: Links and Tweets for the Month: October 15, 2010 - Dave Pollard at Chelsea Green

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