The Triviality of Capital Ownership

William S. Lear rael at
Thu Dec 17 21:39:43 PST 1998

On Thu, December 17, 1998 at 18:30:40 (EST) boddhisatva writes:
> C. Bill,
> Sorry for being so strident, I was in a mood. First, owning
>shares is indeed immoral in my opinion. Buy bonds. If you want something
>a little sexier, play the options market. At least there you know that if
>you win the swine who wrote you the option lost. There's no rising tide
>that lifts all capitalist boats in the options market. I haven't really
>analyzed the morality of the futures market, but I'll give it a
>provisional okay ;-)
> Seriously, I think owning shares is a poisonous idea. It's one
>thing when people own shares in the business they work at (as you do,
>although one would like to see everyone in the company own equally) but
>the idea that people can be innocent capitalists because the stock market
>seems so divorced from reality is wrong. It's like being a landlord. I've
>never met a landlord who could retain his humanity after a couple years in
>the business. It inevitably corrupts people to profit that way.

Thanks for the softening of tone. I'll try to do likewise.

I don't claim to be innocent from the standpoint of benefitting from the labor of others. I know that the money that my stock earns will be part the effort I put into it, and part the effort of others. I do claim to be innocent from the control standpoint: I have genuinely fought to keep the workers as free from it as I can, even to the point of posing a threat to my stock value.

Let me play devil's advocate for a moment; though, again, accepting the fact that my return on my stock is unearned, and the product of an immoral system.

The money I invested in the company in 1995 was about 1/2 money I had saved (every last dime, literally), and about 1/2 money I had borrowed from a bank, putting myself deeply into hock. I took a significant risk doing this, and returned to Austin to work directly for my company as a programmer. Now, if I wanted to value my risk against the labor of the other workers, who very likely would not have had the opportunity to work for this company had I not risked my security, how am I to do this? That is, am I entitled to only my principle back? What is the risk I took worth? I really would prefer social ownership, but since we cannot (now) have that, how is our society to pay back the risk that is necessary (I am fully aware that often the risk taken is that taken by those who are very wealthy, so all they have to lose is a lot of money, not "security" per se; they do not risk being thrown into the street --- nor did I). In a sense though, I did risk security. I risked a (perhaps) small amount of freedom from want (I could have saved it and invested in bonds and been even more wealthy than I am today).

I guess I am asking, Where do we draw the line? I certainly feel that I am no Bill Gates, but at what point is my return fair and where does it turn into exploitation? Should not exploitation be tempered against risk, given the system under which investment must be done in our society? (Don't forget, this is the devil's advocate speaking).

If you're worried about me losing my humanity, I wouldn't worry. I am more disgusted with the free market system today than I have ever been.


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