web analytics
28 Mar

Labour by Mutual Co-operation

But, equal security established, the right of every adult rational being, male or female, to free labour, entire use of its products, and voluntary exchanges, being established; a new question presents itself. Is there no mode of human labour consistent with security – whose paramount importance even to production has been demonstrated [in the Inquiry]- but that of individual competition? May not a mode of labour be found, consistent with security, and still more productive of happiness, than labour by individual competition? […] Nay more, may there not be found a mode of labour consistent with security, which will not only obviate the evils of individual competition, but which will afford its peculiar benefits – abundant production and development of all the faculties – to a greater, an incalculably greater extent, than the best arrangements of individual competition could afford?

No mode of labour can produce preponderant good, which does not respect the natural laws of distribution, “free labour, entire use of its products and voluntary exchanges”, or the principle of equal security regarding wealth.


Such a mode of labour has been proposed. It has been called the system of labour by mutual co-operation; and its object and effect are to produce perfect voluntary equality of enjoyment of all the fruits of united labour.

From chapter V of An inquiry into the principles of the distribution of wealth most conducive to human happiness; applied to the newly proposed system of voluntary equality of wealth (1824) by William Thompson (available on archive.org). This book (along with the Appeal) is regarded as his greatest work.

This crucial chapter is the point where Thompson accepts that his construction of an economic system based on classical liberalism does not fulfil the utilitarian goal of achieving the greatest happiness. The chapter also outlines the various laws which create and perpetuate inequalities (including inheritance.)

“For Thompson, the science of happiness is concerned with the functions of society and social institutions broadly understood, and how these affect individual happiness.” (Mark Kaswan in Happiness, Democracy and the Cooperative Movement: The Radical Utilitarianism of William Thompson).

04 Jun

A pre-suffragette argument for votes for women

In 1824 James Mill (utilitarian, colleague of Jeremy Bentham and father of John Stuart Mill) wrote an article On Government for the Encyclopedia Britannica. In it he argued that individuals whose interests were represented by another would not be inconvenienced by being denied a vote. In this category he included children (represented by their parents) and women

the interest of almost all of whom is involved either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands

The following year William Thompson and Anna Doyle Wheeler jointly authored An Appeal Of One Half Of The Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men” (published under Thompson’s name). Anna Doyle Wheeler and William Thompson both knew Bentham and were interested in utilitarianism. An Appeal expresses dismay at the cavalier treatment Mill gives to women’s interests and systematically demolishes Mill’s argument in On Government by appealing to the same utilitarian principles that Mill uses.
Read More

22 May

Labour Rewarded But Only By Choice

As man’s knowledge increases, he looks beyond immediate into remote consequences. Sometimes this increased knowledge, sometimes accident, leads to a change of the circumstances surrounding him. These new circumstances give rise to new motives: i.e. to modification of the desire of happiness as supposed to rise from different sources. If Co-operative Industry tend more to human happiness than Competitive Industry, its supporters are confident it will be adopted when understood. On no other ground would they wish it be adopted.

William Thompson, Labour Rewarded (1827), p. 100.

Thompson on co-operative industry, and his hope for its voluntary adoption. Thompson was studied by Marx, but Thompson’s economic voluntarism is one of the major differences between them.

30 Mar

Women, in whatever country ye breathe

Women, in whatever country ye breathe – wherever ye breathe, degraded, awake! Awake to the contemplation of the happiness that awaits you when all your faculties of mind and body shall be fully cultivated and developed; when every path in which ye can exercise those improved faculties shall be laid open and rendered delightful to you, even as to them who now ignorantly enslave and degrade you.

William Thompson and Anna Doyle Wheeler, Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825 (extract available)