Was Mill an advocate of workers' control of firms and factories?

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Philosopher James Stuart Mill (1806–1873) greatly influenced nineteenth-century British thought and political discourse. In 1848 Mill published The Principles of Political Economics , which expounded on his economic theories and became one of the most important economics texts of the mid-nineteenth century. Mill came of age during Britain's Industrial Revolution,...

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Philosopher James Stuart Mill (1806–1873) greatly influenced nineteenth-century British thought and political discourse. In 1848 Mill published The Principles of Political Economics, which expounded on his economic theories and became one of the most important economics texts of the mid-nineteenth century. Mill came of age during Britain's Industrial Revolution, and this era of heightened development led him to consider which practices and procedures should be put into place to effectively handle the nation's immense industrial growth.

Though industrialization brought Britain great material wealth, there was a sense that those mainstays of British economic growth—the division of labor and the growing size of factories and businesses—led to a spiritual and moral deadening. In many cases, industrial labor was becoming increasingly simple and repetitive. This was one of Mill's great concerns. His desire to transform temporal work into a spiritual and moral exercise led Mill to favor socialist changes in the workplace.

In order to transform the workplace into a “school of sympathy” that would enable workers to feel a part of something greater than themselves, Mill recommended “industrial co-operatives.” These co-operatives can take two forms: a profit-sharing system in which worker pay is tied to the success of the business or worker co-operatives, a model in which workers share ownership of the business's capital. To Mill the latter was preferable, because it allowed the workers to become entrepreneurs and exercise abilities they could not as mere laborers.

Though Mill felt laborers were generally unfit for socialism given their current level of education and development, he maintained that modern industrial societies should take small steps towards facilitating co-operatives. Included among these steps was the institution of limited partnerships. Up to this time, partners would share full liability for losses, including any personal property, which was a strong deterrent for the founding of worker co-operatives.

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