After America won its independence from Britain, there was plenty of hard work yet to do. That included rebuilding the nation’s cod fishing fleet, which had been decimated during the war. President Washington charged his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson with coming up with a plan to help jump-start the industry’s recovery. The answer Jefferson arrived at centered on what was essentially a federal tax credit where ship-owners and sailors would receive a payment to reduce the tariffs they had been paying to conduct cod fishing. That would help boost their profitability and create incentives for more ships to be built. But there was a catch, if you will: only those ship-owners who embraced a profit-sharing plan that included the entire crew of the ship would be eligible for this new business tax incentive.
As the authors of the excellent book, The Citizen’s Share, explain: “The Founders understood that the performance of the crews depended on shared rewards and that the well-being of the country depended on all citizens having a stake in the economy’s performance. The government was willing to spend public money to help a depressed sector recover, as long as the profit sharing was the general standard of the industry.”
The Founding Fathers believed in broad-based employee ownership as a way to drive the equality of wealth. Three researchers offer their tips on how the government can reinvigorate policies the Founders believed in.