Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Frances Fox Piven

Committee Members

Joshua B. Freeman

Uday Singh Mehta

Frances Fox Piven

Subject Categories

Economics | History | Political Science


employee ownership, cooperative, knights of labor, self-help, employee stock ownership plan, esop


This dissertation argues that the incidence of employee ownership throughout U.S. history broadly corresponds with the presence of incentives for entrepreneurs, employers, and other intermediaries. Employee ownership initiatives emerged during the Gilded Age, at the end of the Great Depression, and again in the 1970s to present. These periods each coincide with the development of incentive structures through early labor organizations, state relief administrations, and ESOP legislation. As an original contribution to the literature on employee ownership, this dissertation will perform a comparative analysis of the major employee ownership initiatives in U.S. history. The project will examine the creation of employee ownership in firms as a function of the available incentives––in particular, tax benefits and compensation––and the institutional frameworks for such incentives. At a second level, it will dispel a common misunderstanding about the Gilded Age concerning the existence of employee-owned firms. Although many consumer- and community-owned stores and productive enterprises existed, very few businesses involved employee ownership of stock. This is a correction of the historical record, which suggests the existence of hundreds of employee-owned businesses during the Gilded Age. Finally, this dissertation hopes to provide new insights into the historical conditions of employee ownership, as well as to provoke fresh thought about current opportunities for expanding employee ownership legislation.

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