The Cooperative Road to Abundance

Eugene Rider Bowen

[An excerpt from the book published in 1953
by Henry Schuman, New York]

In my final report as Executive Secretary of the Cooperative League I stated that I was glad to be relieved of administrative duties in order to undertake a number of special research studies. I had in mind especially a study on the motives and methods of a cooperative economy.

Active for many years in private and cooperative businesses, I felt that now I too, in the words of Lester Ward, "wanted to dig the foundations deeper and build the structure higher."

Early in business life I was challenged by John Ruskin's description, in his book Unto This Last, of the duty of a businessman as compared with that of other callings: "The soldier's profession is to defend the nation; the pastor's to teach it; the physician's to keep it healthy; the lawyer's to enforce justice; the merchant's to provide for it. …The duty of all these men is, on occasion, to die for the nation - the soldier's rather than leave his post in battle; the physician's rather than leave his post in plague; the pastor's rather than teach falsehood; the lawyer's rather than countenance injustice." He then asks: "The merchant - what is his due occasion of death?"

Ruskin's answer expressed in one word would be: "Nothing." The merchant is not expected, on occasion, to die rather than not to provide for the nation. Thus, all other callings are preferred to that of the merchant in "public estimate of honor," because "the merchant is presumed to act always selfishly." I could never reconcile myself to the fact that society rated my life's work lower than the others and considered it motivated by private selfishness rather than by public service.

My awakening to a realization of the significance of today's great physical and social changes came about as a result of the evolution of the farm-machinery manufacturing business in which I was engaged. This was at a period when the extensive application of gas and electric power to farm and factory was beginning. Coincident with this era was the early development of cooperative organizations. I entered the Consumers' Cooperative Movement in order to assist in building an economic system which would distribute to all the abundance which the power machinery I had helped build had in part made possible.

In addition to my day-to-day experiences and observations, I wish to pay special tribute to the help I received from Fred Henderson's book The Economic Consequences of Power Production. In this book, Henderson, an English journalist who sensed the signs of the times clearly, traced the relationship between the major changes in forms of power and the changes in economic systems which accompany them. He pointed out that each new form of power requires the development of a new economic system of distribution. Hand power was accompanied by economic slavery; animal power by economic feudalism; and steam power by economic competition. The present use of automatic gas and electric power for production necessitates the development of a new economic system to distribute to all the resultant abundance. [By an extension of Henderson's thinking, the enormous expansion of automatic power through the application of atomic energy to production purposes which will take place in the foreseeable future makes this necessity an imperative.]

Automatic mass production of abundance naturally requires automatic mass distribution and consumption through a cooperative economy. We cannot go it alone as individuals any longer - we must accept the fact that we are all members of one great family of people.

Later in life I was challenged by the concluding words of Henry Demarest Lloyd's Wealth Against Commonwealth: "When it comes to know the facts the human heart can no more endure monopoly than American slavery or Roman empire." I began to realize more and more clearly as time went on that America would remain in crisis until we had learned to solve the problems of competitive monopoly.

Albert Einstein once said that "the impulse to grapple with problems is like a demoniac possession." The intensity of national and international problems today has impelled me in much this manner to make the present study. I trust that others will find the thoughts expressed here a help in deciding their own course in life.



"Each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth." At no time in history has this been truer than it is today. We are in the midst of a period of change more significant than the dying struggles of any previous era with its accompanying birth pains of the next era. We are witnessing the last days of the centuries-old one way of life, and are at the dawn of a new life.

Throughout the centuries man has had great dreams: the dream of abundance for all and the dream of cooperation by all; the dream of universal prosperity and the dream of world peace. The philosopher James H. Tufts expresses man's dreams in these words: "Agencies for mastery over nature and agencies for cooperation among men remain the two great sources of human power."

Man's dream of abundance for all is realizable for the first time in history. Automatic power and physical science have now made abundance possible. The long centuries of scarcity are nearing an end - the time of abundance is near.

Man's dream of cooperation by all is today dimmed by industrial and political conflicts. But in the very midst of these conflicts, one can see the struggles of the people of every nation to take the road of cooperation. The long centuries of conflict are nearing an end - the dawn of cooperation is breaking.

Analyzing all the great social changes of the past and surveying the present, Arnold Toynbee, author of the monumental work A Study of History, says: "This twentieth century will be remembered not as the age of the atomic bomb, or as the conflict between Christianity and communism, but as the first age in history in which man thought it practical to distribute all the benefits of civilization to all men."

The dream of cooperation will become a reality not only as a result of the deep desires of the people. Necessity itself is forcing upon us the inevitability of cooperation. No longer are large numbers of people migrating from one country to another, no longer are people moving on to new frontiers. The settlement of available agricultural areas, the concentration of industry, faster transportation and communication are drawing us more closely together. We cannot live happily, if indeed we can live at all, if we continue to engage in conflicts with one another.


Of all the discoveries and inventions that men have made in their search for abundance, the element of power has been the most vital. Although men advanced from hand power to animal power and then to steam power, they were not able to solve the problem of scarcity. Abundance was still a mirage on the horizon of the future. It was not until the discovery of electricity in the air and petroleum in the ground, and their harnessing in electric- and gas-power motors, that the winning of the struggle for abundance became possible. Automatic power now drives automatic machines - automatic factories loom ahead. And today we are in the atomic age!

Nations which were blessed by nature with iron, coal and oil deposits, and with mountain streams for generating electricity, and which at the same time were free to develop their inventive abilities, lead in the process of achieving abundance. The people of the nations which were the first to see the production of an abundance of food and goods becoming a reality were the first to face the necessity of organizing in new forms of economic associations to enable them to share in that abundance. They organized in labor unions, professional associations, marketing cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, fraternal groups, and mutual-aid societies. Through such forms of economic organization the people are nearing the goal of abundance for all.


Material abundance is now potentially realizable as a result of the development of automatic power, especially of atomic energy. However, "life is more than meat and the body is more than raiment."

Many attempts have been made to picture the meaning of a life that is more than material. A well-known marching song used by labor groups suggests the double meaning of an abundant life in the title "Bread and Roses." Educational leaders in various fields commonly speak of a material and cultural life. Probably the word "cultural" is as expressive as any single word to summarize what is meant by spiritual and intellectual abundance. John Dewey, America's greatest philosopher, has described the lack of both material and cultural abundance by the masses of the people today. In his Liberalism and Social Action, we read: "Back of the appropriation by the few of the material resources of society lies the appropriation by the few in behalf of their own ends of the cultural resources that are the product not of the individuals who have taken possession of them but of the cooperative work of humanity."

The potential material and cultural abundance that are available to mankind, if we will only reach out our hands and grasp it, is beyond description or even imagination. "What limited lives we live, compared with what we might" is one poet's way of expressing this great reservoir.


Men can turn their dreams of abundance and cooperation into the hideous nightmare of poverty and strife and postpone the realization of their dreams. Men can also abandon poverty and strife and turn toward the road of happiness through abundance and cooperation. The question is: When will man be ready to realize these dreams? Let us hope that the spirit and mind of man will soon abandon scarcity and competition and turn toward abundance and cooperation. Only when man begins to understand his own strength and power will the goal of material and cultural abundance for all be realized.