Robert Owen's equitable labour exchanges.

Fletcher, Linda J (1985). Robert Owen's equitable labour exchanges. The Open University.



This study attempts to clarify the history of equitable exchange and Robert Owen’s position within it. Owen is traditionally credited with devising both the concept of equitable exchange and with creating the exchanges that put it into practice. It is shown that Owen created the 'equitable principle of exchange' out of the well-known ‘labour theory of value ' , to which he added his own communitarian and currency ideas. This was presented in the Report to the County of Lanark in 1821. He failed to follow this up with any practical advice but , following its popularisation by the 'Ricardian socialists' and some London co-operators in 1820s, practicalities were eventually discussed and proposed. Some of these people started their own independent exchanges between 1830 and 1832. This study demonstrates that Owen came under pressure from a variety of sources but primarily from these independent exchanges. He came to grips with practicalities probably only when he realised that things were getting out of hand. He then opened his three exchanges. The workings of these is examined in detail , as are the problems that they suffered. It becomes clear that the simple and natural system envisaged by 0wen in the Report did not come about. The most important factor in the failure of the exchanges was the impossibility of equating supply and demand because the labour valuation fixed the market price rigidly. Unless similar controls could be placed on the market forces, such as exist in a totalitarian state, there was never any hope of success. The study continues beyond the closure of Owen's exchanges in 1834, to show that the subject did not die at this point, as has previously been thought. Several theorists wrote further upon the subject. Marx is shown to have been particularly influential. He added both to the theory and indirectly to its promotion in American co-operative and socialist communities in the late 19th century, where it experienced a final burst of interest.

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