A passionate group of labor economists has taken up a cause championed 40 years ago by Senator Russell Long of Louisiana: to turn every worker into a capitalist.
Long, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1966 to 1981, inherited a populist commitment from his father, Huey Long, the Louisiana governor who famously campaigned on the slogan “Every Man a King.”
In 1973, Long became intrigued by the idea of granting corporations generous tax incentives to distribute stock to employees through Employee Stock Ownership Plans, or ESOPs.
Long’s question was, could ESOPs “make haves out of the have-nots without taking it away from the haves?” Working on assurances that this was indeed the case, Long said, “That’s the kind of populism I can buy.”
Beginning in 1974, Long won enactment of a series of bills establishing tax incentives favorable to corporations that transferred company stock into ESOPs. In 2012, the National Center for Employee Ownership estimated that the number of ESOPs had grown to 12,000, covering 11 million workers with $858 billion in assets. Companies employing at least 10,000 workers with ESOPs include Publix Supermarkets; WAWA; WinCo Foods; and the employee-owned private equity firm, Alliance Holdings.