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Butlers, Bakers, and Capitalists?

The communist revolution that spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was about concentrating government ownership of capital. Then, in the closing decades of the twentieth century, a counter-revolution swept the world, pushing for just the opposite: disperse capital as widely as possible by getting everybody involved as owners.

Now the counter-revolution is being carried to its logical extreme: if everyone can be an owner, then everyone can be a capitalist, down to the barber, the waiter, and the trash collector. A specter is haunting us again; this time it is the dream of truly democratizing capitalism.

But turning everyone into a capitalist may be as impossible as the communist dream of turning everyone into an inspired socialist worker. Interest in the arcane principles of finance has always been an inclination particular to people who love to pore over numerical tables and study mathematical formulas. These people sometimes make themselves rich, and it would seem nice if everyone could do that. But the varying talents, foibles, and psychological predilections of men and women make this impossible.

The new spirit of democratic capitalism goes by different names and mobilizes a variety of symbols. But, however we describe it, the idea that the masses should be owners is growing everywhere.