October 3, 2019

Rewind to the 1970s TV Interview with Louis Kelso, the Father of ESOPs

In 1974, I was sitting in my living room watching a 60 Minutes program on ESOPs, the one in the video above. I had just moved to Ripon, Wisconsin, as a 24-year old new college professor of political science. This ESOP thing seemed intriguing, and sharing ownership with employees did seem like a great idea. The lesson I took away, however, is that ESOPs may be too complicated. Besides, Paul Samuelson, who wrote the standard college economic textbook of the time, said it was snake oil, so who was I to argue?

Four years later I was a congressional staffer and came across some testimony on employee ownership. Older and hopefully a bit wiser, I thought this was an idea worth pursuing. So I learned more about ESOPs, and before long, I was hooked. I started to work on drafting bills to encourage employee ownership, three of which eventually became law. I got to know Louis Kelso and realized that it was Samuelson who was selling snake oil.