Labor (And Capital) Day, 2011


On past Labor Days we often have invoked Thomas Jefferson’s quote about a limited “wise and frugal” government that “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

Jefferson belonged to what would become the Democratic Party.  We suspect, however, that if he had any idea what a big government-loving, special interest circus his party was to become, he would have taken up permanent residence outside Paris and applied for French citizenship.

So this Labor Day we’re crossing the aisle with some wisdom about labor from an iconic Republican, Abraham Lincoln.  And, not unlike Jefferson, we suspect that if Abe could have envisioned what a rudder-less, special interest circus his party has become, he would have painted a bulls-eye on the back of his head to assist Booth’s aim.

But back on December 3, 1861, with the Civil War raging, Lincoln gave his State of the Union address in which he explained the interdependence of labor and capital so simply and so directly that Theodore Roosevelt based his “New Nationalism” speech on it almost 50 years later.

Lincoln begins by recognizing the primacy of labor.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital.  Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.  Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

As Lincoln correctly noted in his own speech, ”that is the side the capitalist should hear,” before introducing the second half of Lincoln’s equation with: “Now, let the working man hear his side.”

Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.  Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits.

One hundred fifty years later, politicians of both the “red” and “blue” persuasions seem to find it more advantageous to their advancement and aggrandizement to disregard the “mutual benefits” of the relationship of labor and capital and, instead, to divide and polarize those two forces while ignoring the fundamental evolution Lincoln recognized back in 1861 that is a substantial element of what has come to be known as The American Dream:

Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers.  The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.  This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all.

So this Labor Day, let us honor the fundamental value of labor, not only for its own intrinsic worth but also as the foundation of capital formation.  And let us treat both with the respect Lincoln wisely knew they deserve.

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5 comments so far

Impressive post.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lincoln was an impressive guy.

It is a shame that the Democrats seem to consider only “labor” while the Republicans seem to consider only “capital.” Both parties could learn a lot from Lincoln’s address.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And from the looks of the proposed Firefighters’ contract posted on the City’s website under tonight’s City Council agenda, the “labor” side of the equation seems to be the primary focus of the City’s negotiators, as it looks like they have agreed to give the firefighters a 5% across-the-board (rather than merit-based) increase over 3 years even though they presumably have no idea what the City’s financial condition might look like two and three years down the road.

Claims are made on economic assets and profits by government, labor and capital. In the private sector labor and capital are represented at the table. Power shifts at various times.

In the public sector government represents itself on both sides of the table. The private sector tax payer is not represented. A result is step and cost of living wage increases that total 7% per year and which double costs every ten years. A second result is employee pension, vacation and health benefits that are outrageous. A third result is extortion, fraud and conniving to maximize those benefits. The total result is less and less funds or higher taxes to pay for services to the citizens. That is where we stand today and I see no leader from our past who could tell us how to solve this problem. Help!

EDITOR’S NOTE: One could argue that EVERY “leader from our past” – at least through FDR’s time – already told us how to solve this problem: no public employee unions, about which we wrote in our March 30, 2011 post: “Voters Should Reject ‘Union’ Park Board Slate.”

I would assume that President Reagan would be considered one of our best presidents . So , how do you reconcile your statement that “every leader from our past ” stated there should be no public employee unions ? You must have forgotten Reagan’s speech to Poland . He clearly presents the benefit of unions, for the betterment of society , and also mentions that he is the only former union president to be elected to President of the United States .
Also , I was just curious as to why you don’t feel public employees should not have the same rights as those in the private sector ?
Lastly , how does ” 7% per year ” possibly work out to ” 5% across the board ” over 3 years ?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Where Reagan ranks among our presidents will require another 10-20 years of perspective. But he was the president of the Screen Actors Guild, a private-sector union rather than a public-sector one.

Public sector employees don’t deserve the protections of trade unionism because they have the protections of the civil service laws; and, as FDR wrote over 70 years ago: “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

We don’t know where you’re getting the “7% per year” v. 5% across the board.”

The 7 % per year was from Richard’s comments made on 9/6/2011 .
The civil service laws were written and enacted due to the efforts of unions ( as were most all worker rights laws ) . So don’t you think its naive , at best , to assume that those laws would not be changed if collective bargaining were no longer allowed by public sector employees?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are aware of no significant role of organized labor in the passage of civil service laws, including the Civil Service Act of 1883; nor could we find any credible evidence of it in an admittedly brief Internet search. So at this time your premise appears to be invalid, as is your conclusion.

To quote Theodore Roosevelt in a letter of February 8, 1895 (when he was a U.S. Civil Service Commissioner): “The spoils system was more fruitful of degradation in our political life than any other that could have possibly been invented. The spoils monger, the man who peddled patronage, inevitably bred the vote-buyer, the vote-seller, and the man guilty of misfeasance in office.”

In our opinion, and speaking exclusively of Illinois, the collusion between public sector unions and the politicians – primarily Democrats, but also Republicans of the “Big Jim” Thompson and George Ryan stripe – has created its own kind of “spoils system” in public employment related to unsustainable wages and benefits.

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