Labor Day 2013: More Than Just One Last Barbecue-Op


Labor Day 2013 brings a mixed bag for people who work for their living, and we’re not talking about hot dogs v. hamburgers, ribs v. chicken, Bud v. Miller Lite.

According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), “real” unemployment – which includes the currently unemployed, the under-employed, the “marginally attached” unemployed, and the “discouraged workers” who have given up looking for work – has dropped from 15% a year ago to a shade over 14%.

Unfortunately, median household income is only $51,000, or $4,000 below what it was in pre-recession 2007.  That suggests the jobs being created that reduced unemployment by a percentage point aren’t as good-paying ones as they were pre-recession.

Meanwhile, young adults are graduating from colleges and universities with mountains of debt but without solid prospects for the kind of employment that might provide them the kind of incomes needed to pay off those debts and begin living independently of their parents.

What’s the solution?

We don’t have one.  But we do have a few observations that might at least get folks looking in the right direction.

First, we need to stop lying to ourselves about the country’s economic situation for purely partisan purposes.  Voodoo economics as advocated BOTH by Democrats (“double the minimum wage immediately”) AND by Republicans (“Even $1 of tax increases is too much for $10 of spending cuts”) hasn’t worked in good times, and it sure won’t work today.  Or tomorrow, for that matter.

Second, any rebuilding of the middle class will require a re-commitment to the U.S. returning to a manufacturing power rather than continuing its slide toward a predominately “service” economy.  And we’re talking 21st Century manufacturing, not post-WWII rust-belt style manufacturing.  Anybody who can’t see how increasingly “intelligent” machines will perform an increasingly larger share of routine services, especially the more mundane ones like super-sizing your fries, is wearing blinders.

Third, those who demean the American entrepreneurial spirit with foolish and divisive statements like “you didn’t build that” also demean the labor – mental and physical – of the people who did, indeed, “build that.”  Thomas Edison did build General Electric (presumably with “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”); Henry Ford did build Ford Motor Company; Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did build Apple; Phil Knight did build Nike; Jeff Bezos did build Amazon; and the list goes on and on.

More importantly, they built those businesses while learning from the same teachers, using the same roads and bridges, relying on the same police and fire protection, etc., that the rest of us did.  So, for the most part, they didn’t have any special advantages over the rest of us that the “you didn’t build that” meme implies.

Similarly, anybody who demeans the contributions of organized labor over the past 100-plus years also demeans the work-based standard of living that has made this country the most prosperous one the world has ever known, with the longest-running stable constitutional government in the history of the world.  It was the trade/industrial union movement that brought us most of the work-related laws and benefits we now take for granted, like:

  • The minimum wage;
  • The 8-hour work day;
  • Overtime pay;
  • Holiday pay;
  • The 40-hour work week/work-free weekends;
  • Social Security;
  • Paid (and unpaid) sick leave;
  • Paid vacations;
  • Paid work breaks, including lunch;
  • Child labor laws;
  • Pensions, including 401(k)s;
  • Unemployment insurance;
  • Workplace safety;
  • Employee and family health insurance;
  • Collective bargaining rights;
  • Anti-discrimination laws; and
  • Whistleblower protection laws.

Contrast those contributions with the contributions public sector unions have brought about since their rise to prominence over the past 20-30 years, which appear to be confined to:

  • Unsustainable and grossly under-funded defined-benefit pensions in lieu of Social Security and defined contribution pensions;
  • non merit-based raises that often exceed the rate of inflation; and
  • a lack of any real accountability to the taxpayers who fund those pensions and those raises

That’s what you get from a system of employment that is more socialistic than capitalistic, and which enables and actually rewards collusion between public-sector unions and the politicians who pander to those unions in return for political support – at the taxpayers’ expense.

So on this Labor Day, consider spending a few minutes contemplating how we can restore to prominence the private sector labor and management that built this country – while reducing the growing dominance of the collusive public sector labor and politics that is undermining it.

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