Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital...

Being out all last week and just getting home yesterday, we missed posting something for Labor Day. Click on this link to read a short article by E.J. Dionne, Jr., about the important role played by labor unions in our history.

Those who wish to demonize unions forget the vital role they played in our society. Labor unions were at the front of the civil rights movement. Unions also had a large part to do with the prosperity our country enjoyed for the two decades after WWII. They often point to the faults of unions, like instances of corruption or intimidation. Oddly enough, these same people are often quick to overlook the faults of capitalism (see Enron, Deep Water Horizon, Love Canal, etc). Truth is, no economic system will ever be perfect, because we're going to be a part of them. And let's face it, as a whole, the human race could screw up anything.

As for the title of this post, it's part of a quote from President Lincoln's Annual Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 30, 1859. Lincoln was discussing the views on slave labor versus free labor. The full quote is:

They hold that labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact,
capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not
first existed; that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could
never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior –
greatly the superior – of capital.


If you want to know what side Abe came out on, just read the whole speech, especially the last line: Educated people must labor.

1 comment:

John said...

I wish he had been that progressive...
The full quote is: From: Lincoln, Abraham. "Annual Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 30, 1859." The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5. Eds. John G. Nicolay and John Hay. New York: Francis D. Tandy Company, 1894.
The world is agreed that labor is the source from which human wants are mainly supplied. There is no dispute upon this point. From this point, however, men immediately diverge. Much disputation is maintained as to the best way of applying and controlling the labor element. By some it is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital – that nobody labors, unless somebody else owning capital, somehow, by the use of it, induces him to do it. Having assumed this, they proceed to consider whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it, without their consent. Having proceeded so far, they naturally conclude that all laborers are naturally either hired laborers or slaves. They further assume that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fatally fixed in that condition for life; and thence again, that his condition is as bad as, or worse than, that of a slave. This is the "mud-sill" theory.
But another class of reasoners hold the opinion that there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed; that there is no such thing as a free man being fatally fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer; that both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them groundless. They hold that labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed; that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior – greatly the superior – of capital. They do not deny that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital.