By Manifesto Joe
Once almost 20 years ago, when I was having a conversation with a young man whom I knew to be politically right-wing, the subject somehow moved to entrepreneurs. "Entrepreneurs built this country," he told me.
I tend to be reluctant to get into arguments with people whose minds, I know, cannot be changed. I simply replied, "Well, yes and no," and moved the conversation on to other matters. In my time on Earth, I've never yet known a person whose mind was changed as a result of a political argument.
Another factor is that I often don't think of the right things to say at the right times. I'm much better with a keyboard or on paper, because it affords more time to consider things.
Looking back, what I wish I had said back to this young man was, "They had a hell of a lot of help from the people who did the hands-on labor. You know, workers. You've heard of them, right?"
Beasts of burden?
You don't have to talk to libertarians or most American conservatives for very long to discover that, in the world they inhabit, workers are more or less like a team of mules, mere beasts of burden. The entrepreneur is like the farmer behind the plow, motivating and guiding them and taking almost all the risks.
I feel compelled to point out that Farmer Jones would have an awfully hard time plowing his own back forty without his team of mules. And even if one subscribes to this unsympathetic and inhumane view of human labor, doesn't it make sense to feed and care for the beasts of burden well, so that they will stay healthy and strong for their work?
You wouldn't know that while looking at capitalism as it's been practiced through most of U.S. history. Overworked, underpaid, ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-doctored laborers have been the norm, not the exception. Our "entrepreneurial" class has consistently squeezed all it could out of those brutish proles, and then tossed them out onto the street when the time came that they weren't needed or were no longer much good.
And there, I'm talking about the ones fortunate enough to be paid at least a bare subsistence for their labor. Until the 1860s, there was a very large class of Americans whose labor was taken from them by force.
On Labor Day, take a break from the grill and those cold ones and take time to remember who really did the work that built this nation. They are the ones who did the sweating behind jackhammers, not behind a roulette wheel.
The U.S. did see a significant period during the 20th century in which conditions for working people improved, thanks to union organizing and governmental reforms. But since about 1980, we've been seeing the fingers of workers pried off those gains, one by one. Now, joblessness and working conditions are as bad as or worse than they've been anytime since 1940.
Marx: Right about one thing?
Karl Marx was apparently wrong about a lot, but from the looks of things now, he may have been dead-on right about one -- the inability of capitalism to reform itself. Marx predicted that there would be many efforts to mitigate the harsh conditions that capitalism generally brings to the working class, but that capitalism would always, inexorably revert back to its primitive state -- like it's doing now, in America and elsewhere.
For decades, I've been one of those who has hoped that a workable "third way" could be found, given the brutality of laissez-faire on one extreme and communism on the other. I've seen my hopes usually dashed, to the point that I fear them now to be just wishful thinking. I sincerely hope, on this Labor Day, that my current inclinations are wrong.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.