Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day 2011

Abraham Lincoln, from his December 1861 Message to Congress:

“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 we exalt capital and capitalists (ironically, we are in the midst of featuring stock brokers on this site) in the United States, we are doing this increasingly so at the expense of labor.  Governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin have become anti-labor heroes; labor is increasingly taxed more aggressively than profits made through investment.  We should remember that the United States was built to its greatness on the back of hard-working labor and creative capital.  We cannot live without vigorous supplies of each. 

The Lincoln quote above, if spoken today, would be quickly labeled by Tea Partiers as the statement of a socialist or communist.  Americans need to reflect on who we are and what made us.  Lincoln's statement was wise then, it remains so today.

The 1898 tax period that this site reviews straddles a great American historical transition from the Gilded Age of the great capitalists like J.P. Morgan, Jay Gould, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, and the Progressive Age of Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Clarence Darrow.  Our great capitalists were tamed, and their capital used to continue to create new wealth.  Yet at the same time that capital was used for some of the greatest private charity work in human history.  And labor made great gains with ever better working conditions and with great American capitalists learning it was in their own self interest to pay workers good wages.  There were strikes.  There were Pinkertons.  But America needs it workers and its money.  None should suffer at the expense of the other.

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