Our Work, not the Government’s, Will Restore the Economy
February 16, 2009
According to the Bible, God created man to cultivate the Garden of Eden. Then when Adam wasn’t satisfied with doing it God’s way, God intensified Adam’s labor by telling him, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,…” The entire book of Proverbs can be considered an ode to work, and the Christian (Protestant) work ethic has been considered to lay the foundation for the rise of Western Civilization.
Beyond being a divine edict, work helps us provide ourselves and our loved ones the necessities of life—those being food, clothing, and shelter, not HD TV’s, cars with GPS systems, cell phones, computers, and Ipods. Those things are nice, but no one has ever been hugged by their television. Nobody’s car ever looked up at them and needed it to tie its shoes. Perhaps the most important quality of work is it makes us need each other.
More pointedly, work is important to an economy. On this point both “liberals” and “conservatives” can agree. The perspective of those “liberals” and “conservatives” in the government is, however, detached from the realities of how work serves a society. To those in the government, work provides the revenues so they can enact the programs that will make us a better country. Work, to the elected official, provides profits for the major corporations so Wall Street can cajole the public that we have a “robust economy”. Furthermore, when those corporations are very profitable, they provide the wherewithal to campaign coffers so those elected officials can stay elected.
Since the early 1960′s, those major corporations have been expanding those profits by exploiting cheap labor from the global labor market. This has cut out the American working middle class that was handsomely rewarded for making America the strongest industrial and agricultural economy in the world. That took some pretty hard effort by a significant number of people—now we are just an unnecessary cost.
Those of us who depend on work to provide for our needs would do well to contemplate the centrality of work to who we are and the health of our families and communities. When we provide for the basic needs of ourselves and families with our work, and our neighbors do the same, we have the potential to earn the satisfaction and contentment that make us reliable neighbors. When we are allowed to exercise that labor with skills and talents that give us joy, then we become happy neighbors.
I have a friend who is a welder—a very talented and skilled welder. He was working at a plant that built boxes on various utility and emergency vehicles. The company found a source of cheaper welders in Mexico and moved there. He moved his skills to a sign manufacturer for whom he made sign boxes for the many commercial properties that were developing in the area. As the construction boom moved into a bust, demand decreased, costs soared, and his job was eliminated as there were a number of less skilled, immigrant welders who worked more cheaply that could help the sign maker meet the lower demand and maintain the same level of profit.
One of the managers from the truck company for which he worked sought to create a start up competitor to the company that abandoned the area. They both found that the cost and regulatory demands on start up companies were prohibitive to go into production. He is now doing shade tree auto repair while his wife and children do restaurant work. His original employer is still profitable as it has successfully cut costs with low-wage labor and access to a global demand for utility trucks. How has that helped my neighborhood?
This is not an uncommon scenario. Since it is becoming increasingly common, is it fair to ask how we can expect our friends and neighbors to keep a positive attitude about their work when the value of their work is being eroded by wage competition with destitutes from the third world? How can we expect their children to develop a healthy work ethic when they see their parents work for years at a job only to be considered as nothing more that a cost to be shaved by the employer they served those many years? If young people see that work cannot be a source of satisfaction and contentment, why should we be shocked when they find other things as sources of happiness—such things as sex, drugs, and gambling?
This is not the government’s problem because the government cannot and will not understand the foundation of the problem. That is why centralized government and businesses are doomed to failure—both perpetuate problems on the basic level as they grow in wealth and power. It comes to us to start rebuilding the sources of labor and production that have been taken from us. Small businesses that produce the necessities of life for our communities might not make their owners billionaire masters of the universe, but they will contribute to restoring contentment and order to our communities.
Judging from the contributions the global masters of the universe have given to the economy, we would do much better with the community-based businesses that use the skills and talents of our friends and neighbors.