Labor Day – Remembering Forgotten Heroes

By: George Noga

Ruminations about Labor, Unions, Capitalists and Entrepreneurs

It is not far fetched to assert entrepreneurs are responsible for the rise of humanity from isolated hunter-gatherers up to and including modern man. There is one dark side to this: seeing the prosperity created by early traders and entrepreneurs, politicians created taxation. The pattern was thus established: entrepreneurs create wealth; governments destroys it.

“Entrepreneurs create wealth; governments destroy it.”

Entrepreneurs, creators and innovators have spawned enormous wealth, reduced poverty and increased life expectancy more in the past 100 years than in the preceding 100,000 years. Are they forgotten heroes of the world? Who did the most to benefit the common man – Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs or John Kennedy, George W. Bush and Barack Obama?

I once took a graduate course in the history of economic analysis based on the teaching of Joseph Schumpeter who wrote about entrepreneurs: “First, there is the dream and the will to found a private kingdom . . . then there is the will to conquer; the impulse to fight; to prove oneself superior to others; to succeed for the sake, not of the fruits of success but, of the success itself. . . Finally there is the joy of creating, of getting things done, or simply of exercising one’s energy and ingenuity.”

The Legacy of the Peddler

America owes much to peddlers; in many ways they built America. A budding peddler (entrepreneur) began by taking all the modest money he had and buying all he could fit into his backpack. He ventured into the hinterlands, sold everything and then did it all over again. He lived frugally and saved for bigger backpacks and more merchandise. When he could afford a horse and wagon, he ventured deeper into sparsely settled areas with more goods. Eventually he found a place that could support a resident peddler; he built a shack, filled it with things people wanted and lived simply in the back. Later he took a wife and started a family; they helped in the business and shared his hardscrabble life.

“Luxuries a short time ago are selling at Wal-Mart and Costco for ridiculously low prices. Government created none of this.”

As the town grew around him, he expanded his store and eventually moved into a separate house. Most department stores and industries in America began that way. The peddler was the backbone of the American economy and society. A peddler had to have initiative, self-reliance and, above all, integrity. He paid his debts and taxes, attended church, contributed to charity and participated in civic affairs. There were no written contracts; his word was his bond. His life was orderly and scandal free. He had the dream and the will as described by Schumpeter. Are peddlers forgotten heroes?

Heroes of the World

Do you doubt entrepreneurs are the heroes of the world? Look around you; ponder with amazement the monuments they have bestowed on the world. Gape in awe at the medical breakthroughs, technology and the cornucopia of everyday marvels. Average folks live better today than monarchs mere decades ago. World poverty has been halved in the past generation. Luxuries a short time ago are now selling at Wal-Mart or Costco for ridiculously low prices. None of this was created by government. Is government heroic?

Not uncoincidentally, entrepreneurs are the antithesis of socialistic and collectivistic schemes; without them we would be just like the former Soviet Union, Cuba and all the other places that elevate the state over people. Indeed, the greatest measure of the progress of a civilization is the rate at which it creates new millionaires. Creation of new wealth means society is innovating, spawning jobs, efficiently allocating its resources and serving its people’s needs.

Are entrepreneurs truly the heroes of the world? You make the call.

Labor Unions Today – Are They Heroic?

Labor Day was established to honor all labor not just organized labor. As conceived by President Cleveland and Congress, Labor Day was intended to serve as a reminder that work was an ennobling experience. It was placed at the end of summer to symbolize the end of seasonal indulgence and a return to work. Labor unions however have long sought to co-opt the Labor Day holiday for the minuscule segment of private industry that is unionized.

“Only in the fetid parallel universe of government is unionization growing; it extracts uncompensated value through politics that it cannot obtain on the merits.”

Today less than 7% of private-sector workers are unionized and that percentage continues to plummet. Unionization of private workers is in free-fall for one, and only one, reason: workers independently conclude that the costs of belonging to a union are not worth the putative benefits. Only in the fetid parallel universe of government is unionization growing; it extracts politically what it cannot win on the merits.

In economic terms unions are “rent seekers”, i.e. they accrue economic benefits via manipulation and/or exploiting the political environment rather than through the production of added value. In short, they extort uncompensated value from others – you and me; is this heroic?

Labor Day should Honor Entrepreneurs and Capitalists along with Labor

Labor Day should honor all work as a noble experience. Let’s expand it to honor entrepreneurs and capitalists. America is the planet’s quintessential capitalist country. Let’s therefore honor capitalists who make labor more productive via investment in plant, equipment, tools and – well, capital. Finally, let’s honor entrepreneurs, those with a dream and a will to create; they are the sine qua non that leverage labor and capital, create synergies and thereby produce unbounded prosperity for all.

The veritable horn-of-plenty that is America results from entrepreneurs, capital and the virtue of work. Let’s honor them all!


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