Labor's Role in Capitalism by Guy Morrison Walker 1922
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THE REWARD OF LABOR
The Laborer is Worthy of His Hire—But No More.
The common statement made by those who attack wealth that the rich have accumulated their wealth by robbing the poor, is not and never has been true. The poor never produce as much as they consume. That is the reason they are poor and have nothing of which to be robbed. While wealth is the surplus product of production over and above consumption.
Some men have imagination, vision, initiative, daring, executive ability, call it what you will, but it is that which leads them to dare and to do, while the great mass of men refuse to do anything unless somebody else takes the responsibility for it. The greatest and oldest game in the world is "Passing the buck.”
Wherever you go you will find two classes of people, those who are serving and those who are being served. There is just one reason for the difference between the two classes. Those who are being served either have themselves been thrifty and saved something, or they have had someone before them who has been thrifty and saved something, while those who serve have never saved anything nor had anyone to do it for them.
If the five per cent. of our people who have accumulated and were the possessors of most of the wealth in this country had not saved their surplus and in this manner piled up the wealth that made it possible for us to spend and lend forty billion dollars in winning the war, our whole population would have been enslaved, and most if not all of the laborers who are now condemning wealth would be engaged in involuntary and unpaid work for the German armies. It is a serious question whether thrift can be nourished and further wealth accumulated for the protection of the race unless the thrifty and the industrious are relieved from the taxation, forced upon them by the demands of labor, which has destroyed the many little fortunes and competencies which our previous American policy has encouraged as an evidence of good citizenship.
The injustice and uneconomic character of the attacks upon wealth have been proven by the fact that since we entered the war, the salvation of our country, depending upon making the best use of the wealth of the country and of the things created by and representing that wealth, has required of the Government the suspension of practically every law that it had previously passed, imposing these unjust and uneconomic burdens upon wealth. It is doubtful if the war could have been won if the administration had been compelled to observe the laws for the regulation of wealth that it had passed for the purpose of penalizing and plundering the private owners of wealth.
It is one of the curious things in connection with the attack on great business corporations and the efficient service which they render through their command of great ability and large capital, that they reduce prices. Their incompetent and inefficient competitors always claim that this reduction of prices is due to some sort of secret rebate, or is a deliberate underselling to force them out of business, and ignore the prime economic feature of the whole business, which is that the reduced prices inure to the benefit of the mass of people who are the consumers of the product.
It is strange indeed that these enemies of wealth and efficiency are able to command the hearing that they do when the thing that they ask is that people shall compel efficiency and capital to charge a higher price to consumers than is economically necessary in order to give their inefficient and uneconomic competitors a chance to exist at the expense of the people, who would be better served by the large corporation with its better product produced at a less cost.
Practically every law that has been passed in response to popular clamor against wealth has been to declare criminal some practice that was economically sound and morally just, in an effort to handicap the efficient and economical business operations of able men and give the incompetent, the little and the mean, an opportunity to live off of the necessities of the poor. What is needed is not a reformation of business methods, but a repeal of unjust and uneconomical laws that are hindering and preventing the able and the efficient from giving the masses of the people the benefit of economic production and cheap distribution.
The legislation which has prevented this and kept alive the expensive, inefficient and uneconomic little business men, is the thing which above everything else has raised and keeps up the cost of living.
Few people realize how the great developments which have made possible the luxury and comfort in which they are living are due not only to the existence of wealth but to the courage, foresight and real beneficence of wealth.
Our people have so long been relieved from the primitive methods of harvesting and are so ignorant of the use of the hand-sickle, or of the flail, or of the threshing floor, that they do not realize how much of labor has been saved and how much of wealth has been created for the farmers by the invention of harvesting machinery.
The money made by the harvesting companies is a small percentage of what their devices and machinery have saved not only the farmer but all the people who consume farm products; yet our people have been taught that the International Harvester Company is the last word in plundering practice, thievery, and unfair tactics.
Andrew Carnegie, in his “Gospel of Wealth,” called attention to the great changes in the standards of living brought about by modern manufacturing methods based on the use of great capital. In the primitive days before wealth in large quantities existed, articles were manufactured at the domestic hearth, or in small shops, which formed part of the household. The master and his apprentices worked side by side. The apprentices lived with the master, and when they rose to be masters in their turn, there was little or no change in their mode of life, and they in their turn educated in the same routine, their apprentices.
The inevitable result of such a method of manufacture was crude articles at high prices like the handmade nail. Today, with machines made possible by wealth; with manufacture in quantity made possible by large capital, the world obtains commodities of excellent quality at prices which even the generation before this would have deemed not only impossible but unbelievable. The result is that the poor today enjoy what the rich of those times could not even afford. The luxuries of those days are the commonest of our necessities today. The poorest laborer lives with more comforts than were possible for the richest of men a hundred years ago. The advance is due entirely to accumulated wealth and to its use as capital in production, and he would be indeed a foolish student of social conditions to claim that the masses of the race have not benefited thereby.
The real truth is that competition as we know it never existed, and never could exist, under the conditions that prevailed before the introduction of modern transportation methods. Each community was more or less self-supporting and it was impossible for any distant iron merchant to compete with the local blacksmith, who manufactured such iron horseshoes as were necessary for his local customers, but with the development of modern transportation along with modern industrial efficiency, true competition has been developed. Whether the law of competition be good or evil, it is here. Evolution is competition! We must recognize it and adapt ourselves to it.
It is idle to pretend that competition can be preserved in some things and eliminated in others. In an effort to preserve competition, our laws have been drafted to prevent combination or the adoption of devices by wealth or capital, that would eliminate competition, but when individual men or bodies of men organized into labor unions find themselves compelled by the operation of the same law to work at high tension or to starve, they protest bitterly and cry out against competitive conditions, and endeavor to stop the operation of this natural law. The law of competition may seem hard or cruel in its operation in individual instances yet there can be no doubt that it is best for the race. Labor was not indulged in by the savage for it took little effort to satisfy his wants, and although we have traveled far from savagery, there are still but few individuals among few races who have learned to work voluntarily. The law of competition, therefore, has operated and will operate to insure the survival of those who have best developed the habits of work.
No man in the world can possibly consume all that he can produce, and if he works steadily at production he is bound to create a surplus. The only thing that prevents any man from piling up a surplus and so accumulating more or less wealth is his indisposition to keep up effort and to continue work when his consuming power is satisfied, or to take care of his surplus of production properly when it is created.
Political economists pay little attention to one of the greatest necessities for the constant production of surplus and the accumulation of wealth. Much of what we call wealth exists in the buildings and improvements that have been created out of surplus labor in the past, but these buildings rapidly deteriorate and depreciate or become obsolete and unfit for the location where they are, and must be destroyed and removed in order to replace them with better, more modern buildings suited for the needs of the community. This is only possible by the constant production of surplus wealth to cover or replace the wealth represented by the old buildings which must be destroyed, and to provide the surplus necessary for the erection of new. This constant deterioration and wasting away of wealth is a thing which has been given little notice, and yet it is true that there are not over two or three conspicuous private fortunes in the world today over one hundred years old.
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