Saturday, September 3, 2011

Labor Day Weekend 2011

Local Church on KY Mission-09

The weekend of Labor Day 2011 is upon us with record weather everywhere: heat, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, and you name it. Not only are we assaulted by forces of nature, but by political forces that seek to denigrate working Americans by taking away rights to bargain, negotiate, et al.

This weekend finds me past my working days, doing my routine as a spousal care-giver.
That said,I find care of the kitchen is mine, and I confess I am disturbed over recent evidence of a mouse. We have not seen such evidence in years in this house--until days ago.

While dealing with my mouse problem, I’m thinking about Labor Day and the mice in our kitchen. They are eating things we don’t want destroyed. Wisconsin’s governor Ryan is taking bargaining rights from working Wisconsinites and Governor Snyder is wanting to privatize teaching positions in Michigan. These greedy little mice are destroying fundamental “civil liberties” of working class Americans for personal and political gain; now that is fascism in action, little different than Libyia.

I called them greedy; they are self-seeking. They care little for the common good--too far to the left politically, although that is what makes American workers different from the rest of the world. I guess they want us to be like the rest of the world.

Greed is a viral infection, destroying our western culture of affluence. The Bible says enough about greed that no matter how loudly individualists and atheists preach the benefits of greed, selfishness is selfishness--destructive of anything hindering its success.

That leads me to the current book I’m reading: Age of Greed by Jeff Madrick, Knopf, 2011. It describes the fast-paced, single-minded pursuit of huge personal wealth in American capitalism. The author is an economist, teacher, author and has paid his dues. He tells many stories of politicians, economists, and financiers who have participated in this moral battle for freedom that has given way to an age of greed.

Madrick describes intense economic inequity and instability with style, clarity and command of his subject. I share part of Sam Walton’s success, as one of many such stories.
“Walton contracted leukemia in the late 1980’s and died in 1992. His successors intensified his devotion to controlling labor costs. As criticism of Wal-Mart’s low pay, long hours, and scant benefits grew, the company defended itself by noting that nearly three quarters of its employees work full-time and earned twice the minimum wage. But it defined full-time as working thirty-four hours a week, and even for a forty-hour worker, that meant less than $1,300 of income a month after taxes. Few families, no less individuals, could live on that anywhere in the United States…” In essence: The company succeeded on the backs of its employees.

“Many claimed, despite the low wages, the nation benefited from Wall-Mart’s low prices. American consumers had voted with their pocketbooks. Ninety percent of Americans lived within an hour’s drive of a mammoth Wal-Mart store, half of Americans lived within a ten-minute drive … In the 2000s, for the first time, more Americans were working in retailing than in manufacturing and the pay on average was far less. This was the business environment of a new age. Some companies went against the trend, such as Costco, which emphasized more service for customers, paid higher wages, and offered better benefits. But it was not nearly Wal-Mart’s size.

“McKinsey, the consulting firm, estimated that Wal-Mart’s productivity gains accounted for one fourth of the productivity gains of the entire nation between 1995 and 2000. Yet in the past, higher productivity of industrial giants was usually associated with high wages--even as the prices of products fell. The great entrepreneurs of an earlier era created jobs that paid good wages. The price of a Model T fell from roughly $1000 to $300 in the early 1900s, and Henry Ford fought vehemently against unionization, yet he paid his workers up to $5 a day, an extremely high wage in those times. This had become the classical example of capitalism at work. Now productivity was losing its historical meaning in a political environment that tolerated low wages and worker insecurity. It was not a model that a prosperous nation could depend on indefinitely” (emphasis mine).

I quote this not to offer a political position, or to pick on Wal-Mart; I am a customer too. I use it to illustrate something it took me years to understand. Henry Ford provided a needed product and paid his people well to produce it. For that reason, they were able to buy the products they produced. The biggest reason today for the “consumer confidence crisis” is the inability of families on Main Street to buy the products they produce, due to current politics that favor downgrading the rights and wages of working class people.

This is producing an expanding Grand Canyon between the haves and the have nots, and no amount of rhetoric about reforming welfare and entitlement programs et al will change this situation. The statistics show CEO’s with increasing entitlements, the wealthy becoming more affluent, and the rest losing ground--totally contrary to Jesus word suggesting it is better to give than to receive.

As one who never cared for money, I first became aware of this when my wife managed a business for a “Christian entrepreneur” who operated on the other person’s money, who regularly “skimmed the till” and lived out of it illegally, and who typically paid most of his employees minimum wage. He thought nothing of that, but challenged me when I voted on what he thought was the wrong side of a “moral” issue. Yet, his whole business foundation was “immoral”.

Jesus said give Caesar what is his (Caesar has his place and God has His). Jesus also said, love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself. Seems to me that ought to say volumes to our Labor Day celebrants.
… at Warner’s World.


Anonymous said...

Shirley Stansbery

Wayne said...

It pleases me no little, Shirley, to know that I passed the criteria as you see it. Thanks. I hope I made my point. :-)