Sunday, September 1, 2013

To Whom Does the American Worker Owe His Prowess?

A recent letter published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger is titled The American worker

The writer, Walter Sosnosky, pays Labor Day tribute to the American worker, saying:

Tomorrow, we celebrate Labor Day, a day that recognizes a majority of our fellow Americans who perform everyday tasks that keeps the blood pumping through the heart of this great democracy.
The American worker ignites the energy that powers this nation forward from the postal worker who delivers your mail to the clerk at your local grocery store. 

I left these comments:

Re: The American Worker

Walter, you've got it exactly backwards.

Yes, every individual who does productive work on any level contributes to America's economic might. But let's be honest. The modern worker is no better than the workers who built the pyramids, but for the men and women at the top of the intellectual pyramid, who handed them the knowledge, skills, and productive purpose they need to thrive. Yes, the worker gets credit for exerting the effort to learn and acquire that knowledge and skills, each in proportion to the level he needs to do his job. And let's be honest about another thing—the worker's contribution is in proportion to his skills, with the least skilled contributing the least. But without the discoverers of those knowledge and skills, they'd all be nowhere.

Workers have been around for millennium—through all of the centuries of grinding poverty, misery, and short, brutal life spans. Scientists—the top of the intellectual pyramid—have also been around for millennium. What changed with America, the nation of the Enlightenment? The rise of the businessman to economic prominence under the freedom of capitalism that American principles of individual rights unleashed.

It is the businessman who completed the link between the scientist and the needs of human survival, commercializing the inventions, creating the jobs, and providing the productivity tools that power the American worker. The businessman is the unsung hero behind our incredible prosperity.

It is intellectual, not physical, labor that "ignites the energy that powers this nation forward," and the businessman is exactly that—the premier kind of worker—an intellectual laborer. So, to paraphrase Walter Sosnosky—and as an American worker myself who after 46 years of employment in the plumbing industry is enjoying a quality retirement: I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to all of you businessmen and women. The next time you meet one of these fine people, just say thank you.

[Clarification: When I said "The modern worker is no better than the workers who built the pyramids," I did not mean to imply the Marxist premise that workers in our modern industrial economy are the equivalent of slaves. Today's worker is free to choose his occupation, free to accept jobs offered to him (or not), and free to quit his job at will, consistent with the terms of any employment contract he may have voluntarily agreed to with his employer. Today's worker is most certainly not a slave.

My point is that today's worker is physically no more capable as workers have been throughout history, but for the technological advances he inherited. In my haste, I chose a bad analogy.]

Related Reading:

Atlas Shrugged—by Ayn Rand

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