The Myth of Capitalism 4

The Myth of Capitalism 4

Yesterday we saw that the injustice that is at the heart of Capitalism can be mitigated by decent humanity, but not eliminated.

Today we will discuss the conflict created by Capitalism between the worker and the capitalist, and we will show that in that conflict the rights of the worker are superior to the rights of the capitalist.

The worker’s rights superior to the capitalist’s

Abraham Lincoln, quite possibly our greatest president, foresaw the Myth of Capitalism, recognized clearly the injustice embedded in the capitalist system, and warned against adopting its immoral first principle. Already in 1961 he saw a new kind of slavery coming—one that did not “own” workers, but controlled them through economic coercion. In his State of the Union speech of that year, Lincoln singled out the lie that props up wage slavery, namely the denial that workers are superior to capitalists:

It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class--neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families--wives, sons, and daughters--work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

[Abraham Lincoln, Text of Address to Congress, December 3, 1861., ad fin. Emphasis added.]

Lincoln’s viewpoint is pure common sense, and it is a testimony to the sheer deceptiveness of the Myth of Capitalism that people have been made to forget something that is completely obvious. The worker is more important than the capitalist. It is the worker’s activity—not the capitalist’s—that actually produces things. Without the worker to make products, the capitalist would have nothing to sell or trade. He would use up his capital eventually on supporting himself in the style to which he has become accustomed. And then he would die. Furthermore, the worker can exist without the capitalist. He can work some land and feed himself even if no one pays him for his labor. But the capitalist cannot exist without the worker.

Since the worker is superior to the capitalist in degree of dignity and in his ability to exist without the activity of the other, one would think that the benefits of any economic system ought to go by right primarily to the workers, and only secondarily to the capitalists. The current version of capitalism has the roles reversed: in our present hypercapitalist situation, the rights of the superior party are everywhere limited by the inferior party.

And the Myth of Capitalism, like any good sleight-of-hand trick, makes us look away and fail to notice this patent injustice.

Tomorrow we will see that another offshoot of Capitalism—the mania for private enterprise rather than public services—is not necessarily felicitous for human comfort or happiness.

Until tomorrow, then.

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