Quote of the Week: 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. – Abraham Lincoln, December 1861.
Abraham Lincoln reminds us of the labor-based and socialist origins of the Republican Party (something that would make current Republicans shudder, were they to own up to the ideological origins of their organization). Horace Greeley, who had helped push the socialist agenda in the US during the 1830s, later served as a formative leader of the early Republican movement; and the party’s platform through the 1860s was solidly pro-labor and generally distrustful of the growing power of corporate wealth, which was then beginning to transform American economics and social structure.
Lincoln’s words also remind us that capital, and capitalism, were products of labor transforming from artisanal and agricultural work into paid industrial service to business owners. Humans have always labored; but capital was a new growth from the industrial revolution. Capital is not always evident or strong; as we can see in the difficulties that Russia has had transforming itself from a communist economy into a capitalist one. For there to be a strong capitalist economy, there first needs to be capital as the centerpiece for the organization of production.
Ultimately, the greatest weakness of capitalism lies in the weakness of capital. Capital is subject to gross fluctuations which shock the economy and break the ability of the middle and lower classes to save money. It took the federal government in the US until the 1930s to decide finally that it needed to manage these fluctuations to prevent further disasters like the Great Depression. The American political landscape has wavered from its dedication to protecting the non-wealthy from the weaknesses of capital; and in that lack of dedication lie the roots of frustration underlying the vitriolic fights of the 2016 election year.
To restore confidence in both the economy and in our political system, the US needs to restore its faith in and dedication to our organized labor movement, and to a federally based, Keynesian management of the economy.
Headline image from open domain, via Google Search.