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Blog #2
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2012-01-29 11:17:27
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Continuing on in the vein in which blog #1 was written, I will now explain why America was blessed for generations with great prosperity, and why it has foundered in recent decades.  It is not hard to see the reason, however difficult it may be for the rich to acknowledge it.

From the beginning of the nation, up to approximately the period of the Civil War, the territories that became the United States of America prospered from three sources, and no more than three.  The first was the Calvinist work ethic, which was noted from the very beginning by all observers.  The form that Christianity took in Calvinism turned all believers into workaholics.  This remains true until today, and does not look to be abating.  The second was “the extent of the market,” a term from economics which essentially means the area in which free trade and movement of labor and goods is absolute.  Concerning this last point, if the secession of the Southern slaveholding states had succeeded, the United States of America would never have figured as a great nation, never mind a super power.

Two other determinative factors were at work from the beginning: free land and flight form religious persecution.  After 1820 or so, when the idea of “manifest destiny” took hold, which entailed “Indian removal,” free land came to mean lands never inhabited or only inhabited by the indigenous populations.  From 1862 onwards, such lands were sold by the US government to anyone, citizen or not, who would pay the very modest price of it to the land offices, so long as they populated it by living on their property.  Legislation entitled, “the Homestead Act” set this in motion in 1862.  Thus the nation hoped to fill up the land with people and in that way create a new nation. 

Various emigrations to the west coast in Oregon and California in the 1840’s and 1850’s had prefigured this movement.

The other thing that was at work in immigration was predicated on the lingering effects of religious persecution after the close of the religious wars in Europe ended in 1648.  Thus, for example, much of the Midwest became populated by Roman Catholic and nonconformist Protestant groups stemming from Germany in the 19th century.  Earlier, French Protestants emigrated on account of persecutions by the king of France.  This is reflected in many place names in lower New York state, as for example, New Rochelle. 

But now that we have adumbrated this situation, it is necessary to say that after the Civil War this all changed with the industrial revolution and the rise of national unions.  Every school child should know that the “triumph of capitalism” was a harsh time, characterized by industrialization; the rise of large cities with their slums; robber barons who amassed fabulous fortunes; and, most important, class warfare between capital and labor, what in England was called “the social question.”  That phrase meant this: it was a contradiction to assert equality under the law for all citizens and at the same time engage in laissez faire capitalism, which rendered social differences that empowered the few at the expense of the many.  What kind of democracy is that? 

From 1865 to 1936, labor unions were illegal, considered combinations in restraint of trade, as though free trade were written into the Constitution, which is not true.  At the same time, all kinds of monopolies, cartels and other underhanded methods of organizing monopolies were condoned by the courts, thus favoring the capitalist class.  There was no element of social welfare run by the government, causing further immiseration of the masses, especially in the big towns.  Also, though it is not given much notice in most history books, the nation’s agricultural sector fell into a 50 year long decline, caused mainly by the lack of technical know how on the part of the subsistence farmers, and a lack of investment in education of correct farming methods, given the variations in types of soil being farmed.  Later, this led to a ruination of the land in the great dust bowls of the 1920’s and 30’s.  In the meantime a steady stream of ruined farmers and young people from that sector streamed into the cities great and small, and by 1920, for the first time, cities contained 50% of the population as a whole.

From 1865 movements reacted to the basic injustices of the economic system.  Organizations such as the Knights of Labor and the Granger movements throughout the midsection of the country flourished, but in the end were ineffective.  Eventually, the remnants of these groups and many others joined in the Populist Party, but again the movement did not succeed.  Class warfare was the dominating problem of several generations, and the IWW rose in the west, a violent organization, though not officially.  Since strikes were also illegal, the newer unions that came along near the end of the 19th century were persecuted.  For example, it was a crime in most states to be an officer in a labor union.  It is estimated that 100,000 people died in labor violence in the period 1836 – 1936, when labor unions were made legal by the Wagner Act.  Of that number at least 99% of the dead and wounded were workers. 

History is composed of two types of periods: long periods of relative little change, which makes up a bout 90% of the time, and big politics, when great changes are made, often during or after wars, or when a government comes into power that makes basic changes.  Such was the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, upon which the great prosperity of the 20th century was in fact based.  And why is this the case?  Because labor unions were legalized and thereby had the right to strike and get benefits for their members.  I make the following declaration: from 1936 until 1980, the prosperity of the American nation was due more to the legalization and its potent effects on the market than to any other reason.

The Republican party never accepted this.  In the late 1940’s they pushed through labor legislation called the Taft-Hartley Act, ostensibly to gut unions, but ironically, by cleansing them of mafia influence and enforcing fair elections, this legislation made unions stronger, because more democratic.  Many states also passed legislation making it very difficult to set up union shops, especially in the Southern stares. 

Despite all this union membership grew all the way up to 1970.  The National Labor Relations Board saw to it that workers could not be treated as they had been by robber barons and their like.  In the 1960’s there was a growing consensus that business had been tamed and would act well to their own employees, on the grounds that the modern corporation engaged in socialist activities, i.e., those that socialist governments did as a matter of course, and that union employees, well-paid and with benefits that really made life better for them, were appreciative and non-violent.  The conclusion was that we would be in a period of growing prosperity as far down the road as the eye could see. 



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Emanuel Paparella2012-01-29 18:45:43
This is an interesting piece on unions in America. Indeed, it stands to reason that the destruction of unions, which began with President Regan’s firing of airport flight controllers, goes in tandem with the economic decline of the middle class in the last thirty years or so. What is even more disturbing, in my opinion, is that some 50% of the electorate will go and vote for a one per center “job creator” and “overachiever” such as Mitt Romney come November. No wonder Plato advocated the rule by a philosopher king.

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