By Robert Tracinski
Critique by Punkerslut
There comes a time in every philosopher's life (and by philosopher, understand that I mean "truth seeker") where he reads an essay, and portrays a reaction not different to what George Carlin once said, "I was listening to this guy, listening, listening, listening, and then I said, 'This guy's full of shit!'" My reaction to reading this article by Robert Tracinski wasn't at all much different. It was printed by the Ayn Rand Institute. I criticize one fundamental flaw of Mr. Tracinski's argument...
Simply and most eloquently put: Mr. Tracinski is wrong. When the stock holders start to operate the oil wells, or when they pick up a hammer and nails to build the railroads, or when they start operating the machinery for pouring the steel, I'll give them that credit. But since they do not (our author Mr. Tracinski is under the impression that they do), there is no reason to credit them for it. Labor is the production of the world's wealth. To quote Adam Smith, "It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased." [The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, book 1, chap 5] Stockholders, CEOs, investors, and the like, do no labor. They simply receive the wealth from it. Since this is so obvious, that even a person of severe mental debility can understand and grasp, I will not further argue this point.
Labor Produces Wealth -- No Doubt About It
[This section of text is taken from Class Conscious: The Injustice of Poverty, Second Edition, section II of chapter 9, by Punkerslut.]
Section II: Labor
In this section, I have one contention and one contention only: that labor is the only producer of wealth -- there is no wealth that requires some labor to produce it. Not all labor, though, produces wealth, just as a man can labor in his recreations and hobbies, sometimes producing little more than the sweat on his back -- such as in sports. But, there is no wealth that exists without labor. One may argue that naturally growing fruit isn't requiring of labor to produce it, but labor is required to reap it, just like iron ore and coal aren't created by labor though they are harvested with labor. By labor, I am defining any activity that uses exertion, mental or physical, to specifically accomplish something. The definition of wealth is a bit more complex: it comes in the form of goods or services, the first storable the second not. Wealth may be defined as something useful that serves some purpose, or that may be traded for something that also serves a useful purpose.
In 1662, William Petty, one of the earliest economists, wrote, "forasmuch as both Ships and Garments were the creatures of Lands and mens Labours thereupon; This being true, we should be glad to finde out a natural Par between Land and Labour, so as we might express the value by either of them alone as well or better then by both, and reduce pence into pounds." [*3] In a much more brief statement, he writes, "...Labour is the Father and active principle of Wealth..." [*4] In 1668, Josiah Child writes...
In 1691, Dudley North writes in his discourse, "Commerce and Trade, as hath been said, first springs from the Labour of Man..." [*6] Elsewhere, he said, "In process of time, if the People apply themselves industriously, they will not only be supplied, but advance to a great overplus of Forreign Goods, which improv'd, will enlarge their Trade." [*7] In 1720, the field of economics would still be undeveloped, but trade would not go unstudied. Isaac Gervaise would write, "...all that is necessary or useful to Men, is the Produce of their Labour..." [*8] Elsewhere, he writes, "...Labour is the Foundation of Trade..." [*9] In a longer section, he writes more...
In the mid-1700's, the world would experience an enlightenment, as philosophers were born to question the authority of tradition. David Hume would write in this time, "Every thing in the world is purchased by labour..." [*11] In another manuscript, he writes, "...if the former kingdom has received any encrease of riches, can it reasonably be accounted for by any thing but the encrease of its art and industry?" [*12] In 1767, a cornerstone of economics would be reached with one of the biggest volumes being written: "An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy," by James Steuart years before Adam Smith would make his debut in the field of economics. The first book of Steuart is full of statements that agree with the idea that labor is the creator of wealth. He writes, "Did the earth produce of itself the proper nourishment for man with unlimited abundance, we should find no occasion to labour in order to procure it." [*13] Elsewhere, too: "...food cannot, in general, be found, but by labour..." [*14] -- "...man be made to labour, and make the earth produce abundantly..." [*15] -- "...wealth never can come in but by the produce of labour going out..." [*16] -- "....industry which makes the fortune." [*17] And, finally, "We may live without many things, but not without the labour of our husbandmen [farmers]." [*18]
In 1815, J.C.L. Simonde de Sismonde would produce a lengthy book on economics, or political economy as it was known in that era. He would write, "His [mankind's] wealth originates in this industry..." [*19] In another part, he writes, "All that man values is created by his industry..." [*20] and "...labour alone has created all kinds of wealth." [*21] Summing up the field of economics, he writes, "The history of wealth is, in all cases, comprised within the limits now specified - the labour which creates, the economy which accumulates, the consumption which destroys." [*22] On capital production, his opinion is similar: "The ore cannot be obtained till the mine is opened; canals must be dug, machinery and mills must be constructed, before they can be used; manufactories must be built, and looms set up, before the wool, the hemp, or the silk can be weaved. This first advance is always accomplished by labour..." [*23] He still writes, "...it may be generally affirmed, that to increase the labour is to increase the wealth..." [*24] and "...the labour of man created wealth..." [*25] This book would be written only some decades after Adam Smith's work, and more decades after Steuart's. Simonde de Sismonde was following in the same tradition of economists: when he looked at society, he realized one particular fact, that wealth is produced by the labor of laborers. In chapter 4 of his book, he writes, "By labour man drew his first wealth from the earth..." [*26] He writes further: "...the revenue which he [the worker] expects and has to live upon springs from the labour which he causes to be executed..." [*27] -- "Income...springs from labour..." [*28] -- "...all wealth proceeds from labour..." [*29] -- "We have recognised but a single source of wealth, which is labour..." [*30] -- "...those who labour and who should create every kind of wealth..." [*31] -- "New wealth, however, must spring from labour and industry." [*32] And, finally, in the last chapter, "...labour, the cause of production..." [*33]
The 1800's would also bring thinkers who would oppose the ideas of Capitalism, referring to them as a form of exploitation. Robert Owen was one of these, and in 1816 he would write, "...know that revenue has but one legitimate source that it is derived directly or indirectly from the labour of man..." [*34] In 1825, Thomas Hodgskin would make an appeal in defense of labor, in perhaps one of the earliest pamphlets defending workers. Though he made no support of the system of Communism (which at that time did not exist, and Socialism was but merely developing), he did sympathize greatly with the worker, and stated simply that the worker ought to receive the wealth he creates. It was in this pamphlet that Hodgskin writes, "...all the benefits attributed to capital arise from co-existing and skilled labour." [*35] -- "...by their [labourers'] exertions all the wealth of society is produced..." [*36] -- "The labourer, the real maker of any commodity..." [*37] -- "...all the effects usually attributed to accumulation of circulating capital are derived from the accumulation and storing up of skilled labour..." [*38] -- "...those vast improvements in the condition of the human race, which have been in general attributed to capital, are caused in fact by labour..." [*39] Finally, in one section, he writes, "It is labour which produces all things as they are wanted, and the only thing which can be said to be stored up or previously prepared is the skill of the labourer. If the skill of the baker, butcher, grazier, tailor, weaver, etc., was not previously created and stored up, the commodities which each of them purchases could not be obtained; but where that skill exists, these commodities may always be procured when wanted." [*40]
In 1830, Nassau Senior would give a speech on improving the conditions of the working class, though he himself was an economist and was quite detached from this group whom he sympathized with. He spoke, "...the labourers form the strength of the country." [*41] T.E. Cliffe Leslie was an economist whose articles swim around aimlessly in the journals of the 1800's. In 1875, he would write, "[Martin] Luther preached the same doctrine, and moreover anticipated Adam Smith's proposition, that labour is the measure of value." [*42] The following year, Robert Green Ingersoll would give a speech celebrating the one hundredth year anniversary of the United States, the centennial oration. In it, he said to his audience, "The great body of the people make all the money; do all the work. They plow the land, cut down the forests; they produce everything that is produced. Then who shall say what shall be done with what is produced except the producer?" [*43] Also in the year of 1876, between May and June, Friedrich Engels would write in an incomplete essay, "Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source..." [*44] In 1877, Robert Green Ingersoll would be seen defending the rights of the working class, working to get an eight hour work day as a law. He would say to a crowd, "...the time must come when they who do the work -- they who make the money -- will insist on having some of the profits." [*45] and, "All my sympathies are on the side of those who toil -- of those who produce the real wealth of the world -- of those who carry the burdens of mankind." [*46] In a journal article published in the 1898 to 1899 volume, Thorstein Veblen (the acclaimed sociologist) would write, "...the goods [are] produced by labor..." [*47]
There should be no doubt that wealth is produced by the act of labor. In the previous chapters, I have shown how great the Capitalist has pushed the worker to produce. In the 1800's and the 1900's, working more than ten hours a day was common, and it is still commonplace today for the majority of the globe's workforce, even a great part of the Western world. The reason why a Capitalist would desire his worker to labor harder and longer is because labor produces wealth, which the Capitalist keeps, and then trades with other Capitalists for his needs. In the second chapter, I detailed how every person has desires and that they reasonably respond to these desires. It is an inherent desire in every person to have what they need to live, and maybe even excess of that. Capitalists reasonably respond to this desire by forcing pushing their workers to work as hard as they can for as long as they can. Why? Because labor produces wealth. This fact is realized even more with the theory of labor unions: workers organize and threaten to not work unless their demands are met. The reason why Capitalists give in to such demands is because they need labor to produce wealth.
Some may argue, though, that Capitalists do labor, and that because of this labor, there is wealth. I find this theory highly contestable, and I find that it can be debunked with a small scenario. Take every Capitalist, whether in the form of a master of stocks and trade, or a CEO of a highly respected firm, and then put them on a bountiful island, an island rich with mineral deposits, exotic and valuable plants, and then ask these Capitalists to produce wealth. They will produce not a single iota of wealth, nothing of value or purpose. One may inquire, "But the Capitalists may harvest the plants and dig up the mineral ores, and refine these natural resources even more," -- but, once a Capitalist does that, he becomes a laborer, and in fact proves my point: labor is the only producer of wealth. Is it true, then, that Capitalists do no labor? Capitalists actually do labor, but it is a non-productive labor. Perhaps it is efficiently organizing a group of laborers to produce, though experience would prove that laborers are more familiar with their work than Capitalists. While a Capitalist does this, he may find some way to cheat his workers out of two hours of overtime pay, and he may convince them to alter their plans of production, so that the commodity he sells breaks down in a matter of two years, require return business. Whatever the case, the labor that a Capitalist does is non productive, much like a recreation or a hobby's labor. To quote Bakunin, "Speculation and exploitation no doubt also constitute a sort of labor, but altogether non-productive labor." [*48]
2. "Australia, 1930," an inaugural address, April 28, 1930, by L.F. Giblin.