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Are we devaluing labor? Freebies to save economy weakened need of many to work
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Mary had just driven her brand new 1984 VW Rabbit Cabriolet convertible across the Southern Pacific Railroad crossing on Sixth Street in Lincoln.

It is one if those “hump” style rail crossings. You need to slow down as you cross or else you will get a severe jar and the entire car will rattle.

If you are a low rider and fail to ease over it, you will bottom out. If you are channeling Starsky & Hutch you can catch air if you go much faster than 25 mph.

I turned to my sister as she continued driving.

“Too bad you don’t treat mom’s car that way,” I said.

She asked what I meant.

I pointed out that she crossed the tracks as if she was concerned about damaging her car as opposed to when she drove our mom’s 1970 Chevy Caprice. She wouldn’t slow down causing passengers to feel like they were in a bumper car at Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

She looked toward me a tad quizzical

“It’s amazing how you treat things differently when you earn the money to pay for them,” I added.

After giving it some thought, a few seconds later Mary said she got what I meant.

This was not me being a wise big brother, far from it. I was simply sharing what my grandmother Edna Towle drummed into me during the time we’d play Chinese checkers or solitaire when I spent the night as a 6- and 7-year-old in the two-story 700-square foot house she had built with her own hands during the Great Depression.

It was sage advice sharpened by her life experiences and re-enforced by how I observed others act over the years.

Grandmother didn’t impress upon me her skill with a saw and hammer or how to shoe a horse. But a lot of things stuck, at least for the most part.

I don’t always rise to the occasion but I certainly make a conscious effort to live up to her two biggest points she worked in every time we had one-on-one time: Don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder and treat others as you want them to treat you.

I wish I can say I nail both bites of advice 100 percent of the time. I don’t. I can honestly say that I do strive to go through life following those two pearls of wisdom.

Grandmother’s advice I passed onto my sister 33 years ago certainly should be kept in mind as we approach Labor Day.

Most of us see it as a good excuse for a three-day weekend or the last blowout of summer. We rarely reflect on “labor” per se, its value or its virtue.

Given how more than a few of us have viewed government efforts to keep the pandemic from tanking the economy while trying to slow the spread of COVID-19, we might want to do a bit of soul searching.

Labor built this country and keeps it running, not government.

And what is handed to us has less value to us than something we earn.

There is worth in being able to work to obtain something. It creates value way beyond economic considerations. The delayed gratification involved in having to work for what you need or want manifests itself in a sense of self-worth, the concept of value, and restraint at squandering hard earned gains.

In the past year as government extended its hand to hold up the economy, a lot of people are embracing doling out more dollars as the way to build a better life for all.

There is a big danger enough “free money” from the government will dilute the incentive to work leading to societal issues and undermining the economy.

If you doubt that ask yourself a few questions.

Did you wake up with a roof over your head this morning?

Thank labor.

Did you enjoy a breakfast that contained food that was grown, processed, trucked, put on a shelf, kept cool in a refrigerator, cooked on a stove with either natural gas or electricity, and sat at a table?

Thank labor.

Are you going to travel in your car filled with oil refined into gasoline over roads and bridges to go play at the lake?

Thank labor.

And while it took a lot of brains to come up with your smartphone, computer, tablet, X-Box, and smartwatch none of it would have been possible without some mining materials, manufacturing components, and assembling them.

Thank labor.

Much ado is made about how we are shifting from a manufacturing to a service economy.

At the same time everyone thinks coding and 3-D printers will make physical labor as we know it obsolete. But somebody still has to mine and process the raw material and then build the robots, computers and 3-D printers.

Engineers specializing in a repertoire of disciplines provided the blueprints for the Industrial Age, the Space Age, and the Internet Age. But all of what they do would have remained on paper or jillions of numbers on a microchip if it wasn’t for labor.

Try using indoor plumbing if it wasn’t for labor. Not only did labor build and install the toilet but labor put in place the pipeline and the wastewater treatment plant.

We look at modern day marvels such as the Golden Gate Bridge and remember only one man, Joseph Strauss. History doesn’t note the thousands that mined the ore, molded the steel manufactured the wire and drove the 600,000 rivets in each tower, and those that risked life and limb erecting the suspension bridge over the dangerous Golden Gate. Eleven men perished building the bridge. Not one of them was an engineer.

Labor literally built the American Dream.

It transformed the New World into an economic juggernaut that stepped up in the world’s darkest hour and produced the armaments to beat back the Axis Power and then rebuilt war ravaged lands.

Labor is still as important as ever.

Unfortunately many look down on miners, farm workers, truck drivers, train engineers, mechanics, plumbers, and others because they aren’t engineers, lawyers, professors, code writers, and other professionals. Try launching an Internet start-up by eschewing anything labor produces.

Your innovative workplace could be in the open or in a cave you wouldn’t have bean bag chairs let along cubicles. They’d be no power to run your computer, charge your smartphone or run your expresso machine. You couldn’t sell a physical product or ship it. You’d have to walk to work and do so naked unless you can sew your own clothes or can find big enough fig leaves.

You’d have to make sure your office was by a brook as there would be no water pipelines nor bottled water deliveries which need a truck, a plant to mold plastic bottles, and a processing system to bottle and sanitize the water.

It’s ironic. We don’t hesitate to pay $1,000 for an iPhone that has a massive mark-up but we squawk bloody murder if we can’t hammer someone employing labor skills to do a job for us or produce a commodity down to the thinnest profit margin possible.

We value gadgets over the essentials.

That’s because labor has done its job and done it well.

We rarely give what they do a second thought. Labor and what it produces is taken for granted.

There is great honor in labor as well as value.

And none of what we enjoy today in America would be possible if people didn’t embrace work.