Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lincoln's useful observation about capitalism and labor

"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." – Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln, obviously, was no socialist, as the second and less-quoted half of that paragraph shows. I like to think that if called on it, he would've agreed that the rights of capital are not as worthy of protection as any other rights – I doubt he would defend the right of a land owner to refuse to let people dying of hunger or thirst take water from a stream or grain from a field that the land owner has claimed. He obviously rejected the pure capitalist idea that people have a right to own anything, including people.

Lincoln understood the primacy of labor, and he understood that the conflict between capitalists and socialists is over the "consideration" between workers and the people who profit from them. Our growing wealth gap shows how little that "higher consideration" is valued today.