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Happy Capitalist Day
Why no celebration, no honor and no cheer for the greatest wealth-multiplier of all?
Bill Bonner, reckoning today from Poitou, France...
Yesterday was Labor Day in the US. But why is there a national holiday to celebrate labor?
Work has always been with us. People hunted…gathered. Then, they planted and reaped. But it was only with the arrival of capitalism that people made real material progress. They hammered steel, turned bolts, attached wires, invented silicon wafers and developed TikTok.
To make a long story short, people bus, tote and schlep just like they always did. But labor is limited by time. There are only 24 hours in a day. And as Jesus pointed out, no matter how smart we think we are, none of us can add a single minute to our day.
Capital, on the other hand – the accumulation of resources, machines, energy, and knowledge – is infinite. It is capital, not labor, that created our modern world.
Capitalism is also to thank for social progress, such as it is. As we’ve pointed out many times here – mostly for our own cynical amusement – if it weren’t for capitalism, fossil fuels and the Industrial Revolution, we’d still work our fields with slaves. And if capitalism hadn’t made us more productive, we’d still be using our children in factories and mines.
Mind the Logic Gap
And what about women? Has capitalism left them behind? Has it rescued them from the drudgery of cooking and cleaning? It has given them dishwashers…electric irons…vacuum cleaners…carry-out….Uber eats…prepared meals ready to ‘pop in the microwave,’ and sweet-smelling detergents. They live longer and die richer than men. What more could they want?
But the media tells us the poor femmes are ‘missing out.’ This is Bloomberg:
Japanese Women Are Missing Out on $760 Billion in Unpaid Wages
Japanese women are missing out on around ¥111 trillion ($761 billion) in pay for a range of household tasks they do for free, an amount that’s roughly equivalent to a fifth of the country’s economy.
This morning, our dishwasher was on the fritz, so we did the dishes by hand. Did we ‘miss out’ on something?
We could pay someone to shine our shoes. But we prefer to do it ourselves. Are we “missing out” on $5…plus tip? And what about the shoe-shiner; when he shines his own shoes, does he ‘miss out’ too?
Suppose the Japanese women called in the professionals. Instead of mopping their floors and ironing their husbands’ shirts, suppose they paid someone else to do it.
Or suppose they did the work themselves, and got paid for it. Either way, the money would have to come out of household budgets. In other words, the whole exercise would be puerile. Some women prefer to have others do the work – and pay them. Others would rather do it themselves and save the money. Either they pay others…or they pay themselves. There’s no ‘missing out’ involved.
Others’ Dirty Laundry
As British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan once remarked, you can’t get richer ‘by taking in each other’s laundry.’ And it wasn’t government or legislation that made the washwomen better off, either; it was capital. With machines to wash, dry, and iron, they can earn their daily bread more easily than ever before.
And now, the laboring class (at least in America) has grown so rich that it no longer worries about its daily bread. Food is so abundant that it poses a threat. Four out of 10 white adults are obese in the US. For blacks it is worse; half of them are huge.
How to account for the remarkable progress of the working stiffs? They have the same time available as they did 1,000 years ago. But today, their time is much more valuable. Some economists maintain that money is nothing more than “tokenized time.” They believe the progress of the world can be reduced to “time prices.” By this measure – thanks to new discoveries, new innovations…and technological breakthrough – the laboring classes are richer than ever.
George Gilder, for example, for whom we have deep respect and admiration, explains:
What remains scarce in economics when everything else becomes more abundant is the inexorable passage of time at a pace of 24 hours a day.
..while population increased 71% between 1980 and 2019, the time-prices of the key commodities supporting human life and prosperity dropped 72%. …there was a 518% increase in abundance.
A Matter of Time
He’s right, as far as it goes. Time measures absolute progress. Labor – assisted by fossil fuels and machines – is 5 times as productive as it used to be (before 1980).
Yes, capital did that. Not labor. It made us rich. It brought us food, medicines, autos, airplanes, supermarkets, air conditioning – all the things we now take for granted. Thanks to capitalism (and fossil fuels) planet Earth now supports 6.5 billion more people than it did in 1850.
It also brought industrial farming and genetically modified plants…long-range bombers…drones…freeways…radar traps…meme stocks…TV…Facebook…and Bitcoin.
Now, from the comfort of our own homes, with a thermostat set at 70 degrees, we can watch “The White Lotus” and see how awful rich people are.
Why no parades for Capitalist Day?
There are more dots to connect…