When you get a whole country — as did ours — thinking that Washington is a sort of heaven and behind its clouds dwell omniscience and omnipotence, you are educating that country into a dependent state of mind, which augurs ill for the future. Our help does not come from Washington, but from ourselves; our help may, however, go to Washington as a sort of central distribution point, where all our efforts are coordinated for the general good. We may help the Government; the Government cannot help us. The slogan of “less government in business and more business in government” is a very good one, not mainly on account of business or government, but on account of the people. Business is not the reason why the United States was founded. The Declaration of Independence is not a business charter, nor is the Constitution of the United States a commercial schedule.
The United States — its land, people, government and business — are but methods by which the life of the people is made worthwhile. The Government is a servant and never should be anything but a servant. The moment the people become adjuncts to government, then the law of retribution begins to work, for such a relation is unnatural, immoral and inhuman. … The welfare of the country is squarely up to us as individuals. That is where it should be, and that is where it is safest. Governments can promise something for nothing, but they cannot deliver. …
The economic fundamental is labor. Labor is the human element which makes the fruitful seasons of the earth useful to men. It is men’s labor that makes the harvest what it is. That is the economic fundamental: Every one of us is working with material which we did not and could not create, but which was presented to us by Nature.
The moral fundamental is man’s right in his labor. This is variously stated. It is sometimes called “the right of property.” It is sometimes masked in the command, “Thou shalt not steal.” It is the other man’s right in his property that makes stealing a crime. When a man has earned his bread, he has a right to that bread. If another steals it, he does more than steal bread; he invades a sacred human right. If we cannot produce, we cannot have — but some say if we produce it is only for the capitalists. Capitalists who become such because they provide better means of production are the foundation of society. …
The only strong group of union men in the country is the group that draws salaries from the unions. Some of them are very rich. Some of them are interested in influencing the affairs of our large institutions of finance. Others are so extreme in their so-called socialism that they border on Bolshevism and anarchism — their union salaries liberating them from the necessity of work so that they can devote their energies to subversive propaganda. All of them enjoy a certain prestige and power, which, in the natural course of competition, they could not otherwise have won.
If the official personnel of the labor unions were as strong, as honest, as decent, and as plainly wise as the bulk of the men who make up the membership, the whole movement would have taken on a different complexion these last few years. But this official personnel, in the main — there are notable exceptions — has not devoted itself to an alliance with the naturally strong qualities of the workingman; it has rather devoted itself to playing upon his weaknesses, principally upon the weaknesses of that newly arrived portion of the population which does not yet know what Americanism is, and which never will know if left to the tutelage of their local union leaders.
The workingmen, except those few who have been inoculated with the fallacious doctrine of “the class war” and who have accepted the philosophy that progress consists in fomenting discord in industry, have the plain sense which enables them to recognize that conditions change. The union leaders have never seen that. They wish conditions to remain as they are, conditions of injustice, provocation, strikes, bad feeling and crippled national life. Else where would be the need for union officers? Every strike is a new argument for them; they point to it and say, “You see! You still need us.” …
The workingman himself must be on guard against some very dangerous notions — dangerous to himself and to the welfare of the country. It is sometimes said that the less a worker does, the more jobs he creates for other men. This fallacy assumes that idleness is creative. Idleness never created a job. It creates only burdens. The industrious man never runs his fellow worker out of a job; indeed, it is the industrious man who is the partner of the industrious manager — who creates more and more business and therefore more and more jobs.
It is a great pity that the idea should ever have gone abroad among sensible men that by “soldiering” on the job, they help someone else. A moment’s thought will show the weakness of such an idea. The healthy business, the business that is always making more and more opportunities for men to earn an honorable and ample living, is the business in which every man does a day’s work of which he is proud. And the country that stands most securely is the country in which men work honestly and do not play tricks with the means of production. We cannot play fast and loose with economic laws, because if we do, they handle us in very hard ways.
The fact that a piece of work is now being done by nine men which used to be done by 10 men does not mean that the 10th man is unemployed. He is merely not employed on that work, and the public is not carrying the burden of his support by paying more than it ought on that work — for after all, it is the public that pays!