Labor Day? Let’s Tell The Truth And Call It “Assets Day”

By Douglas K. Smith, author of On Value and Values: Thinking Differently About We In An Age Of MeCrossposted from Naked Capitalism by permission of the author. 

Come on, face it. “Labor Day” is a national fiction — right up there with “anti-trust enforcement” and “regulating Wall Street.” The only parades that matter this September 7th will trudge through Wal-Mart, Gap, Radio Shack and other retailers in mad pursuit of holiday price reductions that come from eviscerating labor, not investing in it. The grandest pageant of all is going to be virtual: a mass frenzy of online deal seekers surfing eRetailers fixated on cutting labor costs while pushing, prodding, and electronically monitoring warehouse and office employees to get the last possible ounce of productivity.”

Don’t be surprised if some executive at Wal-Mart imagines observing “Labor Day” with a one-time offer of unpaid internships to debt ridden college kids — giving them the chance to build their “personal brands”‘ as a step toward, say, becoming an Uber driver.

Celebrate labor? Are you kidding me? Labor is an obscenity in executive suites, boardrooms and among the 1% generally — including the innumerable elected officials bought and paid for with the 1%’s assets.

Labor is not to be commemorated. Ownership is. Ownership is one of Jeff Bezos’ 11 Commandments at Amazon. Ownership makes America exceptional. The liberty and freedom to own is why our brave and underpaid service men, women and drones battle terrorists who hate our exalted financial wizards — people like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs who “do Gods work” by making, selling, securitizing, swapping, re-securitizing, and under-collateralizing assets.

Assets are the “be all, end all” of our economy. Labor? Cue the canned laughter.

Look no further than corporate values statements and you will see this: “Our people are our most important assets.” Assets. Got that? And, it gets even creepier. What are employees? Human capital.

Trust me. Before the Emancipation Proclamation, Americans knew about human capital — and they did not dress it up once a year with a euphemism called “Labor Day.”

So, why do we?

“We’re creating,” President George W. Bush said in October 2004, “an ownership society in this country, where more Americans than ever will be able to open up their door where they live and say, welcome to my house, welcome to my piece of property.”

The same George W. Bush who — just like Clinton before him and Obama after him and asset lovers in both major parties — all have watched Labor Days come and Labor Days go over a now two-decade long series of what we call “jobless recoveries.”

It’s not for nothing that Ambrose Bierce wrote in The Devil’s Dictionary: “Labor: One of the processes by which A acquires property for B.”

Hey, you don’t want to be A. So don’t party about it.

Labor Day never sat well with America’s leaders anyway. Grover Cleveland and a unanimous House only enacted Labor Day in 1894 to quell rising unionism and violent strikes. They also made sure to time it in September instead of May to avoid any association with the asset-loathing ideologies of socialism and communism. Better to cordon off and confine Eugene Debs and other unionists to a single day of the year — and make the other 364 safe for the American Dream of Ownership.

Today it is “all assets all the time”‘ for the elites who, like Bush, Clinton, Obama and Blankfein, have drunk the anti-labor Kool-Aid for more than forty years. Free markets make America great. And free markets are freest when labor is free.

Why? Because free markets maximize efficiency. If you’re among the tens of millions of Americans whose jobs have disappeared, been downsized, and outsourced — if you’ve lost benefits, seen wages stagnate and even rely on public welfare to get by a member of the working poor, then you know what market efficiency means.

It means, to paraphrase Bierce, you’re A. Not B.

Take heart. Through your self-denial, executives, owners, and shareholders have grabbed all the productivity gains of the past quarter century for themselves.

No one is calling them “asset-less recoveries.”

Yet, this is just a part of our asset-driven society! Even as labor is gutted and life for tens of millions becomes ever more precarious, you get to do your part as a consumer and a taxpayer.

How, though, you might ask, do you help create assets as a consumer? I mean, you don’t really have any money since you get paid practically nothing for work.

Simple. You borrow it! “Consumer” is yet another fiction to today’s financiers. Just like “Labor Day.”

“Consumer” actually means “Borrower.” Let me explain. To our God-not-Mammon inspired financiers, you are no more and no less than a potential piece of cash flow. Need a car? Or a house, a refrigerator, a cell phone, a college education — or anything whatsoever that, of course, you cannot afford because of paltry and undependable wages? Call 1-800-GETLOAN!

When you — and zillions like you — cannot afford a car, home, college education, or whatever, just open your mail or answer your phone for a loan offer. One that will surely come with usurious interest rates, too! (Banksters get zero interest rates. That’s called “quantitative easing.” Everyone else? 10% to 30% or higher.)

Your interest rate payments are cash flows — and they get bundled up with lots of other cash-flows-formerly-known-as-people. Presto! We have mortgage-backed securities, student debt backed-securities, car loan-backed securities, credit card debt securities and pretty much anything that can get financed-backed securities.

Assets, my friends, assets!!

These assets are what get swapped, re-securitized several times over and always always always are under-collateralized. Then, whenever the utterly fictionalized values of these under-collateralized assets even come close to a dose of reality? Well, that’s when you come to the rescue in your role taxpayer!

Bailouts! Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!

You, my friends, are truly champion asset creators! Your long-suffering self-denial of working for crap wages contributes to massive corporate profits that executives tap to buy-back company stock in order to keep those asset values high. Your low-to-no wages give you as consumers the God-given freedom to borrow and, thereby, fund securitized assets. And, when those asset values get threatened, your taxes come to the rescue through bailouts and mumbo jumbo (“quantitative easing”).

This is sweeeeeeet!

This is worth celebrating!


Get a life. Get some assets.

So, why don’t we call this September 7th what it actually is: Assets Day!

A time to celebrate your assets off.

What? Got no assets?

You’re screwed.

“Labor Day” Links: Rand Wilson, Steve Early, Jeannette Wicks-Lim

(1) Jeannette Wicks-Lim on the Real News Network.  Frequent D&S author and staff economist at the Political Economy Research Institute, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, in an interview back in 2009 about the coming low-wage future. The email today from TRNN linking to the piece was entitled “Labor Day: The Less-Radical Alternative to May Day.” I consider this witty understatement. If you do a Google Images search for “Labor Day” (or click this link) you get lots of American flag waving, and the slogan: “Labor Day: Celebrating the Achievements of America’s Workforce.”

(2) Rand Wilson on “Just Cause” and Job Insecurity.  The first article we’re posting from our Annual Labor Issue (we are still in layout).  Rand argues that far from being obsolete (as the New York Times recently claimed), teacher tenure is the kind of policy that should be extended to all workers, as it is in other industrialized countries (vs. workers being “at will”).

(3) Steve Early in Counterpunch.  This piece by our pal Steve, “Organizing the Organized,” pairs nicely with Rand’s.  With more states becoming “right-to-work” states and given the recent Harris v. Quinn ruling (which Rand also talks about), it’s becoming more important than ever to have unions where workers are not just “organized” (in the sense of being union members) but actually organized, in the sense of being engaged and politically activated, whether or not they are in collective bargaining units.

(4) Steven Greenhouse, More Workers Are Claiming ‘Wage Theft’From today’s New York Times; hat-tip to TM.  Good piece; the comments section is especially heartening–90% or more of the comments condemn wage theft, many with personal anecdotes. The dissenters look ridiculous.

That’s it for now.

–Chris Sturr