As I washed the dishes and pans after our own Labor Day weekend gathering last night, I thought about some of the labor I’ve done over the years. I picked cucumbers for only a day as a small child, but the memory has lasted a lifetime. I checked in dirty clothes at my father’s drycleaning stores for much of my teenage years, an enduring experience that means I end up touring the works at just about every drycleaner I patronize. I demolished the guts of a small greenhouse in the biology department at Emory University one summer, the only work I’ve ever done with my shirt off. And in the years when I was nascent stockbroker who did more cold-calling than stock picking, I crawled under houses all around Atlanta to help my uncle install furnaces and air conditioners.
Working In The Twenty First Century: U.S. Department of Labor Statistics
I have mostly sold things since then—first stocks and then mortgages, and now, with the downturn in the housing market, a commercial publishing service that is trying to reinvent itself as a social media management company. However, I have always understood that without the people who pick our cucumbers, the people who dry clean our clothes, the people who install our a/c systems, and the rest of the people who pave our roads, build our cars, and construct our houses and the like, there is really no need for people who work in “thin air” businesses like I do. These days we are more prone to celebrate financiers and accumulators of great wealth. But without the human capital in capitalism, there would be no riches to flaunt, no baubles to envy.
“A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.”
A. Philip Randolph