Monday, September 6th, is Labor Day in the United States. National, state, and local government offices will be closed, as will most non-retail business.
In a normal year Labor Day marks end of summer. This summer was a scorcher in Boston, with two days of record high temperatures and four official heat waves (three or more consecutive days of 90 degrees or higher). I think of the men I saw, as I took an air-conditioned Uber to the swimming pool during those 90-degree plus days in July, hand-tamping hot asphalt paving under the scorching sun. As my fingers move across the keyboard now the overhead light reflects off my freshly manicured nails and the cuff links in my soft, clean, white shirt. As I think of my relative comfort I remember that I enjoy ease because other men and women are out in the summer heat and sun and winter cold doing dirty backbreaking work. And that is why we set aside the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
Of course, Labor Day honors all workers, not only those who do manual labor. But it is good to remind ourselves from time to time of the necessity of manual labor. Ordinary Americans today enjoy necessities of life, security, and even luxuries, the envy of princes in an earlier age. The bright, hardworking, and daring men and women of Wall Street and other financial markets create new and innovative ways to maximize wealth and give us the most prosperous society the world has known, and one in which wealth, is distributed more widely than ever before. In sum, our financial markets —- at least when left alone —- do a bully job of managing wealth. But they do not create wealth. Ultimately you have to make it (manufacturing), mine it (digging or drilling), or grow it (agriculture). Someone has to build houses for the economic indicators to register an increase in housing starts. Some has to drill if we are to have the oil to fuel our economy. Someone has to hoe and weed to keep Whole Foods (whole-paycheck we call it my house) stocked with the organic fruit and vegetables we love to consume.
Politicians in Washington will talk much this Labor Day weekend about the dignity of the workingmen and women of America, but the policies they enact tell a different tale. You do not respect the dignity of the workingman or woman by destroying his job.