On systems of labor

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systems of labor

Photo: Bain News Service / Library of Congress
Float of the Women’s Trade Union League in a Labor Day Parade in New York, Sept. 7, 1908.

David Moe
Sun City, Calif.

In honor of Norwegian Labor Day (May 1), I want to write about labor under a capitalist system vs. a socialist system.

Under a capitalist system, the idea is to find inexpensive labor so that most of the profit will go to the investors and executives. We have been told to accept unemployment as normal and poverty as inevitable, so there will be a permanent underclass with a huge gap between rich and poor. I have been a laborer and a business owner under this system, so I have empathy for both sides.

An example of this was during the building of the railroads. The railroad magnates imported Chinese labor on the West Coast and used immigrant labor on the East Coast and Midwest, while the investors and executives got the profits, so the fruits of the laborers went to build colossal fortunes for the few.

Today, business owners hire employees to work only 29 hours a week, so that they don’t have to pay benefits, which often cost more than the wages themselves. We still use immigrants to do many of our labor jobs, such as picking strawberries, because it is hard work with poor pay, so who wants to pick strawberries?

Under a socialist system, the idea is that everyone should be paid the same, whether they are labor or executive, based on their education and experience. One of the problems with this is a lack of incentive. If everyone is paid the same, why work hard, long hours? Maybe unemployment and poverty are eliminated, but the people pretend to work while the government pretends to pay them.

I am not an advocate for either system, because I believe a better system can be developed incorporating the strengths of both. I believe that labor requires respect, and laborers should receive an honest, livable wage for an honest day’s work.

Under the Norwegian system, medical and college expenses are paid by the government through taxation. Of course, the Norwegian government also receives a lot of oil revenue, and it spends a lower percentage on its military budget than the United States, so they have different priorities. Norwegians pay a slightly larger percentage of their income in taxes, but they know they are getting benefits for their money.

I think the U.S. could lower its military budget and devote more money to medical and domestic spending for its citizens. We no longer need to be the police of the world; other countries need to step up and assume greater responsibility for the world order.

For example, every country should pay more to support the United Nations peace-keeping forces. In my opinion, the U.S. needs to change its priorities to be more in line with Norway for the benefit of all and not just the few. We have great diversity in America, but we can become more united to benefit all. Satisfaction of greed should be replaced with satisfaction of need.

People should be paid equally for the same work and responsibility, and not have their pay based on some hypothetical criteria. There needs to be some incentive for advancement, with emphasis on recognition, rewards, etc., and not just money.

Everyone wants money, so there is no end to it. Being retired, I get phone calls and mail every day from people who want my money. Colleges, veterans, causes, politicians, and more. If people would work as hard as they try to raise money, perhaps we could have a better society and people would be happier. I hope for a better day.

David Moe graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris, and received his M.A. degree from San Francisco State University. He spent four years in the U.S. Navy and 32 years in the insurance business. He and his wife, Thordis, have two daughters and four grandchildren. They live in Sun City, Calif.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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