Labor Day Exemplifies the American “Third Way” Between Capitalism and Socialism

Whatever its current state — proven impossible and undesirable by the forces of history, I’d say — communism originally arose in response to real dangers, the likes of which we’re fortunate to not know today. To turn a phrase, the history of the 19th century is the history of the failure of unregulated capital markets. It just plain doesn’t work, tending towards runaway greed and disastrous externalities rather than anything resembling “real freedom” or prosperity.

Naturally tensions came to a head by the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the Progressive Era — which Glenn Beck views as a monstrous evil, but for which any working man or woman should be thankful. To stave off imminent violence from angry workers, Washington leadership would move in the next twenty years to enforce an eight-hour workday, a forty-hour workweek, and institute industrial safeguards, designed to put an end to tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, borne off a surfeit of greed and a deficit of basic humanity. But it would begin with a simple holiday — Labor Day, an olive branch to rioting Pullman workers, to signal that Washington was willing to listen.

America navigated between the twin perils of unrestrained markets and socialism not by sucking it up and letting conglomerates continue to abuse their workers, but by discovering the regulatory state. For more than a century, regulated capitalism has worked for America. Today, our day off is a chance to remind ourselves that sometimes, catchy jingles aside and kitschy parties aside, government intervention, in moderation, is the answer, and the cure for rather, than a road to socialism.

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5 comments

  1. I usually agree wth what you have to say, A., but I can’t quite follow you in this analysis. Despite the bit of regulation that you guys have managed to introduce over the years, the US appears at least to me as one of the most capitalist societies of the world, with the possibly exception of places like Singapore and Hong Kong, and pretty far from any kind of “third way”.

    But if we are looking for a third way, I would (somewhat immodestly) point at the Nordic countries instead, which have managed to combine a strong welfare state with a healthy, well-regulated market economy in a model that has proven quite succesful – with strong trade unions that nevertheless don’t dominate the labor market, a very high standard of living, (dare I say it?) universal health care and education, and yet also a strong industrial and business sector that allows entrepreneurs to profit.

    Or to be less provincialist, New Zealand has a very similar model. But the US? Not so much.

  2. There’s no question that we’re not nearly as middle of the road as other countries — but similarly, we were way far right, and now we’re not. It’s
    middle of the road relative to our future and other options, but certainly not relative to the world :-)

  3. You had me with your fancy legal mumbo jumbo, but now I gotcha with your prais of the Progressives.

    First off, the Third Way of the time and of today is not safety regs or the work week, but corporatism. It was the ideal of the Progressives not to destroy the barons, but to harness them. The regulatory state you praise is the same regulatory state that supports Wal Mart, Enron, Haliburton and so on. The regulatory state picks and chooses winners, those winners being the best politically connected companies like GE.

    Secondly, the Progressives were uber nationalist and formented the Red Scare, the imperialism of the Spanish War and the Latin American occupations of the early 1900s. They believed in Hegel’s historicsm, which supported their belief in racist occupations of “inferior” nations and races. Not to mention thier support of eugenics.

    Thirdly, connecting the detractors of Old Progressivism to Beck is just plain sad. There are countless books from the Progressive era to today that take on Progressivism and it’s harsh ideas. Nock, Hayek, Buckley, Kirk; to name. Very few.

    Yes, some of the regulations the Progressives implimented were needed. There’s no doubt of that. But are we do overlook everything else because you get time and a half? You’ve gotta look at it all, or forever be a half-ass historian.

  4. I literally have no idea what you’re talking about. As I’m working on minimal Internet please do me the courtesy of explaining before resorting to namecalling. If this is just another “sins of the father” thing though — ie, Goldberg revisionism — I don’t want to hear it.

  5. The socialist movement arose to combat poverty, and that does not seem to be a problem that is solved, at least not in most of the world. To me, the real trouble seems to be that there are several ways to deal with insecurity and destitution, and campaigning against those people, institutions and forces that are actually responsible for your situation is only the most rational of them.

    Give me a sincere communist movement scaring government into regulating over an escapist religious movement or scapegoating “my unemployment is the immigrants’ fault” racism any day.

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