Back to Eden: From wage slave to freeholder in your local economy

Karl’s Restaurant on Hixson Pike in Chattanooga competes with corporate chain restaurants and has been run by a local couple for many years.

Jesus said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, & they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, & to give his life a ransom for many.

— Matt. 20:25-28

By Franklin Sanders

About 1954 Murray of Ohio moved to Lawrence County, Tenn., & opened a factory. The first generation of country people who went to work there held onto their farms & worked 18 hour days.

After a factory shift, they’d go home & raise all the crops & animals they ever had. Owning their own land, they were able to build up an estate for their children.

Down into Egypt

The second generation was content to work at the factory & let the land go. If they stayed, they limited their farming to raising cattle or trees. Most of the land wound up in paper company hands.

The third generation depends completely on their factory jobs. In the meantime Murray, as the largest employer in the county, set wage rates, & it sets them low, so rates have remained low over the past 50 years… After all, they didn’t move down here because they were philanthropists; they moved down here because labor was cheap.

Meanwhile the rest of the local middle class has nearly disappeared, aided no doubt by dropping wages & the invasion of Wal-Mart & other chains.

The multitude of restaurants, bakeries, small shops, groceries, hardware stores, shoe shops,

dry goods stores, dairies, craftsmen & most other small businesses have vanished. What middle class remains is a small crust of lawyers, doctors, dentists, &, inevitably, bankers. In a county once covered with independent freeholders — self-sufficient farmers & small business owners — most people have become propertyless employees.

The predictable sequel unfolded through fall 2004 as Murray teetered on bankruptcy. One morning it laid off over 100 supervisory personnel. Then it shut down two of three production lines. What employees are left expect the rest of their production to be shipped to Mexico or China — where the labour is still cheaper.

On Nov. 8, 2004, Murray declared bankruptcy. In January 2005 the company was sold to its largest creditor, Briggs & Stratton. They were to close down operations in 18 months, & salaried employees were to be laid off in the fall.

Health and lifestyle

The shift from freeholder to employee led also to lifestyle & diet changes. No longer do they exercise in their work all day, or eat a diet high in vegetables, home-grown meat, eggs & raw milk. Rather, they exercise little & eat a processed diet weighted down with soy, sugar, refined flour, soft drinks & other carbohydrates.

Diet & lifestyle changes leave the third generation with chronic health problems, notably high blood pressure, diabetes & obesity. Without employer-furnished insurance they cannot afford health care, which keeps them chained to a job.

Over the same fifty years, a people who trained their children to avoid debt have become addicted to debt. Where once father & mother labored their whole lives to pass on a farm or business to their children mortgage- & debt free, the children are now mired to their chins in debt. Not only have government schools & agencies taught them that no one can succeed in business or farming without constant borrowing, but the consumer society has also seduced them into mortgages, car loans, credit card debt & borrowing of all kinds. Where once only Daddy worked, now Mama must work, too, to make the payments, so the children must go to daycare.

If they lose their jobs, they lose everything, because they own nothing.

The model of love

How do we combat the effects of greed? Mankind has already been fighting it over 6,000 years with only spotty success. Besides, the economic philosophy of modernism & industrial capitalism sees no evil in — or at least no remedy for — destroying a community such as I’ve outlined above.

The remedy lies in the Law of God. Obedience to that law defines “love.” The Ten Commandments are divided into the First Table, the first four commandments defining our duty to God, & the Second Table, the last six commandments that define our duty to our fellow man.

Christ summed up these duties when asked what was the greatest commandment. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, & all thy soul, & all thy mind. This is the first & great commandment, & the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Too often we remember only half of the law, the forbidding. But every law that forbids an evil also commands a good. If we have only refrained from hurting our neighbour, we haven’t fulfilled the law. Rather, we must also positively try to do him good.

The Eighth Commandment, for example, commands us not to steal, but at the same time also commands us to promote our neighbour’s wealth & well-being.

Through public education industrial capitalism (not free markets or free enterprise) has turned a nation of freeholders into a nation of employees. To reverse our present economic serfdom, then, we must reverse what modernism has done. We have to turn employees into freeholders.

The Chamber of Commerce model

The Chamber of Commerce model aims to promote prosperity by drawing industry into the community to create jobs. It aims to draw outside money into the community. Fine, as long as outside demand remains strong. When that weakens, however, the community discovers exactly how dependent it has become on that outside money, & to what extent employment has been centralised & made vulnerable to forces outside the community.

The Chamber of Commerce’s mistake lies in:

(1)  Centralising employment, &

(2) Not building up the local economy from the inside out.

When employment is centralised in one or two large employers then the large employer sets the wage rates for everyone in the community, not just his own employees. Obviously, employment security becomes dependent on the economic health of those large employers — not just for their employees, but for everyone else in the community through the knock-on effect.

To build up the local economy from the inside out means to encourage local people to take care of local people’s needs. Why should Tennesseans buy tomatoes in season from California? Lettuce? Milk? Or cigars from Florida or the Dominican Republic? Or . . . you name it. Most of life’s necessities we can raise right here quite economically, & often with a competitive advantage. We can grow locally, produce locally & buy locally.

Why don’t we? First, because people have left or been driven off the land or out of business because they have depended on imported jobs. Second, they have been dumbed down by public education & robbed of their desire for economic independence & their entrepreneurial ability. We must help them reverse those shortcomings.

Up from Egypt

In the microcosmic example that opened this essay we saw the progression from freeholding to wage slavery. The first generation kept their farms & worked in the factory — 18 hour days. The second generation refused to do that & gave up their farms & sold them to paper companies, taking land out of agricultural production. The third generation now depends wholly on external employment, & faces sudden job loss because of corporate bankruptcies, downsizing, or factories moving to overseas.

What is the answer? A healthy local economy furnishes each other’s needs. Local people can fulfill local needs, patronise each other, & built a lasting foundation for local prosperity. Local people can keep the local cash flow at home, instead of allowing the Wal-Marts & Lowe’ses to suck it out & send it to their headquarters. On Wall Street they can capitalise those cash flows at 20 to one. Do they have any incentive to build more Wal-Marts? Most people have no idea how to become freeholders or financially independent.

We have to take a two pronged approach, to free every one personally, & then to help those who can become freeholders.

(A version of this essay was first published in The Moneychanger in March 2005 and on this site in September 2012.) Franklin Sanders is publisher of The Moneychanger, a privately circulated monthly newsletter that focus on gold and silver and the application of Christianity to economics, culture and family life. We have subscribed to this newsletter for more than 20 years, and consider it a must read. Franklin is an active trader in gold and silver (he’ll swap your green Federal Reserve rectangles and give you real money in return). He trades with savers and investors outside Tennessee. Subscribe to his daily price report and market commentary on the website.