How would feel about working for another man’s wife and children while your family is struggling to survive? Would that be fair? Well, this is exactly how I feel every time I hear about a new stimulus package or Federal Reserve Board of Governors pumping (printing) money to override market adjustments. The purpose of this post is to tell you about the origin of that phrase ‘working for other men’s wives’.
In fact, if you know it or not, because of these bailouts, debt, and taxes you are now at this very moment slaving away for other men’s wives. Have no illusion, you are working so your neighbor’s wife can remodel her bathroom. I wonder what color she will choose for her new bathroom with your money?
Does this very idea get you a little unnerved? Well, it’s true, you are working so your neighbor’s wife can put in a new kitchen floor. I just keep asking myself will it be hardwood or linoleum? It is true.
Let me explain why I keep using this metaphor and referring to your neighbor’s wife.
I use the expression ‘working for another man’s wife’ a lot. It is not a sexist statement or something I just pulled out of the air, it comes from the origins of our nation. I am a Bostonian so I think I can write a bit about the history of New England.
Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes. Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. – George Santayana
Lets read some primary source documents and let the facts speak for themselves.
Economic lesson from American history
First let’s do some time traveling and go back to 1621 Plymouth, Massachusetts. The new Americans had set up a ‘commonwealth’. That is the wealth produced was to be shared by the community. You work and toil and a large percentage of produce would go back into the common pool of assets. If one enterprise was failing, assets from another productive enterprise would go to bail out that unproductive economic activity. This is basically what happened in modern speak. Taking away properties and bringing it in the community for the commonwealth to share the responsibility of these assets.
The result, you guessed it, was even more crisis and hardship. Those who were productive or clever were punished. Those who were slothful or took the foolish risk were rewarded. The new American settlement was on the brink of economic collapse. People did not like working for their neighbor.
By the year 1623 William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth colony saw that this economic plan was making the economic crisis worse. The colony was on the brink of starvation. Maybe the idea would be OK for some communal hippies from the 1960s, but for Americans trying to survive, it made things worst.
William Bradford realized that by taxing the productive and rewarding the slothful, all suffered. To save the new colony he immediately did away with these ‘bailouts’ and told people they were on their own. To fight and struggle for their own families and make something with their own wits and hard work. They no longer needed to work for another man’s wife and children. Free markets would reward and punish economic activity.
Did it work? What do you think? Lets read the original documents. Here is the original document that states the facts about what happened.
Bradford’s History of ‘Plimoth Plantation’ by William Bradford
…taking away of propertie, and bringing in com̅unitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymēt that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For ye yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour & service did repine that they should spend their time & streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails & cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter ye other could; this was thought injuestice.
English in the 17th century had no standardized spelling, but even so, you can clearly read extract the meaning of this. It is not some abstract economic-political theory. It was real. People were suffering because of some idealistic notion of how the economy should be managed.
Here also is the statement ‘to work for other men’s wives’ It’s meaning is clear and people like the President, might want to read a little about American history before they get some idea to create a better society in their head.
Now extrapolate this to the current economic solution put for by government today you might think is a bit of a stretch. But it is not. It is the same idea. We do it today with the tax system, monetary stimulus, and deficit spending. Net, net it is the same. This way we redistribute wealth.
My personal observation of economic redistribution – more lessons from history
I live as an American in post-communist Poland. When I read about how back home the solution is to nationalize and tax and expand government. I can only think about Eastern Europe’s experience with this idea. I just have to open my eyes and see how Poland is still trying to rebuild from democratic socialism. It did not work. It did not work with the Plymouth colony in 1621, it did not work with the New Deal in the 1930s, it did not work with socialism and communism in Eastern Europe and it is not working with the New Deal II. If I have to work for my neighbor’s wife, I prefer to use my time in another way, a less productive way.
Some people are confused. Free economic activity does not try to make everyone equal, it simply allows people to be the best they can be. Is there anything wrong with that?
Without the market, there would be no reward for problem-solving, for working hard if the best of your efforts were given to someone else, some stranger. Where are the challenge and struggle?
What are work and laziness today
Remember you can also be mentally lazy. Thinking is the hardest work there is, that is why so few people do it. You need to be striving to improve your situation. If you are just working at your job, and not trying to improve yourself and prepare for the next step, in my mind you are lazy.
Lack of ascetic practices making you poor?
If you can not find a job, keep looking. Adjust your spending habits to a minimum. I live in Poland where people support a family on a few hundred dollars a month, so you would have a hard time convincing me you can not be more frugal.
Do not tell me: ‘it’s the economy’ (I think that was the Clinton and Obama campaign mantra). You need always to be working to improve your skills and situation. You need to find a solution yourself. Do I sound arrogant, I am not. I will trade life hardship stories (I am not talking about people suffering from real medical problems of course) with anyone out there. However, I commit myself to find solutions to no-win situations. Economically I do not believe in the no-win scenario.
Look, I do well economically by working hard and I have done very well with investing. To some extent, my investing has saved me but that is another story. But I am not the richest guy in the world. I do not have a car (OK I live in a European city), but I was paying taxes so other people could buy a new car in the cash for clunkers program. I do not own a house (I am waiting until I can pay cash for a house, I am a bit of an economic oddball), but my tax money is going to support artificially high housing prices because some guy’s wife wanted to spend more than they could afford. Too much house if you will. This is very unfair. Margret Thatcher said bailouts work well ‘until you run out of other people’s money’.
Why I think government intervention in the free market is unfair
I spend time a lot of time trying to improve my life. I read all the time about how to improve my life economically and I also reflect on this. I think awareness of your situation and the striving to change it is a very noble thing. I read and study about how to invest more wisely, to create and bring my own ideas to market. I spend a lot of my free time learning. It takes courage because people criticize me for leaving my traditional 9 to 5 job or not being a banker or Wall Street investment guy to impress people with a title and wearing fancy wingtip shoes.
I am up at the crack of dawn working and often working after dark. It all comes down to this. If the fruit of my labor will be taken from me and given to some other guy, what is the point? Why try to improve my economic life?
I have many problems in my life, but I know that only I can solve these problems. I do not put my hope in some bureaucrat or politician. Do you? Only I can solve my problems and find a solution to economic hardship I might face. It is all up to me. This is why I do not like these stimulus plans, bailouts, Ben Bernanke Federal Reserve Bank action or taxes. It to me is another way of saying ‘working for another man’s wife’.