Thursday, November 24, 2011

Once 90% of US were Self-Employed

Maryland Farms During World War II

               In 1790, 90 percent of the total population of 3,929,214 in the United States were self employed farmers. By self employed I mean that they lived or died by their ability to produce for themselves food, fuel, fiber, forage, feed, flowers (herbs for medicine), and forest products for housing. Large international organizations played a supporting role and employed few people. Laws were made to protect the interests of the self employed businesses that were the family farm. For the most part laws were not made to benefit the needs and wants of large corporate employers unless those laws directly impacted the needs of small business.
               It was in the interest of large farmers to keep control of the political process in order to ensure the maximum distribution of governmental largess and resources so laws were enacted to restrict policies enfranchisement to those who owned land for example, or in the case of slavery, those who actually produced the profits. The "employees" were not part of the political debate because they were either legally or practically excluded from the important affairs of those in political control.
               The tension between the needs of the small farmer and the large land owner resulted in tensions over the role of government and the use of government revenues. Public  versus private road systems or  other transportation infrastructure such as canals were issues for debate. Even the idea of public schools was up for controversy, begging the question as to why an individual should have to pay out of his profits so another could be educated;  a question related to why one should pay for a road or bridge from public monies so that another  could use it.  Whatever the political argument, implicit in most decisions was the concept of an individual self employed agriculturally based family unit that was dependent on the profitable actions or successful family business outcomes. And more to the point the political conversations involved a majority of the population by virtue of the total number of people impacted directly by the policy decision outcomes.
               Today with a total population exceeding 300 million, fewer than 1 percent of us have a direct link to a family owned self employed business. Even the total number of self employed people today amounts to only 11 percent of the population of the United States. This means that the majority of us work for someone or something else other than ourselves. The politics of Privilege and Power becomes that of impacting legislation and policy in the 21st century while protecting the interests of the smallest number of us needed to keep power in order to distribute the proceeds of being in power.  Farming no longer has the political muscle to be a major player, but self employed small business as well as international corporate interests do have a major role even if they only directly represent a small portion of the total population. As in the beginning in 1790, government is not instituted to represent the interests of all of us, but to enable the distribution of resources to the smallest number of us while at the same time keeping the rest of us quiet. On other words, the challenge for the few is to calculate the minimum distribution of resources to the majority necessary to buy a majority's acquiescence to the holding of power by the fewest number possible.

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