Who gives more, Labor or Ownership?

“Of course capital should get more of the rewards than labor,” posted the guy in a discussion group. “They invest more. They contribute more than the workers.”


That’s the conventional wisdom. I’m not so sure.

What does capital (ie, ownership and executives) contribute? Money. Nest eggs. For many of the nation’s big investors, excess cash. If you look beyond the dogma of commerce and economists, its actually just 1’s and 0’s in a computer (or, in days gone by, marks on a ledger).

What does labor contribute?

Blood, sweat, and tears.

For the thousands of miners who have developed black-lung disease (pneumoconiosis), or developed cancer as a result of employment in uranium mining of various chemical processing industries, their health.

Of course, the ultimate sacrifice paid by labor is life. A few thousand laborers died in completing the Transcontinental Railroad. In the early years of the last century, it was common for well over a thousand miners to die each year in mining accidents (not to mention those mentioned earlier; those who later died slow, excruciating deaths from illness directly caused by their work), and for hundreds to die in various manufacturing jobs throughout the nation. While today the yearly fatality numbers have dwindled to under 100 in most industries (a reduction brought about as a result of labor protection laws and direct bargaining by labor for increased safety standards), those deaths still represent the fact that the ultimate cost is born by labor. Ownership and executives may suffer financial losses, even have their life savings wiped out and worldly possessions taken from them (though often bankruptcy laws and government bailouts frequently shelter the most privileged from that risk), but what is that compared to health or life?

Who in reality gives more? Who really bears the costs and risks of “progress?”


We should honor their contributions. We should ensure their voice in the decision making processes, and equitable compensation when their labors bear fruit. They may not hold stock, but their stake is equal to any that the owners, investors, and executives hold.

3 Responses to “Who gives more, Labor or Ownership?”

  1. Shirley Says:

    Workers are so important and pay a high price. My husband’s cousin is now dying with cancer of the lining of his lungs–caused so say the doctor–by exposure to asbestos.

    Thank you for the post.



  2. Jennifer Says:

    Workers do put their all “on the line” – from miners to road crews to soldiers to factory workers to store attendants to law enforcement officers and even to school teachers. But what is work really? Through work, one has self-respect, dignity, social networks, teamwork, and problem-solving. It doesn’t matter if your work involves a preschool class or NASA rockets or a legal case or a cash register. We need everyone doing a wide variety of jobs and earning fair compensation for their efforts. Labor built this nation along with the capital investments – but recently labor has been punished and capital rewarded- not only in the form of wages and benefits, but also in the tax codes.

  3. Natalie K. Says:

    Derek, I just found time to finally look around your blog for a minute, and saw this post on your sidebar. Love it! Love it! Yes! Even though it’s a few years old. When people are against unionization because it violates the “freedom” of managers, I shudder. The freedom of capitalists to own their fellow citizens, just by virtue of the “excess cash”? It kills me to realize how little American’s accord workers an ownership stake in the production process.

    Have you ever read the Italian Constitution? First line: Italy is a democratic republic based on labor.

    Pretty awesome stuff.

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