Here on this website, we talk about economics a lot. Whether it’s the law of supply and demand or the law of marginal utility, we strive to educate our audience more than ever about the complicated topic that is economics. We take the study seriously because it can mean the difference between a prosperous society and a poor, destitute one. Economic thought itself is very important because it often comes from a set of morals and ideals that are significant to the economist. An Austrian might be against any increase in taxes because they want to help those who are living paycheck to paycheck, making sure they have a place to work and do not ever go hungry. Henry Hazlitt was a strong opponent of the minimum wage because he wanted to see more employment among the populace and higher wages among those who work hard. Today, we tell a story of how the United States government robbed a man of prosperity and sent him into a life that he did not want to live; that robbed him of a generational trade, and forced him to move away from his hometown.
The story today is of a black gentleman who walked into the store that I work at. He was there to make a purchase, but also to have a conversation with us. He sat down and started talking, and we started listening.
The story began in 1970’s Chicago, when the city was booming with the steel industry, as was Detroit at the time. This man, who we’ll call Steve, grew up with several generations of steel workers. Steve’s great-grandfather was a steel worker, his grandfather was a steel worker, his father was a steel worker, and Steve and his cousins were on track to become steel workers as well. It was a generational trade that they grew up learning how to do. In the 1980’s, it was an exceptional trade to learn, as steel workers made good money ($30-$50 an hour in today’s money), enough to support large families by themselves. Chicago, especially the South side, was a booming city of black-owned businesses, prosperity, and most importantly, equality. Not equality of outcome, but equality of opportunity, as there was plenty in the city. Everyone had the opportunity to be self-made, to be wealthy, to be philanthropists, and to be role models for future generations.
However, foreign competition and incompetent ownership soon caused the collapse of the steel factories in Chicago. Jobs were lost and dreams were shattered, including Steve’s. His family’s long line of steel workers had come to an end, and he was forced to leave the city in search of gainful employment.
For the second part of the story, Steve took us to Austin, Texas, in the year 1999. Throughout the 90’s, Texas was offering large tax breaks to any company that would headquarter in their state. This was to inspire innovation and employment, something that the country needed exiting the hardships of the late 1980’s. Big cities, such as Dallas, saw the likes of Dell, HP, Texas Instruments, etc., that became a part of the “silicon prairie,” a term still used to this day. Steve worked as a merchandiser for Dell, where he made $11 an hour to make sure the shelves were stocked with computers. The city of Austin was booming at the time; as Steve put it, “it was like the roaring 20’s; we couldn’t put the computers out fast enough!” According to Steve, Dell even provided a bus to get the workers to work every day and provided a lunchroom as well. The state of Texas and the silicon prairie saw some of the best employment in the entire country, and thus saw the greatest prosperity among its people.
However, all great things come to an end, as did the high point of the silicon prairie. China had been competing with the United States ever since it was able to trade openly, and when the country was let into the World Trade Organization in 2001, it began to deflate American industry in electronics. The Dot-Com Bubble had also burst, hurting American industry even more. Steve was once again unemployed and began to search for another job.
These two stories prove one larger point that our country should take to heart: capitalism can create great prosperity among anyone who partakes in it. Capitalism knows no race or creed, and the only color that matters to it is green. Sure, there are mean-spirited and evil people who are capitalists themselves, but there are evil people everywhere, even government. However, capitalism can bring out the best in the many good people in this world, as we saw with Dell, who offered a bus to its employees to bring them to work. We saw the equality of capitalism in South Chicago and Detroit, when the black community was thriving due to the steel industry. Capitalism is not evil; only evil people are evil. With capitalism, a man can pull himself up from poverty to the highest ranks of society, a small business can become the biggest employer in their area, and best of all, a community can see an era of unlimited growth and opportunity. We must take this lesson to heart, that destroying the great system of wealth creation is not the answer, and we must, if we are to prosper, uphold capitalism, and observe its powerful effects on every society it touches.