I bargained with Life for a penny, And Life would pay no more, However I begged at eveningWhen I counted my scanty store; For Life is just an employer, He gives you what you ask, But once you have set the wages, Why, you must bear the task.I worked for a menial's hire, Only to learn, dismayed, That any wage I had asked of Life, Life would have paid.
It was the American middle class. No one's house cost more than two or three year's salary, and I doubt the spread in annual wages (except for the osteopath) exceeded more than five thousand dollars. And other than the doctor (who made house calls), the store managers, the minister, the salesman, and the banker, everyone belonged to a union. That meant they worked a forty-hour week, had the entire weekend off (plus two to four weeks' paid vacation in the summer), comprehensive medical benefits, and job security. In return for all that, the country became the most productive in the world and in our little neighborhood it meant your furnace was always working, your kids could be dropped off at the neighbors without notice, you could run next door anytime to borrow a half-dozen eggs, and the doors to all the homes were never locked -- because who would need to steal anything if they already had all that they needed?
It is the principal paradox of this period that the only sphere of our economic system in which government intervention is urgently necessary is also the only point at which action of the State is now effectively inhibited. It is in the region of wages and prices that we really require the continual economic leadership of government, but in our prevailing trade structure any such suggestion has come to be regarded as impious.