Farewell to factories, welcome to socialism

During a recent vacation trip to Binghamton, New York in June my wife and I were invited to view a film shown at the Bundy Museum of History and Art (www.bundymuseum.org). The museum is the former 1892 Victorian home of the Harlow Bundy family. It appears to me as a quite modest house, but a Museum handout describes it as a “mansion.”

Mr. Bundy founded the Bundy Manufacturing Company—the first time-recording clock business. It eventually became International Business Machines Co.—the iconic IBM. Bundy and many other entrepreneurial businessmen brought jobs and great wealth to this Susquehanna Valley region in the mid-twentieth century, because they produced things of value and hired many people.

Their incentive was profit. That motivated them to take financial risks. As their wealth grew they were able to expand the businesses that benefited not only factory workers, but the entire economy of the area. Suppliers, vendors, builders, shopkeepers, service providers, medical facilities, bankers and much more profited because of the wealth these motivated and knowledgeable men produced. For about a half-century people of the “Southern Tier” of New York State (several counties bordering on Northern Pennsylvania) prospered because these businesses were profitable. When that ended, the factories had to close. People who could and would move where the new jobs were and had skills needed (or were willing to acquire them) were able to prosper again. But many decided to stay and adjust to new conditions.

When industries close doors politicians and social activists fill the voids with government “development” schemes and public welfare programs. Both groups take advantage of slow economies to promise financial salvation and get support from the gullible and ignorant, eager to blame others for their problems (“massive corporate power and wealth in the hands of a few“) and offer them a “new deal.”  Both the political and advocate classes want to spend public funds; they only differ in how they want to distribute money taken from those who still can earn it. The problem is these activities remove wealth from the economy for unproductive purposes that would otherwise be used to add value and business growth, thus improving the lives of many others.

The film we saw at the Bundy carriage house Annex Theater was an amateur documentary produced by Maynard Seider, a retired sociology professor from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Massachusetts. Prof. Seider told us that he had specialized in “community studies,” labor and Roosevelt’s New Deal–favorite subjects of American socialists.

As we entered the small theatre room I met several acquaintances I knew to be affiliated with social “justice” activism in Binghamton. One writes for The People’s Press (thepeoplespress.wordpress.com), an 8-page, bi-monthly publication. David Duncan is a very nice person and I admire and respect him. We, however, usually take stands on different sides of the political fence that separates us.

Mr. Duncan and others at The People’s Press are “rooted” in State and national politics–as am I. But they believe that the “great problems of our time are inextricably tied to the ascension over the past 150 years of massive corporate power and wealth in the hands of a few.” Their motto is “Our lives are more valuable than their profits”—suggesting that somehow people motivated by profit devalue some other people, or profits devalue lives–utterly ridiculous ideas.

Some of my Southern friends who study American history (as do I) would agree that the great problems of our time in America did begin with the War Between the States in 1860. Mr. Lincoln’s war forever culturally torn our country apart. The end of the war began the union nationalists down the rocky path to imperialism, crony capitalism (the collusion between government and business interests: e.g. Wall Street, GM and GE) and collectivism.

We strongly disagree, however, that in an economy free of government interference, people are ill-served by the profit motive and accumulations of personal wealth. Just the opposite condition has been proven to be the case: only profits and wealth production can bring prosperity. Of course, it can be shown that we no longer have a free economy. And social justice advocates don’t universally reject power and wealth; they just seek more of it to further their nonproductive personal interests.

Prof. Seider’s film titled, “Farewell to Factory Towns?” shows the abrupt social changes that took place after the 1970s when the Sprague Electric Co. operating for 50 years closed–in response to changing world economics–and left thousands of people temporarily without jobs. Naturally, the small city of 18,000 was devastated. People suddenly lost good-paying jobs that supported home and car loans, and comfortable lifestyles. Of course, Mr. Sprague was blamed for “moving jobs overseas.”

The second part of the film showed a plan to revitalize the local economy with an art museum known as the Massachusetts Museum on Contemporary Art, dubbed by the acronym MASS MoCA. The project was promoted by unidentified officials apparently convincing a New York City artist to buy the factory and convert it into an art gallery. For awhile the hyped-up facility attracted tourists. Soon, it became apparent that visitors weren’t spending enough money in the right places (and, of course, nothing of economic value was being produced). Typical of many such social schemes in other American cities the art “community” failed to bring prosperity to North Adams.

So far, this three-part film seemed fairly objective and appeared to be a factual representation of that history in North Adams (although, some important information was omitted such as, what amount of State and local taxes, and other public resources, were wasted to subsidize the art project).

Part III of this production was clearly a propaganda promotion for labor unions and more government projects similar to Roosevelt’s socialist experiments in the 1930s. Many economists know that his meddling prolonged the Great Depression by siphoning money out of the efficient private economy into government bureaucracies.

The film ends with classic socialist/Marxist condemnation of wealthy people and their presumed greed of earning money at the expense of others—and how government programs are necessary to provide things for people (assumed not wise enough to be able to provide for their own needs).

One of the vile aspects of this thinking is not only that it is wrong, but that it insults the intelligence of informed, reasoning Americans (although rapidly being outnumbered by those ignorant of history and economics). Further, it rejects (or misunderstands) the reality of human nature and the damage inflicted on society by a welfare state.

People living with illusions of forced human “equality” and hopes for a utopian existence for all invariably dooms them to angry disappointment. But worse, resulting government policies waste vast amounts of human and other natural resources that otherwise would be effectively put to use in the private economy.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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