NOTHSTINE: Labor and the entrepreneurial spirit

Labor Day conjures up powerful images of hard manual toil that has made America the greatest nation on earth. The very word “manufacturing” means “to make” or “to do.” While North Carolina’s labor force has changed in a myriad of ways over recent decades, many of the principles of work and markets remain unchanged.One commercial that aired frequently last year was from the North Carolina Pork Council; it featured Megan Spence, a proud hog farmer from Goldsboro. “I feel most accomplished when we have a sick pig that we can bring back to health by treating them and giving them extra care,” says Spence. “I love to see those pigs completely healthy again. It also feels good to know we have a (small) hand in feeding the world.” Eighty percent of hog farms in the state are family owned and they feed 20 million Americans each year.Most people in our state love barbecue, and it’s a testament to freedom and markets that such a great product is provided for us. The vast majority of us don’t have the time or inclination to go through the numerous steps it takes to grow and butcher the pig. Spence showed too how a pig farmer — really any worker or entrepreneur — reflects the Creator by bringing things back into order with their intended purpose. A skillful plumber or mechanic does likewise.The market economy needs a host of actors and participants to bring forth a society closer to what it was intended to be. “Besides the earth, man’s principal resource is man himself,” declared Pope John Paul II. “His intelligence enables him to discover the earth’s productive potential and the many different ways in which human needs can be satisfied.” The pontiff’s words are a powerful affirmation of the benefits and importance of labor in society and for human freedom.Of course, burdensome taxes and regulations take away from one’s ability to properly reflect one’s intended vocation or purpose. Stifling somebody in their quest to start a business or hire additional workers diminishes not only their freedom but also the freedom of others. The detrimental impact for consumers manifests in higher prices, reduced choice, and greater social costs due to higher unemployment.New leadership in North Carolina is helping to mitigate some of the consequences of the regulatory state, but more should be done. Sometimes citizens forget that the very purpose of government is to protect private property and foster the kind of conditions that promote economic growth. “Promote the general welfare,” of course, does not mean creating a nanny state, but is meant to foster a society that promotes human flourishing.For many, North Carolina is the place to be when it comes to work and employment. If some of us don’t know somebody personally moving to North Carolina for a job, we’ve certainly heard the stories from family and friends. Once a manufacturing powerhouse thanks to textiles and furniture, the economy has dramatically shifted to be a leader in the global marketplace. Fortunately, manufacturing is making a comeback in parts of the state too.For Labor Day, it’s important to remember the contributions freedom and the greatest labor force in the world has had across the globe. American workers played an instrumental role in destroying fascism and Japanese imperialism. But work also powerfully affirms individual purpose and helps to give life meaning, while reflecting God’s design for society and us. When that is diminished by regulations, taxes, and bloated governments, labor instead begins to reflect a materialistic worldview. Instead, work and labor is intended to merely support consumerism and the growth of government. Such a low view of labor not only paralyzes human progress but also diminishes the spiritual significance of work.