The Words of the Carlson Family

Labor Pains

Paul Carlson
October, 2000

Part One

This two-part article is about work and careers, a subject just about every grownup can identify with. Here we’re going to focus on careers outside the home. Please note that stay-at-home moms (and also single dads) handle so many tasks that their labor has been valued at about half a million dollars per year!

This month we’ll look at the history and modern forms of work. Part Two will analyze its psychology and future.


The history of labor traces the history of civilization itself. Stone Age workers could chip some awfully sharp blades, but they could only use hands-on muscle power. The Bronze Age brought in versatile metalworking, and all the things that can be fashioned from that relatively soft material. With the Iron Age durable goods appeared, eventually paving the way for the Industrial Revolution.

The change from walking, to horseback riding, to chariots and ox carts, roughly paralleled this development. The Bible and Archaeology agree on these steps, manifesting the slow advancement of civilization.

In primitive times, while tribe members did have specialized roles, every adult understood the basics of tool making, hunting and gathering, fashioning shelter and clothing, herbal medicine, etc. Even when completely alone, these people could outfit themselves fully.

In ancient civilizations, right up through a few hundred years ago, there were only four basic careers: Priest, Soldier, Craftsman, and Farmer. All were ruled by a small, usually hereditary, elite.


Wealthy American colonists would pay others to board their own children, then paid still more to take in someone else’s. The intent was for each child to learn good morals, social discipline, and in the case of boys, the ‘mysteries’ of a worthy craft. Without the Old World’s ingrained restrictions, the possibilities were numerous. Each family kept their son’s earnings.

When the American colonies were about 150 years old, industrialization, and public libraries, began to undercut that system. Young men could learn a craft from books, and find work in impersonal factories, sometimes far from home. Thus, boys as young as 12 and 13 began to make their own way in life. Back then, the age of consent for sex and marriage was also in that range.

After independence, textile and other factories attracted tens of thousands of youths from rural farms. For the first time, women entered the work force in significant numbers. Lowell, Massachusetts had its well-known ‘factory girls,’ who lived in nearby boarding houses. The factory owners made great efforts to avoid the horrific conditions then prevailing in European industry.

During the mid-1800s, massive immigration provided a cheap (even desperate) labor pool, and many native-born sons headed west, to the wild frontier, while less fortunate girls got by doing penurious piecework—or became prostitutes. (Read Thomas Hine’s The Rise & Fall of the American Teenager.)

At the turn of the 20th century industries grew, and with them the child and worker’s rights movements. Jack London recorded the new labor union’s bloody struggles.

Around the time your author’s immigrant grandfather became a San Francisco longshoreman, the Great Depression threw many families into poverty. Grandpa Carlson later described a "match stick in your hat band" system of bribery, by which each morning’s hopeful laborers promised kickbacks to the company foreman.

World War Two revved up the economy, and attracted thousands of southern Blacks to work in urban factories. The complexion of many American cities was changed completely.

Modern Careers

Nowadays, the skills learned by one’s parents are quite possibly obsolete. Skills learned in High School, or even college, can be outdated by the time a student hits the job market. This author has visited several ‘universities’ maintained by large high-tech firms, just so their own work force can keep up to date.

In today’s superheated ‘dot com’ economy, skilled workers can switch jobs easily. The Silicon Valley sees its workers move along at an average rate of once every year or two!

It is common for a worker to proclaim that they aren’t getting paid enough for what they do. At the moment, if they’ve got any brains or ambition, most can easily find a higher-paying job.

Thus, store managers often lament about uncaring workers. When even McDonalds is paying well, managers are having a terrible time finding and keeping, much less disciplining, young workers.

Despite ongoing predictions of a crash ["buy gold—call us now!"], this roaring economy seems set to last a few more years, at least.


In Europe and Japan, it is difficult for an individual to make good on their own. A worker’s fortune usually rises and falls with that of their corporate employer. Those who do make extra money see it drained by tax rates as high as 90%.

In America, an ambitious individual can do quite well. Commissioned sales are an excellent choice for an outgoing personality. Smart, disciplined people can become consultants. Risk takers can succeed in the stock market. Best of all, inventive people can do very well indeed, especially in high-tech fields. (Though a recent, drastic change in the Patent Laws may throw a monkey wrench into their plans.)

There are no guarantees in any of this. Well-padded government and organizational jobs will reward plodding, team player types. But freedom includes the possibility of failure -- and of starting all over again. Colonel Sanders didn’t begin marketing his chicken recipe until he was more than sixty years old.

Some talented individuals carve out a special niche. Art, sports, entertainment, writing, and many other specialties are thriving. Not every inner-city kid will join the NBA, but a hundred other possibilities beckon.

One potentially rewarding area involves handicrafts. Several Unificationists are famous for their custom glass blowing, jewelry, marquetry, etc.

This author used to fundraise with jewelry, and while in Navaho country I learned a lot about that trade. The markup on items such as turquoise rings is phenomenal. And, too often, the actual craftsman sees very little of it.

A rough example: five dollars is paid to a jewelry maker, who lives way out in the desert, and doesn’t even speak English. The jobber gets twenty for that item, then the wholesaler collects fifty. Finally, the distant retail gallery will sell it for five hundred dollars!

The same thing happens with certain (supposedly concerned) ‘ethnic specialty’ outlets in Europe and America. Talented artists—including some African Unificationists—have been getting a pittance for their work, such as exquisitely beautiful little paintings.


People’s culture does affect their economy. It is well known that various ethnic groups prefer certain careers, or types of business. Several years ago, the Los Angeles riots highlighted the stark differences in their rates of success.

Despite numerous government programs, most inner-city neighborhoods have seen their local businesses taken over by immigrants. (Ironically, private ‘revolving credit’ clubs, often used by Koreans to launch their businesses, are also found in some African societies.)

The same thing applies to entire nations. In 1960, South Korea and Ghana had the same Gross National Product. South Korea was recovering from war, while Ghana, which is twice as large, had just gained independence from Britain. Both nations have sea ports.

This year, despite a bumpy road, South Korea is forging ahead, introducing several new lines of cars to the American market. But Ghana, battered by AIDS and other troubles, is barely holding its own. (Refer to Samuel Huntington’s research.)

We can conclude that a healthy lifestyle, a decent education, high personal goals, and sheer perseverance, will almost certainly bring success. Multiplied, this can revive entire neighborhoods. If a nation wishes to get ahead, they need to apply the same formula.

Externally, ‘microcredit’ banks are helping millions of impoverished people onto an upward path. In much of Africa, our members are leading Pure Love movements that teach the value of abstinence, and of solid, God-centered families.

As the years go by, we should all witness the positive fruits of these efforts.

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