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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Enterprise–From Rockefeller And Carnegie To Leaf Blowers And Silicon Valley, An American Success Story

Fall is the noisiest time of year in Washington.  Although the Mayor has said that she would gradually phase out gas-powered leaf blowers, the process has not yet begun, and because most neighborhoods are shaded by sycamores, maples, oaks, and cherries now shedding their foliage, there is no end to the noise.  While the blowers are a nuisance, they are responsible for the employment of hundreds of Hispanics who will return again in the Spring with their edgers and mowers.  More noise, but more income for workers.

Alongside them are Hispanic construction workers, roofers, painters, and landscapers who provide the labor to bump out dining rooms, build commercial-style kitchens, add extra floors, finish basements, build rock gardens, and plant yews, magnolias, and privet hedges.

Spanish is the second language of every neighborhood west of Rock Creek Park as crews of Hispanic workers come at 7 and leave at 6.  The only non-Spanish-speaking Hispanic workers are those employed by the DC government – street pavers, garbagemen, and leaf collectors.  There are no black workers on construction or landscaping crews; nor among builders, painters, and roofers.  These jobs are semi-skilled, available, and promising but untaken by black workers, despite the fact that black unemployment is among the highest in the nation.  Statistics compiled shortly before COVID showed that 13 percent of black Washingtonians were unemployed, well above the number of Asian, Hispanic, and white workers (WAMU-FM, May 2018).  Why is it that unemployed young men from inner-city neighborhoods are not working at these landscaping and construction jobs?

If most of the landscape, construction, and building companies were owned by Hispanics, the accusation of collusion – hiring only fellow Central Americans – might stick; but for now the owners, managers, and foremen are Anglo-Americans who hire workers who will show up on time, work hard, be responsible, and uncomplaining about the wages they are paid.  The Hispanic community, while beset by many of the problems of poor inner-city neighborhoods, has responded not unlike the Italian, Jewish, Polish, and Irish  immigrants of the early Twentieth Century.  They have come to America for a good reason – to profit from the better life offered here, to send remittances home, to educate their children, and to raise good families.

Enterprise – the ability to see promise and accept the discipline required to accept hard work and minimum compensation in the hope of opportunity – is common to those working the lawns and houses of Washington.  Most speak no English, have a grade school or some high school education, and come from poor, economically disadvantaged families, but have managed to find work to support their families and to find the opportunity for advancement that most American jobs offer. More and more landscaping contractors are Latinos who first bought a used truck and a set of old lawnmowers, hired men they knew, and went into business. 

The Italian immigrants who came from Naples, Amalfi, Sorrento, and Bari in the early years of the Twentieth Century had nothing when they arrived, were poor, in debt, had little education, and few job skills; and yet in two generations they had moved from the Italian ghettoes of Lower Manhattan, South Philadelphia, and Wooster Square to professional, industrial, and commercial success.

Image result for images old bw photo italian immigrants to america

Ancestral and historical records of Italian families who settled in New Haven in 1908 show a number of factors that contributed to their early survival and later success.   The extended family community was strong, and those already in the country did all they could to help new arrivals, and offered them a place to stay, work, and limited but important financial assistance.  Those who came to America and who had left family and homeland behind for opportunity and a better life were risk-takers – men and women who knew little about the country which would be their new home and who left the security of culture and family behind to do so. 

They brought to America the very qualities that their new country valued – enterprise, ambition, desire, drive, will, and discipline.  The Mafia, known for its tactics of intimidation, threats, and violence, also provided patronage to the new Italian immigrants; and the most savvy among them knew how to take advantage of their protection, keep tithes and dues within reason, and to maintain respect and honor.   Local governments were officially run by Irish immigrants who had come to America long before and, largely because of their own ambition and English-speaking ability, were well-placed.  However in those divisive ethnic times, they could not be counted on to protect and defend Italians and the Mafia could.

In one generation one family – the Espositos – had acquired property, set up a small business, and sent their children to technical schools.  They had done it through parsimony, family solidarity, intelligence, and above all, enterprise.  Lucca Esposito, as a contemporary journal attested, was ambitious, unafraid, disciplined, and savvy.  He was a member of the social clubs which would give him social standing, a good citizen never in trouble with the law, and a generous man who shared his limited resources with family members in need.

By the second generation his children had done well – two teachers, a nurse, and a doctor – and by the third, Espositos were going to Harvard and Yale.

Enterprise is often given a bad name by progressives who see it as nothing more than raw individualism – an unfortunate American trait which has always led to an unlawful accumulation of wealth, a distortion of economic advantage, and the creation of a white, privileged, elitist culture.  The example of the Robber Barons of the early Twentieth Century is illustrative, says the Left.  Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Morgan were all predatory, self-interested, demanding men who saw only profit, expansion, and great wealth as the result of their ambition, and set back the cause of the American worker by decades.

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While these men were indeed driven opportunists who had no compunction about using any means available to destroy their competitors, eke profits out of labor, and to fight any public attempt to control them, they were also great entrepreneurs whose enterprise built America.  Vanderbilt was responsible for building a great transportation network.  Rockefeller for first lighting the country with kerosene and then powering the nation with oil.  Carnegie’s steel made the growth of cities and their industries possible. J.P.Morgan built America’s financial sector without whose support, the electrification of the country would have been impossible.  Enterprise was the sine qua non of their success.  They had insight, took advantage of opportunity, took great risks to achieve their goals, and took on all comers to protect their vision.

Image result for Images J.P. Morgan

It is no different today.  Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos are classic entrepreneurs, men who had an idea, and the will, determination, and enterprise to make it profitable.  They are all as tough businessmen as Rockefeller and Carnegie ever were.  Only the times have changed, and the bare-knuckles, unregulated marketplace of 100 years ago is no more.  Today’s captain of industry has to play by different rules, but he is no less ruthless.

The Hispanics in Washington are on the right track.  While they might not yet invent a computer or intelligent software like their Asian brothers in Silicon Valley, they are just as instrumental in keeping the American economy going and prosperous.  

As much as the Left may insist that it is racism, the legacy of slavery, and the persistent elitist discrimination of the ruling class which has kept black communities from achieving proportionate economic success, they have not looked at the indigenous factors which have led to a much slower rate of economic integration than other ethnic groups.  They have overlooked the principles of character that have enabled immigrant upward mobility, and the very same attributes taught by Cato the Elder to the young, future leaders of Rome – honor, respect, discipline, compassion, honesty, and courage.    For American immigrants today and those of a hundred years ago, it was a adherence to these values and a sense of family, community, and country which encouraged them to take risks, to be enterprising, and to prosper.

America has always been criticized by the European upper classes as hopelessly practical.  They have no interest in let alone respect for high culture and prefer their intellectual isolation and dogged enterprise.  Sinclair Lewis’ novel Dodsworth tells the tale of woman who aspires to European aristocratic taste and company, but never realizes how irremediably American she is, how transparent her ambitions, and how limited her abilities.  Lewis admires the idea of ancient European patrimony and the aristocratic husbandry to protect and preserve it, criticizes it for its arrogance and presumption, but has equal impatience with the over-reaching American.

Image result for images novel dodsworth

It is enterprise which has led to Sam Dodsworth’s success as a Midwestern businessman.  The disciplines so eschewed by the European aristocracy – hard work, discipline, and focus – were both at the heart of the American ethos and Dodsworth’s personal fortune.

Every one of Shakespeare’s women was canny, enterprising, and savvy.  They had ambition, will, desire, and the ability to see opportunity.  The courtiers of European royalty and kings, queens, and princes themselves, were enterprising, vigilant to threat, expansionist, territorial, and aggressive.  Enterprise is not just American, it is human; and those who have it, will always rule, profit, and benefit.

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