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LABOR DAY WAS created to honor the working man, but we don't have the working man anymore. Instead we have the working couple.

"Why has the working couple replaced the working man, Uncle Bob?"Two reasons, dear Peterkin:

One, the cost of living has risen relentlessly while the pay for working has relentlessly stood still. Obviously, the working man could no longer maintain the famous American standard of living. America had to switch to the working couple.

"Uncle Bob, is that why young couples say two incomes are no better than one used to be in 1950, but they can live almost as well on their two as Grandfather, Grandmother and three children lived on one in 1950?"

Hush, child. The young should eschew pessimism. Anyhow there is a second, nobler reason for the rise of the working couple. It shows that while the standard of living may be going downhill, the standard of justice is on the rise.

"Talk nobility to me, Uncle Bob."

Many women, you see, thought it unjust for women to be unemployed while men worked, so they demanded a chance to work, too. Employers have been happy to give them that chance.

"Because women could usually be hired a lot cheaper than men: Right, Uncle Bob?"

If you had read your Wall Street Journal editorials, Peterkin, you would never harbor such a cruel suspicion of the business mentality.

When thinking Labor Day, remember that the working couple - useful though it has been as a replacement for the failed working man - is not a perfect paradigm of today's working world.

"What is a paradigm, Uncle Bob?"

Dear Peterkin, when will you ever grow up? Nobody cares what a paradigm is. "Paradigm" exists to be said, not thought about. It probably doesn't mean anything at all. Just say it now and then, and easily bullied people will probably think you know what you are talking about.

What I'm talking about is this: The ideal family capable of producing a working couple is becoming scarce. Divorce and single motherhood are producing strange mutations on the old-fashioned working stiff.

"Like Divorced Mom who can't get by because Deadbeat Dad won't pay his child support, Uncle Bob?"

That's an example. But don't forget Unwed Mother who supports Self and Kids on welfare checks.

More importantly, however, is the great work force spread all around the planet, toiling to serve the American market. Nothing could be more misleading than to think of the American working community as American. The labor that does so much to nourish American life is done all over the world. By steel puddlers in Malaysia, circuit-board welders in Korea, auto workers in Japan.

"And don't forget the slave labor in China, Uncle Bob, that puts all those good things in the local stores so cheap. Should we give China's slave laborers a big Labor Day salute?"

Yes, dear Peterkin, but do not dwell with undue cynicism on the word "slave."

"You mean, Uncle Bob, slave labor in China isn't half as bad as the child labor in South Asia where kids spend their childhood in factory custody turning out terrific cut-rate clothes for the American ladies garment trade?"

Ah Peterkin, Peterkin. How swift is youth to look on the dark side. Of course we disapprove of Americans enjoying the fruits of child labor. And slave labor, too. But we live in a hard world. The American working couple simply cannot produce as cheaply as Asian child and slave labor.

Even skilled Asian labor works much cheaper than his American counterpart. This is why American industry ships out more and more of its computer jobs to operators and programmers in India.

By taking advantage of these extremely cheap labor rates around the world, we are able to compete in the global market. So America is blessed with a steady decline in middle-class population, happiness on Wall Street and ever rising pay for our corporate bosses.

"You mean labor has had it, Uncle Bob?"

A word to the wise, dear Peterkin: CEO is where it's at.