On America, part 1: Making millionaires

On America, part 1: Making millionaires

The first in a three part series examining to some of the underlying assumptions of American political thought. Part 1 focuses on our working lives, the contradictions of the economy, and why too many of us struggle to get by.

I have a family friend who said something that I'll never forget. He said, “In my life I've made a lot of millionaires, but none of them have ever been me.” Anyone who's ever had to work for a living immediately understands that statement: no matter how hard we work, it's someone else getting rich off the work that we do.

We live in a world full of contradictions. Every year, there's more than enough food grown to ensure that every single person on earth has enough to eat. Yet, billions suffer from starvation, hunger, and malnutrition. There's a massive need for housing across the country, yet construction workers sit idle. Economists tell us that 5% unemployment constitutes “full employment”.

It's considered common knowledge that “life's not fair” - and no more so than we think about our lives at work. We're given a seemingly endless array of reasons why the economy doesn't function for us – why there are never enough jobs to go around, why jobs don't pay enough, why our hours are being cut or why our rent is being raised, again. It's the national debt, austerity, illegal immigration, the recession, government regulation, high taxes, import/export imbalance, or big money in politics.

It seems to be off-limits to even ask why so much poverty and misery exists amidst a world of plenty. And the core tenant of capitalism – that labor is directed toward profit – remains unexamined.

Imagine if, at your workplace, all the bosses all didn't come in for a day. The work still gets done. I mean, really who doesn't know how to do their job better than their boss? Now imagine a scenario where all the workers don't come in. All the bosses in the world bossing away doesn't get anything done.

And this same principle applies across the entire economy: if all the bosses, managers, and executives failed to show up we could still keep things running smoothly. After all, we're the ones who grow the food, make the goods, organise distribution, ship the goods, stock the shelves, cook the food, build the schools, buildings and roads...the list goes on. Without us, the entire economy would seize up.

The simple reality is that the work we do keeps society functioning. Yet, we don't control the products of our labor. Our labor, instead of being something that benefits ourselves and our communities, only makes someone else rich. And while some of us have decent pay, most of us are overworked, living paycheck-to-paycheck in jobs that are, at best, boring, stressful and unsteady.

We know that when it comes down to it, we're getting screwed when we go to work.

The problems we face aren't going to be easy to overcome, but it's an important step just acknowledging that the world as it stands now – jobs, work, the economy – doesn't work for us.

We need find ways to fight for better wages and conditions now while also trying to imagine a new world. And this needs to be the work of ourselves alone. For too long politicians and union leaders have made promises they didn't keep, promises they can't keep. We're the ones who keep the keep the economy functioning, who produce the wealth of the world. It's on us to make the world a better place.

It is only by acting together, collectively - in what we must acknowledge is our class interest - that we can create a society where we share the wealth we create; a society in which our lives aren't dominated by work. In the process, we can trade out the regimentation and atomization of capitalism for a society in which in which true individuality and creativity can flourish.

Part two in this series will focus on disproving the myth of the market. Part three will try to sketch out some ideas on how we make our lives better at work and build that better world.

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
Aug 9 2015 02:07

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  • In my life I've made a lot of millionaires, but none of them have ever been me.

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Comments

Soapy
Aug 10 2015 20:06

Well put, and looking forward to pt 2.

I have a qualm with "Economists tell us that 5% unemployment constitutes “full employment”. As the official unemployment rate does not count workers who have stopped looking for work as well as the underemployed so the real unemployment rate stands around 11%. Additionally, this number does not count prisoners who are either unemployed or employed but paid so little as to make it negligible so if they were counted it would bump the unemployment rate up by another percentage point.

Fleur
Aug 10 2015 20:44

The 5% figure comes from what has become the consensus amongst economists of what constitutes full employment, something known as the NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment.) It has in the past (post-war) been lower that 5%.
The NAIRU doesn't include the people you mention, the underemployed, people in prison, people not officially looking for work for whatever reason. In actuality unemployment percentage is higher than 5%.

Soapy
Aug 10 2015 20:57
Fleur wrote:
The 5% figure comes from what has become the consensus amongst economists of what constitutes full employment, something known as the NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment.) It has in the past (post-war) been lower that 5%.
The NAIRU doesn't include the people you mention, the underemployed, people in prison, people not officially looking for work for whatever reason. In actuality unemployment percentage is higher than 5%.

Oh, didn't know he was talking about the NAIRU, I thought that was 4%?

Soapy
Aug 10 2015 20:59

nvm google has shown it to be 5-6% cheers!

Chilli Sauce
Aug 10 2015 22:46

Ya know, I actually thought about including that in there - how official unemployment statistics are basically bullsh*t, but I don't actually think we win people over with facts and figures. I tried to keep pretty focused on the blatant contradictions people might have actual lived experience of.

But glad you enjoyed reading it!

Fleur
Aug 10 2015 22:50

Yep, very good smile

Schwarz
Aug 12 2015 16:06

Great post. Really clear and concise! I'd look up the stats but I'm on lunch break (building a building for capital haha), however the labor participation rate is a great indicator of how well the 'recovery' is going. Last I heard the percentage of the workforce in full time work was the lowest in the us since the 1970s, way lower than pre-2008. Looking forward to pt 2!

Chilli Sauce
Aug 12 2015 16:11

Thanks S!

arminius
Aug 28 2015 17:49

I thought it was good too, but, not to (continue) derail, I would like a comparison of the way the official stats are calculated in, for example, the usa, the uk, and Germany just to get a more long-lasting handle on how to mentally revise the numbers when the official numbers are thrown at us. There is usually no accounting for those real differences in the 'accounting', when the governments use the un-finessed stats in their propaganda. I think I'm being unclear but hope not...

seahorse
Dec 15 2015 08:14

Great blogging, Chilli Sauce. It's short and easy to understand and down to Earth. The kind of thing I feel I could share around with folks who aren't "political."