Ali’s blog

Mostly quant stuff with occasional digressions

More on class

Posted by alifinmath on January 24, 2008

Here’s an essay by Michael Yates on class. I have Yates’ book, Naming the System, somewhere in my collection and I think I’ve even read it, but it didn’t leave a deep impression. Anyway, an excerpt from the essay:

What isn’t much talked or written about is what to me is our most fundamental division, one at the center of our economic system, namely the division of our society into a very large class of working men, women, and children—the working class—and a much smaller class of owners—the capitalist class—that employs the former. These two great classes make the world go round, so to speak.

Workers and owners are fundamentally connected and fundamentally antagonistic:

—It is through the labor of the working class that the goods and services necessary for our survival are produced.

—It is through the ownership of society’s productive wealth (land, machines, factories, etc.) that the owning class is able to compel that this labor be done. Workers must sell their capacity to work in order to gain access to this productive wealth, since no one can live without access to it.

—From the perspective of society’s reproduction” then, the relationship between labor and capital is fundamental, essential. Even our ability to physically reproduce presupposes the successful sale of labor power. Without the money from such a sale, there is nothing.

—The essence of production in capitalism is the ceaseless accumulation of capital, the making of profits and the use of such profits to increase the capital at the owners’ disposal. Competition among capitals both drives accumulation and is driven by it, in a relentless dance.

This is the ABC of Marx’s analysis; nothing new here. But then Yates goes on to look at the psychological and physical impact of being on the receiving end, of being in the working-class. For example:

It is difficult to overstate the power of fear and poverty in shaping how working men and women think and act. Fear of losing a job. Fear of not finding a job. Fear of being late with bill payments. Fear of the boss’s wrath. Fear your house might burn down. Fear your kids will get hurt. I inherited these emotions. I have a Ph.D. and have always had a job that brings forth instant respect from others. Yet I have a deep-seated lack of confidence and anxiety in the face of authority. I can confront the powerful in a group, even if I am a leader of it, but as an individual, I hate any kind of confrontation with authority and always wonder if I have the right to confront. I prefer to remain in the background, to be invisible.

Yates isn’t a theorist (which is perhaps why I don’t remember much from his book) but he does describe things that Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek, and the WSJ are unlikely to mention. The essay is worth reading.

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