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The excerpt is from a great piece by Christopher Lasch writing in the short lived journal “Democracy”. Written in the 80’s, details the systemic problems facing US democracy. The situation described shows the roots of where we are now, and how (unfortunately) we have arrived here.
“The centralization of power in the United States and the decline of popular participation in community life have become dramatically visible only in the
period since World War II. The roots of these conditions, however, go back to the formative period around the turn of the century. We have been living ever since then with the long-term consequences of the momentous changes inaugurated at that time.
The most important of these changes, of course, was the emergence of the corporation and the spread of the corporate form throughout
American industry. Often misunderstood as a shift from entrepreneurial to managerial control, the corporation emerged out of conflicts between capital
and labor for control of production. It institutionalized the basic division of labor that runs all through modern industrial society, the division between brainwork and handwork-between the design and the execution of production.
Under the banner of scientific management, capitalists expropriated the technical knowledge formerly exercised by workers and vested it in a new
managerial elite. The managers extended their power not at the expense of the owners of industry, who retained much of their influence and in any case tended to merge with the managerial group, but at the expense of the workers.
Nor did the eventual triumph of industrial unionism break this pattern of managerial control. By the 1930s, even the most militant unions had acquiesced in the division of labor between the planning and execution of work. Indeed the very success of the union movement was predicated on a strategic retreat from issues of worker control. Unionization, moreover, helped to stabilize and rationalize the labor market and to discipline the work force. It did not alter the arrangement whereby management controls the technology of production, the rhythm of work, and the location of plants (even when these decisions affect entire communities), leaving the worker with the task merely of carrying out orders.
Having ·organized mass production on the basis of the new division of labor-most fully realized in the assembly line-the leaders of American industry
next turned to the organization of a mass market. The mobilization of consumer demand, together with the recruitment of a labor force, required a far-reaching series of changes that amounted to a cultural revolution; The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion. People had to be discouraged from providing for their own wants and resocialized as consumers. Industrialism by its very nature tends to discourage home production and to make people dependent on the market, but a vast effort of reeducation, starting in the 1920s, had to be undertaken before Americans accepted consumption as a way of life.
As Emma Rothschild has shown in her study of the automobile industry, Alfred Sloan’s innovations in marketing-the annual model change, constant upgrading of the product, efforts to associate it with social status, the deliberate inculcation of an insatiable appetite for change-constituted the necessary counterpart of Henry Ford’s innovations in production. Modern industry came to rest on the twin pillars of Fordism and Sloanism. Both tended to discourage initiative and self-reliance and to reduce work and consumption alike to an essentially passive activity. […]
When I read this section I was immediately drawn to the sections highlighted in purple. What I hear from conservative commentators and business commentators is that what it takes to succeed in society is to get out there and play the market, or innovate, or work hard and save money and improve yourself et cetera. Usually, along with their sprightly commentary on how bootstrapping oneself to greatness, is another piece on the evils of the nanny state and how those damn social programs (WELFARE *clutches chest* *dies*) are making people into lazy dependent sloths who do nothing but keep the productive people down.
Of course, like most capitalistic propaganda, it is utter shite. The message retains its ubiquity and longevity in our society only because of its constant repetition in the business press and media.
“The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion.“
I quote this again because damn, if this isn’t an indictment of how capitalism has malformed our society, I’m not sure what is. This way of life we now live was a choice made by the elite classes, as to how society was to be run. Clearly, attributes like avoiding debt and postponement of gratification have no place in a modern civilized society (!).
Racking up debt, conspicuous consumption, becoming dependent on the market – didn’t just *happen* – they were orchestrated to feed the industrial elite’s needs and as always, at the expense of the working class.
So, the business class essentially builds/nurtures a culture of dependency – that is, actively discourages self production and self-reliance – and then has the temerity to bluster about Big Government creating a welfare state chock full of slothful, gormless, dependent people.
Create a society where dependency is rewarded, and then proceed to blame the people for becoming dependent. Fascinating stuff this capitalism is.
Sad but true.
The notion we have a fair playing field, a balance, whatever you’d like to call it is quite patently false. We have not all just fallen out of some sort of Rawlsian simulator into a just society. Injustice and anti-egalitarian ideals are normative in society, they are the water we swim in, the air we breathe. Otherwise interactions like the below just wouldn’t happen.