Tag Archive: inequality

The phrase “New World Order” conjures up a host of images–neoliberal globalization, the Illuminati, (I guess it also has some meaning in the professional wrestling world)–so at first, it may seem a strange phrase to invoke on ‘our’ behalf.  It speaks to outsiders, to external string-pullers, master manipulators of human affairs.

What it really means, though, is somewhat different than its connotations.  According to the oracle of democratic knowledge production, Wikipedia, “new world order” means “any period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power.”  It signifies nothing more than a new structure of global power, a new hegemony.  So what is “we need our new world order” really saying?

“We” references something more than Americans, more than Westerners, and something far more substantial than “global citizens.”  The latter term is more than consistent with the massive inequalities of wealth and power between people and nations–a ‘global citizen’ can mean a postnational, globe-trotting investor for a transnational corporation just as much (if not more) than it can mean a hummus-eating, kimono-wearing, African American artist with a love of German beer and Native American dreamcatchers.  No, ‘we’ references that group of people who usually don’t travel much, don’t each food from chefs with three Michelin stars, and don’t get the luxury of choosing not to work because they just want a day off.  The majority of the world is not composed of highly-educated, globe-trotting ubermenschen.  Most of the world is more likely to be like the ones who worked at or built the airport, shipped the food to or waited tables at the restaurant, who either work too much or can’t find enough.  Most of us take orders from people who take orders from people who, at the top of the economic food chain, wear ties to work and drink wine with their pinkies up.  That is to say, most of us are in the working class.  And most of us are suffering.

We’ve been told that contemporary economies are too complex to manage, and so they must be left to the market’s hoard of millions of little profit-hungry busy-bees, whose collective and disjointed acts of greed will somehow bring about a world full of wonders, roses, and sunshine.  But we let the ‘experts’ run the show through successive rounds of financial deregulation, and the result was a crisis that nearly equaled the Great Depression in gravity–letting those ‘experts’ run the show ended up being nothing more than letting the inmates run the asylum.

“We” need our New World Order.  We need to understand that we, the workers, the housewives, the queer folk, the immigrants–the downtrodden–are the ones who have built this world, raised these families, expanded these worldviews and inched the world towards freedom, well being, and justice.  We need to have faith in ourselves to democratically run EVERYTHING. . . from the ground up.  We need to work, play, sing, dance, run, jump, laugh, speak, high-five, fuck, and breathe liberation, and let it run down our fingertips and spark everyone we touch.  We need to work together to figure out a liberated, democratic world–OUR New World Order–and we need to run down the streets of Wall Street, Main Street, Easy Street, and Sesame Street chanting Viva la Revolution!–a revolution not of guns and bullets, not of stomping boots and broken dreams, but of millions and millions of the downtrodden, dusting themselves off, turning to help their neighbors rise, and seeing the sunshine together as if for the very first time.

Philosophy Post: Equality

A recent Huffington Post article alerted me to a paper by UC Berkeley professor Emmanuel Saez, showing that income inequality is greater as of 2007 than ever before in American history.  In fact, as of 2007, the top 0.01% of Americans took home 6% of total U.S. wages.  Why is inequality important?

In addition to the obvious fact that inequality between individuals affects their life chances and ability to satisfy their goals and meet their needs, it also represents something.  Inequality between people represents the valuation of their human worth.  If all individuals’ worth is absolute, i.e. independent of anything they do and wholly because they are, then there would be no inequality.  Look at it this way–if the worth of individuals were equal, and independent of what they’ve done, there would never be any reason for unequal distribution of wealth.  If you doubt this, try to think of a way it could be differential (except for accident, and in case of such an accident, equal valuation would likely result in immediate rectification of such momentary inequality).

But it is cannot be said that inequality represents society’s valuation of different individuals’ worth, because society does not choose the distribution of income or the distribution of property. In all societies but the very earliest communal ones, certain classes have had control over the means of production (i.e. tools and raw materials), and these property relationships have been protected by force and justified by the ideologies of their time.  In class societies, including our own, only the dominant class have the ability to determine who gets what job and what they get paid.  Ideological defenders of capitalism claim that supply and demand determine everything, from jobs (where social demand for a job creates it) to income (where the social valuation of the job determines how much it gets monetarily rewarded).  This picture hides a number of factors.  First, it hides that only ‘effective demand’ gets met.  Effective demand is demand backed by the money to compensate the supplier.  Thus, production under capitalism is not intended to meet needs.  Commodities are produced only when, and insofar as they might realize profits for their ‘owner’. If capitalism meets needs, then, it is purely a coincidence.  An accident.  Thus, jobs aren’t necessarily created because the jobs are socially valued or needed, but because their existence makes money for capitalists.  Same goes for income; capitalists pay employees as little as they can get away with while maximizing profit.  They will thus supply however much they think they can get a profit from, and the more money an individual is willing and able to pay to get a good or service, the more suppliers will fight to produce for that market, regardless of the good.  When an economist explains production and jobs according to supply and demand, they really mean to explain it in terms of money, but that directs the question towards one of inequality and needs, which is precisely what a capitalist economist wants to gloss over and assume away. 

Additionally, discussion of ‘supply and demand’ does not address the ‘rate of profit’.  Capitalists mark up the product from its cost of production, but that does not explain how the amount of this markup is determined.  In more competitive markets, profits tend to be lower, and in more monopolized markets profits tend to be higher, but in neither type of market does supply and demand strictly determine the rate of profit.  They tend to be unofficially standardized according to industry, but the process of their standardization has nothing whatsoever to do with supply or demand.  We cannot really explain anything but the most inconsequential facets of our economic system with the concepts of supply and demand.  It is only useful to tell us that the more suppliers per demands, the more relative power potential consumers have, and the fewer suppliers per demands, the more relative power suppliers have.  They don’t themselves explain the creation of jobs or the distribution of income, they only implicitly relate to the concept of power, and they certainly do not reflect need or the will of society as a whole.

Distribution of income, then, reflects the valuation of human worth according to the dominant class in a society, the capitalists in our own.  More specifically, it rewards them according to the function they serve for the dominant class, and how hard it is for capitalists to fill those necessary functions.  Inequality exists, then, because the capitalists (considered as a whole) devalue the worth of the people towards the bottom of the income ladder (relative to the perceived value of their social function), and value the worth of those towards to top more.  This generic formula rings true for labor; the very top tends to consist of capitalists themselves, and class conflict can generate income and benefits for labor with some independence from the valuation of their labor by the capitalists themselves.  This is so because class-conscious laborers can unify as laborers to restrict the supply of their labor, thus giving them greater power, or unify as citizens to enact legislation which will produce similar effects.  In the absence of strong class consciousness on the part of labor, any laborers wages and benefits are as low as capitalists can get away with.

Thus, this inequality is purely the product of class in American society.  It is a combination of the (1) class power of capitalists over society, (2) low valuation of the human worth of those towards the bottom of the economic latter (where laborers, as we have shown, have no inherent worth to capitalists, but only instrumental value), and (3) low class power, revealing their relative absence of class consciousness and unity. It does not reflect nature, or inequality of ability.  It is the result of class society, of capitalism, and the only way out is not a welfare capitalist state, but a postcapitalist (decentralized, democratic, participatory and planned) socialism.

Huffington Post: “Income Inequality is at an All-Time High” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/14/income-inequality-is-at-a_n_259516.html