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What Americans Really Care About

Paul Shepard

Apr 7, 2023

To satisfy its insatiable hunger for profits, the Wall Street system corrodes, undermines and erases every authentic human feeling and connection; it perverts healthy instinct and stunts personality; it would replace true community - parents and children, heroes, artists and inventors - with an abstract mass of interchangeable consumer-slaves with no higher ideal than money itself.


A recent survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal-NORC reveals a disfigurement of the American psyche over the past 25 years. The number of Americans who view patriotism, religion, having children, and community involvement as "very important" has significantly decreased, while the importance of money has increased. Americans now value money more than these traditional values, which are essential for creating healthy human communities.


However, what makes life worth living cannot be bought with money. The flourishing of healthy human communities relies on institutions and values that predate capitalism. Decades of Wall Street's influence have fractured these institutions, leading to disintegration of families and emptying of churches. We now see it turning on the workplace itself.


Atom at Home


The emergence of COVID-19 led to countless companies in the United States adopting remote work. What was once the coveted dream of the professional, blinking sleep from his eyes in gridlocked traffic on the way to his workplace - the privilege of working from home - has now become routine for untold numbers of employees in the US.


But going forward, ubiquitous remote work may reveal itself to be a mixed blessing at best. How much fellow-feeling is it really possible to cultivate between people who've only communicated via email, Zoom and Slack? We can expect team-building and morale-boosting exercises to become a dim memory, not to mention a well-deserved beer after work with one's coworkers.


And worse, any hope of collective bargaining or resistance to the excesses of management, a hope that has been in decline for decades, may see its complete destruction at last. Instead of the confident and organized working class of times past (to whom we owe the weekend, overtime pay, and OSHA), we find a fluid and precarious workforce, as disunited and impotent as ever.


'Be Your Own Boss?'


It may be that remote work offers white-collar professionals a taste of the insecurity and flagrant exploitation with which the "gig economy" is famously rife.


By classifying workers as "independent contractors" instead of as "employees," companies are able to deny them health insurance, unemployment insurance, paid time off, and a host of other hard-one benefits.


Ride-sharing giant Uber, an icon of the gig economy, has incurred lawsuits for wage theft in multiple states.


Back in 2019, the company was forced to pay refunds to more than 45,000 riders (but no restitution to drivers) when a class action lawsuit discovered the company had skimmed off workers' tips and then lied about it.


This past December, Uber filed a lawsuit of its own in New York that blocked a pay increase for drivers that had been approved by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.


Companies like Uber market themselves as an attractive alternative to traditional employment, arguing that such work maximizes "flexibility," putting workers in charge of their own time and providing the opportunity to "be one's own boss." In reality, the gig economy would neutralize the challenge of socialized production and the danger it poses to the capitalist order.


Frederick Engels observed in 1880 that the methods governing a single factory (or for our purposes, an office or any workplace) were essentially rational; coworkers don't compete with one another in pursuit of a company's goals, but rather complement each other, striving together according to a common plan – he saw that this was at odds with the "unbridled competition" that exists between companies, a situation he summarized as "contradiction between socialized organization in the individual factory and social anarchy in the production as a whole."


For Engels, this contradiction could only be resolved with the subordination of said companies to an overall plan to rationally administer the entire economy for the sake of the entire society. But Wall Street has discovered another solution: Offer short-term, flexible gigs to independent contractors. Call it "being your own boss," when each works frantically for himself alone while the companies exploit them all.

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