The Means, Part One:
A Peek Behind the Curtain
By Bobby Dillon
This will be a column in eight parts. Through this column I hope to get us all thinking and talking about politics differently. We’ve been fed bullshit most of our lives and this column wants to cut through it without pulling punches. Comments? Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A specter is haunting America. We don’t have a name for it just yet, but it looms there all the same. There is something waiting for us after capitalism. What it will be depends entirely upon our actions now, but the game is rigged. The decisions are being made on our behalf by an aging and decrepit ruling class. We have let them shape the world for us, and we suffer the consequences every day. Suicide, addiction, hunger, homelessness, and debt are our rewards for building the single largest economy ever imagined. We need to rethink The Economy. We need to rethink what it means for an economy to be successful.
See, the billionaires like to tell us that The Economy is doing well when the stock market’s up, when GDP (Gross Domestic Product) grows, when wealth is being created. We measure success in terms of dollars and cents, and it’s brought us here, to the brink of total collapse. Most Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t afford a $400 emergency. The vast majority of us are one bad day away from poverty. We have this idea in our culture of the strong middle class, but increasingly this is a myth. There are the few people at the top who hold all the keys and there’s the rest of us down here in the muck. And guess what? The billionaires are absolutely fine with your continued immiseration as long as the wheels keep churning, funneling wealth ever-upward.
But here’s the good news: we don’t need them. We’ve never needed them. Every single day, every single one of us wakes up and makes the world move. It’s not billionaires down here flipping burgers or bagging groceries or driving the semis or nailing shingles to a roof. The billionaires aren’t raising your kids or teaching them math. No. You do that. We do that together, every day. Millions and millions of people work together every single day, in concert, to make this society move. The greatest trick the billionaires ever pulled was convincing us that we need them and, unfortunately, they’ve used that leverage over us to mold the world as they see fit. And here’s the rub: without us, they have nothing. Without our input their whole way of life grinds to a halt. They need us far more than we need them. WE make the economy move and they reap the benefits.
So what IS The Economy? It’s not just the way we make money. It’s not just the way we create wealth. The Economy is the tool we use to deliver the things people need to the people who need them. The reason we have an economy is because stuff needs to get done. I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up and go to work just so Bezos can make another buck. We need to redefine what makes an economy successful, an economy built around this idea that the wealthy need us, not the other way around. Our economic system rewards profit above all else and profit only ever flows one way: up. What’s profitable and what’s useful are not necessarily the same thing. It’s not profitable to be a stay-at-home parent, so that work isn’t rewarded financially. But it is useful. It’s not profitable to deliver mail to the remotest and most rural parts of our country. But it is useful. Our economy is built to deliver the most profit possible, not to provide the most good to the most people.
Here’s how our economy works now: you go to work and in exchange for your time and labor, you’re paid a wage. You then take that wage and spend it on the things you need. Your access to resources is inextricably tied to your ability to earn a wage. So, what’s wrong with this? For starters, even people who don’t work deserve a safe place to live, healthcare, education, and food to eat. Further, some jobs are valued much more than others. The CEO gets to eat better and live in a nicer house than the trucker. The average CEO to employee pay ratio is 320-to-1. Try to imagine the scale of this inequality. When I finished my undergrad work I got a job making $30,000 a year. That means the average CEO would make $9,600,000 working for the same company. Does the CEO work harder than you? Maybe so, but do they work 320 times harder than you? Someone making that kind of money will never have to worry about making ends meet ever again. But you do.
I said that something is waiting for us after capitalism. Like feudalism, which for centuries seemed like the natural way of doing things, capitalism will end one day. The question is: who is going to design the society that follows? The billionaires? Because they’re in charge now, and the world they’ve built is simply not sustainable. They’ve taken too much from us already and every year they take more. If we want to build a society for everyone it means democratizing the economy. It means putting workers in charge of the workplace and putting people in charge of the future. If the economy is the tool we use to meet people’s needs, then the people need to be in charge.
Over the course of the next few months I plan to bring you a bevvy of articles that I hope will get us all thinking about politics differently. We’ve all been taught to think of politics as what they show us on CNN or Fox or MSNBC. But that’s not politics, that’s theater. And there’s nothing wrong with theater! We need art! But politics is power, and the constant fight over who gets to wield that power. If the economy is the way we distribute resources, then the economy is political. The drama they show on TV is just that: drama. We need to stop thinking about politics and democracy as something that only happens when we vote every four years. Democracy is a daily struggle, a daily grind that means being active and present in the decision-making process. Let’s work together. We have so much to gain.