After watching both the videos on wealth inequality in America, it showed me how unequally distributed wealth in America is. I always heard about the top 10% and thought that there was a “middle class” but these videos shocked me. I would have never known that the top 1% owns 40% of the nations wealth where as the bottom 40% owns .3% of the nations wealth. The wealth inequality is outrageous and it’s even worse that the people they interviewed on the David Letterman show and the 5,000 Americans the Harvard professor surveyed don’t even know how unequal the countries wealth is distributed and think they are in this ideal economy that consists of somewhat of a more spread out wealth between all the classes. But even if more people understood the inequality of wealth in America, would it change?
This video can be related to Karl Marx’s capitalist system of commodity. As the capitalist pays the worker to create commodities and obtain a surplus value (M-C-M) the worker will work to obtain money to buy commodities (C-M-C). This explains how the capitalist obtains most of the money as shown in the videos while the worker only has a small percentage of wealth.
Karl Marx wanted to reunite theory and practice. His theories are shaped by the world around him. Marx would also refer capitalism as a mode of production which involves commodities for the means of exchange in the market place. Marx used a “materialist” approach in formulating his theory on commodity. He defined commodities as “an object outside of us, a thing by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another” (P. 69). He would describe this phenomenal as companies producing goods and pressured to stay competitive in the business world. All commodities are characterized as having a use-value and an exchange-value. Marx would say use-value is reflective on the workers’ labor, whereas, goods that are exchanged for profit becomes an exchange-value.
Modern day Marx would say that the company, Michael Kors, is not producing appealing handbags to its consumers but driven by intentions to make profits. Marx would argue that capitalists turned commodities into ‘Fetishism’ because he said they believe that value can be inherent to a commodity. Fetishism is defined as ‘the belief that natural objects have supernatural powers, or that something created by people has power over people’.
The term ‘Fetishism’ can be applied to material goods such as Michael Kors. One way to convey if commodity fetishism applies to this company or any other materialistic object is if the product affects the normal routine of society. Mostly women are driven to have the latest Michael Kors bag or watch. These two items have become fashionable in today’s society. Modern day Marx would say that people are consumed by materialistic things. Such fetishism may not be healthy to individuals and they continue down this path with the intentions to make themselves look and feel better. However, individual who may not afford such luxury of being fashionable or following the latest trend in society. Such individuals may be looked down upon or not accepted. Marx would say that conflicts may arise resulting in a division in society.
I still question why most people are so bewitched into fetishism in today’s society. If only such strong beliefs can be transferred to important matters in society such poverty or abuse.
Karl Marx writes that money, in essence, defies the natural limits of human capabilities. One’s power is indefinite based on the amount of money they possess. There is nothing that, if offered the right price, one cannot attain. In today’s society, we see this played out in several different ways, large and small. One can achieve their constructed idea of beauty through paying for plastic surgery, implants, lifts, hair removal, etc. If someone wants talent, they can pay for the best couches. If someone wants love, they can buy that too. Marx writes that, “what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality…I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored, and therefore so is its possessor.” (p. 49, col. 2) I think this is why so many people equate money to happiness. Through money, people can become what they are innately not. Or at least that is the illusion that many people “buy” into. Living in a consumer society, it is hard to resist believing the lie myself. We are constantly bombarded with things that will supposedly make us happier, whether it is owning the latest technology or stylish clothing. Money is the most powerful object one can have and that binds society together, encompassing all relationships.
“Land of the Free, Home of the Poor”
My first thought on just reading the title “Land of the Free, Home of the Poor” is that it is right on the money. Many people from other countries come to America for a better life, future, and to one day attain the American dream of owning a house and raising their family. Many sought out for opportunities that were never ideal in their birth countries. But even with the freedom that this country provides for its people, majority of the population is still living in poverty and even with working hard, many barely make it.
After listening to the video “Land of the Free, Home of the Poor”, I was not surprised by the findings. It is obvious that the rich keeps getting richer and the poor keeps getting poorer, unless by a miracle someone wins the lottery. But in most cases those lucky ones ends up declaring bankruptcy. In the video, over 90% of the people interviewed underestimated the extent of wealth inequality by picking the Swedish wealth profile as the category they thought represented America. In a sense, everyone desires for something more than what they currently have. Modern day Marx would say we are either categorized as the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ .
“Wealth Inequality in America”
Yes, it was surprising. Knowing that one can’t distinguish a lower class from the middle class in today’s society, is quite shocking. The poorest Americans don’t even register on the chart, whereas only the top one percent is a billionaire. This is outrageous. A CEO does not work 380 times harder than its employees. The average worker needs to work more than a month to make what a CEO would make in an hour. Not all people are aware of its reality but this is capitalism and the truth behind it. The ones that profits off of capitalism are the ones that control it. Some may prefer to listen and make themselves aware of these issues while the majority is only interested in Justin Bieber’s daily adventures.
Karl Marx concept of alienation is introduced to us in the video as a concept of imprisonment. An individual could never fulfill true happiness at his workplace because of the conditions and limits on his/her freedom are imposed. His power to control his actions, destiny and ability to think are not controlled by himself, but rather by those he works for. Marx concludes that a person can only be his or her real self once they leave the work place.
As stated in the reading, the communist Manifesto, the people who control the means of production, the bourgeoisie, are the ones who are in control of the proletariats, the people who sell their labor to the market and just become a commodity. I think in a way it’s harsh to critique and categorize a person like Marx does in the communist manifesto, but its nothing less than the truth. Though many people have no other choice but to be chained to being a proletariat in society due to lack of resources and other unfortunate circumstances, Marx believes there is a way for someone who was once a proletariat to become a bourgeoisie. We all strive to become something meaningful in life and acquire as much wealth for our hard work, but with all this money we become greedy and along with the greed comes the problems.
An example of this may be seen in Drake’s song, “started from the bottom”.
“No new niggas, nigga we don’t feel that
F**** a fake friend, where your real friends at?
We don’t like to do too much explainin’
Story stayed the same, I never changed it
No new niggas, nigga we don’t feel that
F*** a fake friend, where you real friends at?
We don’t like to do too much explainin’
Story stayed the same through the money and the fame cause we…”
In this chorus we see how Drake expresses his feelings about making it to the top, but he feels like since he made it, everyone that doubted him suddenly wants to become a part of his life and his successes. Though he doesn’t intend to let them in, he feels alienated from everyone not knowing who is with him because they genuinely want to be and not because of his money and credentials. In the line “Story stayed the same through the money and the fame cause we…” I feel like the story of his progression as an artist and where he came from will never change even as his career continues.
In the “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844”, Karl Marx examines the condition of alienation from the essay “Alienated Labour”. He mentions that in order to maintain a physical existence in the work field, alienation is a necessary feature in a capitalist society. The wage earner, also known as the proletariat, “has little, if any, control over the production process.” He also mentions how working just for the money is “akin to selling your soul”. I agree with this because I have been in this position along with the rest of American workers who are not CEO’s of companies.
When one goes to work, they do not act the same way they would outside of it; they may be a whole different person. Once this becomes a routine, people start not to feel like themselves at work and become robotic in a sense. As Marx states, “Hence, the worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he is working. His labor is, therefore, not voluntary but forced, it is forced labor.” We see here that labor is forced because it is not voluntary anymore. This proves that the worker has just sold his/her soul to money and the bourgeoisie.
If a labor worker is unhappy with their job, they might choose another alternative, whether for better or for worse. In the song, “Gimme the Loot”, by the Notorious B.I.G., Biggie reenacts a scene of him and his friend choosing to rob people instead of actually working for someone. In his rap he says: “When it’s time to eat a meal I rob and steal, ‘cos Mom Duke ain’t giving me s**t so for the bread and butter I leave n****s in the gutter.” Biggie does not want to become an alienated worker and chooses to get his money in an illegal but faster alternative. He wants to live his life on the edge, still be himself, and still get his money. In actuality, he even sold drugs to raise money for his newborn daughter–even after he was selling records as an artist.
“Money so they say,
Is the root of all evil today,
But if you ask for a rise it’s no surprise that they’re
giving none away” -Pink Floyd, Money
In Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx addresses how, upon the “realization of their objectification,” workers in a capitalist society present a loss of self and feel alienated/estranged from their labor; that is, after performing the same repetitive routine every day, they would soon begin to feel as if they are nothing more than cheap commodities who have practically structured their lives around their work. According to Marx, “the alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power of its own confronting him” (43). Workers on an assembly line, for instance, may have no prior knowledge of the particular product they are working on (i.e. an electronic knife that plays radio) and would confront it “as something alien” (43), but the product will soon take control/become a part of their lives as they are persistently ordered to manufacture/sell them to the demanding public with minimal breaks. This would cause the workers to feel that they are not engaging in an activity that expresses their capacity to shape their lives and their relationships with others but would instead feel that their roles are being reduced to that of a cog in a machine.
Once the labor product and the mundane process of this labor has turned into “an alien object exercising power over [the workers]” (45), Marx believes that there are two more aspects in hand that will make them feel completely alienated/separated from their line of work. Workers may begin to feel isolated towards each other as the prospect of estranged labor turns their “species being . . . into a being alien to him, into a means to his individual existence” (46); fellow coworkers who were once good friends may start to look upon one another as rival competitors to see who can get their line of work done more quickly and efficiently. The final aspect that Marx presents is that workers will feel completely isolated towards other people in “the estrangement of man from man,” which is “an immediate consequence of the fact that [they are] estranged from the product of [their] labor, [their] life-activity, [and their] species being” (46). For instance, fast food restaurant employees would feel estranged from their environment, customers, boss, and possibly their social life because they are mainly considered as “numbers” who aren’t actually acknowledged for their work and who seem to accept that they are “selling their souls” every day to work for minimum wage and not for the creative potential of labor itself. It could be said that Marx’s four aspects of alienation/estrangement in labor may have been some of the key factors that led to his 1848 publication of The Communist Manifesto, in which the proletariat is urged to rise up against the impending bourgeoisie.
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Tagged alienation, bourgeoisie, capitalism, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, estrangement, Karl marx, Labour economics, Marx, Marxism, Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, proletariat