I Have WAY More Stuff Than You: How Is This Normal, Just, or Right?

 Quarterly Journal of Economics

Creating Ideological Change

How did one of the most democratic of nations—or at least, the nation most vocal in asserting its claim of democracy—revert to such extremes of inequality? Deregulation helped, but one major orchestrated shift in ideology took center stage.

For the U.S. middle class whose incomes rose in the Great Compression, this was a time of opportunity: families bought homes and cars, and children went to college; jobs paid a living wage. The economic difference between managers and workers decreased, so that managers were not all that much better off than the workers who labored under their rule; after overtime, some managers earned less.

For those at the top, this situation was intolerable. To restore business advantage they could no longer, at least in the United States, rely on the violence with which privately hired Pinkertons earlier complemented municipal police. A new strategy was required: corporate insiders turned to higher education to provide a new, more durable basis for broad economic, political and ideological change.

Starting in the 1950s, business education grew. Business bachelor’s degrees increased to 20.5% of 2012 undergraduate degrees awarded. Production of MBAs accelerated even more steeply, from 3,280 in 1956 to 191,571 in 2012, when the MBA took 25.4% of all master’s degrees. The business class was building a stronger, more resilient foundation for its domination of American income and wealth.

Higher education during the second half of the twentieth century exploded across the board, with degrees in the humanities, engineering, and the sciences all exhibiting robust growth. Business, however, took larger and larger educational shares.

Students learn more from their professors than facts in the text. Social codes tell people how they are supposed to act, think, and interact with each other; management education in particular shapes who business students become. Business students become business leaders, carrying forward the ideological standpoint of this re-emergent business class.

Most importantly, this group accomplished a shift in acceptance of inequality. Repeated reference to “free markets” conflates that phrase with “freedom,” a contradiction in terms. Democratic freedom is a state establishment of free speech, free association, generally free behavior, and free votes. Market fundamentalism’s “free markets” explicitly reject the very regulatory oversights that democratic states need in order to limit corporate corruption, discrimination, environmental degradation, and gross exploitation of labor for extreme profit.

That business faculty hold views favoring inequality is documented in a survey I conducted in 2009, answered by some 750 faculty employed in major research university business schools and by some 1,325 faculty employed in those same major research universities in other academic fields. Business faculty hold views that are remarkably more sexist than their non-business colleagues, are more racist, and favor higher levels of corruption, including direct bribes. Business faculty are more supportive of telling everyday lies than faculty in other fields. High-status students in these major universities carry this ideology forward, until across the United States today, much of our entire population accepts poverty as a consequence of laziness, and economic privilege and wealth as earned.

Good for Business, Bad for Democracy

Extracting wealth from the work force to enrich those at the very top is bad national policy. The wealthy spend less of their income on products and services; they save more, transferring much of that wealth to foreign tax havens.

The rightward ideological shift toward market fundamentalism creates problems for practical democracy too, particularly democratic ideals. Business corporations are “people” in domestic rights, and more than people in trade agreements, starting with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under NAFTA, corporations are permitted to sue nations for loss of potential profit decreased by regulations protecting towns, people, and the environment. The 2013 train crash in Quebec province, where Bakken crude exploded, burning a town and killing more than 45 people, occurred along that urban route only after Canada had been forced under NAFTA to abandon requirements that dangerous cargo use a longer, less populated track because those extra miles added costs, decreasing profit. Money buys this.

Political democracy cannot survive when bribes of $1.6 million are made legal.

Some 69% of Americans see inequality as a problem that the U.S. government should do “some” or “a lot” to fix. People are not sheep, but they don’t always vote. If extreme inequality is to be curbed, we need a vast electoral turnout now.

Candidates who oppose extremes of inequality and are willing to tax the rich must be provided with at least some funds as well as scores of volunteers to carry the message that our ideology of economic, as well as political, democracy lives on.

For the moment, votes still carry the day.

JanetSpitzAID_100.png Janet Spitz, a DSA member, holds a PhD from Stanford University and is associate professor of business at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, where she can be reached at spitzj@strose.edu.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.



DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 46 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.


Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 55 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.


Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.


DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 52 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 18 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.