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.



Lessons in Organizing from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

January 17, 2017
· 51 rsvps

Join DSA Vice-Chair Chris Riddiough to explore what we can learn from the work of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1969-77), the largest of the socialist feminist women’s unions of the 1970s, which had a rock band, a graphics collective, the underground abortion collective JANE, and numerous other projects. Check out their website and join the discussion via internet connection.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

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· 41 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 10 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

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· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.


DSA New Member Orientation Call

February 15, 2017
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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.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 1 rsvp

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But check out their short the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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