[Marxism] Review of Michael Yates's book
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jul 18 19:40:57 MDT 2004
Friday, July 16, 2004
By Seth Sandronsky
Review of Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy
by Michael D. Yates (Monthly Review Press, 2003, 288 pages).
Working Americans are not alone, though it may seem that way sometimes.
In fact, they join a mass of about 2.7 billion people worldwide who
labor for a living. In Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the
Global Economy, author Michael D. Yates focuses on workers here and
abroad to show how a lack of equality on the job ultimately affects
humanity under a social form of organization called capitalism.
No armchair radical, Yates writes in plain language that readers will
enjoy. He has honed his analysis as an author, editor and professor of
economics and labor relations at the University of Pittsburgh at
Johnstown and as a teacher of autoworkers and prisoners.
Crucially, Yates clarifies the official view of work. For instance, his
book is a resource for working people to understand better the false
claims about America’s “new economy” during the 1990s. A leading voice
of that false view is Chairman Alan Greenspan of the Federal Reserve
Bank. He claimed that human productivity and digital technology would
bring society a new era of prosperity. In contrast, Yates shows how and
why the wealth created in that decade did not flow downward to the vast
majority but upward to a rich few. Readers can refer to his book for
evidence to refute claims about a “populist” stock market that enriches
Read and discover how so-called “women’s work” at home—from the rearing
of kids to the care of elders—goes uncounted in the official measure of
a nation’s productivity. Yates details the process by which women who
work for a wage usually suffer double or, if they are nonwhite, triple
oppression. Learn why women working for wages in U.S. offices and
Indonesia’s sweatshops have much in common. I liked Yates’ new and
eye-opening details on women’s entry into paid work during the 20th
Regular readers likewise can grasp Yates’ many concrete examples of
lousy work with low pay and benefits. He makes clear how unemployment
and underemployment within and between nations depresses wages to boost
profits. American workers rarely hear, read or see such analysis of this
topic in mass media or in schools.
Yates’ chapters on mainstream or neoclassical vs. radical economic
theory cut through much confusion about both. He studied and taught the
former for years. Then the anti-Vietnam War and civil-rights movements
made Yates question his teachings. Why? “The neoclassical theory sets up
a completely abstract model of capitalism, devoid of any connection to
reality, and then proceeds to trace out the logic of this abstract model
and make predictions about the real world,” he writes.
Like Karl Marx witnessed 150 years ago as capitalism emerged from
feudalism in England, Yates sees working people, those who must sell
themselves by the hour to a boss to earn cash to get by, as the key to
expanding human freedom. This concept is at the heart of Yates’ radicalism.
On that note, his book is a radical primer on the national and global
economy that uses real working people’s experiences as its basic text.
This is an empowering process for readers whose working lives are hard
to see in media and schools. Accordingly, many lessons for a better
future are to be found in his study of workers’ past triumphs and
One recent victory, he notes, is the burgeoning global justice movement
at many American colleges. Students against sweatshops, together with
some American unions and foreign workers, are improving international
equality, Yates writes. In unity, they are heeding his words that, “We
must ‘name the system’ – capitalism—if we want to build a better world.”
Yates’ book is a resource for ordinary people struggling to create more
equality at home and abroad. Read it and get busy, people.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and
co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He
can be reached at: ssandron at hotmail.com.
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