[Marxism] The Great Inequality

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 2 10:01:52 MST 2012


The Great Inequality
Michael D. Yates

Michael D. Yates (mikedjyates [at] msn.com) is associate editor of 
Monthly Review and editorial director of Monthly Review Press. He 
is the author of Why Unions Matter and Cheap Motels and a Hot 
Plate, and the editor of Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back, 
all published by Monthly Review Press.
This essay is, in part, a discussion of Inequality and Power: The 
Economics of Class by Eric A. Schutz (London: Routledge, 2011).

In the early 1980s, I began telling my students that growing 
inequality of income and wealth would become the dominant 
political issue of the future. I did not think that the future 
meant thirty years, but better late than never. The Occupy Wall 
Street (OWS) uprising has put inequality squarely on the political 
agenda, with the brilliant slogan, “We are the 99%.” While the 
“99%” includes many rich persons, the focus on the “1%” at the top 
of the economic pyramid serves to shine a light on those who rule 
both the economy and the politics of the United States. The 1 
percent is a diverse group, but among them, especially at the top, 
are the men and (a few) women who own controlling interests in our 
largest businesses, including the financial corporations whose 
actions precipitated the Great Recession, which officially began 
in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, and has since morphed 
into what looks like a long period of slow growth best termed 
stagnation. They are also the people whose campaign contributions 
and prominent positions in Congress, as advisors to the president, 
and on the Supreme Court have placed the government firmly on the 
side of the rich.

Given the prominence that OWS has given to inequality, it is 
useful to know what causes it.1 We cannot just look at the facts, 
dramatic as they might be, and say that something is wrong or that 
all we need is to take money from the rich and transfer it to the 
poor. What is needed is a theory of distribution, because this can 
give us guidance on what political strategy might best confront 
the underlying forces that generate inequality. Fortunately, 
economist Eric Schutz, in his timely book Inequality and Power: 
The Economics of Class provides us with such a theory. His 
argument is simple and straightforward. Those who are rich have 
advantages that keep them rich, while the poor suffer 
disadvantages that keep them poor. However, there is a 
relationship between the two groups, one in which the rich have 
power over the poor, and this relationship is built into the 
nature of a capitalist economy and continuously reproduced by it. 
The power of the dominant group reinforces the existing set of 
social/property relationships, which serves to further enhance the 
power of the dominant group relative to all others. It turns out, 
no surprise to readers of Monthly Review, that the rich are the 
capitalists, and the poor are the workers (what differentiates the 
book, however, from most radical works is that Schutz provides 
concrete examples and extremely clear exposition to give chapter 
and verse to Marxian, and particularly Gramscian, concepts). All 
sorts of complications must be considered, but these work in 
general to strengthen the basic power inequality. Therefore, 
attacking inequality will require nothing less than attacking 
capitalism itself. There are a host of pragmatic measures that can 
reduce inequality, but only those that address the 
system-generated power of the capitalists can strike down the 
structures that give rise to it in the first place.


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