The Case for Economic Democracy: Chapter 3.2
"Work or Starve" is not freedom.
Welcome! This is Chapter 3.2 of my new book, The Case for Economic Democracy. The book is available for premium subscribers. If you’d like to read it, and support my work promoting progressive and Socialist politics, become a paying subscriber today.
Previous chapters examined the philosophy and practice of political democracy, as well as an examination of how America’s economy works by extracting surplus value from labor. This section examines the threat of “work or starve” facing Americans, which is an artificial construction designed to maximize private profit.
The Economy’s False Choice
For the most part, America’s relationship to the economy is discussed through the lens of a nation of consumers. Newspapers and television broadcasters speak of inflation and recession as they will impact the average American’s ability to consume, either negatively or positively.
This is not a fault on its own, as Americans need to understand the forces that will dictate their ability to purchase and consume both essential (housing, food, water, etc.) and non-essential commodities (video games, Netflix, roller skates, etc.). Where this frame finds faults is that it’s only part of how Americans are subjected to economic forces.
Yes, we are consumers. But we are also creators.
In the United States, one must produce to exist. In a country without guaranteed housing, food, medical care, and other necessities, Americans must earn a wage to purchase the requirements for survival. To be fair, the United States has meager welfare programs designed to support the poor, disabled, and unemployed, but they are purposefully inadequate to support a plentiful life. Unemployment benefits are structured to run out, supposedly incentivizing those who need them to “get off the couch” and find a job. Even benefits designed for the sick and disabled, who are physically unable to be employed, such as Medicare Disability, have been found inadequate. (There is a 24-month waiting period[iii] to get on Disability Insurance.) Again, this is not in dispute. Democrat and Republican politicians alike have routinely campaigned against a strong social safety net. Talk of “welfare queens” and “lazy moochers” is common from presidential candidates of both political parties.
While ideologues can argue about the values behind our economic structure, the end result is concrete. The American worker has two choices: work or starve.
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