Happy Labor Day

Mon, Sep 7, 2009

Economy, Politics

In American political discourse, it is permitted to speak about race, sex, gender, and religion. Class, however, is the one category about which we are not permitted to speak, or, increasingly, to think. Witness the speed with which any policy proposal with potentially egalitarian consequences is labeled “class warfare” in the press; if this epithet is becoming less common, that’s likely only because the category itself is less and less familiar in the public mind. And why admit the existence of class at all, when you can achieve the same rhetorical goals and stimulate the same reptilian reflexes by simply shouting “Socialist!” at every thing that moves?

It’s no surprise that a nation so unwilling to reflect on matters of class and economic justice would also have the highest level of income inequality among its industrialized peers. Only a political mentality as perverse as ours could regard high economic inequality not as a vice of which to be ashamed, but as a sign of our putative commitment to only the purest laissez-faire principles, as though we live in some kind of secularized Calvinist meritocratic paradise. Ideological champions of the American plutocracy haven’t changed tactics for decades because they haven’t needed to: it is easy to pacify the sullen majority with consumer goods, and to trick any agitating remainder with absurd fantasies.

Given this backdrop, it’s something of a miracle that we still know words like “labor,” “class,” or “worker” at all. In another few decades, Labor Day may well be the day on which we permit hourly wage-slaves to work for free as a sign of their gratitude for being allowed to toil in this most blessed of Special Economic Zones.

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