Work, debt and life - and justice?

© Copyright: Julian Edney 2005

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Is exploitation wrong?

by Julian Edney (1)

This is not the first time the nation has produced dramatic economic inequalities. What are very wealthy people like? The everyday world of work vs. values of democracy. How the assumption of self-interest leads to fear in the workplace. Freedom, the illusion of freedom, coercion. Exploitation. Credit cards. Meritocracy. Sociopaths. Corporations and the economic justification for the damage they do. Historically we are emerging from an era with no clear ideology, but an era in which materialism and business has expanded powerfully and internationally, and out of the vacuum two old, discredited ideologies, laissez-faire and Social Darwinism appear to be rising again in modern guise. These ideologies are still flawed; the first (contained in modern Libertarianism) vigorously promotes freedom but ignores justice and is indifferent toward democracy. The second is supported by science, is disinterested in humane values and accommodates exploitation as part of the nature of things. The search for a modern economic theory closer to reality. Is this a society of individuals rationally maximizing happinesses? Andrewsís view: at least among the disadvantaged, it is a political economy of hope and fear. Remedies.

Looking for morning news, I click on my computer. My internet service flashes with color, the biggest houses, the biggest jewelry, the most expensive toys.

The internetís financial press waxes muscular - the economyís on fire!

Television is the same. The media are a river of adulation for all this glitter and the people who own it.

School textbooks carry a similar message. The economy is ever expanding, its power is unparalleled, we are now spreading free market capitalism around the globe, bringing unimaginable wealth and improvement to mud-level nations and countries sucked out by socialism, raising everybody, because thatís what capitalism does.

Has everybody been raised here? Actually, with talk of equality written into this nationís founding papers, the scenery never looks right. The contrast between rich and poor grows, and this year has been no exception. As an acquaintance on the street puts it: every year there are more homeless people and every year the limousines get longer.

If the stated goal of the system was to gradually create inequality, it might also claim success.

We barely notice because we are adjusted. But if you are a foreign visitor, how does this nation show? A svelte Scottsdale, of course. Disneyland, of course. The flamboyant homes of the film stars. Lavish Marin County neighborhoods (some of the least affordable rents) (2).

But if you are a visitor, your tourist bus will also whisk you past sights never found in the guide books Ė nor in our kidsí social studies texts. Neighborhoods awash in shootings (1,200 gun injuries in South Los Angeles alone last year (3)); square miles of city filled with houses with barred windows, chaotic schools, downtown blocks of sweatshops; whole neighborhoods sunk in semi-literacy, drugs, gangs, and fear; and our nightmarish jails (4). Not everybody looks like they have been raised.






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