America, the New Feudal State

Part 1 of a Two-Part Essay

Recent news has caused me to reflect on the terrible injustice endured by workers in this country. One article explains that most food workers in the US will go to work when sick not only because they have no sick day benefits from their employer, but also because they may even lose their jobs or be penalized in some way for taking unpaid sick time off. Because their wages are among the lowest in the country, they must work every day they can in order to survive. One horrifying aspect of this is that they will go to work with an infectious disease such as typhus, and then those germs get spread to the other workers, and to the customers as well. This is a perfect way to start an epidemic.

An NPR article describes the rising mortality rate among working-class middle-aged whites due to suicide and drug overdoses. The researchers point out that these tend to be people who have a high school education or less, who have had their wages stagnate or even drop. They have been left behind, and have seen that their lives are actually worse than their parents’. The researchers suggest an economic cause; this rings true to me, particularly since this is the only demographic group to whom this is happening, and it is only happening in the US.

“…increases [in mortality rates] were largest for those with the least education.”


How have things come to this?

Particularly since the Great Recession, businesses have made every effort to cut costs, including wages. There have been so many unemployed people for so few jobs, workers have very little bargaining power, and businesses have no incentive to offer workers any enticement such as days off, a decent wage, or good working conditions. To make things even worse, the government now requires aid recipients to work! This makes very little sense as there is not enough work for all of them, and besides, if they have work, why do they need aid? Clearly, this is more conservative nonsense, aimed at helping businesses. If this continues, we will end up with a slave state, and it will be very hard to climb back out of.

It seems we are reverting to a feudal way of life, where a few people with money and power control the lives of the workers, and there is a great gulf between the only two classes, the rich and the poor. For the elite to continue to amass power and wealth, they require cheap and compliant workers, with lots of spares (unemployed). The government supports this trend, because this same elite runs the government and provides funding for politicians. They are against welfare and other government aid because they need to maintain their desperate worker base to maximize profits. They promote their agenda through a bizarre feel-good style of obfuscation: they say that work provides fulfillment and social connection that one would otherwise not find. They predict that society would fall apart if people didn’t have traditional (work-for-a-wage-and-a-boss) jobs, and conform to all the societal norms. Universal basic income is seen as a great evil, one to be avoided at all costs, including the cost of human welfare.

These notions are obviously wrong; people are fully capable of having satisfying social connections without going to work. What our society is threatened by is not worker equality, but meaninglessness. Most of that meaninglessness comes from dehumanizing jobs. One of the reasons people volunteer is to counter the sense of meaninglessness they find at work. Volunteer work is usually more important and fulfilling than what most people do for a wage. Government support of low-wage drudgery to benefit business is nothing short of criminal, and we shall all suffer greatly if the current inequities are not resolved.

Next week I’ll suggest some solutions to this problem.


Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.


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