Earlier this month Noam Chomsky published an incisive essay entitled: Plutonomy and the Precariat: On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline*, which clearly elucidates how the extreme concentration of wealth with the 1% has transpired because our country no longer manufactures actual things — bankers, stock brokers and financiers simply manipulate the idea of money. The United States has mutated into a vastly economically stratified oligarchy, 99% of whom have almost no political power or influence in our nation’s participatory “democracy”.
In this brief excerpt, Chomsky explains how these huge shifts in our economic structure have ravaged the working class, many of whom have a pervasive sense of despair and no hope that meaningful employment will ever return:
“In the 1930s, unemployed working people could anticipate that their jobs would come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today — the current level of unemployment there is approximately like the Depression — and current tendencies persist, those jobs aren’t going to come back.
The change took place in the 1970s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying factors, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Brenner, was the falling rate of profit in manufacturing. There were other factors. It led to major changes in the economy — a reversal of several hundred years of progress towards industrialization and development that turned into a process of de-industrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued overseas very profitably, but it’s no good for the work force.
Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise — producing things people need or could use — to financial manipulation. The financialization of the economy really took off at that time.
Before the 1970s, banks were banks. They did what banks were supposed to do in a state capitalist economy: they took unused funds from your bank account, for example, and transferred them to some potentially useful purpose like helping a family buy a home or send a kid to college. That changed dramatically in the 1970s. Until then, there had been no financial crises since the Great Depression. The 1950s and 1960s had been a period of enormous growth, the highest in American history, maybe in economic history.
And it was egalitarian. The lowest quintile did about as well as the highest quintile. Lots of people moved into reasonable lifestyles — what’s called the “middle class” here, the “working class” in other countries — but it was real. And the 1960s accelerated it. The activism of those years, after a pretty dismal decade, really civilized the country in lots of ways that are permanent.
When the 1970s came along, there were sudden and sharp changes: De-industrialization, the off-shoring of production, and the shift to financial institutions, which grew enormously. I should say that, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was also the development of what several decades later became the high-tech economy: Computers, the Internet, the IT Revolution developed substantially in the state sector.
The developments that took place during the 1970s set off a vicious cycle. It led to the concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector. This doesn’t benefit the economy — it probably harms it and society — but it did lead to a tremendous concentration of wealth.”
You can read Noam Chomsky’s essay in its entirety at TomDispatch.com
* In case you were wondering, Plutonomy describes an economy that is significantly influenced by the very wealthy, and the Precariat is you and me, individuals who are, according to Wikipedia:
“…suffering from precarcity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. Specifically, it is applied to the condition of lack of job security, in other words intermittent or underemployment and the resultant precarious existence.”