After reading that the Dow Jones industrial average had hit an all time high on Wednesday, I read this Mother Jones article about something called “speedup,” originally published July/August 2011 issue. Speedup is when a employer asks its employees to do more work for no additional pay or benefits. This phenomenon is, in part, one of the reasons big companies have made a speedy recovery since the economic crash of 2008. Employers squeeze extra productivity out of fewer employees, which improves their bottom line and drives profits up.
It’s the sort of statistic that allows economists and politicians to claim that our economy is on the rise and that we’re in a recovery. Profits are up and business is good, from a certain perspective. But if you think about it, speedup can only be good for the employers, not the employees. From Mother Jones:
For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top: By 2008, the wealthiest 0.1 percent were making 6.4 times as much as they did in 1980 (adjusted for inflation). And just to further fuel your outrage, that 22 percent increase in profits? Most of it accrued to a single industry: finance.
In other words, all that extra work you’ve taken on—the late nights, the skipped lunch hours, the missed soccer games—paid off. For them.
Businesses are making money and increasing productivity by giving Americans more work, and Americans are only too happy to accept—after all, a demanding, backbreaking job with low pay is better than no job and no money. And if that first job isn’t enough, some of us will take a second job rather than fight for our wages at the first.
Then I found the above video and it made me a little sick. I’ve looked into the sources a little and believe they are reliable; if they are, America is much worse off than anyone wants to admit. Just ask yourself if you want any small group of people (the top 1% of wage earners) owning more than 50% of the country’s stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
Beyond the numbers there’s the lie this phenomenon exposes. We live in a culture that champions hard work and condemns laziness—but as a country we refuse to reward that hard work by increasing the standard of living for everyone. Instead, we make excuses for why executives should have even more money and we dismiss those who disagree as Marxists or communists or some other dirty term from the 1950s. We refuse to acknowledge that the rich already have more than they could possibly need, probably at the expense of the poor, and we defend them because some small part of us hopes that we might be that rich someday.
“Redistribution of wealth” is a dirty phrase in this country, but I think its plain that we’ve been redistributing our money for close to three decades now. The burden of extra work and lower wages has been saddled on the working class—and the working poor—so that our richest citizens can become even richer.
In the last thirty years, the money has always been redistributed—not down, but upwards.