Addressing the Root Causes of Classism - much easier than you thought?

What About Classism? is a new UK based pressure group geared towards making rigged economics a human rights issue. Perhaps you think that this is a good idea but feel that it is a very difficult, if not impossible, task. Here I would like to try to convince you that, at least in theory, it is much easier than you think. Furthermore, I am inclined to think that if we get the theory clear in our heads then the practicalities of the task at hand - namely the dismantling of classism - will also become much easier than many of us currently think.

 

As you can probably tell, the two key concepts that underpin this new initiative are classism and rigged economics. However, you may be wondering how these two concepts relate to each other. The answer, in fact, is quite straightforward: classism is a form of social discrimination that arises out of rigged economics. But what exactly does this mean?

 

The idea is that the economy is rigged in the same way as a game of cards or a football match can be rigged. That is to say that the deck of cards can be stacked against some of the players and in favour of other players. Or that the playing field can be uneven and therefore advantageous to one side over the other. Either way, certain “players” keep winning whilst others keep loosing. So, just as a deck of cards can be stacked or a playing field can be uneven, the economy can be designed and structured in such a way that it is also rigged.  

 

There are, of course, a number of myths - typically invented by intellectuals who serve power - that have been constructed to rationalise these outcomes, the primary function of which are to hide the truth of the situation in order to maintain the unfair system in a manner that is self-serving to socioeconomic elites. These myths include the idea that the people at the top of society are there because they are cleverer than the rest of us, or that they are there because they work harder than the rest of us. Truth be told, the people at the top are there because the economy - which they designed and built - functions in such a way as to guarantee these outcomes. Of course, many people already know this but feel that there is nothing we can do about it. This, however, is simply the internalisation of another myth perpetuated by this system that has exactly the same function as the other myths (highlighted above) - namely, to help preserve a social system that primarily functions in elite interests.  

 

One of the things that we can do is educate ourselves and each other about rigged economics and classism as a first step to addressing these important issues. Knowledge, as they say, is power! But what kind of knowledge do we need if we are to tackle classism? Again, the answer is pretty straightforward: we need to identify the specific features of the economy that make it function in the interests of economic elites and at the expense of the rest of us (not to mention the environment) - that is to say that we need to pin-point the root causes of classism.

 

Here I would like to suggest two features of the current economic system that generate classism. The first is private ownership of the means of production. The second is the corporate division of labour. Here is how we - at What About Classism? - define these two economic features:

 

  • Private ownership of the means of production: an arrangement facilitated by law that allows people to buy land, workplaces, technology, etc. for the purpose of generating more wealth for themselves in the form of profit.

  • Corporate division of labour: a way of dividing up tasks within a workplace / economy that results in some jobs being more empowering than other jobs and that generates both economic hierarchy and class division.  

 

It should also be understood that these two economic features, or organising principles, correlate to specific elite classes. Or, to be more precise, the economic feature of the private ownership of the means of production acts as a source of class power for the capitalist class whereas the corporate division of labour acts as a source of class power for the coordinator class.  

 

This is very important information. It is the kind of knowledge that we need to have and share with others if we are to understand rigged economics. After all, if correct, we now know that if we are to address classism as a form of social discrimination we will have to redesign these particular features of the current economy. Furthermore, we also understand that the way in which we redesign these particular features will have to result in an economy that systematically generates and maintains classlessness.  

 

But why redesign and not just remove these economic features, you might ask? If private ownership of the means of production and the corporate division of labour are the root causes of classism then why not just uproot them and throw them on the compost heap where they belong? The short answer to this question is that we want to get rid of rigged economics and not economics per se. The point here is that to have a functioning economic system requires certain organising principles to be in place. More precisely, all economic systems require organising principles for both ownership of the means of production and the division of labour. However - and this is the important point - they do not have to be private and corporate, respectively.   

 

So our understanding of what needs to change if we are to address classism gets even more precise and refined. It is the private aspect of the private ownership of the means of production, and the corporate aspect of the corporate division of labour that needs to be redesigned and not the ownership of the means of production and the division of labour themselves. With this knowledge in place we are now in a position to ask two very precise and meaningful questions, namely:

 

  1. What is our alternative to private ownership of the means of production?

  2. What is our alternative to the corporate division of labour?

 

The traditional answer to the first question is social or collective ownership. This, I think, is fine as long as we are clear that when we use these terms we are not referring to the kind of social or collective ownership practiced under 20th Century Socialism - i.e. state ownership. Furthermore, I would add that we also need to understand that social / collective ownership is nothing more than a legal arrangement that makes ownership a kind of non-issue. It is like everyone owns everything so no one owns anything - and with this comes a mental shift in emphasis away from ownership of the means of production to management of the means of production.

 

This brings us to our second question. Typically the traditional Left have nothing to say about an alternative to the corporate division of labour for the simple reason that, until relatively recently, it was not identified as the source of class power for the coordinator class. The alternative that I would like to suggest here is what has been called balanced job complexes. Like the corporate division of labour, balanced job complexes are a way of dividing up tasks within a workplace / economy. So, we can see that there are still jobs. However, unlike the corporate division of labour, balanced job complexes do not results in some jobs being more empowering than other jobs. Rather balanced job complexes generate jobs that are equal in empowerment and therefore can be thought of as institutionalising an egalitarian division of labour.

 

I have argued that if we want to eliminate classism we need understand the sources of class power for economic elites. I have suggested that there are two such sources - namely, private ownership of the means of production (which is the source of class power for the capitalist class) and the corporate division of labour (which is the source of class power for the coordinator class). Clearly these two sources of class power need to go! However, I have also highlighted the fact that, in order to function, all economies need arrangements for both ownership of the means of production and the division of labour. Therefore, it is the private and the corporate aspects of the current arrangement that must go! I have suggested that the private aspect be replaced by social / collective ownership and the corporate aspect be replaced by balanced job complexes.


There are, of course, other aspects of the economy that would also need to be redesigned to complement these new arrangements but I think that the above represents the heart of the matter.