Book it: reading about heterodox economics

Cover illustration for the book ‘Work Work Work: Labor, Alienation, and Class Struggle’ by Michael D. Yates

Polls show that Americans want humane policies and policies. To that end, two recent books from Monthly Review Press on heterodox economics shed light on the wounds of social class and on progressive next steps.

Michael D. Yates is the author of “Work Work Work: Labor, Alienation and Class Struggle” (2022). Monthly Review Press editor-in-chief Yates centers working people in the pages of this book.

Everyone works, but, to paraphrase Marx, under conditions alien to the human need for meaningful labor. That is why Yates emphasizes the alienating nature of wage labor in his nine chapters.

Consistent with the analysis of his earlier books, such as ‘Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy’ (MRP 2003), Yates fleshes out the dehumanizing consequences of people’s labor as a commodity under capitalism. Working-class women suffer a double penalty for their unpaid labor as caregivers as “the pandemic the [their] precarious position,” he writes.

Yates also emphasizes the need for labor education as an effective way to strengthen working class organization. He writes about what he knows as a former academic who has also taught trade unionists and prisoners.

In a chapter entitled “Waging Class Struggle,” Yates describes how the blending of labor and politics can benefit working-class communities and households. One example he cites of systemic change is the Richmond Progressive Alliance, an alliance between workers and communities in California’s Bay Area, which Steve Early describes in “Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City” (Beacon Press 2017). Another progressive example Yates writes about is Cooperation Jackson, a community-based, black-led effort to build a socialist community in Mississippi.

Like Yates, Schutz unpacks neoclassical economics with the dogma that it is a justification for social division in Inequality, Class, and Economics (2022). He describes how the power of employers over the workplace is the linchpin of the social class system.

Neoclassical economics prefers to ignore the class system that dominates employers. For example, worker wages are partly blamed for causing inflation, a general increase in prices. However, employers, not employees, set the prices!

There are many social relationships that harm working households, Schutz writes. For example, one concerns the power of the professional management class over employees, while another concerns the negative impact of politicians on voters.

Examples of this are President Biden and former President Trump. They represent the corporations and the wealthy. Both politicians use different words to hide policies and policies that shift money from the bottom and middle to the top, a trend that has been going on for decades.

Look no further than the prosperity on Wall Street and in corporate America. Compare that big life to the precarious nature of the lives of tens of millions of Americans hanging by an economic thread, one surprise bill away from insolvency.

I think Schutz is right to focus on the role culture plays in countering the power of war makers and Wall Street. There are more and more opponents of such power relations. Take internet culture in the form of social media, a major reason why the majority of Americans oppose Israel’s massacre of Palestinian civilians after Hamas mutilated and murdered civilians of the Jewish state on October 7, 2023.

In the final chapter of his book, Schutz emphasizes a totalistic approach to solving the problems of a class-based system. This tactic combines the cultural, political and social domains to shift economic power to the working majority, the 99%.

Leave a Comment