Arguably the most polarizing force facing today‘s society is the ever-growing inequality between people at both social and economic levels. The ‘99% movement’ perfectly illustrates how this conflict is coming to a head. There is a huge disparity in the distribution of wealth, with most of it concentrated amongst a very small percentage of people, while most are just getting by, in fact, data presented at Willie Baptist’s talk showed that the income of the wealthy elite has been increasing, while the wages for low and middle-class citizens has decreased Such an imbalance gives way to a power relationship that allows for abuse, contributing to the tension currently radiating throughout the nation.
This struggle is embedded in the capitalist system, with its roots in both the agricultural and later industrial revolutions, which has resulted in an uneven distribution of wealth for centuries It is the new technological revolution however that will push us to the brink as it poses a direct threat to capitalism and has caused the elite to alienate the working class who now has no choice but to tear down the system that is impairing theirs.
Inequality has actually been largely non—existent for most of man’s existence, as the concepts of property and ownership did not exist in Paleolithic times, meaning there was really no means by which any sort of stratification could exist, really, most humans were able to get just enough to get by and survive. However, with the advent of the agricultural revolution, things began to change Surplus, and therefore wealth was now possible for the most successful individuals.
The industrial revolution had an even greater impact, as it ushered in the economic and structural form of capitalism. In this system, an industrial elite class gains control over the means of production and consequently gains power over the working class. Inherently capitalism leads to a gap between the rich and poor to grow because of its paradoxical nature “It forces the individual- to conform to capitalistic rules of action. The manufacturer who in the long run acts counter to these norms, will just as inevitably be eliminated from the economic scene as the worker who cannot or will not adapt himself”.
The working class which allows capitalism to function is also holding it back because of its inefficiency therefore the industrial elite wants to replace them with technology, meaning the workers are left increasingly jobless and poor. We have now moved into the post-industrial world, which is marked by rising economic inequality and displacement (Hirschl) Parallel to this shift is the technological revolution, wherein new “smart” technologies are replacing labor; Willie Baptist pointed to the automobile factory assembly line robots displacing human workers as an example. This is incompatible with capitalism as it leaves the working class without work, yet the elite comply in order to increase their own efficiency and wealth. Thus it‘s very easy to see why the economic gap continues to grow, and why the tensions are mounting. Continuing on the point of technology, we see this as a source of antagonism, as identified by Beth Gonzalez in her “line of march” theory (1996). This is a qualitative change, a new idea, and it will shape a struggle that cannot be addressed by reform within the system, but rather will require a new system altogether.
The creation of a new system will be opposed by the elite because they are the best off in our current one, and because they currently hold power, it will be a difficult thing to accomplish. Economic change, therefore, begets a social struggle, and as poverty becomes more and more common, people will fight back. The third sphere is the political revolution, which develops within the society, as revolutionaries bring about change in the political arena. She suggests that capitalism will be disestablished in favor of fascism or communism if the revolution has the proper leaders to move it along. Social and economic inequality will most likely continue to become apparent as the elite show no signs of reforming the capitalist social system, even in the face of weakened economic power due to the recession, as their political connections remain strong. This is the form of power to which I was referring, and we will have to challenge it in order to change the system.
The governmental bailouts are prime examples of this. The elite squandered money through lies and corruption and our government simply gave them a refund. Gaventa would categorize this relationship through the second dimension, or the mobilization of bias (1982). The rich have the means to obtain political alliances that the poor do not, and as a result they can shape policy to determine who is a player. The elite are subsequently given even more means to stay on top, while the poor are left behind. The system is largely to blame for inequality, as poverty is a function of economic cycles and structural change. Yet the American public largely believes that the poor are poor due to their lack of effort and ability; in other words, they are too stupid, irresponsible, and lazy to make something better of themselves. This is rooted in the Protestant ethic, in which individual self-interest and personal wealth were touted as signs of moral worthiness.
Today there remains this instinct to blame poverty on those in it because of our focus on individualism. It must be your fault that you’re poor people don’t examine the problems of the whole system when considering this. I believe this opinion can change, and will if economic displacement continues to grow. As poverty becomes more widespread, people will see themselves on the same level, and unite against the elite. In fact, it is most likely necessary if a revolution is to occur. The system cannot change if not all the alienated parties participate. We must develop ideas and enter into the political arena ourselves, the role which Gonzalez crucially stresses revolutionaries must assume if we hope to obtain change. Advancing technology continues to alienate the working class, and inequality will eventually reach a breaking point where the poor will and cannot simply stand for it anymore. I believe the non-elite will then fight back as a unified force against the elite demanding drastic changes. This is the revolution of our time.