Michael Parenti makes a difference between owners and employees in the following way: on one side of the argument, we have people who must earn a living by selling their labor, on the other side we have owners, a category where we see small business owners and wealthy corporate elites. It seems that, in a nutshell, the difference could be best expressed by a quote from the text: “The secret to great wealth is not to work hard but to have others work hard for you”. If we take an individual who owns and operates a small plant store where you can get plants, plant supplies and other somewhat-related decorative elements, the individual is viewed by Parenti as a struggling small business owner, while the employees at that store, be it a register person, a plant expert, or a store manager, have to earn their living by being employed by the owner.
Adam Smith’s quote views labor as an essential activity, without which the market would not exist – labor not only transforms timber into chairs but allows for what is heralded as benefits of capitalism – surplus value, profits, and benefits. Smith made it clear, that a price itself did not explain the value of a commodity – for a true estimate, one had to look at the amount and quality of labor that the production of a commodity required.
Paul Heideman devotes a significant part of his essay to make a distinction between how some socialists and some liberals see class and put it in a theoretical framework. I found the essay very profound and insightful, but the decision to view (or not) class as identity is far from an easy one. If we take notions of class out of a scientific framework and apply it to mass politics, mix it with marketing, market and social media, the definition of class as well as its application starts crossing borders. After my emigration, freelance and full-time jobs as well as income improvement and college experience, I found some utility in identifying with working and, later and sometimes, with middle class in my socio-cultural views and preferences. While I could accept that there is no need for a class identity, the reality that I live begs to differ: my professional ability is tied to my professional working circle and income, which dictates what I eat, where I live and what I can do with my leisure time. Through my professional or leisure activities I associate with people that have similar interests and fall into an income range that presupposes those activities – as socialist as it sounds, what I have indeed determines what I get.
I see the “close form of dependency” as a lip service to the worker’s exploitation by a managerial structure. Somehow Heideman finds it sensible to talk about interdependency and forget about surplus value that is extracted by the corporation from someone else’s labor, not to mention the problem of income inequality which has recently worsened and have become a global political, not just economic, issue. The wording itself makes me doubtful – when we talk about people, the mechanism of “dependency” implies some common sense, where one would be invested in the well-being of the other. It is not a hard task to envision this so-called dependency in terms of idealism that is indispensable for a handful of progressive corporations and corporate propaganda, yet I believe that Covid-19 pandemic has showed us whether corporations have public interest as one of their objectives. A brave idea that employees could, if they really tried, wield power, and check/balance the management seems to find more application in mutual abuse – corporations underpay and overwork employees because of rigid age-old hierarchy structures while employees underperform and have vague ideas about their socioeconomic standing, blowing steam online or in standalone protests that most people find hard to relate to.
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