Ending Class Conflict

togetherThis month I want to speak to a gaping schism between the different economic classes. In particular, between the wealthy class and the rest of society.

Class conflict has existed throughout history. Borrowing from Hegel’s theory of the dialectic, Karl Marx identified class conflict as central to the dynamic of social evolution. Unlike socialism, liberal ideology does not speak of economic classes, but a class hierarchy is a consequence of individuals operating within a marketplace where, for a variety of reasons, some individuals will do better than other individuals. In this way, economic class does play a crucial role in liberal societies where means to status is the possession of capital, coupled with the human desire to establish one’s status in the social hierarchy where higher is better.

Within the last couple of decades in the United States, resentment expressed against the wealthy class by the middle and working classes has again been building, given the increasing concentration of total wealth among a small portion of the population, the stagnation of income, and the perceived decline of opportunities for upward mobility. For most Americans the degree of their resentment rests not on there being those who have far more money than they have or will have, but to the degree that members of the lower classes feel there exists opportunity for them to improve their lot (if not join) the upper class themselves. This is in part why Americans seem schizophrenic, as observed in the candidacy of Donald Trump, with images of blue collar workers, who would seem to have a contrary perspective and set of interests, passionately defending and supporting a successful rich candidate.

Love them or hate them, the wealthy are a fact of life. If we are truly interested in creating an integrated social system that facilitates satisfying the needs and aspirations of all people, it will necessarily include a place for the wealthy. Naturally, changes will be necessary within the social value structure that, while continuing to support the profit motive, will encourage the fostering of cooperation, as well as instituting key structural alterations such as the creation of a regulatory firewall between commercial enterprise and the rest of society in order to protect society from the corrosive effects of enterprise outside the marketplace. As to the needs of the other classes, those would be provided through a program of stock fund distribution. Such a program would provide a guaranteed income and all basic services thereby eliminating poverty and providing for those whose employment potential has been eliminated by automation. Such programs would not only lead to dramatic improvements in the quality of social, political and economic life, as people will be healthier and more satisfied with their lives, but also more creative and productive contributing to further economic growth.

There also exists a darker alternative. Keeping to the road we are currently on, enterprise is incentivized to reduce costs and increase productivity by replacing human workers with machines. Holding fast to their own prejudices and sense of entitlement, instead of accepting a more even distribution of profits, they remain stubbornly committed to their own self-interest and the status quo resulting in wealth being further concentrated in the hands of those who own and control the automated industrial base. For such a scenario to occur will require the capital to have sufficient control of the political process, meaning the majority of the population is locked out of the system.

With the upper classes intent on further securing their power, the broader society could be rendered into a land of “lotus-eaters”, provided with pleasures of the flesh, psychotropic drugs, and direct brain virtual reality maintained by pervasive and invasive surveillance and draconian enforcement measures. Then again, looking around at the 2016 electoral landscape and the mood of voters on both the right and left, can they really afford to believe they can exert sufficient control to avoid having to always be looking out for the next general uprising?

If these options and associated consequences have not yet occurred to many in society’s upper class they will soon enough. I am, however, optimistic that the consensus will point in a generally positive direction. Whether the transition is cooperative as in the wealthy accepting the basic principles of democracy or by their kicking and screaming into forced transparency, as in the case of the just revealed Panama Papers, is not important. What is important is the final outcome.

Needless to say, all of the heavy lifting necessary to realize an integrated social structure, where society’s participants accept and respect one another, is not a burden to be carried by the upper classes alone. I am open to any suggestion that explains how ongoing “rich bashing” with talk of forced income distribution and how the wealthy are a scourge to other classes and society as a whole is helpful. Aspersions cast by members of one class about members of another class are no different than prejudices expressed in regards to gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, etc.

Transitionalism is all about presenting positive alternatives to history’s proclivity to settle class conflict through social violence and revolution. In order to move forward, we (meaning everyone) need to change the tone of the relationship between the classes by endeavoring to move beyond stereotypes and prejudices. Only through an open and honest dialogue can there be built the trust necessary to serve as the foundations for a new social constitution, as well as the means to satisfy the needs and aspirations of all people.

I would be very interested to know what your thoughts are on this topic. Please leave your comments below.