I meet many people who are genuinely interested in understanding the puzzle of global change, but don’t have the time to sustain their interest and pull together the disparate chunks of knowledge we all discover along the road of life. Our world is a complex place, and modern working life demands most of our attention just to function well within this complexity.
To hold onto an alternative view it helps to have a clear framework, a structure which reminds you what is important and why, a place to consolidate pieces of real knowledge when you spot them among the world’s distracting mix of conventional wisdom and self-interested spin. I hope you find this revision of class analysis in “marx2” useful when the next depression hits. We can shape a better response, but only if more people pay attention to our changing world.
Sections one and two examined production and gender as if they were separate social institutions. This simplification helps us gain a clear appreciation of the dominant tendencies in each process, temporarily ignoring external interactions. Then section two continued with the interaction of production and reproduction, while sections three and four looked at our institutions of governance, section five at our use of natural resources, and section six at integrating the whole picture.
Each section here analysed the work process, then the distribution of rewards. This was Marx’s original approach to class analysis in production, drawing from the scientific method which was popularised in the 1800s. Put simply, break down complex unknowns into their components, assess the internal processes of each separate element, then evaluate their importance and relationships within the dynamics of the whole system. Using this explicit framework helps guide analysis, clarifies our assumptions and political priorities, encourages debate and improvements.
The scientific method also requires repeated cycles of observation, measurement, experiment, hypothesis, testing and hypothesis modification. If class analysis is to re-emerge as a useful analytic tool, users need to embrace “testing and hypothesis modification” more fully than traditional marxists. Many different forms of social organisation are always possible—Spain’s cooperative corporations, China’s state enterprises, America’s transnationals—and good class analysis will reflect the observed diversity of real world cultures and history.
In economics, the power of class analysis is its clear focus on how changing roles and rewards shape our future. We are firmly reminded that if any class takes an excessive share of social wealth, self-interest will undermine social stability. How did we let a new financial class take over economic orthodoxy so quickly and with such disastrous results? Because we stopped seeing class and equity as important.
We also see social inequities in aspects of life beyond productive work. I have included family, government, community organisations and resource usage here, but racial exclusion through segregated housing has also proved very persistent in America. Youth have to confront the cost of age-biased housing policies and are increasingly excluded from skilled employment. When any group’s losses are sufficiently pervasive they can feel like a class and act together.
Every disadvantaged group has to understand its origins and create its own path towards improved equity, just as each nation needs its own analysis of their historical path, institutions and culture. Life is this complex changing whole—the interrelationships between production, reproduction, governance and ecology—which we usually consider as separate and independent, natural and right.
What is our conclusion then, considering all these changes across all types of social class? An economic crisis is building, family life is under pressure, government capacity and viability are reduced, community organisation is weak, resource use is unsustainable. All are approaching critical change-points and none should be underestimated. We are facing our most difficult era since the last world war, and we are unprepared to understand or respond to these changes.
Human society depends on organised work to create the daily necessities of life, on families to reproduce a capable next generation, on participation in governance to keep societal and environmental extremes at bay, and ultimately on the social distribution of rewards from all these labours. These different forms of work, each with their overlapping class roles and rewards, are what shape our lives.
But life should be more than long years of labour and short breaks. Just as we need knowledge and skills to earn a share of today’s economic productivity, we need to improve our global awareness and understanding to ensure our future quality of life.
Peace, peace! He is not dead, he doth not sleep
He hath awakened from the dream of life
—Percy Bysshe Shelley (1821)
Mainstream economics versus Class perspective
Policy built on abstract market models vs Analysis of work and its rewards
Markets are naturally efficient vs Reinvestment creates economic efficiency
Transnational corporations are efficient vs Restrict corporate size to retain competition
Deregulate and trust free markets vs Unregulated production = monopoly
Free capital markets are essential vs Pros and cons for foreign investment
Government is inefficient vs Good government supports economic efficiency
Control of inflation an economic fundamental vs Inflation signals cost increases
Stimulus for growth vs Anticyclical interventions for long term stability
Growth over sustainability vs Sustainability over growth
Free trade and capital markets vs Large state and protection during development
Unpaid labour doesn’t count vs Paid and unpaid labour equally important
Ignore military costs and consequences vs Favour stability over aggression
Short term efficiency perspective vs Long term common good goal
Banking and corporate interests bias vs Global common good goal
Government by experts vs Good government requires participation
Corporate funding creates bias vs Organisational hiearchies create bias
There is no alternative vs Conclusions depend on evidence