Tensions between classes in the US are rising. Society is split between the 99 percent (ordinary working people, struggling to get by) and the 1 percent (the super rich getting richer every day). Statistics that show the rich are getting richer while the middle class and poor are not. In the USA, which has no nobility, the working class are called the “middle” class. A Pew Research Center poll found two-thirds of its respondents thought the primary division in society was the strong conflict between rich and poor, 19 percent up on 2009.
Michael Schuman says in Time (March 2013) an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study found:
- the median annual earnings of a full-time, male worker in the US in 2011, at $48,202, were smaller than in 1973
- 74 percent of the gains in wealth in the US, between 1983 and 2010, went to the richest 5 percent while the bottom 60 percent experienced a decline.
Union membership in the US has continued to decline through the economic crisis, the global labor market having apparently rendered unions toothless throughout the developed world. But the world’s workers are getting more impatient with their prospects. They have common problems, but seem still reluctant to unite to resolve them. Even so, tens of thousands have taken to the streets of cities like Madrid and Athens, protesting against massive unemployment and austerity.
Marx’s trenchant criticism of capitalism—that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive—cannot no longer be easily dismissed. Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. He wrote:
Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.
Yet since the deregulation big bang of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the political left has been unable to unite around a practical alternative strategy. Jacques Rancière, a political analyst at the University of Paris, says:
Virtually all progressive or leftist parties contributed at some point to the rise and reach of financial markets, and rolling back of welfare systems in order to prove they were capable of reform. I’d say the prospects of Labor or Socialists parties or governments anywhere significantly reconfiguring—much less turning over—current economic systems to be pretty faint.
Michael Schuman concluded that though Marx’s revolution has yet to successfully appear, Marx had correctly diagnosed both capitalism’s flaws and the outcome of those flaws, and that:
If policymakers don’t discover new methods of ensuring fair economic opportunity, the workers of the world may just unite. Marx may yet have his revenge.