November 1, 2011 - admin
Volume 37, Issue 6: The Politics of Economic Change: Are We in a Brave New World?
At the end of the 19th century, Werner Sombart (1976 ) asked what has frequently become a repeated question: why is there no socialism in the USA? At the time, Europe’s workers were constantly organizing and pushing for greater participation and a share of the economic benefits of the Industrial Revolution, joining unions and forming various forms of socialist and workers’ parties. Some of that zeal and those solidaristic attitudes arrived with German immigrants at that time (culminating in an era of socialist politics in Wisconsin early in the 20th century). The legacy of that social action in Europe continues to this day, as workers in most ‘old’ European countries still participate – through unions and tri-partite local agreements – in economic decisions. The results, most impressively seen in Germany’s experiences, are a shared distribution of pain during economic restructuring since 2008, less income inequality when compared to the USA, and the political position to challenge financial capital and slow the assault on the social wage. Even concessions and changes like reducing paid vacations or the weeks of unemployment support are not automatically conceded (and given levels like 30 days paid vacation and up to two and a half years of assistance for older workers, those concessions do not inflict the kind of pain cutbacks have in the USA). However accurate Sombart’s observation may have been, he found workers in the USA focusing on wealth creation, the brightest going into the financial sector, and most eschewing public service and collective values as an important reason for the failure of socialist principles to take hold. Now, over 100 years later, we might wonder whether things are not too different…
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