Economics/Class Relations

The pretend proletariat

By Samuel Goldman The Week

What are the sources of political instability? Conventional wisdom holds that unrest starts at the bottom. It makes sense, that those who derive the fewest benefits from a particular order would want the biggest changes. Freedom, as the song goes, is just another word for nothing left to lose.

But some scholars of social movements give a counterintuitive answer. Radicalism appeals less to the absolutely downtrodden, in this view, than among those whose status and expectations outstrip their access to power. In an argument that’s recently entered public discussion, the historian Peter Turchin dubbed this phenomenon “elite overproduction”.

I’ve often thought of Turchin when reading about the revival of organized labor. After decades of declining membership and influence, labor unions are enjoying unfamiliar attention from the media and heightened interest from workers. Successful organizing drives at Amazon, Starbucks, and other prominent companies aren’t the only signs of new strength. Despite a slowdown related to the pandemic, the number of major strikes is heading up as well.

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