“The Menace of the Hour,” George Luks, the Verdict Magazine, 1899. (Glasshouse Images/Alamy Stock Photo) Modified by David Sankey.


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In January 2021, New York Times reporter Peter S. Goodman visited a family of cattle ranchers in Shepherd, Montana. The memory of beef shortages, increased food prices, and crises at meatpacking plants due to the COVID-19 pandemic was still fresh in Americans’ minds, and Goodman wanted to see one of the U.S. ranches that help keep grocery-store shelves across the country stocked.

Most small-scale ranches sell the cattle they raise to a large meatpacker like Tyson or JBS for processing and distribution. For years, this system had delivered reliable, if inadequate, income to ranchers. Most of them at least broke even. But Goodman found that in spring 2020, when the pandemic began and consumer demand for beef “had never been higher,” ranchers couldn’t find anyone to buy the cattle they had raised. And even though the wholesale price of beef had increased by 40 percent in 2021, the ranchers who raised the cattle were not seeing any increase in profits.

Goodman writes that these trends in the meatpacking industry reflect something wider in the American economy of the past few decades: across dozens of industries, a few companies control huge portions of the market, which gives them the ability to dictate prices, production, and distribution. In the beef industry, just four companies—Cargill, JBS, National Beef Packing, and Tyson—control 85 percent of the market. (In the 1970s, the four largest controlled only 25 percent.) In other industries—air travel, health care, technology, publishing, and many more—the numbers are similar. This kind of control does not always benefit consumers or the economy widely; in Goodman’s words, the corporations are often “ending up with fatter profit margins while everyone else ends up with less.”

The trend toward mergers, which leads to the consolidation of industries, began in the 1970s, when corporations and their lobbyists argued that consolidated industries were good for consumers; better economies of scale would lead to lower prices, allowing more people access to more stuff. In the wake of the pandemic, there has been more attention paid to how the consolidation of industries affects not only prices, but also wages, labor conditions, and supply chains. In the past decade, a new movement of anti-merger, antitrust, and anti-monopoly politicians and activists have sought to reverse this trend toward ever greater consolidation. They argue that, while consolidation has (sometimes) led to lower prices for consumers, it comes with a host of other, often-hidden costs worth considering.

Among its other effects, consolidation in the name of lower prices has subtly changed the way many Americans see themselves and one another; it has encouraged us to conceive of ourselves and our fellow citizens not mainly as producers, nor even as producer-consumers, but merely as consumers. What we do or make has become less important than what and how much we can buy. For decades, Americans have been drowning in stuff, and buying that stuff has become our primary way of engaging with strangers in public. What has this done to us, individually and as a society?


In his book Davos Man, Goodman describes the type of person who gives his book its title: an ultra-wealthy master of industry who uses his power to lower taxes and minimize regulations—the kind of person who’s a guest of honor at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. In the process, Davos Man racks up massive profits for himself and justifies it with promises that this arrangement is also good for everyone else. Jeff Bezos is an obvious example: someone whose business strategy involves “amassing monopoly power and applying it to crush competitors; relentlessly squeezing workers for productivity; and gaming the tax system to avoid surrendering money to the government.” Once the world’s richest man, Bezos accumulated his mind-blowing fortune by wielding a massive amount of power over competitors and shrewdly manipulating the business landscape.

What we do or make has become less important than what and how much we can buy.

In doing so, Goodman writes, Bezos has delivered a business model very popular with consumers: a “miraculously efficient marketplace and distribution network.” Famed for its “Customer Obsession,” Amazon “bestowed once-unimaginable convenience on humanity while erasing the traditional limits of time and space, pervading the sense that virtually anything can now be purchased nearly everywhere.” From the perspective of consumers, there is a strong argument for letting Amazon continue to do what it’s always done. Its prices are lower than those of its competitors, and the convenience it provides to consumers is unmatched. Goodman writes that, according to Amazon, “[a]nything that yielded lower prices was to be applauded as consistent with the public interest. Amazon was a monument to the success of that formulation.”

Davos Man has deployed similar arguments in other industries, with less convincing results. In Washington Monthly, Shannon Brownlee has described the consolidation of hospital systems by private-equity firms. Promising that consolidation would bring prices down and the quality of care up, these companies created health-care monopolies in many regions in the United States, such as the UPMC system in Pittsburgh and Northwell Health on Long Island. But these rosy predictions have not panned out. Brownlee writes, “The cost of health care keeps going up, bankrupting families and depressing wages for average workers, and a major reason for its meteoric rise is the giant hospital chains that have come to dominate the health care landscape.” Goodman writes about Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the private-equity firm Blackstone Group, which paid $6.1 billion to take over TeamHealth, one of the two largest emergency-room staffing companies in the United States. “As in everything that private equity touched, health care found itself subject to intensifying demands for profit,” Goodman writes. Patients were treated more like customers who could always be squeezed for more money. Hospitals prioritized big-ticket elective surgeries rather than guaranteeing that they had adequate emergency supplies, sufficient staffing, and safety protocols, with predictably devastating consequences during the pandemic. These are obviously not good outcomes for patient-consumers, and the effects have been just as dire for many health-care workers.

All this would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. To begin with, it would likely have been prohibited by antitrust law. For the better part of a century, it was assumed by regulators and policy-makers that economic concentration leads to political concentration. In The Economists’ Hour, Binyamin Appelbaum points out that, until recently, the government “treat[ed] size itself as un-American. A dominant company might provide the best service at the lowest price, but economic efficiency was not the goal of public policy.” The goal of antitrust law—including the famed Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890—was instead to balance competing goods. Sherman was, Appelbaum writes, “a conscious effort to subordinate economic efficiency to politics. It was intended to preserve the autonomy of small business owners. More than this, it was meant to safeguard the viability of democratic government.” A good regulatory landscape, of which antitrust law is just one important part, protects both the political and economic interests of ordinary citizens. It is part of the federal government’s responsibility to take political and social considerations into account when deciding whether to interfere in corporations’ business.

The political considerations in political economy fell out of favor in the 1980s, as economists popularized the idea that the sole purpose of antitrust law was to deliver economic benefits for consumers. Appelbaum writes, “[E]conomists gradually persuaded the federal judiciary—and, to a lesser extent, the Justice Department—to set aside the original goals of antitrust law and to substitute the single objective of providing goods and services to consumers at the lowest possible price.” Famously influential in this transition was Robert Bork, whose 1978 book, The Antitrust Paradox, “rewrote history” to claim that Sherman’s actual intent had been to maximize consumer welfare. Less famous figures, like Aaron Director (Bork’s professor, as well as Milton Friedman’s brother-in-law), George Stigler, and Richard Posner had laid the groundwork for Bork’s argument. In his 1976 book, Antitrust Law, Posner insisted that economic efficiency should be the sole standard of antitrust policy. “In his view,” Appelbaum writes, this meant that “the government mostly should let corporations do as they pleased.”

In 1968, the federal guidelines for antitrust law stipulated that the “primary role” of merger enforcement was “to preserve and promote market structures conducive to competition.” But as Lina Khan, the current chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, has explained, new guidelines issued by the Reagan Administration in 1982 marked a “radical departure” from the demand that mergers “should not be permitted to create or enhance ‘market power.’” “Today,” Khan writes, “showing antitrust injury requires showing harm to consumer welfare, generally in the form of price increases and output restrictions.” The result is the highly consolidated economy we have today.

The political considerations in political economy fell out of favor in the 1980s, as economists popularized the idea that the sole purpose of antitrust law was to deliver economic benefits for consumers.


So what has been the result of all these changes? How have they affected workers and compensation? The short answer is that they have made working life harder and less rewarding. They have also led to a massive shift of wealth to the very rich from almost everyone else.

Between 1980 and 2019, the share of household income going to the richest 1 percent more than doubled in the United States; meanwhile, the earnings of the bottom 90 percent barely rose. CEO pay increased by 940 percent while the average worker’s pay rose by a mere 12 percent. This growing income inequality has led to growing wealth inequality: the richest 0.1 percent of American households now own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined—the bottom half own just 1.3 percent. The former secretary of labor Robert Reich thinks there’s a clear connection between the trend toward corporate consolidation and worsening economic inequality. In The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, he writes:

Since the 1980s, after the federal government all but abandoned antitrust enforcement, two-thirds of all American industries have become more concentrated.... All this consolidation has inflated corporate profits, suppressed worker pay, supercharged economic inequality, and stifled innovation.

Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that, during the same period, the economy became friendlier to consumers. As the globalization of production and trade became more common, prices for consumer goods did indeed drop. Globalization also meant that many American workers suddenly faced more competition from abroad. Even as their productivity increased due to advances in technology and automation, they put up with slow wage growth because they knew that their bosses could move their factories overseas and pay foreign workers even less.

The consumer-based economy was created by decisions at both the domestic and global levels. On the home front, the 1944 Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates made the dollar the world’s currency. Ultimately, the global demand for dollars drove down the price of foreign goods, which Americans eagerly imported. But U.S. manufacturers that had to compete with foreign rivals suffered, and, as Appelbaum writes, “the American economy tilted toward consumption at the expense of production.”

When Nixon finally unpegged the dollar from the price of gold in 1971—ending the Bretton Woods system and letting exchange rates float—the American consumer bonanza grew even more. Over the 1980s, the dollar soared in value, imports got cheaper, and more American factories closed. Meanwhile, Appelbaum writes, Walmart “ended the decade as the nation’s largest retailer, operating more than four times as many stores, each staffed by low-paid workers and stuffed with cheap imported goods.”

Another push toward an economy built for consumers came from a new crop of economists reacting against the old Keynesian consensus. In the tradeoff between inflation and unemployment, Keynesians since the Great Depression had prioritized keeping people employed rather than raising interest rates to fight inflation. Milton Friedman, Paul Volcker, and Alan Greenspan convinced policymakers to take a different approach. “Monetarists,” as they were called, believed that driving down inflation should be the overriding goal, not full employment.

The infamous Volcker shock that began in 1979 was the death knell of the Keynesian response to inflation. Millions of Americans lost their jobs, and American workers never regained their standing. The median income for a full-time male worker in 1978 was $54,392; as of 2017, the median income of the same worker was $52,146. Appelbaum notes that the nation’s annual economic output tripled during that period. The “Volcker recession” of 1981–1982 was “hugely profitable” for the financial industry, whose ascendency in the following decades would permanently alter the balance of economic power in the country. “The benefits of low inflation…were concentrated in the hands of the elite,” Appelbaum explains. “By punishing workers and rewarding lenders, monetary policy was contributing to the rise of economic inequality.”

All of this was paired with trade policies meant to deliver low prices to Americans while doing little to protect their role as producers. In fact, lower prices were seen as a kind of compensation for job losses and stagnant wages. Writing for the American Prospect, David Dayen and Rakeen Mabud describe the “bargain” thus:

In exchange for funneling all this money upward, hollowing out the industrial base, ruining competitive markets, and worsening U.S. jobs, businesses would keep consumer prices low. And low prices have a definite psychological pull. That belief in getting more for less, of perceiving that you’ve beat the system, was enough to keep people reasonably satisfied. If you are stuck with low wages, you depend on low prices. As long as shelves were stocked, and America’s desires were covered with overseas goods, this radical reinvention of the supply chain kept us fulfilled.

An increasingly powerful Wall Street pushed “profit maximization through deregulation, mergers, offshoring, and hyperefficiency,” prioritizing short-term profits over every other goal. Over time, Dayen and Mabud write, “financiers built our supply chain to enrich investors over workers, big business over small business, private pockets over the public interest.”

One of the results of these new priorities was the consolidation of industries, creating in some cases oligopoly or monopoly conditions. Bork’s philosophy ruled the day, not just on the political right, but among Democrats as well. Goodman explains that, while liberals had once opposed consolidation and monopoly, the promise made by economists and corporations that consolidated industry could deliver lower prices for Americans was very tempting. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton and other Democrats “embrace[d] this idea that’s sold to them by the [meat]packers…[that] the way you get low-cost food is by large, efficient companies that are allowed to amass scale, continuing to consolidate the marketplace.” In reality, “they can control not only the relationships with the ranchers…. They can dictate the prices that they’re going to charge grocery stores, supermarket chains, and restaurants.” But the spiraling food prices of the pandemic reminded us that these major companies are not public-benefit projects; when they can get away with charging more, they will.

All these conditions have conspired to change the way most ordinary Americans see themselves and each other.

All these conditions—a system that rewards imported consumer goods, the policies designed to combat inflation rather than unemployment, and the goal of keeping prices low through consolidation—have conspired to change the way most ordinary Americans see themselves and each other in relation to the economy: their principal role is now that of the consumer, not the producer. Instead of secure, high-paying manufacturing jobs, working-class Americans are now more likely to work in Amazon warehouses and Walmart supercenters, where the hours are unpredictable and the work itself is relatively unfulfilling.

During the pandemic, there was a brief moment when the tide seemed to have turned in favor of worker power. Suddenly, everyone could see how valuable and necessary these “front-line workers” were, and how much more exposed to Covid. As the crisis unfolded, these workers were often able to demand more from their employers. A wave of unionization at companies like Starbucks and Amazon, supported by President Joe Biden, suggested that something had changed in the way we think about work.

Many commentators blamed the higher wages that resulted across the economy for the spike in inflation that began in 2021. But, as Timothy Noah points out in the New Republic, it didn’t take long for this trend toward higher wages to come to an end.

If anything was going to boost labor’s share of corporate income, you’d think it would be a Covid-induced labor shortage. But it didn’t. From the start of the pandemic through 2021, labor’s share of corporate income actually fell. The same corporate executives complaining that you simply can’t get good help these days are paying that help a smaller share of company revenues.

Some might argue that, especially during the pandemic, the tradeoff of less-than-rewarding work for affordable consumer goods paid off. “When it comes to buying stuff online, American workers have it made,” writes Galen Herz in Jacobin. Many Americans relied on deliveries of necessities and diversions while they were sheltering at home, and massive companies like Amazon and Walmart met this demand more or less successfully. “But,” Herz continues, “when it comes to ‘mass services’—transportation, housing, education, health insurance, and childcare—American workers are getting fleeced.” These “mass services” are “unavoidably collective in nature,” reliant especially on public-policy decisions about taxation, investment, and access. They make up the bulk of most households’ expenses. This is especially true for working-class households. The consumerist model can get you cheaper TVs, but people can’t live on TVs; and what we do need in order to live comfortably and securely is often harder to obtain today than it was before the consumerist model took over.

In the past several decades, as government has increasingly shied away from directly providing the things we need (access to higher education, health care, housing, etc.) such goods and services have been left to private, for-profit companies, with the result that these goods have generally become more expensive without their quality improving. The providers of consumer goods—electronics, clothing, housewares, and other physical products—have been able to deliver on the promise of lower prices, at least to some degree. And, yes, perhaps Amazon will keep things cheap if they’re allowed to dominate the market. (It should be noted, though, that Amazon has cashed in on the previous two years of inflation, sometimes raising prices simply because they have the market clout to do so.) But the same logic does not tend to deliver benefits for consumers when it comes to such things as medical care. As Herz concludes of current trends, “The consequences for working-class living standards are stark: fewer living options, higher costs, more instability, and less freedom.”


Why less freedom? The question is not only economic (how many consumer options do we have, and can we afford them?) but also political. As Reich insists, “The reason to fight oligarchy is not just to obtain a larger slice of the economic winnings; it is to make democracy function so that we can achieve all the goals we hold in common.” When citizens are treated only as consumers, with minimal say in how the services they rely on are delivered, they lose their political agency.

Today, there is a tacit understanding that policymaking is the proper domain of a credentialed elite: the experts (mostly economists and lawyers) who advise our elected leaders. Ordinary citizens, lacking the relevant expertise, are expected to defer to this elite, which is thought to be entitled to its power and influence because of its superior intelligence and training. In the The Tyranny of Merit, Michael Sandel denounces this understanding of desert as corrosive to democracy. Of course, taking talents and skills into account when deciding who should perform which jobs is generally a good idea. But making a good life or full democratic participation contingent on meeting a narrow definition of merit is not. As economic inequality has deepened in the past several decades, those with wealth or credentials have come to see their fellow citizens as unworthy, or at least less worthy, of taking an active role in our political institutions. The result is a fracturing of society and an underclass left precarious, alienated, and angry. “The same market-driven globalization project that had left the United States without access to the domestic production of surgical masks and medications had deprived a great many working people of well-paying jobs and social esteem,” Sandel writes. Politically, the loss of social esteem is every bit as important as the lack of well-paying jobs. Again, this was not the result of inevitable economic developments, but the natural consequence of a collection of policy choices that benefited one group of Americans over another.

The consequences for working-class living standards are stark: fewer living options, higher costs, more instability, and less freedom.

The last socially acceptable kind of prejudice, Sandel claims, is against the uneducated. Our meritocracy teaches us that it’s the most talented and determined who get to go to college, and that the educated are those who have the most to contribute to society. The ones who don’t make it to college didn’t have what it takes. And so the division between those who have a college degree and those who don’t is one of the starkest in our society. It has become as much a political division as an economic one.

As good jobs become scarce, areas of the country from which both companies and government have disinvested become poorer. As Reich writes:

Corporation after corporation began laying off workers in the 1980s without easing the often difficult transitions that followed—without providing workers with severance payments, job retraining, job search assistance, job counseling, help in selling homes the values of which predictably dropped when businesses left town, or help moving to where jobs existed; without aiding affected communities that were being jettisoned, or seeking to attract other businesses to make up for their losses of jobs and tax revenue, or finding other uses for the abandoned infrastructure of schools, roads, pipes, and real estate; without giving workers and communities sufficient advance notice so they could plan their own transitions.

The result was “a systemic change that would scar the nation for decades.” One of the largest predictors of support for Donald Trump in the 2016 election was whether one had a college degree. This fact became an obsession of elites. Perhaps they realized the effects of their last acceptable prejudice but were unwilling to take responsibility for the conditions their policies had created. “Since 2016,” Sandel writes,

pundits and scholars have debated the source of populist discontent. Is it about job loss and stagnant wages or cultural displacement? But this distinction is too sharply drawn. Work is both economic and cultural. It is a way of making a living and also a source of social recognition and esteem.

Sandel argues that what the United States lacks is not merely distributive justice—the equitable use of resources to provide for everyone’s material needs—but “contributive justice,” or the ability to contribute to the common good. For decades, Democrats have offered working- and middle-class citizens measures of distributive justice but devoted insufficient attention to contributive justice. People want “an opportunity to win the social recognition and esteem that go with producing what others need and value,” Sandel writes. Being without a job—or being without a job one considers meaningful—is not only a material deprivation; it can also deprive one of a sense of purpose, a sense of being useful to others. The result is often loneliness and despair, and the destructive behaviors to which these give rise: alcoholism, opioid overdose, or suicide.

In his seminal work The True and Only Heaven, Christopher Lasch lamented that our obsession with the bottom line has corrupted all kinds of working life.

At every level of American society, it was becoming harder and harder for people to find work that self-respecting men and women could throw themselves into with enthusiasm. The degradation of work represented the most fundamental sense in which institutions no longer commanded public confidence.

Instead, we equate social progress with the “indefinite expansion of the demand for consumer goods” and assume that “our future is predetermined by the continuing development of large-scale production, colossal technologies, and political centralization.”

In his analysis of previous generations of economic-justice movements, Lasch is critical of both Left and Right for assuming that unbridled industrialization and the endless division of wage labor were necessary ingredients of all economic progress. Mainstream labor movements like the Progressives or the Fabian socialists proposed only a redistribution of income, not a reconsideration of work. Today’s liberal and progressive movements also tend to emphasize fiscal redistribution rather than fostering economic conditions that wouldn’t funnel so much income to the top in the first place. Their focus is mainly on the purchasing power of consumers, not the security and dignity of labor.


How, then, do we regain a sense of what Sandel calls contributive justice? Most basically, we have to reprioritize understanding ourselves and each other as producers as well as consumers—as people with a need to contribute, to meet each other’s needs, and to be part of a community. “It is in our role as producers, not consumers, that we contribute to the common good and win recognition for doing so,” Sandel writes. Without this role, we are liable to become passive, surrendering to processes and decisions over which we have no control.

To this end, economic policy should be focused not only on prices but on creating jobs that provide adequate compensation and involve meaningful activity. One of the best ways for policymakers to do this is to reverse the trend toward consolidation that has come to mark so many industries. The ultimate goal is to “democratize the economy,” as Brian Callici and Sandeep Vaheesan write for Dissent. That requires “not only more choices over employment options among different employers, but also more voice and power within the businesses that employ them.” Businesses such as Amazon make decisions that can restructure a whole local economy, mustering an army of workers and delivery people—or, just as quickly, hanging them out to dry. Callici and Vaheesan argue that “employment should confer a kind of economic citizenship in the firm. Current law, however, structures business firms as authoritarian regimes with all power concentrated in the hands of boards and managers serving financial interests.” Cooperatives and employee-owned companies do exist, but they are far less common in the United States than in some other developed countries. Other policies could give workers more stability and better compensation—for example, a higher minimum wage, caps on the ratio of CEO-to-average-worker compensation, and better enforcement of the right of workers to unionize.

Keeping people in their jobs needs to be as important to central bankers as fighting inflation. For decades, employers have been used to a “slack” labor market, one in which workers are inexpensive and always available. A tight labor market, as we saw briefly during the pandemic, creates very different conditions: higher wages, better bargaining conditions, and more investment in training and employee benefits.

Ultimately, reprioritizing work as a social good puts the “political” back in “political economy.” Rather than allowing purely commercial indices to dictate our economic policies—whatever maximizes a company’s profit, whatever keeps prices low for consumers—we can deliberate together how we want to produce and distribute the goods we need. Our role as producers is not incidental for these deliberations; it is a fundamental component of our individual lives and of our communities.

Another way of putting this is in Sandel’s terms: the market can’t solve problems or answer questions that belong in the realm of democratic deliberation. Deciding what will contribute to the common good “cannot be achieved through economic activity alone…. It requires deliberating with our fellow citizens about how to bring about a just and good society, one that cultivates civic virtue and enables us to reason together about the purposes worthy of our political community.” Insisting, as corporations, lobbyists, and many of our politicians do, that the best policy is always whatever is best for consumers is a simplification that preempts true democratic deliberation. It reduces all social goods to one: the efficient satisfaction of appetites. It treats citizens as units, not agents.

Consumption, it should be acknowledged, is an important aspect of our lives. We need some basic things for survival, of course, but we also enjoy goods that rise above the realm of mere necessity: books, art, nice clothing. One can easily become too moralistic about the pleasures we get from the things we buy. The problem with consumption arises when the acquisition of more and more material goods—including goods that aren’t actually very good for us—is the only remaining activity that allows us a sense of purpose.

Of course, we can also risk over-romanticizing production. We must avoid the Promethean valorization of “creators”—the visionaries who rise above the riff-raff to produce, innovate, and crush the competition. This was the warped anthropology of Ayn Rand, for instance, and it usually entails a toxic elitism. Historically, fascists have been obsessed with the productive capacity of the population—to preserve the glory of the state, to win the never-ending war, to root out bourgeois weakness or halt a supposed decline of masculinity. This, too, can have the effect of reducing citizens to units.

We tend to think of the postwar decades as an era that struck a happy balance between production and consumption. Work paid well enough for most workers to afford to buy the goods they produced, and leaders of corporations saw themselves as benevolent lords providing for the good of their workers as well as that of society. As Eugene McCarraher writes in The Enchantments of Mammon, “All parties agreed that steady economic growth, distributed with unprecedented equity, would mitigate class conflict; all disagreements would be conducted within the parameters of Keynesian economics, a welfare state, and anti-Communism.” The material abundance the American economy produced would guarantee social stability, even if much of the (decently compensated) work was tedious and unfulfilling.

But there’s a reason that the counterculture of the 1960s emerged. A hollowness exists at the heart of this vision, one that confuses human flourishing with mere satiety. It is yet another substitute for politics—perhaps this vision was better than the neoliberalism that replaced it, but it was nonetheless incomplete. McCarraher argues that the seeds of our own era were already present in the postwar complacency: as factors like increased automation and the globalization of trade tempted us to sharpen our focus on consumption rather than production, we had few political or philosophical reasons to resist. The American Dream had long since been reduced to an idyll of material abundance. What we did mattered less than what we had.

What we need now is a reassessment of our priorities, a shift in the way we think about work, consumption, and justice itself. For decades, justice movements have argued that the price tag on all kinds of products doesn’t accurately capture the true cost of making them. Environmentalists point out that the price tags on Ikea furniture, for example, don’t take into account the ecological cost of clear-cutting. Workers-rights advocates insist that cheap groceries don’t reflect the poor wages and workplace hazards that farmworkers bear. If good work, and the protection of workers, were a priority, we would have to make fair prices, not low ones, our policy goal. It’s likely that, if we did this, the ordinary consumer wouldn’t be able to buy so much so cheaply. (As a model of political economy, producerism is probably not compatible with the business model of Amazon.) But more important than mere convenience and sheer accumulation is having the things we need to lead good lives, as well as the ability to do meaningful, satisfying work that contributes to our communities. Today, too many of us have neither.

Published in the June 2023 issue: View Contents

Regina Munch is an associate editor at Commonweal.

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