Remains of the Day. Salvage Shop, Los Angeles, photo by the author
The German sociologist Max Weber wrote “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus) as a series of essays in 1904 – 1905. Translated into English in 1930, Weber’s work attempted to explain how the Reformation, by taking away the Catholic Church’s guarantee of salvation for the faithful, had shifted the responsibility for getting into Heaven onto the individual, fostering the need for personal hard work to prove one’s worth to God. And hard working workers, of course, were exactly the sort of impetus a capitalist system needed to expand and flourish. Work hard, be good, be kind to those less fortunate while you serve your earthly masters and you get to have a beautiful Hereafter when you’re dead.
But times have changed. Now that the 1 percent control half of the earth’s resources, the privileged elite running the world is beginning to look a lot like that controlling Catholic cabal the Protestants rebelled against; the whole system starts looking rigged. Which it is. But habits are hard to break. Ironically, the Protestant Ethic is alive and well, but only at the lowest level. In the years 2006-2012, for instance, charitable giving by those making less than $25,000 a year increased, while charitable contributions by those in the top 1 and top 5 percent (those making over $200,000 a year) declined, although at the same time the incomes at these top levels increased. [Source]. The Noblesse don’t oblige no more, folks.
As 99 percent of the earth’s population fight over what’s left of the planet’s resources not controlled by a handful of the lucky corporate few, things are gonna get ugly. They already have, in fact. [Not sold in any store! Call now! Supplies limited!] Water, for example (“With Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate“). Shelter, as the so-called middle class moves into poorer neighborhoods in search of affordable housing. In the old days we called it ‘gentrification,’ a fancy word for pushing out those with even less than we had. Spruce up that ghetto, we said, and feel good about doing it too. They’ll thank you for it. Then the gentrifiers got pushed out and urban pioneers found themselves looking farther afield and deeper into the homeless squalor they’d shoved out to the edges, out of sight.
What really trickles down, you see, is not jobs or opportunity or goodness or kindness. What trickles down is selfishness and meanness. You and I buy cheap at Walmart and say we’re being thrifty, not thinking about the folks who work there who aren’t paid enough to feed and clothe their kids. You know where you can live in this country on minimum wage and still afford a two-bedroom apartment? Nowhere. Not one state in the Land of Opportunity United States. [Source]
But hey, don’t worry. Right now the poor appear to be looking after those even less fortunate. Suckers and fools. Eventually, however, those who have only a little are gonna have nothing. And then God help us all, when that last bit of goodness is squeezed out.