Book It: Reading About Heterodox Economics

Cover art for the book “Work Work Work: Labor, Alienation, and Class Struggle” by Michael D. Yates

Opinion polls show that Americans want humane policies and politics. To this end, two recent books from Monthly Review Press on heterodox economics shed light on injuries of social class and progressive next steps. 

Michael D. Yates is the author of “Work Work Work: Labor, Alienation and Class Struggle” (2022). The editorial director of Monthly Review Press, Yates centers working people in the pages of this book.

Everybody works, but, to paraphrase Marx, under conditions alien to humans’ needs for meaningful labor. Hence, Yates emphasizes the alienating character of waged work throughout his nine chapters.

Keeping with the analysis of his past books, such as “Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy” (MRP 2003), Yates fleshes out the dehumanizing impacts of people’s labor as a commodity under capitalism. Working-class women suffer from a double-penalty with their unpaid labor as caregivers, as “the pandemic has laid bare [their] precarious position,” he writes.

Yates also emphasizes the need for labor education as an effective way to strengthen working-class organization. He writes of what he knows as a former academic who has also taught union members and prisoners.

In a chapter titled “Waging Class Struggle,” Yates details how blending labor and politics can benefit communities and households of the working class. One example he cites of system change is the Richmond Progressive Alliance, a labor-community alliance in California’s Bay Area that Steve Early details in “Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City” (Beacon Press 2017). Another progressive example Yates writes about is Cooperation Jackson, a community-based, black-led effort to build a socialist community in Mississippi. 

Like Yates, Schutz unpacks neoclassical economics for the dogma that it is a justification for social divisions in Inequality, Class, and Economics (2022). He details how employer power over the workplace is the linchpin of the social class system.

Neoclassical economics prefers to ignore the class system that employers dominate. Thus, in part employees’ wages get blame for causing inflation, a general rise in prices. However, employers not employees set prices!

There are many social relationships that harm working households, writes Schutz. One, for instance, is the power of the professional-managerial class over workers, while another is of politicians’ negative impacts on voters.

Case in point are President Biden and ex-president Trump. They represent the corporations and wealthy. Both politicians use different words to hide policies and politics that shift money from the bottom and middle to the top, a trend underway for decades.

Look no further than prosperity on Wall Street and in corporate America. Contrast that living large with the precarious character of life for tens of millions of Americans hanging by an economic thread, one surprise bill away from insolvency.

I think that Schutz focuses correctly on the role that culture plays in countering the power of war makers and Wall Street. There are growing counters to such power relations. Take internet culture in the form of social media, a major reason why the majority of Americans oppose the Israeli slaughter of Palestinian civilians after Hamas maimed and murdered citizens of the Jewish state on Oct. 7, 2023. 

In the final chapter of his book, Schutz emphasizes a totalistic approach to fixing the problems of a class-based system. This tactic blends the cultural, political and social realms to shift economic power to the laboring majority, the 99%.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email