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Necessary Sacrifices: Saving the White Working Class from Neoliberalism?

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, various class-struggle leftists have been emphasizing neoliberalism as the culprit and highlighting the plight of the white working class. Proponents of these analyses exhort us to organize with the white working class for economic justice as a key component of antiracism.

This approach has much to recommend it. I’m not writing about that part. Here I probe the tensions and contradictions in this narrative. I advance the thesis that pursuing the broader cause of freedom may well entail reduction of status and (temporarily) purchasing power for sections of the U.S. white working class. (Advancing technology continues to improve everyone’s standard of living in this scenario.)

According to available sources, on average, the folks who voted for Trump had higher incomes than those who voted for Clinton. Yes, Trump’s election demonstrates the failure of neoliberalism, but it’s not simply about economic exploitation. The most exploited and oppressed workers in the United States were more likely to vote for Clinton or not vote at all than to vote for Trump. Certainly some folks in desperate economic circumstances voted for Trump, but so did lots of higher-income workers, members of the petty bourgeoisie, and members of the bourgeoisie.

People with incomes in the $50,000-100,000 range appear to be one of Trump’s key demographics. Many of these people are presumably working-class in at least the structural sense that they sell the labor to survive rather than living off the capital they own. At the time, anyone in that income bracket has awfully disproportionate portion of the global economic product. They’re in the global 1%. Advocating for their interests may constitute class struggle yet simultaneous fail to advance freedom and justice overall.

It is necessarily wrong for high-income workers to experience declining fortunes in the context of globalization? If we’re to become more equal as a global society, if we’re seek freedom for everyone, then shouldn’t the people closer to the top face some redistribution?

Given the prevalence of trade deficits and outsourcing in Trump rhetoric, this ain’t just a theoretical issue. U.S. citizens, including anticapitalists, express anger that countries like China, Mexico, and India are supposedly benefiting at their expense through trade. They it for granted that it’s undesirable for this to happen, despite the lower average incomes in these countries that are alleged fleecing the people of the United States.

Now, as I understand it, neoliberalism isn’t primarily redistributing from middle-income U.S. workers and to lower-income Chinese/Mexican/Indian/etc. workers. It’s primarily redistributing to the U.S. and global elites from everyone else. I certainly don’t advocate neoliberalism, but I’d take it over protectionist social democracy that benefits U.S. workers at the expense of their foreign counterparts. Defending the comfort and status for relatively privileged workers in the context of misery across the planet ain’t revolutionary: it’s reactionary.

So yes, I want to organize against capitalism with white working-class folks as way to counter the appeal of right populism and fascism. But I refuse to direct my sympathies and energies toward preserving anybody’s privileged economic position. Ideally we expropriate the rich and all experience exponentially increasing access to nice things, but in the short term I’m most concerned widening the availability of basic necessities/comforts and equalizing power.

Contrary to popular U.S. sentiment, a system that favors Chinese/Indian/Mexican/etc. workers over U.S. workers is a more ethical and more desirable system than one that doesn’t.

Benjamin Abbot is a genderqueer, transgender PhD student in American Studies at the University of New Mexico.


Just a clarification. Income doesn’t relate very closely to how people voted as the link in the article itself shows. Nate Silver has shown conclusively that education is the very best predictor of how people voted, even when taking income into account. For more see:

What a simplistic mess you have written here. Simplistic and just plain wrong.

There is absolutely NO reason why Americans should suffer loss of quality of life at the expense of increasing quality of life in other nations.

Rather than emphasizing import and export economies our nation and other should be supporting the increase of consumption in their own economies. This is how you increase quality of life in a particular area without expecting other areas to foot the bill so to speak.

Insulated economies can make their own products, consume their own products, and recycle this into an economy that increases quality of life for everyone as more value is added to the economy in question. You add value by producing more products that people want. Not by importing more products that people want. That starts a siphoning effect that drains money out of an economy unless there is an equal amount coming back in…which is rarely the case and even if that is so, that money is generally not going to those who are disadvantaged by such import and export.

What freely needs to be exchanged is intellectual property on an international level. What needs to be insulated from the international economy is production, distribution, and consumption.

This is the way to grow economies without experiencing quality of life elsewhere.

These nations like China and Africa need to increase production for products “their” citizens needs. And pay them salaries that allow them to purchase said products and the cycle will continue and they will build like ours has and like most of the EU has.

Over time the hills can be leveled and all can experience a good quality of life without any harmful effects to any other economy.

This idea that America and more importantly the people of America has to foot the bill to build other nation’s economies this the biggest pile of propaganda I have ever read in my life and it keeps getting pushed by some supposedly smart people who just don’t get.

Increasing consumption is the best way to increase quality of life and economic output after production. Import and export generally keeps capital in small numbers of hands while production for local use for purposes of local consumption generally is better at spreading capital and thus increasing quality of life in that area.

I could go on and on about this but if you don’t get it by now, you never will.

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