Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy

Asked if he liked his job, one of John Updike’s characters replied, "Hell, it wouldn’t be a job if I liked it." All but a tiny minority of specially lucky or privileged workers would undoubtedly agree. There is nothing inherently interesting about most of the narrowly sub-divided tasks which workers are obliged to perform; and with the purpose of the job at best obscure and at worst humanly degrading, the worker can find no satisfaction in what his efforts accomplish. As far as he is concerned, the one justification is the paycheck. The paycheck is the key to whatever gratifications are allowed to working people in this society: such self-respect, status, and recognition by one’s fellows as can be achieved depend primarily on the possession of material objects. The worker’s house, the model of his automobile, his wife’s clothes—all assume major significance as indexes of success or failure. And yet within the existing social framework these objects of consumption increasingly lose their capacity to satisfy. Forces similar to those which destroy the worker’s identification with his work lead to the erosion of his self-identification as a consumer. With goods being sought for their status- bearing qualities, the drive to substitute the newer and more expensive for the older and cheaper ceases to be related to the serviceability of the goods and becomes a means of climbing up a rung on the social ladder.

Monopoly Capital