Why have millions of Americans overthrown their instinctive prudence and embraced radical ideologies on the left and the right? Cultural observers say they have rejected capitalism, and there is truth in this. Among young people today, more than half prefer socialism to capitalism. Voters in both political parties despise the donor class. Income inequality is a big issue. Many Americans feel capitalism fails to satisfy their material interests. It violates their sense of security and justice. It threatens the social and physical quality of their lives.
But to the degree that Americans reject capitalism, we overlook an important psychological dimension to their resentment. The psychology of the American worker is different from what it was 50 years ago, or in the 19th century, because life changed as capitalist production evolved. The laws of supply and demand did not change; the need for food, energy, and housing did not change; but how Americans organize their days, socialize, raise children, and meet their basic psychological needs did change—and in some ways for the worse. This is a major source of people’s insecurity, and it involves more than just income inequality. Millions of Americans today feel a unique sense of threat in their private, and sometimes inner, lives. More than class envy, this has led them to seek some vision of salvation in extremist ideologies far away from the political center.
Karl Marx would have understood. His criticism of religion, which I do not share, applies to all utopian visions. Unlike other socialists who laughed at religion and called it an “illusion,” Marx looked deeper and asked why people needed such an illusion in the first place. The problem was not the religious nature of people’s utopia, he argued, but the economic conditions that drove people to imagine all utopias. Their suffering inevitably found expression in other ideologies, he said, which he compared to looking at society through the wrong end of a telescope. The political visions were distorted; they mangled reality. And yet people cleaved to them to satisfy some deep inner lack growing out of capitalism’s conditions.
I believe in capitalism. No other system generates such wealth or so dramatically improves people’s standard of living. I am also by nature a centrist. I do not like extremes at either end. But if the donor class wants the great mass of Americans to move back toward the political center, it must recognize the nightmare that capitalism has become for many people—psychologically—and why it has driven them to embrace radical ideologies at both ends of the spectrum.
No one can stop the wind or reverse the tides. Capitalism will go on like a juggernaut. We have no alternative, as a command economy impoverishes society and a tradition-based economy makes no sense in the modern era. But as capitalism forges ahead, we can at least control for the psychological wreckage it leaves in its wake, thereby keeping the great mass of Americans within shouting distance of the political center.
Six politically significant currents of thought, extreme in their outlook, are shared by large numbers of Americans today: Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), extreme feminists, Black Lives Matter, white supremacists, extreme environmentalists, and social justice warriors. That a short, concise, and recognizable slogan serves as the name of each current already suggests the workings of ideology, as the slogan symbolizes a larger and more complex political outlook. The louder and oftener one hears such a slogan, the more certain one can be that it indicates the workings of a significant ideology. In each case (we will start with the MGTOWs) the ideology propagates a worldview that captures people’s hopes and fears but is nevertheless an illusion, simplistic as it is disturbing, emerging out of the very capitalist structure that defines our political center.
What Has Advanced Capitalism Wrought?
One realm of illusion is the Internet “manopshere.” Its hundreds of thousands of members can be divided into three groups: the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), men working on what they call “game,” and Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW).
The MRM fights what it perceives to be unfair bias against men. Although more reasonable than the other groups, it is the smallest. In the second group, average-looking men work on “game” to attract and bed pretty women. Referred to as “beta-males,” these men envy the naturally muscular and attractive “alpha-males,” called “Chads,” who get plenty of sex.
The largest group is the MGTOWs, who, unlike the MRM, no longer want to fight women. On the contrary, they want nothing to do with women. They want to be left alone. MGTOWs willingly cede power to what they call the “gynocentric state,” which they believe is hopelessly rigged against men. They believe women get all the sex they want in their twenties (with alpha-males), and then, just before hitting the so-called “Wall” at age 30, glom onto beta-males through marriage, have kids, and then, years later, with the help of the courts, take both the kids and the man’s money. Some MGTOWs avoid women altogether except at work; others have sex with women but never marry them. All are unified in their distrust of women and in their belief that a man can only preserve his individuality apart from a woman.
Curiously, many MGTOWs dislike both women and corporate capitalism. They allege a conspiracy between the “gynocentric state” and corporate behemoths such as YouTube and PayPal to de-platform leading manosphere speakers. Yet their suspicion runs deeper. Many MGTOWs dislike their jobs. A “soldier in the corporate army” is how one MGTOW described himself. Other MGTOWs fear retribution at work for being MGTOW. Many MGTOWs save their money in the hope of winning their freedom from corporate life. Along the way, they fear female co-workers will sue them on a false charge of sexual harassment, robbing them of their job and their earnings. They fear a wife will take their money through a divorce, or force them to pay child support if she has a child by another man. Only a frank, selfish, and brutal outlook on life, they argue, lets a man escape dependence on either a corporate job or a woman.
MGTOWs are neither hedonists nor nihilists. They want to live meaningful lives. They’re just not sure how. All they know is that they cannot do so through work life in a corporation or through family life that involves a marital relationship with a woman.
That women are man’s greatest enemy is an illusion, but one that fits Marx’s paradigm, as MGTOWs suffer from what he called alienation.
Marx described several kinds of alienation. In alienation from one’s labor, people work in boring jobs that stifle their natural urge to be creative producers. In alienation from other people, people see co-workers as competitors, even enemies. In alienation from one’s human identity, people feel stifled in their natural urge to satisfy a higher life purpose. MGTOW ideology grew out of all three forms of alienation. Yet the intensity of that alienation, arising from changes in capitalism over the last half century, would have shocked even Marx. It is the basis for all extremist ideologies in American politics today, and not just MGTOW.
In the past, alienation from one’s labor, as experienced on the assembly line, affected only a small fraction of Americans. Few Americans historically have been exposed to the monotony Marx described, such as putting rivets in train doors 12 hours a day, every day. As farming declined, most people escaped into the service and, later, information economies, where they wore nice clothes rather than overalls and imagined themselves living a middle-class, even hip, lifestyle. But over time, capitalism’s method of organization, once reserved for factories, penetrated the safe haven of non-factory work. Even professional work is now divided into specialized tasks performed by several people. In my own field of medicine, for example, one doctor fixes the patient’s arteries, another fixes the veins, another tinkers with the patient’s ventilator, another adjusts the drugs entering the patient’s bloodstream—and not one of them can really say, “I care for a patient,” because no one person does take care of a whole patient.
It is increasingly hard for non-factory workers to escape this. For generations, most Americans worked for small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Many Americans were self-employed. Today, few are self-employed. Large and very large companies employ more Americans than do small or medium-sized companies. Companies with tens of thousands of employees now employ 36 percent of American workers. These numbers permit white-collar activities to be broken down into discrete tasks that mimic those of an assembly line. Many MGTOWs, often college-educated and with good incomes, dislike their jobs for this reason. In response, they have created an ideology of disciplined egoism and extreme paranoia toward women to free themselves.
In Marx’s time, alienation from other people meant men competing against other men for jobs and salaries. Home was the refuge, the haven in the heartless world. But alienation also entered the home. Men and women are naturally egoists. They compete with one another and would prefer to settle things on their own terms. This is true in love as well as business. Yet men and women must surrender some of their ego to satisfy other natural urges. This is the purpose of marriage as an institution: The sexual and maternal instincts are brought into conflict with the instinct toward egoism, thereby keeping egoism down and making human society possible.
Over time, capitalism upset this fine balance. After the sexual revolution, when sex became a plentiful consumption good, men could satisfy their sexual urge outside of marriage. For women it was more complicated. They, too, could satisfy their sexual urge outside of marriage, but women also have maternal urges, which are best satisfied within marriage. During this same period, capitalism drew women into the workforce, increased the labor supply, paid everyone less as a result, and compelled families to earn two incomes instead of one to raise children. Just when men were finding less reason to marry, women were finding more. Today, the imbalance inflames MGTOW suspicions, as when MGTOWs accuse women of marrying men for “scarce resources” or to “have the baby.”
Advanced capitalism takes alienation a step further. It has stripped men and women of their “otherness.” Men and women once had a sense of mystery about them—a gender specific nature—causing each to remain slightly inaccessible to the other, while at the same time stoking admiration in the other’s eyes. This disappeared when advanced capitalism pushed gender-neutrality to wring more profit from exchangeable bodies working in space. With male and female nature denied, men and women became consumers with needs; gender itself became a consumption good. The new state of affairs heightens MGTOW suspicions about women, as the charm of “otherness,” rooted in nature and designed to foster sympathy and understanding between the two sexes, is eclipsed by a paranoid fear that women scheme to meet their needs—which of course men themselves do much of the time. Even on a first date, when a man should be building enchanted memories, a MGTOW is focused more on how the woman might ruin him.
It gets worse. The lack of “otherness” detracts from sexual excitement, as people lose their allure in each other’s eyes. As a woman’s mind and nature cease to be any different from a man’s, only her body stimulates some men. Unfortunately, not all women have perfect bodies. Advanced capitalism solves the MGTOW dilemma through high-definition porn, sex dolls, and the promise of sex robots. MGTOWs cease to be governed by the laws of the actual world and escape into an imaginary one. Some MGTOWs rate sex with a doll as a “7 out of 10,” when compared with the real thing, so perfect is a doll’s body.
In all this, the number of men living alone has more than doubled since the 1970s. Real sex has declined among young men. MGTOW ideology encourages men to avoid women altogether—called “going monk”—or to use women for sex if they are lucky enough to be “Chads” or have “game,” but mostly to rely on advanced capitalism’s sex products. Gone for MGTOWs and the “gamers” is one of the few adventures in life once thought worth having: a great love.
Alienation from one’s human identity means lacking in purpose. In the past, people found purpose in religion. They found it in friends, family, or children. They found it in work (if they could avoid the factory assembly line). They found it in their towns. They found it in an avocation pursued seriously. Advanced capitalism has killed all these sources of identity.
Even as late as the 1970s, educated workers wanted not just a job but a career, even a calling—in other words, meaningful work. This itself signaled a change in American thinking from the 19th century, when all jobs had an air of resemblance about them, and work provided nothing more than income. Looking for meaning through work was a new concept. Today, dependent employees of large companies assigned to super-specialized tasks feel themselves thwarted on this front.
Another source of purpose, family life, is not an option for MGTOWs, since women are not an option. Children are problematic, since MGTOWs see them as future pawns in a divorce, and perhaps increasingly even as competitors in their own right, transformed by advanced capitalism into consumers who, when dissatisfied with their parental service, may sue them.
Another trend in advanced capitalism makes purpose in life hard to find: Government has become the partner of business. It sustains the nonprofit economy, polices entrance into some fields, and awards monopolies in others. With higher education so expensive as a result, children cost a lot—another reason not to have them. It is also hard to find purpose through volunteering, since volunteer work has been absorbed into the economy, where it demands a credential and comes with a salary. An example would be the field of social work, which put great emphasis on the volunteer in settlement houses and orphanages at the turn of the 20th century but now demands professional training. The old avocations—such as amateur athlete, amateur historian, or amateur artist—are also no longer available, having become professions in their own right, demanding full-time commitment, with pay, if one wishes to be taken seriously.
The tripling of the religiously unaffiliated since 1990, from 8 percent to 24 percent of the population, suggests religion has also been lost as a source of purpose. Religion allowed itself, perhaps unwittingly, to enter capitalism’s system of exchange, so now it meets “needs” in the consumer economy, like any other business. Clergymen, like bankers and plumbers, render “service.” The church performance itself is called a “service.” Some Bibles have been adapted for business people whose time is limited. Having become practical and convenient, and adopted the ways of the world, religion for many people has ceased to offer a special source of purpose in life.
MGTOW Is Just the Beginning
Other extremist ideologies in American politics follow the MGTOW pattern of alienation. Like MGTOWs, extreme feminists are alienated from their labor. Many women with college degrees resent the intense occupational specialization and routine that has crept into white-collar work. But they have no choice. Advanced capitalism compels them to work, as life in America is now structured so that both men and women must be ready at all times to go it alone. Family formation is difficult; relationships are tenuous.
Many women find themselves in a tight situation. With the sexual instinct in men no longer opposed to male egoism (through marriage) but actually congruent with it, many women have suffered through an explosion of sexual harassment. At the same time, the sexual revolution and capitalism’s promise of meaningful work have tempted some women with a plan for life that requires perfect timing and cooperation to be executed: A woman, too, will satisfy her sexual urge during her twenties and egotistically pursue her career, just like men. Then, when the maternal instinct kicks in, she will find the right man whose ego will not be threatened by all the men she has slept with, who will marry her and give her children, while also supporting her in her career. The plan is untenable, as women find themselves at loggerheads with MGTOW ideology. For example, many men now avoid women at work to avoid a charge of sexual harassment, and so even getting to the dating stage is hard. Today, 45 percent of Americans are single, the highest percentage in history.
In the meantime, the old sources of purpose in life have dried up for extreme feminists, just as they have for MGTOWs. Work is out, which infuriates many women, as capitalism promised that work would be more interesting than home life, but often failed to deliver. Raising children as a single working mother is also hard. The cost of putting children through college only adds to the pain. This blocks procreation as a source of purpose for many women. For extreme feminists, their own college education turns religion into a cartoon, so religion is not an option as a source for meaning. Volunteer work is also out for reasons described above.
Just as alienation under advanced capitalism perverts male nature to produce MGTOW ideology, so does it pervert female nature to produce extreme feminist ideology. For centuries, women have dreamed of presenting a united front against men—until a particular man is involved, in which case the united front breaks down. The absence of men in their lives, men’s refusal to cooperate with an impossible life plan, the nuisance or even threat that some men have become in the wake of the sexual revolution—all joined to a lack of purpose in life more generally—have led extreme feminists to worship a vision of salvation in which a united front of women does indeed aspire to smash all men. They become alienated from men; they dislike and even hate them, as one extreme feminist admitted in public. They call men trash. At the #MeToo extreme, they believe all women in sexual assault cases, and that all men are guilty, even without witnesses or corroborating evidence.
At the extreme, feminist ideology is an illusion, a sweeping, simple generalization, in the same way MGTOW ideology is, for just as all women are not the enemy of men, neither are all men the enemy of women.
The new alienation fuels the extremism of Black Lives Matter, too. Take, for example, a young black woman who attends an expensive college on affirmative action, but who is educationally unprepared. Advanced capitalism’s donor class hypocritically supports diversity to soothe its conscience, but once minority students arrive and flounder, that’s no longer the donor class’s concern. The young woman sees before her the same “alienation from one’s labor” in non-factory work as others see, yet low grades may keep her from getting even one of those jobs. She foresees floundering in the “gig” economy, and with a large tuition debt, thanks to government colluding with higher education to raise costs.
She feels isolated. She wants to call home, but she has no home, as advanced capitalism destroyed her two-parent family and neighborhood long ago, when the jobs that sustained her city were offshored. She is angry. Extreme feminism teaches her to blame men, but her “alienation from other people” takes a different turn. Her instinct toward group loyalty trumps her instinct toward gender loyalty; it is through that aspect of human nature that her alienation is refracted. She blames even white women. She listens for micro-aggressions; she analyzes white people inside and out, to their very core. Where others hesitate to look, she looks. White people become specimens in her eyes, and even good-hearted acquaintances are objects for scrutiny. Every minute, every second in a white person’s life is magnified a thousand-fold; there is no looking at the years, the whole, and so there is hatred.
Much of this is an illusion. Most white people are not the enemy of black people. They do not feel ill will toward them. On the contrary, they feel themselves to be in the same boat, struggling under advanced capitalism. But the black woman will not listen. In her illusion, the white person has changed into something else.
With the other sources of purpose in life having dried up under advanced capitalism, as they have for MGTOWs and extreme feminists, Black Lives Matter gives the woman a sense of purpose. After graduation she becomes a community activist, which not only provides meaning, but also a non-factory job that avoids occupational specialization and employment in a large company.
A young white male with little education experiences the same alienation as MGTOWs, extreme feminists, and Black Lives Matter. He can’t find a job that pays a middle-class wage, which means he can’t even suffer the alienation of those fortunate enough to work for a gigantic corporation. He lives at home. His precarious economic situation makes finding purpose in raising a family impossible. He had once dreamed of coaching his kids on a sports team, but advanced capitalism increasingly demands certification for such activity—for example, there is now a Little League University. This blocks coaching as a source of purpose in life, even if he had children.
With many manufacturing jobs long ago offshored, he must compete against immigrants for scraps, putting downward pressure on wages. He complains. Advanced capitalism’s donor class hypocritically poses as lovers of humanity, and so calls for open borders, but in reality it just wants more cheap labor. The man cries out that his forefathers helped to build America. Yet the donor class calls him a nativist and a “deplorable” when he does. Thus, even national identity as a source of meaning in life is blocked.
Resentment arises from the disparity between his dreams and the reality before him. As with the young black woman, his alienation is refracted through his instinct toward group loyalty rather than gender loyalty. It is the alienation of white Americans against immigrant people of color, stoked by the donor class’s refusal to take the man’s complaints seriously, and by the pre-existing animosity in identity politics of people of color toward white people. The man’s mind becomes narrowed and bounded to one exact spot of knowledge—the immigrant’s skin color and “foreignness”—which yields a crop of prejudices. Feeling himself above others in this one little area, he grows eminent in his own eyes and looks down on others. Having all his sympathies cultivated in one way, they die out in every other way. He becomes an ill-humored, close-minded bigot.
Much of this is an illusion. People of color immigrating to America are not evil. They only want to work, as he does. Nor are they hopelessly un-American. In fact, they are more likely to believe in God and democracy than many Americans today do. But the man refuses to listen. He sees through the same spectacles continually. His mind stiffens into one position, as it does for the other extremists.
The ideology of extreme environmentalism follows the path of MGTOWs, extreme feminists, Black Lives Matter, and white supremacists. Take a college-educated woman working as an executive for a large company. She is successful by advanced capitalism’s standards, but the day comes when she is forced to ask herself what all this is for. The question presents itself timidly at first, but over time reaches full force, with predictably demoralizing effects. Her creative impulses having stalled, she feels fed up and depressed, yet her mind cannot turn to family, as she has no family. With men in general floundering under advanced capitalism, and MGTOW ideology gaining traction, few eligible suitors appear. Studies have confirmed the lack of eligible men as a reason why many women today do not marry.
She lacks purpose in her life. Her alienation is refracted through the human instinct to religion. People are born to believe, to imagine a focus around which all the world gravitates, to approach life from the loftiest viewpoint, even if it is to condemn the human race. Indeed, religions that condemn the human race have great staying power. The woman’s “alienation from others” morphs into an “alienation from humanity.” People are evil. In extreme environmentalism, the needs of obscure birds or fish or other wildlife take precedence over human needs, including, for example, the worries of farmers and miners trying to earn a living.
She throws herself into work, but now she has left her job for an environmentalist nonprofit. The nonprofit sector, which barely existed in the early 1970s, has grown five times faster than the for-profit sector in the past ten years. It now employs ten percent of the workforce. It is where many college-educated people now go to find meaning in work that they can no longer find in the for-profit sector. Here, the woman feels alive. With the climate at risk, she has that nightmarish feeling that everything is collapsing, the ground sliding away under her feet; yet she is feverishly excited that everything still lies ahead, and might still be realized.
Much of this is an illusion. People who eat, who drive, or who work in mines are not evil. They just want to live, as she does. And while climate change is real, answering the question of how the climate will change over the next century remains an open one worthy of scientific discussion. But the woman is amazed and indignant that her positions are open to doubt. She speaks as if everything about the issue is predetermined. She refuses to hear any scientific evidence from climate models that suggest things may not be as dire as they seem. She destroys anyone who dissents.
Social justice warriors (SJWs) follow in the path of MGTOWs, extreme feminists, Black Lives Matter, white supremacists, and extreme environmentalists, having experienced the same alienation. The “alienation from other people” takes a perverse turn here, as SJWs often hate other people anonymously, on social media; they also love other people anonymously, on social media. Like many lonely Americans living under advanced capitalism, where male-female relations are frayed, family formation is difficult, and children are expensive, many SJWs live in a virtual world online where things pass in front of their eyes in isolated patches, without any connection to the physical world in which they live. A desire to destroy the capitalist system becomes the offspring of all their nervous tension, which makes their ideology the most dangerous of all.
What drives SJWs is not poverty but alienation, which is refracted through the human ego itself—the dream of making a clean sweep of everything and imposing the mold of one’s mind on an entire nation. In Antifa rallies, among the unmasked, and in post-arrest mug shots, the faces are primarily white, while the clothes and manners suggest they are college educated. Portland, the seat of Antifa, is predominantly white and college educated. This is not a movement of low-income people of color angry about their pay. These are people wounded psychologically and thwarted in life in a different way. In their belief in direct action, Antifa SJWs imagine themselves to be fighters, soldiers, executioners, murderers, and bastards, as they howl and beat their fists against their breasts. The feeling of being among like-minded people who know what they are doing and why, and doing it all in physical space and not just online, vindicates their life when other paths to meaning have been blocked.
Meanwhile, in corporate boardrooms, nonviolent, middle-aged SJWs think they can still achieve something meaningful through work, and not simply by joining a non-profit. Rather than escape from corporate capitalism, SJWs seek to reshape it. They have pushed the Business Roundtable into redefining the corporation’s purpose. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act threatens to change the purpose of business from profit to social justice. The possibility of utopia inflames these people’s imaginations unlike anything else in life. Leaders of advanced capitalism once encouraged the social justice movement as a kind of wonderful adornment to the mundane task of making money. Now the beautiful ivy wraps around too tight and threatens to suffocate them.
SJW ideology is an illusion—and a dangerous one. There is not enough money to pay for all the SJW programs; there will be even less money once capitalism is destroyed. The SJW mode of direct action, which includes public shaming, violence, and censorship, is totalitarian. But the SJWs will not listen. Life has determined their consciousness. To change their consciousness, as Marx observed, their lives must change.
Finding the Center
Intense alienation refracted through some aspect of human nature has radicalized millions of Americans. No new ideology marketed from above will lure them back to the political center. Patriotism, for example, does not arise in people because they hear a speech about patriotism, but because they believe their country offers everyone a good deal, including themselves, and so they feel affection for it. Right now, many Americans do not think their country offers them a good deal. Encouraging bourgeois virtues also makes no sense in a global economy in which middle-class prudence is completely baffled. When the means of foreseeing are gone, and the traditional paths to finding purpose in life are blocked, it is useless to be prudent. A general redistribution of income is also useless. The problem is alienation, not income inequality.
At the same time, advanced capitalism cannot be reversed. Gender neutrality is inevitable. The alienation between men and women will persist, even as it continues to be glossed over. Nor can we eliminate the corporation, which makes possible the accumulation of capital and the advances in output that raise our standard of living. For these reasons today’s political center cannot be what it was in Tocqueville’s America, with the latter’s strong two-parent families, small businesses, robust local communities, and widespread religious belief. That center belongs to another age.
The goal in our secular, corporate-dependent, hyper-individualistic, single-parent, and somewhat lonely society should be to help as many people as possible escape alienation and to re-open some of the paths to a meaningful life now blocked. This may diminish people’s urge to replace the creative act with almost anything they can, including extreme ideologies, and lure them back toward the center.
The current system is rigged against those who do not want to be dependent employees of large companies. Health insurance is tax-deductible when working for a company but not when self-employed. Employees of large companies can put more money toward a pension than people with individual IRAs can. Government often forgives student loans for people entering public service or the nonprofit sector, but not for those starting a business. Entrepreneurs starting out must pay both the employer and employee portion of Social Security. To help at least some people escape “the alienation of one’s labor,” these things must change. In Social Security, for example, the employer portion might be waived for ten years for young entrepreneurs. They will get fewer benefits decades later, but they will be relieved of a crushing burden as they try to strike out on their own early on.
Corporate employees need free speech rights. The First Amendment protects against government suppression of speech, which sufficed when people had more opportunities to work for themselves or in small businesses. Today, most people have no choice but to work for large companies. These companies scrutinize the social media postings of their employees and work in tandem with government to control speech in the name of preventing a “hostile work environment.” Many employees resent their supervisors telling them what they can and cannot say, much as medieval serfs hated being subject not to the rule of law, but to the will of a man.
Children give life purpose. It must become cheaper to raise them. High college costs not only block procreation as a creative outlet but also, in the form of debt, keep people from aspiring to independent employment after graduation. We must help people go around college, or through college. To go around college, some kind of National Baccalaureate Exam might obviate the need for a four-year college degree. To reduce college costs, a rule once applied to health insurance companies, barring payments from the state if those companies put more than 5 percent of their premiums toward administration, might be used to force colleges to eliminate administrative bloat. Even one-time, partial student loan forgiveness on the Federal level would be a price worth paying to secure legislation that permanently reduced college costs.
Social Security might be adjusted over the coming decades, such that, instead of people getting large monthly sums starting in their late 60s, they would get smaller monthly sums starting in their 20s. This would make raising children, often by single parents, more feasible.
Corporate capitalism’s reach must be re-evaluated. In the 20th century, the rise of non-factory occupations defused the revolutionary potential inherent in factory life. Corporate capitalism’s continued penetration into non-factory life, especially into labor–intensive fields (for example, medicine, law, counseling, and mental health) where economies of scale do not really come into play, and where fixed machine costs are generally not an issue, has drawn millions of Americans into the vortex of large-scale capitalism, perhaps needlessly, rendering small business and self-employment in these sectors difficult. Non-factory occupations are providing less of a vent for revolutionary potential than they once did. Along with dependent employment in gigantic companies have come overzealous credentialing and other barriers to entry that keep people from breaking into non-factory occupations on their own. These barriers also keep volunteers from doing anything in these fields other than the most boring tasks. Corporate capitalism’s takeover of the entire range of human services, not just hospitality and retail, is not only keeping America from remaining a “middle class” nation, but also turning America into a nation of resentful semi-skilled laborers. This drives people to ideological extremes.
Policymakers with a purely economic approach to today’s radicalism may object to what seems to be soft psychology—that is, to the notion of alienation. They may insist that straightforward economics plays the bigger role in rebuilding the political center. They may prefer to speak about the structural requisites of economic growth or the need for more income re-distribution. It is true that economic data are a powerful, compelling reality. GDP growth and tax rates will pretty much dictate how millions of workers live. But in a crisis people sometimes respond in ways that established economic models cannot predict. Many Americans today have embraced illusions and joined protest movements with goals that are not just economic, but also psychological, even exclusively psychological, adding to the sense of unpredictability. The excitement these illusions produce in people’s hearts is palpable. If we want to bring some of them back toward the political center, thereby making American politics once again a game fought between the 40-yard lines, these psychological issues must be addressed.