by Alyssa Cohen ’21
Amidst a global pandemic, soaring unemployment and growing wealth inequalities persist in the United States. Based upon the numbers alone, the American economy is booming. Trump has boasted the rebound of our nation’s stock market, and in this instance, he technically is not lying.
The Nasdaq and the Dow Jones Industrial Averages have recovered from the depths of the first half of 2020, and superficially, the economy is “healthy” again, according to the BBC. However, the age of COVID-19 has illuminated the paradox citizens are impelled to inquire: Why does the market report national prosperity in a time of widespread economic hardship?
Perhaps we may discern that neither the Dow nor the Nasdaq are effective indicators of the economic welfare of the American people, as much as the indices are reflective of wealth fluctuations of large corporations and their shareholders.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, corporations that produce services and technology conducive to the culture of “the new normal” have expanded tremendously. According to the New York Times, this especially pertains to American tech giants including Amazon, Apple, and Facebook—companies that nearly monopolized their industries even prior to the pandemic.
This, of course, elicits tremendous profit and power for a corporation’s already absurdly wealthy high executives and largest investors. The expansion of big tech is also widening the income gap and harming the livelihoods of corporate workers, small businesses, and, frankly, the American public in general.
According to New York Times writer Shira Ovide, the “stock market shares are owned disproportionately by the richest people in society,” thus the rise of big tech amidst the COVID-19 pandemic “comes at a moment when politicians and the public are wondering if America’s digital superstars are so powerful—and perhaps, tilt the game to their advantage—that they simply cannot be beaten.”
Ovide’s concern proves legitimate, considering that within American capitalism, excessive wealth produces more than merely material opulence—it enables the few individuals in possession of the majority of the nation’s capital to exercise unfettered social, political, and cultural dominance. In turn, the tremendous wealth accumulation of the highest executives and largest shareholders of big tech presents as especially worrisome considering that many reigning American corporations have actively inhibited their employees from defending themselves from exploitation, discrimination, and other violations of their human rights via unionization.
To use the glaring example of Amazon, according to New York Times writer Christy Hoffman, a former vice president at Amazon named Tim Bray resigned from the company back in May after witnessing the firing of activist workers within the company who began protesting unsafe working conditions and expectations during the pandemic.
Consequently, Bray blames the inability of Amazon’s workers to unionize as a factor perpetuating their exploitation as he writes, “Amazon’s decision to fire the activists was easy to make in the United States, where Amazon workers have no union and are left to fend for themselves.”
Despite their reputation as being one of the most profoundly exploited communities of American workers, the capacity to be violated by big tech, or any other reigning corporation, is not limited to those employed by Amazon. Without the protection of a union, especially in light of the unbridled economic expansion of corporate America exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rights and liberties of every employee, or future employee, in the United States could be in jeopardy.
Even within our very own Providence College community, employers of the institution are more susceptible to unjust treatment in the workplace because of their inability to unionize. This includes, though is not limited to, the College’s administrators and professors, the UG2 employees who work to clean campus facilities, as well as the Sodexo staff.
With college students being a weighty voting demographic, PC students should vote to elect candidates who will write, promote, and implement legislation that will incite economic reform that will benefit the whole of the American people. We should resist the temptation to preserve the status quo and “vote for the economy” based upon the allurement of a “thriving” Nasdaq or Dow Jones that feign the presence of economic stability amongst the American people, while, in actuality, most predominantly reporting the rates at which America’s most wealthy are becoming wealthier.
However, even after voting for new progressive political leadership and legislation that will break up big tech, protect workers’ rights, and promote unionization, we must not stop there. It is high time to unite as college students, employees, and residents of the United States to reevaluate our fundamentally failing economic system—a structure that reports the prosperity of a country in a time in which the vast majority of its population is vulnerable to exploitation, and is ailing economically.