Part One of Mills’s book, White Collar explains the complicated economic history of the United States up until 1951. In this section, Mills reveals the way the nation of small entrepreneurs from the beginning of U.S. history became white-collar workers for large corporations. This history is extremely detailed and complicated so in order to explain the whole thing in one concise blog post, I will explain the whole thing through one analogy about dominoes.
Think of the beginning of the United States as an independent nation like a box full of dominoes. In Europe, the dominoes have already been knocked over and messed up. But the United States has a brand new box of dominoes. The people of the new country can do anything they want. The United States, being a new independent country does not need to dig itself out of feudalism or destroy an old economic/government system before it can build a new one.
So each individual person sets up a couple of dominoes. People move West, take their own land and start farms and small businesses. The entire economy – no, more than that, the entire system of life in the United States – is based around fair competition. Each man is expected to make his own way and the more ingenuitive, clever, hard-working man will make more money while the lazy, careless worker will lose his money and be forced to start over. This is just about the fairest system of all time. How well you do in life is based entirely on content of character. As Mills puts it, “It is no wonder that men thought this [economic system] so remarkable they called it a piece of Divine Providence, each man’s hand being guided as if by magic into a preordained and natural harmony” (Mills 9).
The problem is that this isn’t the real system. While cleverness and a great work ethic might help the worker in life, power comes from money. Power is not rooted in how hard you work, it’s based on how much money you have, so when businesses begin to conglomerate and create monopolies, even though they may not have the best product or service and may not be the most ingenuitive, they beat all of the other small businesses because they make more money and will continue to make more money. Farms work the exact same way as businesses so that eventually, only a few corporations (and the government) control almost all of the farmland. To return to my dominoes analogy, monopolies were created when two or more people combined their dominoes and took those of everyone around them. What they built was not better than that of the small businessman, but it was bigger.
The people of the United States intended to make an entirely new system of government, one unlike anything seen in Europe, a goal they accomplished for the most part, not because they invented democracy but because they did not give power to the government, they gave power to an economic system, capitalism.
Big corporations pay white-collar workers a salary to do specialized, specific tasks for them. White-collar workers do not own any property and must therefore rely on corporations and the government in order to survive. Basically, white collar workers are paid to set up the dominoes for big corporations but they do not own any dominoes themselves.
So as the monopolies took all the dominoes and began to overlap their shares so that those in charge of the monopolies gained more and more dominoes, people began to resent the CEO’s running their lives and taking all of their dominoes. The ideology of the small businessman was used to keep the masses in check. Politicians frequently talk about how small businessmen are the foundation of the American economic system and that in order to save the American way of life, we have to help out small businessmen. This simply isn’t true. The American way of life is capitalism and the goal of capitalism, the state towards which capitalism is constantly moving, is the ultimate monopoly, where only a very select few individuals control all of the wealth. There is no flaw within the economic system because it is doing exactly what it is intended to do. The flaw is with the economic system itself.
Back to the domino analogy. Dominoes don’t have a problem falling down. Dominoes are intended to fall down. So when they do begin to fall and the politicians say that in order to stop it from happening, we need to set up more dominoes in front of the falling line, we have to realize that this is simply never going to work.