Karl Marx was a German philosopher who notably contributed to the field of sociology in the 19th century. During this period, Marx dedicated himself to the study of the economy and its reward systems of laborers who compounded a majority of his society's population. Upon completing his study, Marx developed a sociology theory whose underlying principle focused on the fact that every progress attained in society was often the result of a struggle between two extremely distinct social classes in society. Marx classified these social classes as the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In his opinion, the proletariat comprised of workers within society who provided their labor to the bourgeoisie in exchange for a wage (Piketty 7) since the latter owned a majority of assets such as land, money, machinery, and industries. Therefore, the proletariat had limited options but to work for the bourgeoisie in order to sustain their daily livelihood (Piketty 11). The latter often took advantage of the former's subordination by making immense profits through their hard work and paying them very little for their labor. According to Marx's theory, the act of the bourgeoisie taking advantage of the proletariat for their own selfish ambitions is known as capitalism. This paper explores the relevance of Karl Marx's theory in understanding the origin of the conflict between social classes as witnessed in modern society.
The Minimum Wage Debate
According to a recent article by Owens and Lathrop, the minimum wage debate has shifted drastically over the past few years due to the fact that in 2013, US President Barrack Obama had called for American businesses to embrace a minimum wage of $9. However, two years later, the President changed his stand on the debate by declaring support for new legislation, seeking to increase the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 (Owens and Lathrop). This news was received positively across the nation, with some cities even opting to raise the minimum wage as high as $15. In response to this positive reception by the American workforce, Congressional Democrats, led by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Robert Scott, upped the debate by introducing the Raise the Wage Act of 2015 that sought to raise the average minimum wage to $12 by 2020 (Owens and Lathrop). Should the bill be signed into law, it will help raise pay for an average to the quarter of American low-end workers.
Aspects of the Minimum Wage Debate Addressed Through Marx Theory
In my opinion, the main aspect of the current event that would attract Marx's focus would be the desire of the US workforce to have the government increase their average minimum wage. At the same time, the minimum wage debate can only be addressed by understanding how capitalist society operates. In so doing, the US workforce will be able to understand why the capitalist system favors the rich over the poor before proceeding to seek redress. Marx portrays capitalist society as the one divided between two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Therefore, these two societal classes earn their living in different ways. The bourgeoisie, also known as capitalists, are the owners of productive resources, such as machines, raw materials, and industries, where the proletarians must work in order to meet their needs (Piketty 33). Consequently, Marx illustrates that in a bid to earn a living, the proletarians often find themselves alienated in four significant ways.
First, they have no right in determining the terms and conditions for their employment. Second, they have no control over what capitalists may decide to do with the outcomes of their hard work. Third, the proletarians often find themselves competing against each other in the workplace for incentives such as better pay, promotions, and performance appraisal, which often makes them foes instead of cultivating meaningful relationships. Lastly, by giving total control over to capitalists, workers lose the ability to improve their self-worth by developing their talents and abilities.
Concepts of Marx Theory Applicable to the Minimum Wage Debate
Marx helps understand the origins of the minimum wage debate better. His theory portrays capitalists as the powerful members of society who have an unlimited authority to dictate the terms and conditions of engagement with the proletariat. As such, the bourgeoisie has the moral authority to reward their employees with whatever amount of money they deem fit for their endearing services. This power bestowed upon the bourgeoisie has often resulted in them taking advantage of the proletariat people for their own selfish gains (Piketty 27). For instance, the rich often hire the poor to provide them with the essential labor they need in the manufacture and production of an array of goods and services. Afterward, the rich proceed to sell these goods and services to the poor at exorbitant prices in order to make high-end profits for themselves.
Marx views this way of life in society as untenable in the long run since it often results in a conflict between these two social classes. Thus, the proletarians begin to feel deprived and underappreciated by the rich for their continuous hard work. As a result, they start seeking means to overthrow the bourgeoisie in a bid to attain a communist society, where profits are shared equally among the bourgeoisie as well as the proletariat. This situation forms the genesis of the minimum wage debate. Thus, Americans' desire to have the minimum wage raised shows they are tired of the current situation. Hence, employers need to begin rewarding workers for their efforts by raising basic pay to conform to their level of hard work.
The Usefulness of Marx Theory in Understanding the Minimum Wage Debate
Marx's theory is very useful in helping understand the minimum wage debate, discussed in the article mentioned earlier since his theory reveals the fact of the existence of a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in society. The former, also known as capitalists, form the minority of society's entire population but they own production resources such as land, money, machines, and industries. Marx portrays capitalists as people, motivated by the acquisition of power over other citizens, institutions, for example, the media, and the government (Piketty 58). They strive for this because power over others enables them to exercise control over the proletarians, thus helping them expand their profit potentials. The proletariat class is the poor part of society. These people have meagre resources; consequently, they are forced to trade their labor in exchange for a wage. Unlike capitalists, the proletarians are often motivated by an interest to earn better wages (Piketty 42). This need often results in a class struggle between them and the capitalists, hence the minimum wage debate.
In the class struggle, the capitalists often resort to using the power of their wealth as well as their influence over institutions, such as the media and the government, to their advantage. However, the proletarians rely on their numbers, invaluable work experience, co-operation from trade unions and affiliate political parties to demand just pay. This often works in their advantage, which can be seen by the minimum wage debate in the article mentioned. In the debate, it is evident that the voice of people reigns is more important than that of the capitalists. Such a debate has become possible because the American workforce seems tired of the current situation where the upper class seems to benefit more from their hard work. As a result, they have stationed several protests demanding that the minimum wage be raised. In addition, the government also fights alongside with people by proposing laws that will ensure the minimum wage is raised (Owens and Lathrop). Should this law take effect, American workers will be relieved as they could begin to see the fruits of their hard labor.
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Karl Marx's theory is quite important in many societies today. Thus, the importance of this theory lies in the fact that it has enabled people in many countries to understand the origins of the conflict between the upper class and the lower class. In every society, the capitalist class often comprises of the rich who own the means of production such as land, money, machinery, and industries. At the same time, they often resort to the use of their influence to control the poor. Although capitalists set the rules in society and run it, for the most part, it is highly impractical that they use the poor as a means to attain their selfish gains. This often breeds conflict among the classes, hence resulting in interventions such as the minimum wage discussion outlined above. In my opinion, increasing the minimum wage is a benefit for numerous corporations and companies of various sizes as it will help increase employee job satisfaction. As a result, job satisfaction often leads to efficiency and effectiveness in employee's job performance, which will result in the overall success of a business. Therefore, raising the minimum wage that will allow attaining higher job satisfaction among employees will lead to the increased profits for businesses, which should translate into high revenue for employees.