Is America a “Christian nation”? And is social inequality the “necessary” price for the uninhibited pursuit of wealth?
This is an excerpt (Chapter 5) from “Just A Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and The Fate of the Common Good” by author T. Carlos Anderson, and published by Blue Ocotillo Publishing, Austin, Texas, which has granted this website permission to reprint the chapter here. This article was previously reprinted by Diana Swancutt on the Boston Poverty Consortium website, with permission from Blue Ocotillo Publishing.
In Just A Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, T. Carlos Anderson explores these questions. Defining “religion” as “ultimate concern,” Anderson argues that the true religion of the United States is the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumption, and that the country’s true devotion is the pursuit of material wealth at the expense of the common good. Anderson carefully examines three eras of excess in U.S. American history–the Gilded Age, the 1920s, and the current age that began in the late 1970s and helped bring about the economic swoon of 2007-08–to argue that democracy and egalitarianism, as America’s two greatest achievements, are the substance of the common good, exist only when advocated for, and all three are suffering near death under the weight of economic inequity. What follows is chapter five, “America’s True Religion: Commerce, Materialism, and Consumerism,” in a book of eight very smart chapters. Chapter five narrates both the secularization of distinctively Christian religious impulses to support “America’s True Religion” and details the rise of the economic neoliberalism that is so thoroughly impacting capitalism today. The last, “Economic Democracy,” argues for a new egalitarian economic approach to the common good that avoids both the regression and idolatry of inequality in favor of sustainability, coexistence, compassion and cooperation.
T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson is a bilingual Protestant minister in Austin, Texas who has previously lived and worked in Chicago, Houston, and Lima, Peru. For copies of Just A Little Bit More, interview requests, and other inquiries, contact T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website, www.blueocotillo.com.
America’s True Religion: Commerce, Materialism, and Consumption
Dawn Hughey routinely put in seventy-hour workweeks as a retail store manager, making about $35,000 a year as a salaried employee. Abel Lopez had the same type of job, worked the same long hours, and brought home an equivalent amount of pay. Hughey managed a Dollar General store in Detroit and Lopez a Family Dollar store in El Paso; they both performed the same tasks as did the sales associates under their supervision: unloading trucks, stocking shelves, cleaning toilets, running cash registers, doing inventory, moving boxes. Since Hughey and Lopez were categorized as managers, they were exempted from receiving overtime pay. When one does the math, both made a little less than ten dollars an hour. Until they were fired, that is.
The 1938 Fair Labor and Standards Act put in place the forty-hour workweek, mandated a minimum wage, established overtime pay at a rate of time and a half, and further regimented child labor law. This federal statute—still enforced today by the Department of Labor—also exempts “executive” and “administrative” salaried employees from receiving overtime pay, as long as they make more than $455 a week. The statute specifies that executive and administrative employees are to manage the work environment, to direct other workers under their supervision, and not to engage in manual labor. This last provision serves a double purpose: to distinguish managerial work from manual labor and to ensure that manual laborers are not taken advantage of. In the growing economy of era the mid-twentieth century, the line of demarcation between managers and laborers was clear. In today’s stagnant service economy, workers like Hughey and Lopez perform the tasks of traditional management while also doing anything else needed, because they don’t have the budget to staff more workers. Putting in more hours—many more—is sometimes the only difference between supervisors and their subordinates.