10/10/12: Robert Maynard Hutchins: Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich’s attempt to discover whether a minimum wage job fulfills the minimal and possible standard of living in her book, Nickel and Dimed, corresponds to a universal idea that concerns the errors within society. Robert Maynard Hutchins demonstrates these faults with the quote, “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”

Specifically, Hutchins successfully implies that the disintegration of democratic values includes “undernourishment” in association to Ehrenreich’s book. Meaning, the gap between the rich and the poor will continue to develop. For example, Ehrenreich makes a distinction between corporate individuals and regular laborers. She states how some people are “corporate as opposed to human” (22) and how “managers are there for only one reason – to make sure that the money is made for some theoretical entity, the corporation” (22). Due to the greediness of private institutions, there will be an inefficient distribution of wealth with a misrepresentation against the proletariat class. No longer will society have the rights and privileges to make ends meet.

Furthermore, Ehrenreich evaluates and supports Hutchins’s claim about the collapse of democracy in the moral behavior among the communication of coworkers through “apathy” and “indifference.” When Ehrenreich reveals her true identity to some of her coworkers, she was surprised to receive responses such as, “Does this mean you’re not going to be back on the evening shift next week?” Not only is it rude to demonstrate such inconsideration toward a fellow employee, but these reactions illustrate how there is a growing loss in ethical conduct. When the emotions and thoughts of individuals are suppressed by companies, they are essentially reduced as humans without having the motivation to fight against any corporate injustice.

The audience should ultimately consider that the end to democracy lies within the issues of the people who operate firms and work for them, not from some foreign intruder. It may be in the best interest of the government or corporations to have their coworkers generally content with their occupation in order to decrease unemployment, increase productivity, and have a minimal standard of living become achievable for all.


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