Perspectives on Economy and Work in the United States
Functionalists. conflict theorists. and symbolic interactionists view the economy and the nature of work from a variety of perspectives. We first examine functionalist
and conflict views of the economy; then we focus on the symbolic interactionist perspective on job satisfaction and alienation.
Functionalists view the economy as a vital social institution because it is the means by which needed gaods and services are produced and distributed. When the economy runs smoothly, other parts of society function more effectively. However. if the system becomes unbalanced. such as when demand does not keep up with production, a maladjustment occurs (in this case, a surplus). Some problems can be easily remedied in the marketplace (through "free enterprise") or through government intervention (such as paying farmers not to plant when there is an oversupply of a crop). However. other problems. such as periodic peaks (high
points) and troughs (low points) in the business cycle.are more difficult to resolve. The business cycle is the rise and fall of economic activity relative to long-term growth in the economy (Mcliachern, 2003).From this perspective, peaks occur when "business" has confidence in the country's economic future. Duringa peak, or expansion period. the economy thrives: Plants are built, raw materials are ordered. workers are hired.
and production increases. In addition, upward social mobility for workers and their families becomes possible. As a result, workers may hope their children will Rot hpve to follow their footsteps into the factory. Ben H~per (1992: 13) describes how GM workers feil: 'Being a factory worker in Flint, >vfichigan, wasn't something purposely passed on from generation to generation, To grow up believing that you were brought into this world to follow in your daddy's footsteps, just another chip-off-the-old-shoprat, was to engage in the lowest possible form of negativism.Working the line for GM was something fathers did so that their offspring wouldn't have to. The American Dream of upward mobility is linked to peaks in the business cycle Once the peak is reached, however, the economy turns down because too large a surplus of goods has been produced. In part. this is due to inflation-a sustained arid continuous increase in prices.
(McEachern, 200;1).Inflation erodes the value of people's money, and they are no longer able to purchase as high a percentage of the goods that have been produced. Because of this lack of demand, fewer goods are produced, workers are laid off, credit becomes difficult to obtain, and people cut back on their purchases even more, fearing unemployment Eventually, this produces a distrust of the economy, resulting in a recession decline in an economy's total production that lasts six months or longer. To combat a recession, the government lowers interest rates (to make borrowing easier and to get more money back into circulation) in an attempt to spur the beginning of the next period.