“The Moral Underground” Explores How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy

Kathleen Burge at the Boston Globe has this review:

As Newton resident Lisa Dodson, a Boston College sociology professor in the thick of a research project, was interviewing a grocery story manager in the Midwest about the difficulties of the low-income workers he supervised, he asked her a curious question: “Don’t you want to know what this does to me too?’’

She did. And so the manager talked about the sense of unfairness he felt as a supervisor, making enough to live comfortably while overseeing workers who couldn’t feed their families on the money they earned. That inequality, he told her, tainted his job, making him feel complicit in an unfair system that paid hard workers too little to cover basic needs.

The interview changed the way Dodson talked with other supervisors and managers of low-income workers, and she began to find that many of them felt the same discomfort as the grocery store manager. And many went a step further, finding ways to undermine the system and slip their workers extra money, food, or time needed to care for sick children. She was surprised how widespread these acts were. In her new book, “The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy,’’ she called such behavior “economic disobedience.’’

As Dodson’s questions grew more pointed, she began to hear fascinating stories. Andrew, a manager in a large Midwest food business, said he put extra money in the paychecks of those earning a “poverty wage,’’ punched out their time cards at the usual quitting time when they had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment, and gave them food.

Andrew had decided that by supervising workers who were treated unfairly – paid too little and subjected to inflexible schedules that prevented them from taking care of their families – he was playing a direct role in the unfair system, and so he was morally obligated to act.

Dodson concluded that Andrew and many like him were following the American tradition of civil disobedience – this time, against the economy – and creating a “moral underground.’’

But her book, which came out late last year, has provoked debate about the morality of such acts.

[More at Boston.com]

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  • Anonymous

    Interesting reflection on the way this system is dehumanizing all of us.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Interesting reflection on the way this system is dehumanizing all of us.

    • lnjmdalk

      or, rather, failing to dehumanize us.

  • http://comediantravels.blogspot.com/ CarlClarkComedy

    This isn’t new. This isn’t groundbreaking. This is the America I grew up in

  • http://comediantravels.blogspot.com/ CarlClarkComedy

    This isn’t new. This isn’t groundbreaking. This is the America I grew up in

  • Ironaddict06

    Yea, it’s the MAN’s fault. Stick it to him. It’s his fault for having so much money. Of course some Einstein will come along and settle the problem by making min. wage $10 an hour.
    Look the world has evolved to the point where a worker can’t just show up at a company and ask if they are hiring and expect decent pay. Workers in todays world needs skills-what ever they are(a.c.,mechanic,computer skills, etc).

  • Ironaddict06

    Yea, it’s the MAN’s fault. Stick it to him. It’s his fault for having so much money. Of course some Einstein will come along and settle the problem by making min. wage $10 an hour.
    Look the world has evolved to the point where a worker can’t just show up at a company and ask if they are hiring and expect decent pay. Workers in todays world needs skills-what ever they are(a.c.,mechanic,computer skills, etc).

    • Haystack

      Skills don’t guarantee you decent pay, or even a job. Between decades of outsourcing and the recent state of the economy, there are plenty of highly skilled workers stuck in menial, WalMart-grade jobs. The problem is that the pie keeps getting smaller, not that workers aren’t fighting hard enough for a piece of it.

      The minimum age should be $10/hr. The way I look at it, if you work full time, you are entitled to a living wage. That’s the social contract. You can flip it around and say “The world has evolved to a point that you can’t just pay your workers less than they require to survive and not expect them to stick it to you every chance they get.”

      • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

        This is why I paint houses…apartments…fences whatever you can put paint on. You can’t ship your house to China and have it shipped back repainted for ten percent of what it would cost here. It’s tangible and immovable. I have a job security that doesn’t change…as long as I stay flexible and willing to work wherever the work can be found.

        All my skills from college are nearly valueless compared to my ability to make a room look damned good. Physical labor wound up trumping education…but only because the country I live in has degenerated into a state where the competition to reduce costs grew so psychotic that foreign labor has decimated our middle class job environment. Idiocy.

    • Andrew

      Yeah, and technology has evolved to the point where not everybody needs to work. So why penalize those who do not serve Business in a job?

    • GoodDoktorBad

      “Look the world has evolved to the point where a worker can’t just show up at a company and ask if they are hiring and expect decent pay.”
      The world has evolved? This is your idea of progress? Sounds like de-evolution to me. The needs of the few do not out weigh the needs of the many no matter how much you want to keep hoarded resources.
      “No one owns this earth we’re on.”

  • Haystack

    Skills don’t guarantee you decent pay, or even a job. Between decades of outsourcing and the recent state of the economy, there are plenty of highly skilled workers stuck in menial, WalMart-grade jobs. The problem is that the pie keeps getting smaller, not that workers aren’t fighting hard enough for a piece of it.

    The minimum age should be $10/hr. The way I look at it, if you work full time, you are entitled to a living wage. That’s the social contract. You can flip it around and say “The world has evolved to a point that you can’t just pay your workers less than they require to survive and not expect them to stick it to you every chance they get.”

  • lnjmdalk

    or, rather, failing to dehumanize us.

  • Andrew

    Yeah, and technology has evolved to the point where not everybody needs to work. So why penalize those who do not serve Business in a job?

  • Anonymous

    “Look the world has evolved to the point where a worker can’t just show up at a company and ask if they are hiring and expect decent pay.”
    The world has evolved? This is your idea of progress? Sounds like de-evolution to me. The needs of the few do not out weigh the needs of the many no matter how much you want to keep hoarded resources.
    “No one owns this earth we’re on.”

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    This is why I paint houses…apartments…fences whatever you can put paint on. You can’t ship your house to China and have it shipped back repainted for ten percent of what it would cost here. It’s tangible and immovable. I have a job security that doesn’t change…as long as I stay flexible and willing to work wherever the work can be found.

    All my skills from college are nearly valueless compared to my ability to make a room look damned good. Physical labor wound up trumping education…but only because the country I live in has degenerated into a state where the competition to reduce costs grew so psychotic that foreign labor has decimated our middle class job environment. Idiocy.

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