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The Far-Reaching Impacts of Work on Democracy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William Clements
April 30, 2019

Life in the democratic world is currently marked by polarized issues such as freedom and authority, justice and due process, diversity and equality, human rights and communal obligations, and last but not least, participation and representation. Currently as public administrators, we are hard-pressed to view the aforementioned issues as hardships stemming from an evolving democracy; however, maybe this is not the case. What if the issues that we are experiencing are not complications of democracy? What if democracy was the solution?

An article published in the Journal of Social Change by Dr. Bill Benet has posited that the hardships being experienced in America’s “democracy” are actually polarities wherein the tension needs to be leveraged.    

An article published in Forbes examined the hardships encountered in worker motivation levels at many companies. It is terribly difficult to motivate and inspire adults when they are being treated like children and motivated by the principles of fear. This association not only adds to high levels of occupational stress experienced by employees, but also to negative experiences outside of the workplace which will likely influence family relationships, recreation, economic opportunities and the employees’ health outlooks. When I think about the experience of working a middle-class job in America, certain associations are implied such as time clocks, tardy slips, quotas and performance evaluations. To sum up my interpretation of the modern workplace, I would liken it to the master-slave dialectic.

What are the overreaching impacts of a master-slave relationship? The workplace contains mothers, fathers, friends, community leaders and many other individuals who provide a grand service in their communities. Why is it that once an individual enters the workplace their title of adult is replaced by that of employee? If an individual is not an active part of the decision-making process at work, where they spend most of their waking hours, would it be surprising if these same individuals did not know how to navigate democratic avenues and institutions outside of the workplace in broader society? A PBS article explained that during the 2016 election only 58 percent of eligible voters went to the polls and concluded that several millions of working people did not vote. This is no attempt to suggest that there were no other variables at play, but merely an attempt to determine if there are any correlations between job occupations and participation in democracy. It is worth noting that there are numerous avenues of democratic involvement ranging from PTA meetings to City Hall conversations. Can more dignity be given to individuals in the workplace?

It is no secret that long work hours combined with prolonged exposure to stress have been associated with a higher likelihood of negative health impacts, and as a result, higher healthcare costs to those individuals who can least afford it. It is also worth noting the impact of occupational stress and its correlation to higher levels of depression, which has not only economic costs, but psychological, and social ones as well. These hardships are even harder felt in isolated and marginalized communities such as inner-cities and rural locations. The strain placed on these individuals will have more resounding participatory impacts on broader society.

It is my position that we must begin to find a way to leverage these polarities to ensure that society can overcome the oppression which many of its members are experiencing. We have found ourselves at a turning point in history where we must decide which future we want to secure: a society where work follows the master-slave model or a society where work is seen as the way an individual serves society and does so with a degree of honor and respect. There is little doubt regarding the unequal financial stratification present in the world today. We should be able to take some comfort in knowing that there are people in society who, like Dr. Benet, view democracy as the solution and not the problem.  

Dr. William Clements, Ph.D. is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Psychology at higher education institutions. He possesses a Bachelor of Science Degree in Justice Studies, a Master of Science Degree in Forensic Psychology, and his doctoral degree is in Public Policy and Administration. He has served in the field of public service for a total of 11 plus years and is a well-read enthusiast for topics of economics, politics, homeland security, and most of all, public policy. Email: [email protected]

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