Yet it might be instructive to ask who makes the many items we consume. Presumably somebody does. IKEA and Target must have “workers” somewhere in their supply chain, even if their floor staff and customer service representatives are happily “middle class.” Is it really true that the people who make your stuff are becoming fewer and fewer? You have to assume a pretty narrow perspective to argue that just because none of your FaceBook friends work on an assembly line, there must not be very many of them left.
The New York Times can ask what it means to be a socialist in a system that produces less and less, consumes more and more; and it can honestly arrive at the answer, “not a whole hell of a lot.” Socialism, if it has ever meant anything, meant that the people making things have control of the processes which make them -- i.e., that workers control production. Of course, this presupposes that there is production, and this creates the whole difficulty for observers in the West, who no longer see it by looking out their windows. We are all middle class now, they tell themselves.
The fact that socialism has less political meaning in societies that no longer produce much of what they consume is not surprising: conflicts around production have been relocated -- to more repressive locales. A Socialist in France is like a Democrat in the US: both had greater relevance, vis-a-vis their stated ideals, in decades past, not because we have transcended the social concerns which informed them, but because a domestic working class could interfere with production, and in doing so shape politics. As the industrial working class gets smaller and smaller in our communities, the influence of owners, managers, and investors becomes the norm. This unchecked power, in turn, precipitates the kinds of crises we have come to know so well in recent years.