On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Arushi Saxena, American Cyberculture student at UC Berkeley.
US epitomizes a “champagne glass” distribution of wealth in which the wealthiest 1% control almost 45% of the nation’s wealth. The concept of exploitation is evident in this pattern in that wealth is produced at the expense of other socioeconomic levels. For example, by exploiting cheap labor, paying low wages, depending on political patronage, utilizing tax loopholes, and by lobbying for unjustifiable deregulation the wealthy continue their trajectory of wealth accumulation. Although it is unfair to incriminate the rich for becoming rich as many of the noveau riche have accumulated this wealth due to years of hard work and strong business acumen, the prevalence of exploitation in this system is saddening. This is not to the say that “poor” and lower socioeconomic levels do not exploit back. As the left-wing American spectra argues, the economically marginalized often exploit government programs by depending on social security and non-cash aid even though they are more than capable of seeking and securing basic employment. From a more statistically sound perspective, we see that as workers became increasingly productive since 1948 (created more surplus value in processes and products), their employers shared the increase in profitability with workers until the mid-1970s. Since this time period, wages have remained stagnant even as worker productivity has continued to rise. Most alarming is that over this same time period, top management salaries have raised over 300%. As income inequality is exacerbated, the exploitation of individuals and institutions will increase hand-in-hand. Arguments can be made as to whether exploitation plays a casual role in these negative trends, or that it is a convenient byproduct of rising inequality, a perpetuation tool or all of the above. However, as we proceed to discuss the themes of inequalities, occupations, makings, and tactics, we must be conscious of the role exploitation plays within them.