Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich Essay Title: Wal-Mart Bureaucracy

Essay by paulkimCollege, UndergraduateA, March 2004

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"Nickel and Dimed" is not simply an account of the struggles of low-wage workers. It is a book that attacks the American capitalist system. Barbara Ehrenreich's experiences point out that the efficiency of modern bureaucracies comes at the high cost of individual freedoms. For bureaucracies to function, it requires organization that must include a hierarchy. Oftentimes this will lead to impersonal relations between members, reduced flexibility, and an abuse of authority. However, since the top positions in bureaucracies give power and privilege. Those in power will sometimes place a higher priority on preserving their status rather than actually carrying out what the bureaucracy was intended for. Thus there are two factors that Barbara Ehrenreich brings up in her book. The ultimate affects of bureaucracies and the power elite who discreetly control and maintain them.

According to C. Wright Mills there exists a power elite that "is composed of men whose positions enable them to transcend the ordinary environments of men and women" (146).

It is those few elite who not only controls the bureaucracy but also maintains it by making it nearly impossible for workers to form unions. Bureaucratic elites have considerable power and, whenever possible, give themselves high salaries. In fact, a bureaucracy closely resembles an authoritarian state. They are able to maintain their power by supporting workers who support them and penalizing those who are opposed to them. Their method of exercising power is either by demotions, wage cuts, or firing them.

From Barbara Ehrenreich, we can see the tactics employed by the bureaucratic elites to maintain the system. Before beginning her work, Barbara and her coworkers are shown a video entitled "You've Picked a Great Place to Work" which gives testimonials from workers saying how they sense a feeling of family at Wal-Mart. Barbara then...