"Immiseration" is the idea, formerly advocated by Marxists
, that the real wages
of the working classes
will constantly decline as they become increasingly alienated from the means of production
. In Marxist theory, immiseration would eventually be one of the primers of the proletarian revolution
that would overthrow bourgeoise capitalism
in favor of worldwide socialism
Beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 1970s, the theory of immiseration increasingly fell out of favor with Marxist thinkers, as empirical evidence seemed to show that, at least after the initial stages of the Industrial Revolution, real wages of the working classes actually rose and standards of living generally improved. Rather, the opposite of immiseration, often known as "embourgeoisement" seemed to be the dominant trend in industrial societies, as the working classes were coopted into a culture of consumption and increasingly bought into so-called "middle class values".
Recently however, following the hidden economic depression of the 1970s ("hidden" because it was compensated for in the west by the large-scale drafting of women into the workforce), the theory of immiseration has seemed much more plausible and has returned to favor, although often without using that particularly Marxist term. Since 1970, especially in the case of the United States, real wages have dramatically fallen, but real family income has remained relatively stable as women entered the workforce. Families have the same amount of money to spend as before, but a lot more hours are being worked.
Where is the money going? Well, the gap between the richest and poorest Americans has increased by roughly 20% since 1980, depending on how one calculates. As American jobs are lost to foreign nations and wages stagnate, current thinkers are increasingly speaking of a "race to the bottom" in which worldwide wages are being held down by competition from the comparatively low-wage manufacturing jobs in poorer countries (or countries like China that fudge their exchange rate).
Immiseration, by any other name, may to be making a comeback.