The economic sphere truly has overtaken the social and political. In societies of old, these three spheres of life were separate and distinct, or dominated by either the social or political. In 21st century America, however, it is the economic that takes precedence over the other two. I offer two primary arguments for this claim.
First, individuals in America possess more power as consumers than they do as citizens. With our two-party system becoming increasingly more polarized, many Americans are frustrated by how little they matter as citizens. They see President Obama acting by executive order, the GOP in utter chaos and themselves as victims of this broken system.
For all their political impotence, Americans find great power as consumers. Last month, Bank of America announced a new $5 per month checking account fee for all customers. Americans were so upset that last week, B of A retracted its new fees program altogether. Similarly, Netflix unveiled a new business model for its “Watch Instantly” online movie database. Customers expressed such outrage that the Netflix CEO issued a public apology just days later.
What is more, individuals are more willing to exercise their economic power than their political power. Very few Americans participate in state and local elections, but millions of Americans have joined and even found global solidarity in a movement that seeks economic change first (Occupy Wall Street), and political change only insofar as it facilitates further economic change. Ironically, these Americans want to reverse the primacy of the economic sphere over the social and political spheres, despite the fact that this primacy empowers even them (and not just wealthy bankers) more so than do the social or political spheres.
If the Occupy Wall Street movement becomes more organized and cohesive, it will likely lead to a reversal of the 21st century trend of the economic sphere becoming more and more predominant. For now, however, the movement is still too disorganized to change the fact that the economic sphere is prime.