What is perhaps unusual about Quart’s book is her attention to how we feel about it — specifically our peculiar willingness to take personal responsibility for problems that are not our fault. Everyone Quart talks to is acutely stressed, which makes sense. But everyone also feels guilty. Why? People have been so successfully inculcated into neoliberal ideology that nobody thinks twice about feeling bad about not making enough money. Of course, what makes the ideology persuasive is that there’s a grain of truth to it; there are people who through a combination of dedication and luck manage to overcome their inherited lot. Yet the issue is overwhelmingly structural and social, not individual or moral. We haven’t failed; Capitalism has failed us. As Quart reminds her reader — and as every story in the book is meant to illustrate — the economic bind we find ourselves in cannot be solved by personal discipline or better financial decisions. The truly wise are those born into a family in the 1 percent.
I feel like warnings such as ‘the robots are coming’ and ‘be careful not to choose an easily-automated occupation!’ are a smokescreen for decisions that people are making about the kind of society they want to live in. It seems like that’s one where most of us (the ‘have nots’) are expendable, while the 0.01% (the ‘haves’) live in historically-unparalleled luxury.