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December 09, 2016
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Meet Joe Schweik

The result is obvious: upward concentration of wealth, and therefore power. There’s another chart you should look at, this one in the Pew Research Center report called “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class” (, which shows that in 1970, middle-income families accounted for 62 percent of all income, and the upper-income for 29 percent, and now those figures are 45 and 46 percent respectively. That’s right, the rich as a whole now collect more income than the middle class as a whole for the first time. And every indication is that this gap will grow larger and larger as well.

The benefits of increases of productivity have not been equitably shared. Unemployment rises as the remaining workers are forced to do more with fewer resources (see “Nasrudin’s Donkey,” April 2011) as corporate profits approach record levels.

I think the solution is obvious: workers must reduce their productivity.

Meet Joe Schweik. Schweik, like Ayn Rand’s John Galt, is a fictional construct. I base him on Josef Svejk, the title character from the novel “The Good Soldier Svejk,” by Czech author Jaroslav Hasek, who drew on his own experiences as a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI. In the novel, Svejk frustrates the attempts of his Austrian superiors to control him, not by overt resistance, but a combination of apparent cooperation and sheer imbecility. I’ll put it this way: Yossarian, Gomer Pyle, Beetle Bailey and Hawkeye Pierce all owe a little something to Josef Svejk. Let’s say that our “Joe Schweik” is Josef’s great-grandson, an “ordinary Joe,” if you will, just trying to make a living here in 21st-century America.

The name “Schweikism” has come to be applied to a certain kind of passive resistance, wherein one appears to cooperate on the surface, but actually hinders the operation of an oppressive system in a thousand tiny ways. It’s related to “work-to-rule” slowdowns, but is not as blatant. It requires its practitioners to be both creative and subtle—“innocent as doves, but clever as serpents” (to quote a well-known first-century community organizer from Palestine). Ideally, it is not even noticeable until, at some point, the leaders of the society realize that nothing has worked out quite the way they planned.