Summary: In this remarkable essay Ian Welsh goes to the heart of Western political conflict. Many posts on the FM website discuss the social dynamic driving western political evolution for centuries. This simple, clear description cuts thru the fog cast by the news media and points the way to a better future for America. If we choose to pursue it.
“There’s class warfare, all right. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
— Warren Buffet, quoted in the New York Times, 26 November 2006.
By Ian Welsh at his website, 9 May 2017.
Posted with his generous permission.
This was explained to me by Stirling Newberry years ago. The middle class, can, broadly speaking, align with the rich or with the poor.
If it aligns with the rich, the policies it favors benefit the rich exponentially more than they do the middle class. Tax cuts went primarily to the rich, by magnitudes, for example. Real estate prices rising faster than wages made some middle class families rich, but benefited the rich magnitudes more than the middle class.
Money translates almost directly to power in capitalist societies and even more directly in capitalist democracies without adequate corruption controls (which is almost all of them). The rich become powerful faster than the middle class and ultimately the policies they favor do not include keeping the middle class healthy: The rich want low wages, “flexible” labour laws, bankruptcy laws that favor their interests but not that of the middle class, plenty of financialized rent streams, and so on.
The first generation to make the devil’s bargain with the rich can benefit, maybe even some of the second, mind you. A lot of “Reagan Democrats” won–they sold their houses, and they retired to some place sunny with cheap brown labor to wipe their bums in their senescence. But their kids are saddled with huge debt, make less money than their parents at every stage of their lives, and can’t afford to buy houses or even pay rent anywhere decent.
If the middle class sides with the poor, on the other hand, almost everything they do also helps the middle class. Poor people with money spend that money, and wage increases are much more useful to the middle class than capital gains because they are durable. And policies which reduce the size of the working class and poor, make the middle class bigger and stronger. The working class, absent a huge swell in their numbers, are no threat to the middle class.
Ironically, the working class and poor are a threat to the middle class precisely when the middle class aligns themselves with the rich, because that swells the number of the poor and makes them desperate. It also knocks a lot of middle and upper class down (the upper class is not the rich, they are its direct servants, plus a few others), and those people are angry and know how the system works.
The middle class not only justifies its existence ethically by helping the poor, doing so safeguards its own existence.
The right thing to do, ethically, is almost always the right thing to do in policy terms. Those who believe otherwise almost always pay a frightful price for their attempt to be clever in service to their greed and selfishness.
“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.”
— Marcus Aurelius, in the film “Gladiator” (2000).
About the author
Ian Welsh has been blogging since 2003. He was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in Pogge.ca and BlogsCanada.
He is an editor, writer and social media consultant who currently lives in Toronto. See his website.
For More Information
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about populism, about neoliberalism, about class war, about reforming America: steps to new politics, and especially these…
- Why the 1% is winning, and we are not.
- Back to the future in New America: our new class structure.
- Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.
- Populism arises amidst American workers abandoned by both Left & Right.
- Important: A picture of America, showing a path to political reform.
Books to help understand our class war.
To understand the coming reformation of American politics I suggest starting with David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism and Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016).