Tag Archives: social class

A picture of America, showing a path to political reform

Summary: As we start a New Year and end this series about resolutions, here is a summary of American politics as I see them. It points the way to reform and a better future, if we are willing to pay the price.

American Power

 

Time has disproved most of Marx’s economics, but it has validated much of his sociology. As income inequality has returned to the peak of the Gilded Age (and still rising), the class structure has returned.

Marx’s schema of the classes accurately described 19th century society, but George Orwell gave us a model of a class structure that better fits modern America. There is the bourgeois, the top few percent who own most of America (the 1% own over a third; the top 3% over half). There is the inner party, the highly paid senior leaders of our political, non-profit, and business institutions. There is the outer party of managers, small business-people, and professionals. There are the proles, America’s workers, and the underclass.

Our elites

The bourgeois and inner party are America’s insiders. They have a common interest in preserving the political and social systems that have given them so much, so most are conservative in the literal meaning of the term. They might like to tinker on a small scale, shifting America to the Left or Right — but not radical change. They have leisure time, autonomy, security, and agency (the ability to influence events), which gives them a perspective on the world radically different than that of the lower classes (everybody else).

People in the upper classes prefer to marry within their class, just they in Pride and Prejudice. The professional and managerial classes call it “associative mating“. The rich marry each other; they call it “good sense”. That is why Elizabeth Bennet could not marry Mr. Darcy (nor could your daughter). Like their Gilded Age forbearers, they live on a scale almost unimaginable to the lower orders. Bill Gates’ palace is 6,000 sq ft larger than Hearst Castle.

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An anthropologist looks at America’s growing proletariat

Summary: Here anthropologist Maximilian Forte looks at America’s changing social structure (the rise of the 1%, death of the middle class) using perspectives from Rome, Marx, and modern identity politics. It’s one of his best essays, worthwhile reading about America’s most serious problem (fracturing our social cohesion, making solutions of the others difficult or impossible).  This is the material that should shape Campaign 2016.

Proletariat

 

The Ultimate Proletarian and
the Neoliberal Condition

By anthropologist Maximilian C. Forte.
From Zero Anthropology
Reposted with his generous permission

 

Middle class to proletariat

The word “Proletarian” has acquired many layers of meaning over the centuries, possibly in part because the many, historically changing situations of proletarians became more complex. Since the advent of western European capitalism in the 16th century, proletarians were defined as “members of the lowest class”. By the mid-1800s, they were “the lowest class” composed of “indigent wage-earners”.

For Marxists, proletarians were defined by their relationship to production — they rented out their labour in exchange for a wage, with wages kept lower than the market value of what they produced, and were separated from what they produced since they produced for exchange, and not for their own use. Lenin’s vision of the future involved a dictatorship of the proletariat, in the socialist phase toward communism.However, as anthropologists have argued, there have been many different degrees of autonomous access to resources among rural proletariats worldwide, simultaneously involved in both production for use (subsistence) and for exchange (cash crops). Some advanced the term “polybian” to describe people with multiple sources of income, besides that earned from wage labour.

Finally, Immanuel Wallerstein cautioned that the ultimate aim of capitalism was not the full proletarianization of workers — that is, reduced to a total dependency on wage labour to sustain themselves, because that would ultimately make capitalists responsible for the welfare and reproduction of the workforce. That is hardly the first priority of those committed to the ceaseless accumulation of capital. The ideal is maximum profit, which means wages held as low as possible. One can depress wages when it is known that workers have other sources of sustenance, where either they have their own plots of land where they can grow their own food and/or participate in the so-called informal economy as hucksters.

But when proletarians have no alternate avenues, then the need for “a job” and for wages, is at an absolute maximum. One of the fatal flaws of neoliberalism is that it has reduced a great many of us to exactly this state of total dependency on capitalists, at the same time as they have shirked all social responsibility (minor philanthropic palliatives aside).

Editor’s note: One of the great innovations of the post-WWII is corporations’ pushing wages below sustenance levels, forcing employees onto food stamps and Medicaid.

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When marriage disappears: rising inequality as the threat to the family

Summary:  This post looks at the disintegration of the family, another example of America’s regression as we quietly surrendering generations of gains. The America we loved — relatively classless, with a big middle class, low inequality and high social mobility — dies a little every day. The evidence lies before us, obvious in the news and described by countless studies. But to see it would create pressure to take political action. Work, risk, expense! It’s not too late to reverse these trends, but time is not on our side.

When Marriage Disappears

When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America
The National Marriage Project, U of VA

Introduction

In middle America, marriage is in trouble. Among the affluent, marriage is stable and may even be getting stronger. Among the poor, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. But the most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where marriage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.

For the last few decades, the retreat from marriage has been regarded largely as a problem afflicting the poor. But today, it is spreading into the solid middle of the middle class. …

Race, Class, and Marriage

Forty-five years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan drew the nation’s attention to the growing racial divide in American family life with the release of his report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Moynihan later noted that his report had just captured the first tremors of “the earthquake that shuddered through the American family” over the course of the last half century.

Moynihan was right. This can be seen in Figure S1, which tracks trends in the percentage of working-age adults (25–60) who are in intact marriages, by race and educational attainment. While it is true that the nation’s retreat from marriage started first among African Americans, it is also evident that the retreat from marriage has now clearly moved into the precincts of black and white Middle America.

Specifically, in both the 1970s and the 2000s, blacks in all educational groupings were less likely to be in intact marriage than were their white peers. For both groups, marriage trends were not clearly and consistently stratified by education in the 1970s. However, by the 2000s, they are clearly stratified, such that the most-educated whites and blacks are also the most likely to be in intact marriages, and the least-educated whites and blacks are also the least likely to be in intact marriages.

This report is too rich in insights to summarize. The message and graphs are clear; it’s easy to read. I strongly recommend reading it. Here’s one graph I found especially compelling.

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Are government workers America’s dumbest people?

Summary:  Today a journalist explains that government workers are “America’s dumbest people.” It’s an episode from social media, the stages of our time on which people dance out their values and beliefs. These conversations provide a mirror in which we can see western society, and from which we can deduce the hidden forces molding our society.

Bainbridge Colby on hatred and faction

A conversation about our polarized time

A good story starts with the action. AP: “Federal Government Suffers Massive Hacking Attack“. Next we turn for a reaction from a notable journalists on Twitter, a intelligent person whom I respect. It’s a trivial vignette, but telling about our time (and the 2nd such conversation I had this week on Twitter). He tweets the AP story with this framing…

“Dastardly Chinese discover identity of America’s dumbest people. So what are they going to do with this knowledge?”

This is a commonplace of our time — quite daft but stated as obvious fact even by intelligent, educated people. Much like belief that Bush Jr. is like Hitler, Obama is like Lenin, Blacks are inferior (or degenerates), or 97% of scientists believe that anthropogenic global warming will prove catastrophic by 2100 if not stopped. What happens when these people have their belief questioned?

My reply: “Is that a statement of tribal identity? Does it seem sensible or funny otherwise?” His reply…

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We’re strong and adaptable, but have a problem that might sink America.

Summary:  Today’s post gives a different perspective on the challenge of reforming America. Before we can fix our political machinery we must understand what’s wrong. This post gives a possible explanation.

This blasted itself out of my keyboard late last night. After it went up I divided it into 2 smaller and more focused posts. Tomorrow’s part 2 examines the implications of this diagnosis, and discusses two solutions.

“Stability is in unity.”
— Mencius (372 – 292 BC), Chinese philosopher, a follower of Confucius.

American Reform Party logo

Contents

  1. America’s strengths, & a weakness.
  2. Symptoms of political rigidity.
  3. The cause of our problems.
  4. For More Information.

(1) America’s strengths, and a weakness

Nations thrive over long periods not by luck (or not just luck), but by being adaptive, innovative, and intelligent in their public policy. What nations best deserve that description today? Singapore and the Nordic nations, certainly. Germany, Korea, and China, probably.

Does this describe the USA?  Our business sector has all of these qualities, as does our society with its incredible vitality. This was also true of our political regime — in the past. But somehow, sometime since WWII, our political institutions have become rigid, even stupid.

That’s bad news, since America has a different foundation than most nations. America is its political regime. We’re not defined by ethnicity, religion, economic ideology, or even geography (although many Americans confuse these things with the nation and feel alienated when they change).  We’re like Athens, but more so.

… the soul of the city was the regime, the arrangements of and participation in offices, deliberation about the just and the common good, choices about war and peace, the making of laws. … {Pericles’ famous funeral oration} says nothing about the gods, or the poetry, history, sculpture or philosophy of Athens. He praises its regime and finds beauty in its political achievement …  {From Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind}

It has been the basis for America’s resiliency and power. But it’s a single point of failure: When our political regime weakens, the entire nation weakens.

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What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?

Summary: What is the point of individuals publishing about politics and geopolitics on the internet? These writings — seen as a collective project — tell us much about the current state of the Republic. This post looks at the internet (of which the FM website project is a microcosm) as a mirror of America and draws some useful conclusions. This concludes with the question in the title.

Samuel Adams

Contents

  1. Surveying the scene.
  2. An alternative path to reform.
  3. Results so far.
  4. Reflections on failure.
  5. Other posts on this series.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Surveying the scene

Some, like Mish (Mike Shedlock) at Global Economic Trends and Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism have built profitable websites providing information to communities on the Right and Left respectively.  Perhaps the most successful of these is law professor Glenn Reynolds, who has built a mass audience as the Instapundit. Some bloggers have transition to successful careers, building  their audiences into businessess (e.g, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein). Many academics (e.g., economist Brad Delong and attorney Eugene Volokh) write as a natural extension of their professional work. There are thousands of other websites doing variations of these on a smaller scale.

These are tremendous accomplishments. However, what is the service they provide? They provide entertainment and catharsis for the outer party plus self-expression for the authors. The outer party is politically impotent, but likes to believe themselves otherwise. So they write posts or comments, consume information (becoming well-informed). In effect they become fans cheering and booing political actors.

These websites — posts and comments — seldom point to ways for direct political action, beyond voting or (rarely) contacting elected officials. It’s no longer in many (most?) American’s world view that we have responsibility for the actions of our government, which would mandate our involvement — or even that we have the power to run America, which would imply political action as a personal priority for each of us.

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Complaints about air travel are the cries of a dying middle class

Summary: The airline industry is a tale of New America. Deregulation, cheap fares allowing more people to travel but with increasingly poor service and rising complaints. It’s an oft-told story of stupid people unaware of the consequences to their behavior. But that’s a shallow view that misses the real significance of these trends.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Airlines in the past

 

Contents

  1. Unexpected fruits of deregulation.
  2. Interpreting the whining.
  3. It’s the cry of a dying middle class.
  4. Conclusion: expect more of this.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  Unexpected but logical fruits of airline deregulation

The rollback of the New Deal began with deregulation of the airlines (except for safety) — done by the President who began the conservative revolution, which his successor accelerated: James Carter. This allowed far more people to fly, people formerly limited to buses, trains and cars.  The unexpected side effect: service has slowly and steadily deteriorated. (There are 25 years of data from the Airline Quality Ratings database run for DoT, with many studies of it by experts such as Dean E Headley — but I can find no analysis of the trend over that period — probably for the obvious reason).

Why has service deteriorated while traffic rose (from 191 billion passenger-miles in 1980 to 580 billion in 2012)? It wasn’t the speed of the increase. In the 20 years before deregulation traffic rose over twice as fast as in the 20 years afterwards — with the airlines still providing excellent service. It’s not that the airlines are rapacious and greedy — their industry has an ugly combination of high volatility (in technology, competition, and revenues) and low profitability. During the dark days after 9/11 it was said that the industry had accumulated no net profits since the Wright brothers.

The answer is obvious: customers give their business on the basis of flight convenience and cost. Carriers give people what they want: cheap travel. Since they have no wizards, that means bare bones service — with cycles of cost-cutting, each one clipping off cost and satisfaction. The next cycle features a new class more crowded than economy.

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