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OWS And The New Class War

Megan McArdle has a wonderfully meaty post at the Atlantic on the complicated class and status issues that are increasingly reverberating in American politics today.  At this point, the noisiest divide isn’t between the working class and the plutocrats; it’s between the upper-upper middle class and the lower-upper middle class.  The bankers and the successful professionals continue to do reasonably well, but those who want to do ‘creative’ and ‘world changing’ work (in the academy, in government, in the non profits) face grim times.

Read the whole thing.

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  • Anthony

    WRM, McArdle’s piece appears to be intimating a self-valuation problem not a capitalism problem per se as she distills differences between employed/unemployed/underemployed Americans.

  • SteveMG

    That’s a heckuva post by McArdle. The best of blogging.

    And a good companion piece by Kenneth Anderson that she builds on. Although Prof. Anderson can be a bit tough to read (plodding writing, anyone?). And I’m not sure the “new class breakdown” explanation really works but it’s a start.

  • Mike M.

    I believe much of the so-called class war reflected in OWS is a much a generational war as a class war – part of what WRM has described in earlier essays as the “War against the Young”.

    Part of the reason why so many of today’s college graduates can’t get a good job is because the demand for the skills they learned in school is drying up, but a big part of it is also because the Baby Boomers can’t retire, because they wasted so much of what should be their retirement fund.

  • SteveMG

    I believe much of the so-called class war reflected in OWS is a much a generational war as a class war

    Economics is a large part of it (and the wealth transfer to the older generation) but having re-read Anderson’s piece I think social status also plays a role. Perhaps more than the economics.

    It’s not just that the OWS don’t have jobs; they don’t have the “right” jobs and the status that they want that comes from those “right” jobs. Anderson calls it the “Virtue Industries”.

    If Washington came up with a massive jobs program – hundreds of billions in infrastructure building – would the OWS crowd be satisifed with that type of employment?

    Anderson thinks not. I tend to agree.

  • McDonnell

    @Mike M. The Baby Boomers’ have your job, your FICA withholdings, and make up a large percentage of the faculty and staff of the university you attended, for which you’re paying your large note.

    And who’ll have the political demographics in their favor for the next 30 years or so?

    Rather than sitting in the snow in Zuccotti park, I’d be securing passage on the next freighter to Asia.

  • Corlyss

    Since the OWS people are appropriating to themselves the economic pain of the world, it’s interesting to note that they, the OWS people, are among the 1% as calculated on a world per capita basis, which is @ $34,000 roughly.

  • gooch mango

    @SteveMG And I agree with the two of you.

    My only quibble is with his characterization of these jobs as a part of the “Virtue Industries”. That virtue is only a veneer. These jobs would be better seen as “National Management”; the allure of these jobs is the power, not the “virtue”.

    Go ahead… check out any of the more in-depth stories about OWS. You’ll find protester after protester saying things like:

    “I want to make a difference.”
    “I want a job that matters.”
    “I want to make the world a better place.”

    At first blush, these seem admirable… noble even. But implicit in these dreams is one large, unstated, and ugly desire… “I want to outrank the common folk. I want to have a bigger say than them.” These are not the dreams of small-d democrats, these are the longings of wannabe aristocrats. They did their part and got their tickets punched every step up the academic ladder, and now they want their just rewards — a place on the fast track to the top. Power and perks — now please.

    I am not naive enough to believe there will soon (or ever) be a truly classless society, I recognize the need for an elite of some sort. But if we are to have one, I’d rather it be built from the ranks of the successful (real world, not just the prep work), with at least a nod toward wisdom, virtue, and morality… all thing that our universities are ill-equipped to impart.

  • Luke Lea

    John McWhorter and Glen Loury have a provocative discussion of this issue over at Among the points they raise, McWhorter says OWS is unlikely to be successful because they won’t be able to “threaten the vote.” By that he means they are all going to vote for Obama anyway. To which I responded:

    “Cannot threaten the vote? Well, how about a 3rd party candidate, somebody like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has good OWS credentials and would be guaranteed to syphon off enough votes to insure a Republican victory (remember Ross Perot? Ralph Nader) and who would in effect extract firm written pledges in the form of a new Democratic Platform (this is where the political economists come in) or else refuse to pull out. His basic campaign speech would just be a repeat of the one he gave from the Senate floor a couple of years back. Some might call that blackmail. I’d call it good democratic politics.”

    Glen raises a different point, that OWS needs to “refine the indictment.” My answer:

    “I too have a quibble with the way OWS frames the indictment. My quibble is this: it isn’t the top 1% who are so different than you and me. It’s the top .01% or, roughly speaking, the 10,000 wealthiest families in America (together with their counterparts overseas). These are the families that NYT financial reporter David Cay Johston labels <a href="—Everybody/dp/1591840694/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320244827&sr=1-1&quot; because they bankroll both political parties and thereby control the political agenda, on issues of trade, immigration, and tax policy particularly.

    Why is this distinction important? Well, mainly because you don’t want to multiply your opponents unnecessarily. There’s quite a difference between families with a net worth around $5 million and those whose net worths are $50 million and up.

    In the first place the first group generally pays its taxes. The second group does does not. According to Johnson as of 1996 they escaped paying roughly $300 billion annually which they legally owe. (It’s no doubt a good deal more than that now — enough, in fact, to close the annual budget deficit of our federal government in ordinary years.)

    How do they do it? Principally by concealing most of their incomes in a nest of shell corporations and overseas tax havens, using a small army of lawyers and tax accountants to bring it all off. Plus of course by buying off both political parties, thereby making sure our elected officials don’t even think about sicking the IRS on them in any serious or systematic way. That NYT reporter spells it all out, and so does this guy.

    Those million families worth $5 million on the other hand are, thanks to inflation, today’s haute bourgeoisie. They are your typical Main Street business people, local merchants, small factory owners, the decayed descendants of former wealth.

    Now the fact is these Main Street millionaires don’t wield near the influence on our political process as the super-rich do. Which leads to the question: How can we identify members of that more exclusive elite?

    Well, there are only about 200 of them per state on the average. It is not a big group, and if you’ve lived very long in any typical metropolitan area in America you can probably name half of them just by reading the local society pages. They “are” local society for all intents and purposes. You can even find out where they live if you just ask around (hint, hint).

    But if instead of targeting this creme de la creme you target the million or so families who compose the haute beorgeosie, then you are asking for a lot of unnecessary trouble. Particularly if your idea is to make them “pay” for the sins of their betters.

    These people will fight you with every fiber of their being and, based on historical experience, will probably prevail. For which reason their betters will be more than happy to encourage you in your misguidedness, the bigger guys hiding behind the littler ones as they always have.

    Bottom line: Know your enemy. That’s the first rule of war, including class war. And that, dear protesters, is the sum and substance of my quibble. Change those signs to 99.99%!”

    I also make a couple of suggestions for new forms of civil disobedience, suggestions that may skirt the bounds of permissable speach, so I won’t post them here. Readers will find them in the forum under the moniker of BornAgainDemocrat.

    Meanwhile I half expect the FBI to knock on my door most any day now. When they do I’ll scream for the ACLU! 😉

  • Luke Lea

    On a more civil note, readers who don’t know him will be interested Adair Turner’s analysis of what’s going on. His Lionel Robbins Memorial Lectures last year at LSE can’t be beat. Here are the links:

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