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February 22, 2014

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Shinsei1967

Surely it is the definition of what constitutes "middle class" that is changing. The well-off middle class doctors, head teachers, mid-ranking civil servants of the 1970s are being replaced by even better-off middle class IT executives, finance types and internet consultants.

The people doing these jobs haven't changed (the well-educated middle classes) it's just that Oxbridge maths grads have better paid careers available today than being a maths teacher back in 1972.

And I'd question your point about lawyers. Back in the 70s there were a few superstar commercial QCs, plenty of Rumpoles and masses of "country solicitors". These days there are thousands of middle class City lawyers earning investment banker salaries at Clifford Chance or Linklaters - jobs that just weren't available forty years ago.

Sure, they can't afford 5 bedroom houses in the nice areas of London, but that's a shortage of housing issue not one that "middle classes" don't earn what they used to earn.

www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=634170297

Maybe I'm imagining it but I'm seeing more articles saying things like....

"I'm a graduate, I work for a minimum wage, I don't moan about it and I'm sick of the snobs who think they're to good to copy me" (a new version of scabbery)

or "aren't the indigenous paroles awful - they won't throw themselves heart-and-soul into working for me in the way these highly educated Lithuanians do."

So I think you're right on both counts here.

BruceK

'such talk seems to vindicate - with a lag of 166 years! - something Marx and Engels wrote:...'

But there are none so deaf as those who don't want to hear.

George Hallam

“there's a big difference between being objectively working class and recognizing that you are.”

I agree. Classes exist objectively independently of people’s consciousness of them. But then you go on and spoil your argument by quoting Adam Przeworski:
“Classes are not a datum prior to the history of concrete struggles.”

This turns things on its head. Przeworski is saying that classes don’t exist until people organise and fight as a class. This makes people’s consciousness (i.e. their will to unite and fight) prior to the formation of a class.

It gets worse:
“Social reality is not given directly through our senses.”

Not in my experience. I find that I can’t take things from shops without paying for them. To do this I need ‘money’ in my ‘bank account’. These social reality can be verified through our senses.

“As Marx said, and as Gramsci was fond of repeating, it is in the realm of ideology that people become conscious of social relations.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gramsci came out with some such nonsense. I’m not sure that Marx did.

Chris

In America, where capitalist ideology has been promoted as essential to the national culture for 60-odd years, they call the working class the "middle class".

Leslie48

George is attempting to under emphasize the role of ideas/ideology/hegemony but European Neo-Marxists for the last 60+ years and often inspired by the Italian Gramsci have sought to claim that it is ( ideology) which explains the working classes compromise and accommodation with the plutocracy and its capitalism.

Gramsci argued it was always a tension, a compromise which could breakdown depending on how conscious the working class became of their objective position. In England the Tory Tabloids came into being to keep the workers and unemployed happy, uncritical and suspicious of Labour. Generally most of the time its worked & workers collude with their subordination. The left as Gramsci showed has to be counter-hegemonic because the working class do see some glimpses of the real nature of the system for example the bankers bonuses now being revealed in terms of many billions while others in the branches will face benefits soon.

From Arse To Elbow

I think the source of current middle-class anxiety is partly to do with stock, i.e. the fear that the class is shrinking due to structural pressures, and partly to do with flow, hence the ideological importance of "mobility" and the decline thereof in recent pop sociology.

"Middle class" is perhaps better thought of as a verb (a process of becoming, striving etc) than a noun. The ahistorical power of the Marx/Engels quote is that it encapsulates the terror of expulsion: the process going into reverse.

What this suggests is that the children of Thatcher, who turned their faces from the destruction of working class communities in the 80s, now fear that their turn is coming, as the "forces of history" (offshoring, robots) make them increasingly redundant and the lower rungs of the ladder (education, well-paid entry-level jobs) are increasingly restricted to the offspring of the rich.

It is ironic that this late enthusiasm for dialectical materialism occurs at the same time that official ideology insists on the moral explanation for success and failure. This tension is, pace George Hallam, proof that Gramsci was not wrong. This is not just a food bank; it's an M&S food bank.

Blissex

«And the person on a "middle class" salary who faces an insecure future and domineering boss lacks power. He is, objectively, working class.»

Indeed, but not "objectively". Just "working class" period.

«the definition of what constitutes "middle class" that is changing. The well-off middle class doctors, head teachers, mid-ranking civil servants of the 1970s are being replaced by even better-off middle class IT executives, finance types and internet consultants.»

There is a huge confusion between income (and/or culture) and class, as a result of (quite deliberate I think) obfuscation by the psych cold-war corps, as this more perceptive comment hints:

«In America, where capitalist ideology has been promoted as essential to the national culture for 60-odd years, they call the working class the "middle class".»

Class properly defined is about *functional* position in the production system, not income or education.

There are 3 main classes: proprietors, advisors and agents of proprietors, and workers for proprietors. They also differ in the degree of their work autonomy: proprietors make their own policies, advisors and agents have limited power of initiative within policies set by proprietors, and workers do what they are told.

The same individual can belong in different classes in different degrees; for example a barrister is middle class because she advises proprietors, but also a proprietor of a business in that she owns a valuable professional qualification that represents in large part the capital with which she is in business.

What the propaganda calls "middle class" is instead middle income (and usually middle education) workers with usually no or little decisional autonomy.

And almost anywhere in the first-world economies middle income people are working class, the top 10-20% by income at most are middle class, and the top 1-0.5% at most are proprietors, properly speaking.

In the UK it is hard to be considered middle class with a combined family income of less than £100-150k/year.

«ideology will prevent the "middle class" from identifying solidaristically with other members of the working class.»

It is not just ideology, expressed as mean, petty spite against the rest of the working class. It is also *residential property*.

A large chunk of the middle-income bracket in the South East have seen massive, tax free capital gains on their residential property nearly double their after-tax income for over two decades. They fancy themselves to be ladies of the manor, living off the income of their capital. It is the "F*ck YOU! I got mine" tory bulge bracket.

They believe, they wish, they were on the same social plane as the real ladies of the manor.

Their fear is to end like the "middle class" of the North and Scotland, largely wiped out by the neglect if not hostility of central English government. That near-wiping out is why in the North and Scotland even the surviving middle income or middle class voters don't vote Conservative: they know on whose side the Conservatives are.

As I often repeat, in the hope that nobody reads this far into my comments, some conservative think-tank in the 1970s proved conclusively that people who own property, cars and shares vote far more to the right of people of the same income and education who rent, use public transport, and have pensions.

The past decades have proven just how true that is.

Blissex

«the children of Thatcher, who turned their faces from the destruction of working class communities in the 80s, now fear that their turn is coming,»

More precisely the destruction of the working class *and* middle class jobs in the North in the 80s. What people often forget is that even the middle classes of the North got pauperized by the policy of letting the North sink.

Thatcher's adorers are those South East people who went long residential property also thanks to Right-To-Buy to become ladies and lords of the mini-manor just as Thatcher and Blair boosted an oil-fuelled massive credit bubble to drive up residential property prices to buy their votes.

«(offshoring, robots) make them increasingly redundant and the lower rungs of the ladder (education, well-paid entry-level jobs) are increasingly restricted to the offspring of the rich.»

I think that is not quite happening yet, even if there is some anxiety.

Perhaps they dimly feel that now the North Sea oil is no longer a support to exports the London based ruling classes will let the South East sink too as keeping it going with credit bubbles become unaffordable.

My impression is that the English establishment (David, George, Boris, ...) are well briefed on possible future scenarios and have decided that their best hope is to turn London into an offshore "grey" money laundering centre like Dubai or HongKong, a refuge for the guilty rich of the world, with the South East sliding into poverty along with the North and both as sources of cheap servants to the London affluent, in competition with further away places, like it used to be in the glory days. Some tories want to move forward to the 19th century, some to the 18th.

The Economist, which is very aligned, famously wrote that London and in particular its financial sector (the City) was the only potential source of "good jobs" in the future for the children of its readers, implying that the rest of the UK would not have "good jobs". Good insight...

Also that's talking about a very small number of "good jobs", obviously the comment was addressed only to the London centred establishment.

Magpie

This will not gain me any new friends. Hell, chances are it will make me even less popular than I already am (particularly among the petit bourgeois, so-called progressive), but what the hell.

Call it schadenfreude if you like, but as a really poor bastard (bottom 20% in Oz), I can't say my heart bleeds for the middle class, in the U.K. or elsewhere.

But I'll give you an unsolicited advice. You better try something more forceful than Lucy Mangan's prescription:

"We need to use our remaining capital – both social and financial – to demand change from governments, to avoid tax-evading and semi-monopolistic companies and shop at smaller, more local shops who still use humans rather than automata, and to set up local educational and financial institutions that better suit our needs. Set up a new game, with new rules."

"Shop at smaller, more local shops"! Like, wow!

rogerh

Are most architects, academics and accountants useful? I suggest not, architects have been replaced by engineers with CAD screens - one or two architects are needed to draw pretty pictures and schmooze clients, the rest get the push. Accountancy meant bookkeeping plus tax manipulation and computers do the bookkeeping - same path as architects.

By 'academic' do we mean 'teacher' - really a production line job with the status that implies. How many academics are really capable of research that delivers economic benefit and how many just rake over the same old dead bones? How many Jane Austen studies PhDs do you need to generate £1Bn GDP? The middle class is finding out that the world will no longer pay for dilettantes.

Solidarity between the descending middle class and White Van persons and plumbers? I don't think so, in who's best interest would that be. As a practical matter withdrawal of labour is no longer a weapon for most and 'walls have ears' to defeat other methods.

Bernie G.

As one of Thatcher’s children and not in any sense of the word rich (I can pay the rent), we made sure our kids (age range 22-36) acquired skills and disciplines that make them employable. Everyone is in work and doing well. None aspire to live in Chelsea or upmarket Oxford, albeit all have ambitious but realistic aspirations for both themselves and their children. Class never enters the conversation, though John Prescott once assured me we were all middle class now.

Socialism In One Bedroom

I tend to dismiss the idea of a middle class totally. There is the ruling class and their sycophantic lackeys - known in some circles as the middle class (includes accountants, doctors, lawyers etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc.

Then there are the working classes who toil to enrich the ruling class and work to serve them and their lackeys (cheap foreign labour is great for accountants, doctors, lawyers, who employ cleaners etc).

Finally there are the structural victims of the system, inevitable in a world of kleptocracy, where some earn in a week what others will never earn. These people have been called the lumpen proles by some (but not by me).

I am still waiting for the computer to make accountants redundant, that day can not come soon enough.

Trofim

"I am still waiting for the computer to make accountants redundant, that day can not come soon enough".

I'm waiting for robots to make work redundant. That'll be the day. They did promise in the 60's that by now we'd all work a 3 hour week. I've been waiting ever since.

Socialism In One Bedroom

But that specific robot doesn't yet exist but the computer, well computes, and of all the professions that you would think would be troubled by the rise of computer power it would be the accountants. Yet they remain, and the postmen disappear...

Blissex

«There is the ruling class and their sycophantic lackeys - known in some circles as the middle class»

I guess that you have seen O'Toole's excellent and very funny movie "The ruling class":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ruling_Class

Blissex

«And almost anywhere in the first-world economies middle income people are working class, the top 10-20% by income at most are middle class, and the top 1-0.5% at most are proprietors, properly speaking.
In the UK it is hard to be considered middle class with a combined family income of less than £100-150k/year.»

Some relevant quotes:

http://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/why-the-middle-classes-are-not-as-posh-as-they-used-to-be/
«In 1995, 95th percentile earners could afford to live almost anywhere, with the exception of parts of central London and the posher bits of the stockbroker belt. But by 2012, they were priced out of much of London and large areas of the South East, as well as desirable second home areas like North Cornwall.
A study by Brian Bell and Stephen Machin for the FT has found that a gulf is opening up in the earnings of middle-class professionals, with a small number of very wealthy people pulling ahead of all the rest. In many professions, mean earnings have fallen below the 90th percentile over the last 35 years.»

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2561233/Middle-class-professionals-squeezed-pay-race-City-boom.html
«The shift means those in traditionally middle class jobs are no longer guaranteed a place in the top ten per cent of earners.
Many can no longer afford to educate their children privately and send them to state schools instead.
It also means the days of finance professionals, engineers, doctors and teachers living side-by-side in similar homes sending their children to the same schools are well and truly over.
The research, published by the Financial Times, also revealed a considerable North-South divide in earnings.
Almost two-thirds of the top earners now live in London and the South East – up from half 40 years ago.»
Professor Bell told the newspaper: «‘Forty years ago there were very well-paid people around the country in manufacturing and they have all vanished. If you want to earn £1million it is difficult not to live in London.’»

George Hallam

"George is attempting to under emphasize the role of ideas/ideology/hegemony but European Neo-Marxists for the last 60+ years and often inspired by the Italian Gramsci have sought to claim that it is ( ideology) which explains the working classes compromise and accommodation with the plutocracy and its capitalism."

Thank you Leslie48, it's always nice to told what one is thinking.

If you read my post carefully you would have noticed that it wasn't about the role of ideology in explaining "the working classes compromise".

I was merely pointing out the problems that arise from saying:

a) "Classes are not a datum prior to the history of concrete struggles" which I take to mean that classes don't exist "in themselves", they can only exist through consciousness.

b)"Social reality is not given directly through our senses". Translation: we can't 'know' social reality except as a mental construct.

Thank you also for informing me about the intellectual history of the last 60 years.

As it happens I have been around for longer than that so for me it doesn't seem like history. I heard of Gramsci some time ago, before he became fashionable, would you believe. I've also spent quite a long time studying his work.

George Hallam

"This tension is, pace George Hallam, proof that Gramsci was not wrong."

The big problem with Gramsci was not so much that he was wrong as that he was seriously incoherent.

It's like the question, "What do you get if you cross a sociologist with a member of the Mafia?" ... "An offer you can't understand."

Staberinde

It wasn't so long ago Chris was blogging about young people enjoying the riches of consumerism (like iPads and Game Of Thrones HD) while losing access to things like cheap foreign holidays, pensions and home ownership.

So the opiates of the masses are certainly much improved - perhaps these are simply better at occluding class consciousness than the tools available in Marx's time?

One might also posit that people in office jobs are at least not risking their lives down pits, and that the existence of welfare and the NHS means that subscribing to a revolutionary ideology risks a range of certainties and comforts. If we look at many recent popular uprisings around the world, the common theme isn't just mass poverty and inequality (and the poverty and inequality seen in Libya, Syria, and Ukraine are in no way comparable to anything seen in the UK), but also liberty.

For the UK's self-defining lower middle class, the issue is whether change (towards the Left) will give them and their children more or less opportunity. I don't think the Left's narrative supports the former - if you identify as middle class, you surely understand that redistribution of wealth, opportunity and power will take from you and give to those you perceive to be lower on the rung.

Ivan Petkov

Beware of the average monsters.

To tell you the truth I do not like horror movies. But from the ones I have seen the whole script is around some kind of a monster. All these horrible creatures rarely have something in common but they are rather unique. Now try this: suppose you got the Predator, the Alien, Godzilla, Dracula and Jason – how would the average monster look like – ohhhh it will be a rather funny and grotes.

Now in your everyday life you are been bombed with all kinds of average statistics. Journalists use them, politics use them and your boss use them.

Average salary, average IQ, average results and of course the average person. The average person on earth is 1.8m tall, has 110 IQ, earns 5000$ per year, have one and a half child, is half Chinese half Indian and is half man half woman. What a monster!!!

The most dangerous average monsters are the ones in areas where results are not equally distributed. These should be areas like wealth, internet traffic, cities sizes, areas burned by fires and other social phenomena’s.

Do not get me wrong, average numbers have meaning but mostly when mentioned with things that are distributed normally like people height, IQ, health, school grades, sunny days and etc.

Consider a big sample of wealth of random people. No consider the same sample but with Bill Gates in it. How would the average wealth change?

Consider a big sample of random people’s IQ. No consider the same sample but with Einstein in it. How would the average IQ change?

http://blog.wealthoz.com/global-wealth-with-numbers-2/

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