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July 08, 2014

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From Arse To Elbow

The Easy Street of the old City was largely the prerogative of partners, not the more humble middle-class employees. Those partners weren't edged out by changing norms, they sold out to US firms.

I'm sceptical that the "easy middle-class life" has gone. Large businesses are awash with overpaid and supernumerary IT, marketing and HR types. Times change: liquid lunches, like desktop ashtrays, were the product of a predominantly male environment. Now we have digital gossip and cat memes.

Churm Rincewind

As usual, I'm lost. Certainly there was a time when the middle class professions provided rewards only distantly connected with effort, expertise, ability, formal qualifications and any other conventional metric, though it's a hell of a leap to suggest that this allowed "pederasts to thrive" (how so?).

Yet you seem to regret the passing of this era as "the degradation of middle class jobs".

Bring it on, say I.

Socialism In One Bedroom

I continually ask myself that if technology can make coal miners or postmen a relic of a bygone age then why do accountant still exist, when really computers were designed to cope with numbers!

We should welcome the fact that machines are replacing humans and the quicker they replace the middle class the better, but we should despair that capitalism is still around to make the process a most unpleasant one.

Brett

@Churm Rincewind

It was definitely always more of a special privilege for select groups of the population (particularly white men) than any sort of broad rule, and the reduced hustle likely had to do with higher marginal taxes and less competition from foreign banks and nonbank financial firms.

That said, it's definitely not a good thing that they're working crazy hours, because we know from years and years of study that you get major drop-offs in productivity if people go over 8 hours of work in a day (for creative folk it's only six hours), and mass overtime is something you can only use sparingly. We need to encourage firms to hire more people and spread out the work.

Richard

Are the mad hours due to increased salaries (or vice-versa)?

I'm aware for example that junior lawyers had significant relative pay increases prior to the most recent recession: was this perhaps compensation for a less leisurely regime?

Mark

I have been a long time reader of this blog, +/- 6 years. It has always been interesting, but I think this is just about the most interesting thing that has been written. Really only to paraphrase what you say here, it seems as it welfare derived from consumption has increased in the last 30 years, but welfare derived from production has been on the wane. And in other words, are the Porsche and Ray-bans really worth being treated appallingly by your employers?

erik

this was certainly a thought-provoking post. i wondered if you would be willing, in future posts, to perhaps explore the dimensions of intergenerational justice. There are the more tangible issues of the debate such as pensioners not having benefits cut during osborne's reign of austerity , while university students are emerging with the highest debt levels in a generation. there are also, however, more implicit issues in this debate: taxes for greenhouse gases, while they may be a useful tool in addressing climate change, also fall squarely on generations that bear more debt, face worse job prospects, and have worse pension security than the generation before them. Indeed, I think there should be a pension 'tax' on pensioners who essentially benefited from climate change, while leaving the bill for future generations to pick up.

Blissex

«people slightly older than me who had a degree had an easy passage to a comfortable job,»

The number of graduates *per cohort* has grown from around 4-5% to around 45%. Note: this was largely due to the constant attempts by governments of both sides to drive down the *reported* unemployment figures, one way or another.

Once most degrees were a meal ticket to a well paid middle class job; today the most degrees from the top 10-15% universities area a meal ticket to a well paid middle class job.

Middle class jobs are a positional good, usually around the top 10-20% of the income spectrum. This has not changed, even if competition has increased and hours have become longer, but they have always been long.

Middle *income* jobs are working class, and as argued, working class jobs have probably improved over time;

Even if the lower middle income working class jobs become significantly worse paid (probably mostly because of immigration and expansion of female employment) and most middle income working class salaries have not grown in real terms (probably again because of immigration, but also offshoring).

Strategist

as argued, working class jobs have probably improved over time

Hmm. Worth having a closer think about. Not all working class jobs used to be in coal mines. Supermarket check out staff used to get a chair to sit on; now, they've taken them away. It like some form of sadism.

Production line jobs have been moved from here to the Far East, where I'm betting the conditions today are worse than they used to be here in the 70s.

rogerh

The message is clear, get a job on a quango or a think tank or a committee. Become an adviser or a consultant or a regulator to regulate regulators who do not regulate. Become a box ticker to allow a harassed doctor or other serious professional to continue working a little longer. These are the things an ingenious middle class person will do, squeeze into the new parasitic professions.

For the rest, emigrate or become a robot repair person or a JCB driver (secure) or an HGV driver (less secure) or a plumber and learn to hold your tongue when the box tickers turn up. To resist is futile, all sales of piano wire are closely monitored.

tony yates

Provocative. I finally encounter someone else who followed the labour process debate. Have to confront the fact, as you hint, that skill-baised technological change has in general favoured the middle classs over the last 30 years. Journalism seems from the outside to have been degraded also by not being able to get drunk at lunchtime, by having to maintain blogs and tweets alongside regular outputs, and by the intense competition from free stuff like this.

Blissex

«to allow a harassed doctor or other serious professional to continue working a little longer.»

Those harassed professionals, in the traditional middle class roles as doctors, dentists, lawyers, chartered accountants, charge £200-£400 an hour gross and their incomes have been growing at a nice inflation beating clip, largely thanks to government policy.

Sometimes I suspect that various governments have concluded that only the middle classes and the rich, the top 10-20% of the population, are really politically active, and they stuff their mouth with gold, as one of them said a long ttime ago. They keep the lowest 80% of the population in line with the cheaper methods of low cost loans, and the constant fear of unemployment and divorce (for men).

Socialism In One bedroom

"Sometimes I suspect that various governments have concluded that only the middle classes and the rich, the top 10-20% of the population, are really politically active, and they stuff their mouth with gold, as one of them said a long ttime ago."

I suspect they all send their kids to the same schools, i.e. politicians are a part of the middle classes they stuff with gold!

dBonar

Funny. If we were talking about the rich having to work harder we would be saying good riddance to their rentier behavior. Because it is the middle class -- where most of us came form and / or aspire to be -- we bemoan it as sad change for the worse in the world.

joe

Folks have concentrated on middle class professionals but there was once a huge number of non-graduate middle firm employees who knew their industries well from beginning and working up from the shop floor. They impressed customers with the ability to solve their problems as they had seen it all before. With hard work and perseverance it was possible to rise to the very top.

Then came the managerial nonsense of flat structures (ie no hope of real promotion) and "teams". No one in the "team" had to know very much as you could always call yet another meeting to brainstorm the "bleeding obvious". If a customer asked a "technical" question there was another tech team who bluffed an incomprehensible response for the asking team. The middle core that made a firm an intelligent customer or client has almost completely gone.

Meanwhile, failed CEOs float from one failure to the next as only they can "command" the sort of salary other fools have paid them. Any particular skills or knowledge is optional.

I think the near total lack of hope of career advancement is the real killing factor for the "middle" classes.

NoniMausa

I used to be a middle class professional in an engineering office here in central Canada. We used to go out for lunch (no alcohol, though,) two or three times a week. We had great teamwork among capable people, careers were long, staff were experienced and trained and highly respected, retirements comfortable and predictable.

What did we give back to the community? Those lunches paid other peoples' salaries. Our workdays were negotiable, and several of us were active in the United Way and other charities. When flooding or other natural disasters struck, we were told en masse that we could go volunteer to help build and protect the dikes. We had sick days accumulated over the course of a year and could also negotiate hours and times to take care of sick or injured family members. Our comfortable retirees spent into the economy, rather than ending up as poor, jobless elderly.

If that wasn't enough, our company, a crown corporation licensed by the province, provided some of the cheapest, highest quality electrical power in North America. Our comfortable salaries and benefits didn't dent the utility of our work, and that state of affairs persisted for many decades.

The halo of wellbeing our company used to cast began to be diminished in the early 90s, with a conservative government and a plague of consultants started chipping away at "extras" like raises, and began to introduce a practice of jobbing out work to subcontractors. Our halo has been dimmed, but is anyone measuring it? The loss is real, but since it is in the economic groundwater it is hard to demonstrate.

Noni

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