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August 11, 2006



Hear, hear.

Tim Worstall

By that definition I’m working class. If 8 people decide they no longer desire my services, I’m stuffed.
Which is rather why I don’t think of the world in Marxian terms. I can’t quite see that a public school educated (yah, boo, I know) degree holder, owner of (an admittedly small) international corporation, with a sideline in freelance writing, can be described as working class.


_ If 8 people decide they no longer desire my services, I’m stuffed._

Clearly, though, it's not a possibility that keeps you awake at night. So you fail the second part of the test.

And on the post:

_Non-Marxists often confuse class with stratification_

Hmm. I think most of the lipstick Leninists make the same mistake.

Tim Worstall

"Clearly, though, it's not a possibility that keeps you awake at night."

It’s something I certainly though long and hard about before remortgaging to buy a place out here.


But isn't the 'does the prospect of losing your job keep you awake at night' test rather subjective, and hence open to people worrying about things they ought not and vice versa? Don't you want some kind of quasi-objectivve notion about your holdings of assets, your chances in the job market, that kind of thing.

dave heasman

So someone working at a very low level for the government, or local government, or a housing association can't be working-class because they only lose their jobs if their organisation jumps through a lot of bureaucratic hoops with more than a few people making the decision?

james C

'For sure, the middle-manager might call himself middle-class. But so what? He can call his cat a dog - but it'll not bark'

No-that is what you are doing when you make up your own meaning for 'working class'.

James C

james higham

Isn't this interesting. I've just done one - how do you rate in society, about the classification methods and I come out in three different classes. I note Tim Worstall's comment and ask further - can one be economically in one class, socially in another and in terms of influence - in a third?

angry economist

I prefer to use my own definition:

- a tattoo
- a dog, probably an alsation or mastiff named "King" or "Lance"; or whippets
- smokes using thumb and forefinger
- flat cap
- get paid in cash
- is an employee, not an employer
- left compulsory education no later than 16

i.e. a bit like Andy Capp

I'm nowhere near being working class on my own terms here...


"You might wonder what the point of my definition is. Simple. It's to draw attention to the fact that class is about power - the working class have less of it than others."

Agree fully, but I always thought this put me on the libertarian side of the left.

David Farrer

Mr Economist:

I've got a First and I wear a flat cap!

I'm an employee, but of my own company. It's got two clients - a public sector one that's based in a beautiful and very spacious Georgian building and a private sector client that's located in a very crowded building in a much less fashionable part of town. The first client pays more than the second but there again my two predecessors took ten days to do what I do in two. I also have investment income generated from when I worked full-time. Am I a worker?

Confused of Edinburgh.


Some people wear a flat cap only to go ratting.

james higham

Firstly, I didn't realize at the point of writing the commnet above that you were linking to my piece, which was on the generally accepted classifications.

"In fact, it seems that many Brits, given the choice, prefer to identify with the class they were born into rather than that which their jobs or income would suggest."

This is so and that explains my belonging, at the one time, to three separate classes. But then we come to Chris' point [and Tim's reply] that it's all to do with losing your job tomorrow.

I don't give a damn about that because I'm self-employed, so where does that leave me? Upper-middle-working- self actualizing-eccentric-naive?

Or would-be-blogger?


I should have made myself clearer. I'm asking: why is class interesting? The stratifications given in James' post are mere taxonomies. I find it no more interesting to say someone is (say) C2 than to say they have green eyes.
For me, if class has any importance, it's because it draws attention to power relationships - which are correlated, if very imperfectly, with income inequalities.
If my definition of "working class" makes Tim working class, then good. It vindicates a point that Marx made - that it's very hard indeed to escape the insecurities that capitalism creates, albeit with offsetting benefits.

james higham

“Could you lose your job because of a decision by a single person (or small group)? Are you worried by this? If you answer "yes" to both, you're working class.”

“By this criterion, a lager-swilling Burberry-wearing Essex self-employed plumber might be less working class than besuited Telegraph-reading…”

“…point of my definition is … that class is about power - the working class have less of it than others…”

Therefore, the Telegraph reader has less power than the self-employed plumber.

If that’s what you’re saying, you’re right but not in terms of cash in the pocket which enables him to have his trips abroad. But the plumber is his own man and happier and that’s another question.

"By that definition I’m working class. If 8 people decide they no longer desire my services, I’m stuffed." Tim

But he has far more visible power than me anyway, who's going to dispense with Tim's services. A guy here just now, head of Apple in the region, went through all this on this site and concluded that Tim indeed has power and is not likely to lose it, due to the 'goodwill' factor.

I'm freer but without power.

What do you think, Chris?


Good point James - I was foolish to overlook the distinction between freedom and power.
Many middle managers have power over underlings, but little control over their own fate. They're in a contradictory class location, to use Erik Olin Wright's phrase. A self-employed man, by contrast, has neither the power nor the lack of freedom.
In this sense, the self-employed and the middle manager are very different class positions - even though their incomes, tastes and voting habits might be very similar.

Phil at work

This is all good stuff. I agree entirely with the bit Jamie highlighted, but don't see why being in the libertarian bit of the Left should stop you being in the Marxist bit. (Think Venn diagrams.)

As Chris's comment about the plumber and the middle-manager demonstrates, this stuff can get complicated, and more complicated versions can have more explanatory power than the original idea taken straight - but that doesn't invalidate the original idea. Ultimately you're either a proletarian or you aren't - but the capital which keeps some people out of the prole class doesn't have to be directly convertible to money. A professional (e.g. the tenured lecturer I hope to be some day) isn't a proletarian; a skilled artisan with a secure client base (e.g. a freelance journalist like Tim) isn't a proletarian either. Although in both cases there are strong pressures pushing them that way.

Last word to Edward Thompson:

"Sociologists who have stopped the time-machine and, with a good deal of huffing and puffing, have gone down to the engine-room to look, tell us that nowhere at all have they been able to locate and classify a class ... Of course they are right, since class is not this or that part of the machine, but the way the machine works once it is set in motion"


That's a damn good E.P. Thompson quote.


Class is power, but it is the power wielded by the state and not business. There is a political class and a not political class. One takes and the other gets taken. You don't have to be in government to be part of the political class. Many a business is a part of the political class via subsidies and favorable regulation.

Left libertarians don't wish to acquire the power, only to remove it. I think this is where they diverge from Marxists.

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