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May 11, 2021

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Blissex

«An employee on a high wage is working class whereas a self-employed person on a lower income is not»

But there is a crucial detail: many high-income employees owe part of their income to ownership of some kind of immaterial property, like a degree or a professional qualification, which are part of their "means of production". This applies both to an employed NHS consultant and to a doctor owning a GP practice.

Also many high-income employees are also partially rentiers, because their income enables them to buy various types from property, from BTL to company shares.

Most high-income employed people, many in the middle class, and most in the upper-middle class, are "not just" employees and think of themselves as partly or mostly as proprietors or investors, even before they retire.

Dipper

this is great right up until the paragraph that starts 'Which brings us to the point.'

and then everything else is completely wrong.

It is Labour which is dividing the working class up into sections and groups. For instance the left insists the Batley and Spen must be represented by someone white and working class. Meanwhile, The conservatives put Kemi Badenoch in Safron Walden. And she wins. If she isn't the only black person in Saffron Walden, then she is not far off. The conservatives look to unify across all races and creeds, Labour looks to divide and conquer, a privately educated in-bred class of connected upper classes playing off the lower orders against each other.

Dave Timoney

@Blissex, I think Chris already addressed your point. People aren't necessarily one or the other: they can own capital (i.e. property) as well as earn income through labour, and this is increasingly the norm at high levels of wealth (see Branko Milanovic on homoploutia).

rsm

"Bosses and investment bankers, for example, are working class in the sense that they sell their labour, but are capitalist in that they get a chunk of the proceeds of others’ labour and so are exploiters."

Financial assets are bid up. When Tesla's stock goes up, is it because of the factory workers, or because of traders buying and selling in paper markets?

When bitcoin's price goes up, whose labor is being stolen?

Rents on labor are insignificant compared to money creation.

Traders are not getting chunks of other people's labor. Traders are laboring with numbers, creating other numbers. Real economy labor is nowhere near significant enough to account for stock market valuations.

Jim

We are all middle class now - or we are all working class now. The marxian definition seems of little use any longer.
Let us take a more rough and ready definition. If you have assets over say £5 million you are upper class - however you speak or pour your milk. If your assets lie between £200K and £5 million you are middle class whether you cycle or ride a bike. Below £200K lies the next class divide and the difficulty of definition.

£200K and down is a twilight zone, you may be on the up or on the way down or going nowhere or totally screwed. At this level the term working class does not mean much. You may be a nominally 'self employed' Uber driver - whatever - you are poor or poorish or desperate. That fact fixes the kind of home you get and the stuff you buy.

We no longer have mass employment factories or steelworks or shipyards. The great days of the union rep are gone and Labour hanging on to this sort of 'working class' is an anachronism and a bit pathetic. Who do we care about going on strike. No-one because those who matter are well bribed.

marku52

In the US we have the condition of the PMC (professional managerial class) against the working class. the PMC is now the dedicated base of the Democratic party--the Republicans make noise about becoming a working class party, but their libertarian economics ideas make it impossible.

The PMC are the enablers of working class precarity. It is a PMCer who denies insurance on your cancer treatment. It is a PMCer who follows orders and lays you off.

The PMC looks a lot like who Labour wants to appeal to, and they are not working class. It is impossible to put their interest in with the workers.

davidly

Don't kid yourself by clinging to the idea that the self-employed are not working class. We do, after all, sell our labour power, and depending on how gainful one would like to be, this involves a, by default, quite alienating process indeed, with the same devaluing potential as a person who signs on to the employment market.

And forgive me if I'm thick, but wouldn't it be your capital affording you options as you slum with the working class and not the other way around?

Blissex

«the self-employed are not working class. We do, after all, sell our labour power»

If that is the case that is not self-employment, it is casual employment, like the immigrants waiting in line in Wilkes parking lots to be hired for the day.

Self-employment means selling goods or services made by oneself as a business, not selling labour-power.

Blissex

«The PMC looks a lot like who Labour wants to appeal to»

As Peter Mandelson himself put it, New “Labour would only win if the party championed aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose”, that is middle and upper-middle class professionals and small-business owners. Where "aspirational" is the usual code for "property owning".

«and they are not working class»

Our blogger has somewhat messed up because he has given for granted that readers here know that there are several notions of class:

* The classical political economists and K Marx used a "functional" (role in the production process) definition of class: upper class own and direct the use the means of production, middle class are the employees who are agents of the upper class in managing the means of production and supervising the employees, working class are all employees, whether supervisory or not, but usually it is implied that they are only the non-supervisory employees. The same people can be upper, middle, working class depending on their role.

* Income and wealth class, as described by "Jim" above.

* Marketing class, as defined by the ABCDE classification in the UK.

* Status and cultural class, for the traditional "ancient regime" estates or castes of soldiers/nobles, scribes/priests, traders/artisans, plus the peasants.

The functional classes view overlaps the others to a large extent, but the functional class is important because it relates directly to the production side of the political economy, which drives the others.

Blissex

«@Blissex, I think Chris already addressed your point»

Not really, functional classes can overlap in one person, as they are roles, rather than be "contradictory", and there is nothing "awkward" about that for marxian-style analysis. People with roles that give them membership in different classes can manage those roles without economic or functional contradiction. The problem they have is how to spend their one vote in political elections, e.g. to spend it on property oriented parties or on labor oriented parties, but that is not an economic problem.

In particular our blogger is excessively sloppy when writing:

“Bosses and investment bankers, for example, are working class in the sense that they sell their labour, but are capitalist in that they get a chunk of the proceeds of others’ labour and so are exploiters.”

The conclusion is correct, but the reasoning is missing and it is pure hand-waving. By the same argument all middle class workers, those with supervisory roles between the owners and the other workers, down to the foreman level, “are capitalist in that they get a chunk of the proceeds of others’ labour”, which is ridiculous.

Being middle class does not mean partaking of surpluses, even when having profit-related bonuses; middle class proletarians don't co-own the business, don't co-decide its direction, unlike for example members of a co-operative.

Note: conversely the members of a co-operative that also hires workers that are not given membership are capitalists and exploiters in the marxian sense.

As I wrote instead high-income employees tend to have some aspect of *capital ownership* that produces rents or profits (or is consequence of having a high income and this high savings) for example rents from ownership of credentials, but also in the case of "bosses and investment bankers" rents of position, because unlike ordinary proletarians there is no full-blown market competition there, or co-ownership of the means of production thanks to option or share grants.

aragon


https://capx.co/why-labour-is-losing-the-working-class/

"In 2018 Claire Ainsley, now his Director of Policy, wrote a book which argued powerfully that our political idea of the working class was wildly out of date. Instead, there is a new working class that "is made up of people living on low to middle incomes, employed as cleaners, shop workers, bar tenders, teaching assistants, cooks, carers… it is multi-ethnic and much more diverse than the traditional working class"."

I have to agree, nothing reflects unfreedom than money.

Housing: Rent vs Mortgage vs Ownership vs Landlord

Dinner: What or even if you do eat.

Transport: Walk vs Ride vs Drive vs Driven.

etc.

Of course you can experience coercive control at work and/or home.

Lack of money limits your options, try managing without money.

p.s.
Tony Blair was a student of Thatcher.
Neo-liberalism has been declared dead and I for one have a full and logically consistent and credible alternative.

The question is:

What and who is the economy for?

Jan Wiklund

However, the more one is trained in brain work, the more one is likely to take power in an organization. So I think there is reason to be cautious about manual workers losing power in the labour movement.

It works simply better if everyone in it has about the same power of making him- or herself heard.

Jim

We can argue definitions all day but what matters is creating a credible opposition to the Tories.

The Tories have the high ground in the important matter of selfishness. Code for housing profits. That creates a big problem for any opposition - how do you satisfy the natural desire for a home whilst pandering to the NIMBY lobby.

Then there is the matter of 'class' as in 'people like us'. Corbyn was OK and had many reasonable ideas but looked a scruffy jerk and associated with some even worse jerks. One might not care to invite politicians to dinner but they should at least look and sound halfway civilised. Which in marketing terms means attractive - which is where Blair came in. Bright and shiny, he looked and sounded like an upwardly mobile go getter. We now know his character defects but c'est la vie.

Then the numbers. Out of my rough and ready psephological divisions where could a non Tory party extract votes? Probably there is a rich vein among the comfortably off. They can see what shites the Tories are. Similarly my generation is old and could afford a £100K off the house price - provided those swineish politicians all suffered the same. Then among the poorer but more mobile group there may also be another rich vein. But is 'Labour' the right vehicle. Is it possible that Labour is a large but poisoned brand. I hope not but the signs are not good.

Where else? The LibDems were stupid enough for a love fest and got screwed. They still look pretty weak. Or the Greens - despite their 'knit your own yoghurt' image they could just about align with XR. This group does look to be our best hope - if only they could get organised and extend beyond schoolchildren.

Whoever tries to counter the Tories is stuck with the UK media and establishment. Powerful and well entrenched it will take a lot of ruin before they are likely to turn away from the Tories. Some group able to grow a support base over ten to twenty years is needed - long enough for Brexit to weaken the Tories as it surely will. But low cunning and survival will probably mean that over a similar timeframe the Tories will do a reverse ferret on Brexit and we will be back where we started.

rsm

"in the case of "bosses and investment bankers" rents of position, because unlike ordinary proletarians there is no full-blown market competition there,"

Regulation reinforces this; GME shows how, when little guys started out-competing short hedge funds, regulations resulted in retail trading restrictions that helped the institutional short-sellers.

davidly

"Self-employment means selling goods or services made by oneself as a business, not selling labour-power."

I don't dispute "made by oneself as a business". It is nevertheless selling one's labour power, with the distinction being that it is defined contractually on a case by case basis, which, to my point, can end up having the self-employed subjugated to someone with the greater leverage of their ownership status. Couple that with the precarity of i.a. health and retirement, i.e. that which one loses when not having work, self-employment is cannot be so easily classified and is for all intents and purposes in a capitalist economy de facto working class.

GCarty80

Davidly,

I'm also reminded of how for many of the most exploited employees, their direct employer is not the main beneficiary of their exploitation.

For example the main beneficiary of Leicester's sweatshops is not their owners, but Boohoo which enjoyed monopsony power over those sweatshops.

MJW

I think this piece misses the point, the nature of who is working class or not isn't Labour's issue. Labour's issue is that there's a section of the party that can bank on young, inner city voters by pushing different 'woke'/grievance/'SJW' narratives or themes. London is the epicentre of this side of the culture war, but it's also where the national media are based, so it overwhelms whatever offering Labour has for the broader population needed to win national elections.

The broader population may be sympathetic to social justice issues, but they don't prioritise the culture war like those Metropolitan culture warriors do. This is great for some Labour MPs, based in London, or other big cities, who have cultivated profiles as culture warriors, but it's not so good for Labour candidates/MPs in areas where a more prosaic approach is required.

Blissex

«can end up having the self-employed subjugated to someone with the greater leverage of their ownership status.»

But at means that their *profits* will be lower than otherwise, but still 100% of their profits will go to themselves, so there is no exploitation. As to the profits of smaller capitalists being lower than those of larger capitalists, because larger capitalists squeeze their smaller suppliers, well that's capitalist competition, it was never meant to be easy or fair.


«Couple that with the precarity of i.a. health and retirement, i.e. that which one loses when not having work»

Nobody prevents the self-employed from paying themselves health, unemployment and retirement benefits. Indeed precisely because they are self-employed they can pay themselves much better benefits than those an employer is willing to pay for their employees.

What if the self-employed cannot afford to pay themselves, including benefits, as well or better than employees? Then they should not be in business, because they are uncompetitive. Running a business, including one where self is employed, requires capitalist skills.

«self-employment is cannot be so easily classified and is for all intents and purposes in a capitalist economy de facto working class.»

Again, if "self-employment" does not involve running a business as its owner, but involves merely selling your time, as in you are your own "bodyshop", that is just casual employment like brickies or plasterers.

Blissex

«Running a business, including one where self is employed, requires capitalist skills.»

To be sure, they include luck :-), and incumbency in markets that are hard to enter (what W Buffett calls "a moat"). That is why many people become employees, stable or casualized, to share very indirectly in the benefits of that luck and incumbency, as long as they last.

Chris Purnell

I was so happy reading this penetrating analysis.

I agree that Labour fails in its bounded rationality about class and historical legacy.

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