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Down with the middle class!

April 3, 2011

One of the most odious aspects of our discourse, in my opinion, is the widespread unending praise of the middle class.  Conservatives have always favored a hierarchical class society so there’s nothing new or inconsistent there.  My beef is with liberals who promote the middle class while seemingly ignoring the fact that a middle necessarily requires an upper and lower.

Liberal supporters of the middle class condemn obscene levels of CEO pay and the unequal income of the top few percent but rarely question the moral basis for inequality within less rarified circles.  On what basis should a mid-level manager, dentist, lawyer, professor, doctor, or scientist live more comfortably and securely than a garbage man, janitor, or waitress?  Economists respond that it’s simply supply and demand but that’s farfetched.  The supply of workers capable of lower paying jobs is very great but so also are the number of such jobs.  Those capable of work requiring say a higher mental aptitude may be fewer but so too are the available positions.  It would seem the ratio of supply and demand would be about the same for both types of jobs and the related supply and demand curves would intersect at the same place.  I don’t think the doctrine of supply and demand explains or justifies inequality.  In fact, the better paying jobs are almost always more desirable.  Nearly all would prefer to be the manager, the professor, or the doctor versus the clerk, janitor, or garbage man.  One would think the less desirable jobs should actually earn more in a neutral freely operative market.

Other than the cost of schooling, it’s difficult to see an economic or moral justification for pay differentials beyond the simple number of hours worked or the danger of the job.  Income differentials can almost certainly be traced to historical institutions of class privilege and concepts of prestige.  They’re relics of an aristocratic past that are maintained today largely through institutional power which limits entry into middle class positions – things like limited enrollment in elite universities, high education costs, limited numbers of professional schools, certification requirements, poor primary education, etc.  Public acceptance of traditional views are also a key factor.

The issue of income for small business owners is somewhat more complex but the level of reward would not need to be anywhere near as high if the risks were lower.  (I offered an outline of an idea on how to reduce risk here.)

Class based differentials cause vast harm to the majority lower class and to society as a whole.  Those with middle class incomes, along with the upper class of course, are major drivers of the price of goods that the lower class must buy.  The lower class needs to work more hours than the other classes in order to pay the higher price that incorporates the elevated incomes of the privileged classes.  In contrast, the comfortable life styles of the favored classes are based on the existence of a lower paid strata that, beyond basic subsistence, labors for them.  Differentials also foster unseemly competition, aggressiveness, greed, fraud, and many of the other negative sides of the human personality.

The existence of a middle class requires a vast lower class.  It has no meaning without it.  Those who identify with the left need to be clear: on what basis should incomes differ?  I think it’s the height of hypocrisy to condemn the differential between the upper class and middle while ignoring that between the middle and lower.

From → Wealth & Poverty

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