Sunday, February 16, 2014

If There's A Middle Class What Is It?

An interesting article by Paul Krugman can be found here. Basically it's about the US and general perception of what and who the 'middle class' are. Now I must state right away that as a socialist I don't accept the concept of 'middle class'. For me there can be only two possible classes within the worldwide capitalist system: the capitalist class and the working class. Whatever your wage, salary or remuneration, if you must have a job, be in employment or follow a profession in order to have a roof over your head, food to eat and all the necessities of life, then you are clearly of the working class. When we talk of the 1% we are really referring to a much smaller percentage of the population, to those whose income is derived without the need to actually 'work' but who receive it from business profits, shares, the fruit of the labour of others and they are the capitalist class.

Now, back to Krugman who begins, ' One of the odd things about the United States has long been the immense range of people who consider themselves to be middle class - and are deluding themselves. Low-paid workers who would be considered poor by international standards, say with incomes below half the median, nonetheless consider themselves lower-middle-class; people with incomes four or five times the median consider themselves, at most, upper-middle-class.'

So what is it that makes people feel that they want to be or are 'middle class'?
According to Krugman, '- - - when we talk about being middle-class, we have two crucial attributes of that status in mind: security and opportunity.
By security, I mean that you have enough resources and backup that the ordinary emergencies of life won't plunge you into the abyss. This means having decent health insurance, reasonably stable employment and enough financial assets that having to replace your car or your boiler isn't a crisis.
By opportunity I mainly mean being able to get your children a good education and access to job prospects, not feeling that doors are shut because you just can't afford to do the right thing.'

Well, fair enough but that seems to preclude an awful lot of people from a halfway decent life. What about all those others who work and struggle in low paid jobs. Aren't they entitled to security and opportunity too? When the work that's available is not enough to secure security and opportunity and there are too many would-be workers chasing the same available jobs what shall we say to them? What shall we label them?

The article focusses on a recent Pew Survey (find it here) from which Krugman reveals 'in early 2008 only 6 percent of Americans considered themselves lower-class - far below the official poverty rate! - only 2 percent upper-class and 1 percent didn't know. So 91 percent of Americans - roughly speaking, people with incomes between $15,000 and $250,000 - considered themselves middle-class.'

And he goes on to explain why many of them were mistaken. Lack of health insurance and decent public education for instance. Although the survey relates to US perceptions and realities (and I recommend it for its clarity) both it and Krugman's analysis are necessarily firmly entrenched within the capitalist system's way of observing and explaining economic realities and how they affect us all.    
Socialism, much maligned and misunderstood, (especially, I believe in the US) is about egalitarianism, among other things. No classes, no 'us and them', security and opportunity for all and a place for everyone at the table.

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

The pro-capitalist Forbes Magazine (begun by an Aberdonian, btw) gives its slant on the disappearing ‘middle class’:
“The biggest issue facing the American economy, and our political system, is the gradual descent of the middle class into proletarian status. This process, which has been going on intermittently since the 1970s, has worsened considerably over the past five years, and threatens to turn this century into one marked by downward mobility...Not only did the income of the middle 60% of households drop between 2010 and 2012 while that of the top 20% rose, the income of the middle 60% declined by a greater percentage than the poorest quintile. The middle 60% of earners’ share of the national pie has fallen from 53% in 1970 to 45% in 2012... the current downgrading of the middle class undermines the appeal of the “democratic capitalism” that so many conservative intellectuals espouse. In reality, capitalism is becoming less democratic: stock ownership has become more concentrated, with the percentage of adult Americans owning stock the lowest since 1999 and a full 13 points less than 2007. The fact that poverty — reflected in such things as an expansion of food stamp use — has now spread beyond the cities to the suburbs, something much celebrated among urban-centric pundits, is further confirmation of the yeomanry’s stark decline.”