Sunday, May 20, 2018

How to get on in society

Last year, Richard Reeves published a book, Dream Hoarders, arguing that the focus on the top 1 percent was distracting from the obstacles to mobility caused by the upper middle class. Liberal writers headed to the nearest keyboard to debunk Reeves (e.g. Mike Konczal in the Crimson-hued Vox) with the debunking taking the form of interpretations of charts of income and wealth distributions, while minimizing by assertion the significance of the cultural and class analyses in his book -- and indeed making the topics of culture and class a source of mockery when they were picked up by David Brooks.

It was therefore to the great annoyance of the debunkers that Matthew Stewart took another run at the Reeves argument in The Atlantic and this time it's Jordan Weissman who steps forward in the Crimson-hued Slate, again with the aid of income and wealth distribution charts, to debunk Stewart. And again refuses to engage with the social and cultural aspects of the argument, while allowing that there might be a bit of a point on housing and education capture by the upper middle class.

Anyway, the most telling omission in the Konczal and Weissman articles is politics. They take it for granted that the 1 percent, or the 0.1 percent, must be having an outsized gilded age influence on politics. But they don't want to extend that to pondering how the merely very wealthy -- but far more numerous -- upper middle class might be influencing politics, both in the issues and approach they champion, and in the reaction to that that is drawn from further down the income and wealth distribution.

It's only coincidental, but it's an especially strange week to have such a blind spot in your political analysis: the death of Tom Wolfe, who chronicled in real time the transition of an influential cohort from radical to, er, chic, and there are the numerous reflections on Paris 1968 and its American parallels, where the fact that this was an emerging consumerism associated with a new class is now taken as an initial given -- at least for people who care about the sociology of it all. How did that class rise from being in the streets in 1968 to dominate the professions and the political-cultural complex now?

But somehow, a certain type of economics has become a shield for a certain type of liberal from having to think about that question, because it is a question about class.

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