The 9.9 Percent
May 17, 2018 7:56 AM   Subscribe

The Birth of a New American Aristocracy
In America today, the single best predictor of whether an individual will get married, stay married, pursue advanced education, live in a good neighborhood, have an extensive social network, and experience good health is the performance of his or her parents on those same metrics.
posted by MythMaker (90 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well over half of Ivy League graduates, for instance, typically go straight into one of four career tracks that are generally reserved for the well educated: finance, management consulting, medicine, or law.

I've linked to David Graeber's On Bullshit Jobs before, but it strikes me again that to be among the highest earning in society you must also be among the most useless. Unless you're a doctor.

This particular paragraph is fascinating to me: "Through their influence on the number of slots at medical schools, the availability of residencies, the licensing of foreign-trained doctors, and the role of nurse practitioners, physicians’ organizations can effectively limit the competition their own members face—and that is exactly what they do."

It serves as a reminder that despite the bullshit about 'free markets' being essential to economic growth- and all the anti-union sentiment that's engendered- the only people actually making money in our capitalist system are those who have figured out how to create monopolies. But notable socialist Peter Thiel already told you that.
posted by perplexion at 8:42 AM on May 17, 2018 [49 favorites]


I dunno if this group reminds me of aristocracy so much as it reminds me of the medieval middle classes: A small-but-not-tiny group, moderately-but-not-obscenely wealthy, composed of highly educated professionals and moderately successful business operators. Merchants, lawyers, and doctors, if you will, with some additional categories added for modern times.
posted by clawsoon at 8:44 AM on May 17, 2018 [29 favorites]


As I’m angling all the angles for my daughter’s college applications—the counselor is out, and the SAT whisperer was never going to happen—I realize why this delusion of merit is so hard to shake. If I—I mean, she—can pull this off, well, there’s the proof that we deserve it! If the system can be gamed, well then, our ability to game the system has become the new test of merit.

I remember that when I graduated from high school, one of my father's coworkers was astonished that I hadn't gotten into an Ivy League. I had near-perfect SATs and ACTs. Tons of AP credit. I was a woman studying computer science. And I remember feeling really, really badly about that for a really long time.

And then I realized that the people who had gotten in had been groomed since birth. My parents aren't 9.9% but they're in the class band right after that. I've gotten a lot of advantages thanks to that. But the fact that my parents grew up among the poorest in a North African country still affects them in terms of things like this sort of social knowledge, the knowledge that it isn't enough for your kid to be really good at testing, she also needs to be enrolled in 'enrichment' activities starting in elementary school. By the time I'd figured the game out myself, in high school, it was already far too late to catch up.

I did do one enrichment activity, debate, starting in high school. I had some natural aptitude for it- on only my second competition I made it to the semifinals, losing to someone who had won national-level competitions. But I quickly hit a ceiling- I could typically make it to quarter or semi-finals but never quite win in local competitions, and state and national competitions were beyond my ability, or so I thought. I then realized that the people who were winning were spending thousands of dollars on debate camps. And were typically attending fancy private schools with excellent coaches. I didn't feel so bad after realizing that.

Again this is all despite the fact that I attended a good public school known for sending a few kids to Ivies each year, and that my parents were well-off. I can't imagine the barriers that literally anyone else faces to get into college. I can't imagine that anyone can delude themselves into thinking that the application process is 'meritocratic.'
posted by perplexion at 9:08 AM on May 17, 2018 [90 favorites]


My parents are uneducated laborers and most of their kids have Ivy League PhDs.

Which is great. But since we have student loans, we'll never be as rich as those that didn't.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:20 AM on May 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


By the time I'd figured the game out myself, in high school, it was already far too late to catch up.

And you get another band or two down from that, and you're dealing with stuff like: There were waivers to cover college application fees at a lot of schools if you were poor. There were waivers. My high school guidance counselor, in a low-income school, never told us there were waivers--I'm not even sure she knew! I had no idea until much, much later that student loans were available to cover things like any amount of living expenses, however small, if you didn't qualify for scholarships. I was barely aware that there was such a thing as need-based grants and definitely not that there was non-federal need-based aid.

Forget being competitive with the Ivies, I had no idea I even had the ability to go to college right out of high school. Getting to go to a genuinely good school seemed so hopeless that it didn't even seem like there was a point in keeping my grades up if I couldn't be valedictorian, and our valedictorian got gapped by his first-choice school and himself had no idea how to plan for that and wound up at a low-tier state university. I wound up at the same place, several years later, because even then I didn't think I had any other options. They create these programs to help, but then there's no way to find out they exist if you haven't already made yourself known as Exceptional to someone with better access.
posted by Sequence at 9:33 AM on May 17, 2018 [50 favorites]


I'm acquainted with this group. Knew them growing up. Could never afford a nanny or a house-cleaner myself, though. Most hippies did not become Wall Street yuppies. They often ended up like my wife and me: in the helping professions in flyover country. Teacher/public defender. We barely cracked the top American 80% mark in income at the top of our profession, before retirement. But my father and my five siblings ended up in the higher-paying professions (doctors, psychologists, the odd mathematician). We were raised with an definite antipathy for businessmen. Education was everything, although being an actual public school teacher was not something my parents would have wished for me.

This 9.9% group, its obsession with "the Ivies," and their piles of money have a lot of chutzpah calling themselves middle class. However, I'm aware that I can hardly claim honest kinship with "The 99%."
posted by kozad at 9:33 AM on May 17, 2018 [12 favorites]


I've had a weird relationship to class and class signifiers because of my family dynamic; my mother's family arguably was of a higher class than my father's family, to the point that my grandfather reportedly was shocked and horrified when my father asked for my mother's hand (they did that in those days, it was the 60s) and actually went off on a lengthy rant about how Mom could be marrying someone who'd been to an Ivy League college instead of a guy who'd been to a trade school...but Grandpa then immediately relented, Dad was a fantastic guy, and Grandpa was won over really quickly, to the point that Dad became a confidante of sorts (read: Grandpa knew Dad wouldn't tell Grandma if they drank beer when they went out on Grandpa's boat).

But I saw both growing up - Grandpa on my mother's side was an MIT graduate, a top-notch metallurgist who'd worked for the goverment, and the professor emeritus of a department at the University of Connecticut; meanwhile, Grandpa on my father's side was a World War II vet with a plumbing background who raised coonhounds and hung out at the hunting/fishing club in town. My mother's siblings all had the opportunity to go to 4-year colleges and a few of their families got a bit of "financial assistance'; Grandpa even offered to fund my going to a boarding school for high school. (I turned him down, and even though today I know I would have gotten a better education, I think that socially I was still a little immature and going to a private school would have been a mistake.) Dad was the only child of a second marriage; but he and his half-brother both were the trade-school route.

So I saw both sides of this fence growing up, and it left me with the perspective that there are riches and advantages offered to the upper class that can be tremendous boons - and that the people in the lower class are all just as deserving of those advantages. An accident of financial birth is absolutely not an indicator of validity as a person; only your actions can do that.

I hadn't had any idea about that conversation between Dad and Grandpa until just a couple years ago. The more I think about it, the more I think that both Dad and Grandpa were tremendously brave.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:38 AM on May 17, 2018 [19 favorites]


So, class-based momentum?
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:48 AM on May 17, 2018


The only comfort we have (or have had, I understand that this too is changing) in America is that most fortunes don't last beyond three generations. A cold, cold comfort when you realize that you don't last beyond one. The Invisible Churn of capitalism.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:01 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


The only comfort we have (or have had, I understand that this too is changing) in America is that most fortunes don't last beyond three generations.

I suspect the author of the article would argue that that traditional rule is fading as the moats and walls between the 9.9% and the 90% are strengthened.
posted by protocoach at 10:14 AM on May 17, 2018 [14 favorites]


I thought this was a super interesting article and I am glad to see it posted here. But it is short on action items.

I am in that 9.9% or close to it, and my parents definitely are in it. The young adults in the next generation of family members mostly isn't, and don't seem to be building towards it. Three generations? The article thinks this good fortune persists through generations. Statistically maybe it does, and my family's 20-somethings are just on the unfortunate side?

Obviously I would like to help the kids if I can. Like my parents helped me. It's what you do. This article seems to be arguing against that, or perhaps that I am helping our kids by hurting other people's kids. But I try to help other people's kids too! (In fact as a child free person, any kids I help are other people's kids, but that's beside the point.)

Is it really such a zero-sum game?
posted by elizilla at 10:16 AM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


The only comfort we have (or have had, I understand that this too is changing) in America is that most fortunes don't last beyond three generations
(emph mine)

Yeah I'm not so comforted.
posted by PMdixon at 10:19 AM on May 17, 2018


elzilla it doesn't have to be a zero-sum game but the help that the 9.9 currently favors giving is zero-sum.

In other words they want it to be a zero-sum game and they largely have the power to make it one (thus the increasing economic inequality).
posted by oddman at 10:33 AM on May 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


the best part of this is the correct notion that while you can be operating in good faith to help yourself and your family, the aggregate results are devastating for the nation. this is true both for the upper middle class in raising the drawbridges behind them, as well as for the .1% who eventually tire of the upper middle class and sacrifice them to "populism." it's a classic tragedy of the commons; everyone is out to get theirs until the system is so saturated with anger that it implodes in violence.
posted by wibari at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2018 [15 favorites]


The logical outcome of “of course I want to help my kids as much as I can” is ahereditary rulership so your kid is guaranteed to be on top no matter how much of a fuckup they are. And yea, any action taken to help your kid by simply moving resources around (e.g putting them in private school) is zero-sum.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:51 AM on May 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


Is it possible to work to help your children AND also contribute to more equitable government policies?

Policies that will provide more people everywhere access to the things that matter for a full life - I'm thinking health, family, education, social connections, leisure time, etc.

Are these two goals mutually exclusive?
posted by The Ted at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Speaking as a class climber turned class traitor, the greatest trick the ruling class ever played was making the upper middle class sympathize with them rather then anyone near them - pretending they’re like junior members of the aristocracy rather then the hired help. To a 1%Er a janitor and a trusted lawyer are basically of equal status.

Soildarity is both the hardest thing in the freaking world and the thing that will save us. The rich know this, that’s why they always have each other’s backs and constantly try to turn other classes on each other.

Further reading
posted by The Whelk at 11:04 AM on May 17, 2018 [60 favorites]


perplexion, thanks for that Peter Thiel piece. It reminds me a lot of the philosophy of Theodore Vail, President of AT&T at the turn of the 20th century who lead the firm to crush all competitors and establish the Bell phone system monopoly in the US that would last until it was broken up in 1984:
It may sound strange to our ears, but Vail, a full-throated capitalist, rejected the idea of "competition." He judged monopoly, when held in the right hands, to be the superior arrangement. "Competition," Vail had written, "means strife, industrial warfare; it means contention; it oftentimes means taking advantage of or resorting to any means that the conscience of the contestants ... will permit." His reasoning was moralistic: Competition was giving American business a bad name. "The vicious acts associated with aggressive competition are responsible for much, if not all, of the present antagonism in the public mind to business, particularly to large business."

Adam Smith, whose vision of capitalism is sacrosanct in the United States, believed that individual selfish motives could produce collective goods for humanity, by the operation of the "invisible hand." But Vail didn't buy it: "In the long run ... the public as a whole has never benefited by destructive competition." Smith's key to efficient markets was Vail's cause of waste. "All costs of aggressive, uncontrolled competition are eventually borne, directly or indirectly, by the public," Vail wrote in one of the Bell telephone system's annual reports. In his heterodox vision of capitalism, shared by men like John Rockefeller, the right corporate titans—monopolists in each industry—could, and should, be trusted to do what was best for the nation. But Vail also ascribed to monopoly value beyond mere efficiency. With the security of monopoly, he believed, the dark side of human nature would shrink, and natural virtue might emerge. He saw a future, free of capitalism's form of Darwinian struggle, in which scientifically organized corporations, run by good men in close cooperation with the government, would serve the public best.
I guess the difference is that Vail didn't even pretend to support competition and the "free market". I suspect that belief in "pure" competitive capitalism, or even the pretense of that belief, is an intellectual fluke of the mid-late 20th century and we're seeing a return to the norm.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


I am in that 9.9% or close to it, and my parents definitely are in it. The young adults in the next generation of family members mostly isn't, and don't seem to be building towards it. Three generations? The article thinks this good fortune persists through generations. Statistically maybe it does, and my family's 20-somethings are just on the unfortunate side?

I think, based on what I've seen, that there's moderate churn on the edges. There's less margin there if gen 2 picks a less lucrative career path or has some bad breaks in the years where the privileges of this group seem to solidify (HS, college, and the years immediately thereafter). I think it's actually in the third generation where most of this group is locked in - if you're 25-40 now, and the preceding two generations of your family both successfully took advantage of their privileges and opportunities, you're probably pretty much set. Otherwise you're in a much more precarious position.
posted by protocoach at 11:13 AM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is it possible to work to help your children AND also contribute to more equitable government policies?

My opinion: Yes. Just support primarily need-based educational scholarships and grants over merit-based ones. You can work as hard as you wish to support your childrens' future success; just know that based on your income you'll be paying full freight.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:33 AM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is it possible to work to help your children AND also contribute to more equitable government policies?

I believe it is, it just requires things that lots of people blanch at, both on personal and social levels. On a personal level, the Whelk had some suggestions about that in a comment in the thread they linked. Going beyond the personal, there're things like supporting significantly higher tax rates on higher incomes, estates, and capital gains - the article mentioned a 77% estate tax rate, and I'd love to see us return to that or even higher (like, why not 100%, or at least 100% above a certain cut-off with built-in inflation adjustments?). Similarly, a lot of America's welfare state/white socialism was funded by income tax rates that people view as absurd now, but bringing us back to the Eisenhower-levels of income tax rates and using that money to rebuild the social safety net would do a lot to reduce this inequality. But even a lot of wealthy liberals view those policies are absurd pie-in-the-sky fantasies.

Additionally, there's the racial roadblock. I think that the section dealing with how the politics of resentment links to race was the weakest part of the essay. It has the same issues that a lot of "It's mostly about class!" essays have, even when they ostensibly discuss race: there isn't a real engagement with the facts that A) popular support for the social mechanisms that prevented some of this inequality evaporated when the programs were broadened to include non-white people, and B) that non-white people living in far worse economic circumstances for significantly longer than the white people who embrace the politics of resentment don't embrace those same politics.
posted by protocoach at 11:33 AM on May 17, 2018 [16 favorites]


Is it possible to work to help your children AND also contribute to more equitable government policies?

Voting for people who support tax reform of the sort that would come to the aid of the lower classes would certainly help. So would donations to, and volunteer work for, programs and non-profits that have these goals. Also talking with your family and friends and their friends in defense of these same policies.

I sense that you're looking for "join organization X" or "take single action Y" types of suggestions, but this kind of situation is something that comes from a lot of very small actions that many, many individual people have been taking little by little over many, many years. So it's going to take an equal, if not bigger, number of very small actions taken by an equal, if not bigger, number of individual people - and voting, dialogue, and supporting things in your community are those actions.

I mean, the attitude I have about class isn't because my father sat me down and tried to impart a single lecture to me about class distinction. Instead, it is the result of my having watched how one man interacts with his in-laws over the course of 48 years. But watching that one man interact with his inlaws, and watching how those inlaws have interacted with him, has had a profound effect on my perspective.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:45 AM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is it possible to work to help your children AND also contribute to more equitable government policies?

Well, if you are a Tiger parent, you could provide every advantage to your children but also raise them to be sleeper agents that burrow into the halls of power and wealth only to slowly work their way to the top and completely destroy such structures from within when the time comes.
posted by FJT at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2018 [15 favorites]


I've been wondering for a while whether part of the American problem is that you've drawn in all the professional migrants who want to be part of the 9.9%. If you're a Canadian doctor who wants to get rich, you don't stay in Canada. If you're a Canadian software engineer who wants to get rich, you don't stay in Canada. You grumble about Canada's tall-poppy syndrome and then you move to the US.

I'm sure there aren't enough of these migrants to make a difference in the US, but I wonder if you're draining off just enough of our I-got-mine professionals and business owners to keep Canadian culture from tipping decisively in that direction.
posted by clawsoon at 12:35 PM on May 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


Americans have trouble telling the difference between a social critique and a personal insult. Thus, a writer points to a broad social problem with complex origins, and the reader responds with, “What, you want to punish me for my success?”
[nod]
posted by clawsoon at 1:34 PM on May 17, 2018 [19 favorites]


Americans have trouble telling the difference between a social critique and a personal insult.

The bigger problem is that this is true for both those who are hearing and those who are speaking.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:24 PM on May 17, 2018 [11 favorites]


This 9.9% group, its obsession with "the Ivies," and their piles of money have a lot of chutzpah calling themselves middle class.

More like - it's increasingly the only thing like a middle class left.

I dunno if this group reminds me of aristocracy so much as it reminds me of the medieval middle classes: A small-but-not-tiny group, moderately-but-not-obscenely wealthy, composed of highly educated professionals and moderately successful business operators. Merchants, lawyers, and doctors, if you will, with some additional categories added for modern times.

Yeah exactly.
posted by atoxyl at 3:29 PM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Americans have trouble telling the difference between a social critique and a personal insult.

The bigger problem is that this is true for both those who are hearing and those who are speaking.


This problem is by no means uniquely American.
posted by andrewpcone at 4:03 PM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


And yea, any action taken to help your kid by simply moving resources around (e.g putting them in private school) is zero-sum.

No. If you spend money on getting your fuckup kid a fancy private tutor rather than building a pool for your fancy house, you are helping your kid, and doing nothing to hurt any other kid (except the kids of the pool-builders, in some indirect and hypothetical way). That kid may be more productive and functional as a result, and more of a net positive for society. No one else was necessarily deprived of tutoring because you hired that tutor for that kid.

Not all success is positional or zero-sum. Having a more educated, trained workforce is one of the most important things that keep a country rich and functional. Some things help people do better, and doing those things is good. The fact that not everyone has access to good education/healthcare does not mean that private provision of it is zero sum.

People should take care of their kids in those many non-zero-sum ways. Shaming people for doing so, as I believe this comment does, is fucked up.
posted by andrewpcone at 4:12 PM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is it possible to work to help your children AND also contribute to more equitable government policies?

Send your kid to the public school up the street. Send them to piano and karate and math camp and buy them amazing stuff and whatever else makes them happy and gives them whatever edge in whatever Ivy League dreams you have for them, but have them go to school every single day with the children of the 90%.

Because they are there you will then: Support the public schools. Openly. Avidly. Fervently. Vote for the most egalitarian school board members you can find. Urge your school system to adopt a PTA funding pooling method so that neighborhood segregation (which you personally can't solve) doesn't lead to schools with huge differences resources. Oppose vouchers and charter schools because they hurt so many more kids than they help by taking money and support and passion away from the schools for all kids.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:14 PM on May 17, 2018 [35 favorites]


The fact that not everyone has access to good education/healthcare does not mean that private provision of it is zero sum.

A person who thinks “the public option is inadequate” and reacts by spending money privately on an individual solution instead of spending money to improve the public solution is embracing and reinforcing with their spending the status quo of inadequate public options for the poor, good private options for the rich. It’s normal to do so, but that doesn’t mean it is socially neutral.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:22 PM on May 17, 2018 [21 favorites]


andrewpcone: "People should take care of their kids in those many non-zero-sum ways. Shaming people for doing so, as I believe this comment does, is fucked up."

I agree that zero-sum is the wrong term, but these parents are certainly participating in (and maybe hastening) an inflationary spiral. You're eliding the fact that these college-striving kids and their parents are participating in an economy, not just independent actors.

It's like you went to the grocery store to see $100 loaves of bread and a huddle of starving children outside. Would it be wrong to buy bread for your own hungry child? No, but it does perpetuate a system that is stupid and inequitable, and one would hope that a flicker of shame (or grace, if you're more positively inclined) would pass your mind as you handed over your Benjamins. To expect that you should never acknowledge the impact of your decisions is fucked up.
posted by TypographicalError at 4:41 PM on May 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


This is why universal systems of support, while not perfect, help prevent the rich from excluding themselves and their resources from the rest of society.
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 PM on May 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


Just a note on the assertion of wealth not lasting three generations. This is actually rooted in an old Chinese proverb "wealth does not pass through three generations". The explanation is rooted in a few phenomena. The main one I was introduced to was: "the first generation born to poverty, learns to work and build wealth and emphasizes thrift. The second generation comes of age as the wealth is built and witnesses the importance of stewardship. The third generation only knows comfort, so their only experience is indulgence and waste."

The other concurrent phenomena is that with each generation, the number of inheritors increases so unless each generation does something to build on the wealth it will just get divvied up amongst a growing number of hungry mouths. This probably feeds into many hereditary structures where only the eldest son/child inherits and everyone else has to hustle for themselves.

It is, at essence, a fable about the importance of wealth management _an individual family_, and it shouldn't be taken as an actual historical predictor nor should it be a comfort or salve against inequality
posted by bl1nk at 5:08 PM on May 17, 2018 [15 favorites]


The fairest imaginable winner-take-all contest is still winner take all. Having social power be a winner-take-all contest is bad regardless of whether that contest is by birth or credential.
posted by PMdixon at 5:30 PM on May 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


I'm actually not super-interested, at this moment, in encouraging disunion amongst people outside the 1%. I am wondering what people think will be accomplished by encouraging the group with the next-most resources (though still pitifully small in comparison) to regard themselves as distinct from and opposed in interest to the rest of society, or to direct the ire of the rest of society at that group instead of the real lever-pullers. Articles like this strike me as verging on deliberate distraction tactics, and this despite my being surrounded by annoying members of the 9.9% or whatever who have ensured I'll probably never own real estate in my chosen home.

finance, management consulting, medicine, or law...it strikes me again that to be among the highest earning in society you must also be among the most useless. Unless you're a doctor.

OK, I've had a rough day, but today at work I spent multiple hours working on a year-plus campaign to try to ameliorate, at least in part, a problem that I have literally seen multiple MeFites scream they would commit suicide over if it is not resolved, in the teeth of violent resistance from our present government. Admittedly, I did not do any software engineering or coding at the same time. Who did you help today, again?
posted by praemunire at 9:13 PM on May 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


Re tutoring? Does their transcript and college application have an * next to the grade and says "student needed 50% additional one on one instruction to achieve this grade."? Tutoring is rarely for the love of learning and is sometimes for catching someone up who was temporarily medically sidelined, but many wealthy students are tutored routinely so that they can on paper look better than other students and outcompete them for zero-sum college admissions slots. As a public school teacher i made $1.52 per hour per kid; as a science tutor I made $125 an hour and got to retire in my mid 30s. Equality is an insult to the rich that they will not tolerate. They would rather set their money on fire in front of you in the name of freedom than have their taxes go up to give you that money as a raise. Pathological hoarding and the power to structure the rules of the game to redefine merit to mirror themselves.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 11:25 PM on May 17, 2018 [14 favorites]


Is it possible to work to help your children AND also contribute to more equitable government policies?

Yes, if you let go of the fantasy that personal or consumer action is remotely as important as political action. Do I support higher inheritance taxes to ensure that we have a less divided society and good education for all? Absolutely, I want my children to grow up in a less divided society.

Am I going to refuse to support my children financially in the absence of that tax change? Obviously not. I want them to grow up in an equal society, not at the bottom of an unequal one.
posted by atrazine at 3:54 AM on May 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


The other concurrent phenomena is that with each generation, the number of inheritors increases so unless each generation does something to build on the wealth it will just get divvied up amongst a growing number of hungry mouths. This probably feeds into many hereditary structures where only the eldest son/child inherits and everyone else has to hustle for themselves.

Even that doesn't happen with modern demographics. If a wealthy couple has two children who inherit equally and both marry equally wealthy people, generation n+1 has the same number of people with the same amount of wealth. In the past, the wealthy might have had many more children who survived to adulthood which made preventing the partitioning of wealth essential to maintaining class structure.
posted by atrazine at 3:57 AM on May 18, 2018


This class had to build barriers to protect themselves because, in general, they're just not very likeable.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:15 AM on May 18, 2018


socially mobility in - and out - of the top 10% is totally a zero-sum game. It's about relative position, and only 10% of people can be in the top 10%.

If everything sucks for the bottom 90%, and you want to ensure your kids will be in the comfortable top 10%, you will have to keep someone else's kids out.

An increase in population will increase the size of the top 10%, but only 1/9 as much as the size of the other 90%.

As long as falling out of the top 10% is a disaster, rich parents will fight to keep their kids in (and therefore other kids out). But if life is pretty comfortable in the 80-90th percentile, or around the 50th percentile or even at the 10th percentile -- then social downward mobility wouldn't be such a disaster.
posted by jb at 5:18 AM on May 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


The housing and tuition costs continually going up will eat up whatever gains this 10% of professional managerial class folks make. But they will also be duped in to paying for tutors or for real estate in a more wealthy suburb with better public schools to give their kids what advantages they can. This hurts working class people in a real material way that's different from how the top 1% hurts them. Thomas Frank writes about this class of people as being the core of the Democratic Party, while the Republican Party serves the needs of the top 1%. It's not surprising, psychologically, that wanting to hurt these people can be the prime motivator for reactionary politics, regardless of how much of the means of production these elites actually control.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:30 AM on May 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


So anyone want to do more than guess at what it takes to enter the 9.9% club? I assume we're talking about wealth, not income, given the class mobility and heritability being discussed.

This figure would seem to indicate we're talking about a (household?) net worth of around one million dollars.

That is, we're talking about millionaires here, I think. I understand why it's useful to talk percentiles, but I do wonder how accurately people are judging their own positions. If anyone has another way to put numbers on this or point out a problem with this chart or my inference I'd love to hear it.

As for class mobility, my dad was a bricklayer and I am a research scientist. This is almost solely attributable to my parents investing in my education and some wonderful state-sponsored scholarships for high achievers. However, dad was able to support a family of 5 and own a home by my age as the sole income, and I cannot. So while I have a lot more social capital, I'm not really sure how to compare the simple dollars and cents. I guess the poor have gotten even poorer since I was a kid, and academics have fallen less, so I still come out ahead?
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:48 AM on May 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


So while I have a lot more social capital, I'm not really sure how to compare the simple dollars and cents. I guess the poor have gotten even poorer since I was a kid, and academics have fallen less, so I still come out ahead?

Mostly because 'social capital' as part of discussions of 'class' have always been vastly overstated, and on the working class end jobs are generalized down to where 'plumber' can mean "I fix broken potties all hours of the night" which has 0 social capital and not much income or 'I run a plumbing company and do mostly corporate work' which has tons of social capital and tons of income with little distinction.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:46 AM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Vegetables, that's not what I'm getting, and I do know about the "plumber spectrum".

What I'm confused about is this: I know I can earn more in raw dollars in a given year than my dad did at his peak, and I know (at least in some circles) I have attained a level of social capital that he never did. But what I can't figure out is if he was richer than me. Because he could afford to own a home and support a family as sole income, and I can not, at a similar age, certainly not where I live now (Austin TX). The vast majority of this has to do with purchasing power, cost of living variations in space and time, a little inflation, etc. But the fact remains that in some sense he was richer, and in some sense I am, and it's not clear to me when or why I should pick one framing over the other.

My question is more like this: how are we to understand wealth distribution and consolidation of power without also understanding variation in cost of living and cost of goods? Forget wealth and just look at salary distribution: every household that earns 50k is in the same national income bracket, but that can mean poverty or decently luxurious, depending on where you are. And while there is some tracking of earnings based on location, it is highly imperfect.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:34 AM on May 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


My parents are likely in this group. I probably would have been, give or take a couple of academic/career choices, but I ended up choosing the career path that was good for my mental health instead of the one good for my wallet. A choice I could make, ironically, because I knew I had my parents’ wallet as a safety net should I fail badly. So now I decidedly am not in terms of wealth - but likely will be again one day due to inheritances. I hope that day is far, far in the future, but I do think about what I can do with that wealth when it is mine, to use it best to stop the cycle of anyone accumulating that much wealth.

I don’t and won’t have children, so I suppose it will be a matter of doing a few specific targeted things to help out specific people in my life, setting a certain amount aside to be sure I can always care for a couple of family members with disabilities who I will probably be supporting on and off for the rest of my life, and then trying to give away the rest wisely to support politicians and programs and causes that will reduce wealth inequality. That doesn’t feel like enough. I don’t know what the answer is, and it’s a stupidly privileged problem to have, so I never talk about it to anyone.
posted by Stacey at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


My question is more like this: how are we to understand wealth distribution and consolidation of power without also understanding variation in cost of living and cost of goods?

We are able to understand variation in cost of living because cost of living is very much tied to class. If it weren't then cost of living would roughly equalize across the country with maybe some minor variation due to net transportation costs. (IE: BFE New Mexico would be an equal status vs NYC) Living in a high cost area is a choice as much as career is. But it's not equal because NYC has many amenities that BFE New Mexico doesn't have, but there are plenty of products that are roughly equally priced in both places (cars for example).

If we are saying that we are tied to those choices due to choices our parents made, then it doesn't really make that much difference.

Comparing across time - It's difficult to compare because of lifestyle changes - vis a vis house size, population, cable & internet, CPI inflation, number of cars, etc. We can live like our parents and save money - but I personally don't really want to.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:27 AM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


PS: My grandfather lived in Austin in the late 1940s - downtown would flood and they would take all the glass out of the windows and then clean up. So understand that even at a infrastructure/civic type level, we are not living like our grandparents did even if we choose to live in their old house in 2018.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:31 AM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Austin in the late 1940s - downtown would flood

Austin in the 2010s - downtown floods, far too often, costing millions if not billions. The infrastructure in this town was probably better in the 40's, but that's a digression.

Lots of upper middle class types can experience pretty big changes in relative wealth by moving, and that makes it hard to talk about this stuff on a national level. It doesn't only matter how much you earn compared to the people thousands of miles away, it matters also how much you have compared to the people within a 100 mile radius.

Albuquerque, Memphis, Columbus, there's lots of nice cities with full amenities that have lower costs of living than your cool coastal meccas, and they have plenty of elite rich people too. All I'm trying to point out is that a given medium-grade lawyer or engineer is going to have a lot more purchasing power in a Columbus compared to a San Francisco, and I've not yet seen a way to account for that in discussions of how wealth and income are distributed.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2018


SaltySalticid: Lots of upper middle class types can experience pretty big changes in relative wealth by moving, and that makes it hard to talk about this stuff on a national level. It doesn't only matter how much you earn compared to the people thousands of miles away, it matters also how much you have compared to the people within a 100 mile radius.

Let's return for a moment to the numbers in the article:

$1,700: Wealth of median black family

$116,800: Wealth of median white family

$2,400,000: Wealth of median "9.9%" family

The cost of the neighbourhood someone lives in - let's call it their purchasing power parity - makes a difference, but it doesn't make that much difference.
posted by clawsoon at 4:32 PM on May 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


Absolutely, I'll not deny that race plays a huge factor, as does of course percentile wealth rank (by definition). That important stuff for sure, I'm just interested in how cost of living and relocation plays into wealth and luxury and heritability of those things. More of a "and what about this aspect?" thought than "this is the most important part".

Many people have housing as a large portion of expenses. Of course being able to move around the country seeking better conditions is itself a privilege that most people don't currently have in the USA. But lots of people in this thread have moved around their country (or world) seeking better lives, and I do think that's worth considering when looking at broad geographic scales of wealth distribution. "That much difference" is of course also relative. Just a few thousand dollars a year is huge when you're poor, if you can somehow manage to get that via moving. It's also something that I've been thinking a lot about for personal reasons, in that my family can be richer in simple dollar terms after moving to a place with a similar pay scale and about half the cost of living. I know that's not something everyone can or wants to do, but I can tell you for sure it can be a big difference in some scenarios.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:27 PM on May 18, 2018


Just stumbled across this article this evening. Thanks to narwhal for directing me to this FPP, and to MythMaker for posting it!

I’m still a little fizzy after reading its excellent treatment and contextualization of social mobility, economic inequality, race, privilege, and the delusions of meritocracy in our society.

Converted it into a .pdf file and expect to be sharing it with friends and family.
posted by darkstar at 11:28 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I also balked at the term “aristocracy”, as the 9.9% stratum is more akin to the traditional landed gentry or wealthy merchant classes, as has been noted by others in this thread.

They were, indeed, the wealthy non-aristocrats that had almost as much to gain (in the short-term view) by perpetuating the inequities of the system that supported the aristocracy, just as with the modern 9.9%ers the article discusses.

That bit of pedantry notwithstanding, it’s a brilliant article. I just re-read it and it bears up well under multiple readings...
posted by darkstar at 12:09 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Counterpoint, via Slate.

The Slate article breaks down some of the stats the Atlantic article has glommed together, and makes points I hadn’t considered, such as how using wealth instead of income can skew the definition towards retirees.

It doesn’t however mention the thing I was most annoyed with the Atlantic article for— its odd habit of using “we” to describe beliefs that many of us don’t hold (I’m not even sure whether I fit in the economic group being described, income vs wealth can make a big difference here— but I did go to fancy schools and have many of the other signifiers). I could feel myself thinking “I don’t hold these beliefs , nor do most of the similarly situated people I know, therefore they aren’t talking about me.”

But in some ways I do think those of us who are doing ok have culpability if we only agitate for change that benefits us. We should be (and many of us are) agitating for change that helps all of our fellow 99%ers. Because we are not the 0.1%, and they are the ones taking all the cookies.
posted by nat at 12:53 AM on May 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


That article’s a good perspective by Weismann, nat.

I don’t think it fundamentally overturns Stewart’s thesis, but it does point out where he could have been tighter in defining what is essentially the upper middle class. And it does emphasize that, although the upper middle class are part of perpetuating the inequality he decries, the top 1% are still the most egregious exemplars and promulgators and beneficiaries of inequality.
posted by darkstar at 4:14 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


SaltySalticid: Absolutely, I'll not deny that race plays a huge factor, as does of course percentile wealth rank (by definition).

Percentile rank makes a difference only to the extent that inequality exists. In a relatively equal society, a household at the 90th percentile could have twice as much wealth as a household at the 10th percentile. Or they could have, as the US does... uh... -1228 times as much, since you've got to multiply the -$962 wealth of the 10th percentile household by a negative number to get the $1,182,390 wealth of the 90% percentile household.
posted by clawsoon at 4:40 AM on May 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


nat: such as how using wealth instead of income can skew the definition towards retirees.

The behaviour of pension funds has been one of the major causes of the emiseration of the working classes. They have been a primary driver of the push for increased profitability at the expense of wages and jobs.
posted by clawsoon at 4:46 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Pension funds instead of ceo stock options as the reason for profit seeking behavior of for profit corporations. Yeah, the working classes were done in by pensions! And all that healthcare gets in the way of their immune systems learning to overcome disease boot-strap style.
/derail
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 6:00 AM on May 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


The behaviour of pension funds has been one of the major Justifications of the emiseration of the working classes. They have been a primary Scapegoat of the push for increased profitability at the expense of wages and jobs.

FTFY
posted by neonrev at 6:05 AM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Anchorite_of_Palgrave: Yeah, the working classes were done in by pensions!

Exactly. An earlier generation of the working class was used to suck a later generation of the working class dry.

Here is someone grappling with the issue, if you find it an interesting one. The Adam Curtis clips embedded in the post are worth a watch.
posted by clawsoon at 6:10 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Support the public schools.

Losing and Gaining Public Goods - "To build a tangible, inclusive, meaningful, and durable community, we must begin with public goods... Public goods, in other words, are not so much about 'free stuff' as they are about the 'stuff that makes us free.' "
posted by kliuless at 8:38 AM on May 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


Not unrelated: Nobody has the money for kids.
U.S. Fertility Rate Fell to a Record Low, for a Second Straight Year
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on May 19, 2018


My kid, who is a high school freshman, and I have already spent a lot of time freaked out about college. We don't have the capital to send him to the ivies without a scholarship, and he's not hyper competitive, and got bored with UIL competitions after it became so high stakes that they were drilling 8th graders for 20 hours a week, including mandatory weekend school attendance if you were on a uil team.

I've said before that I find it problematic that trades aren't even considered in today's educational landscape. I mean, not for nothing, but my AC guy makes as much as a doctor once you account for malpractice insurance and student loan payoffs. My plumber has 7 kids, and a stay at home wife, and they can manage.

But American high schools act like the trades are shameful, and the only path to success is by taking out a mortgage worth of loans at 18. It's insane.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 10:18 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


the top 1% are still the most egregious exemplars and promulgators and beneficiaries of inequality.

It’s like, if you took away 80% of all the income of someone who made 350,000 a year they’d be devestated- not even factoring in the immense debt the average American owes. If you took away 80% of the income of someone who makes 40 million a year they’d still have more money then any one person could ever use and through investing and hiring some savvy accountants, keep it growing or at least stable in perpetuity, and 40 million barley cracks into the floor of the super rich. Get out of the crab bucket, Soildarity extends to everyone who has to sell their labor to survive. (And if you don’t? If you’re a capital hoarder? Well, give us some of your money, trust me you’re not using it - and actually give it up not that bullshit charity/NGO complex I know too much about where you pay your slightly less rich relatives to pretend to work and get massive tax breaks, yiu could do better work opening a storefront and handing out 100$ bills all day no questions asked)

*puts on button reading RAISE MY TAXES*
posted by The Whelk at 10:44 AM on May 19, 2018 [21 favorites]


The Atlantic article is a hit piece designed to foment crab pot behaviour. I would not be surprised if the author was a Koch think tank product.

The 3 Richest Americans Hold More Wealth Than Bottom 50% Of The Country, Study Finds

The Slate piece linked above also debunks much of this. The most striking change in the last 40 years has been the growing share of both wealth and income taken by the top percentile. If the increases of the top 1% were redistributed by some mechanism like say 1970s tax rates, most people earning less than 100k would double their effective income.
posted by benzenedream at 11:15 AM on May 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


my AC guy makes as much as a doctor once you account for malpractice insurance and student loan payoffs. My plumber has 7 kids, and a stay at home wife, and they can manage.

You are going to have to provide some real numbers to support that claim. The average plumber makes $46,000 a year. The average HVAC technician makes about $43,000. The average doctor makes $190,000 a year, more than four times as much.
posted by JackFlash at 11:25 AM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Well, it's not like they're going to give me their 1040s, but in the plumber's case, I know his wife and seven kids, and they didn't come from money, so it's not like they're sitting on an inheritance. But, I don't know how to search for what the average owner of a plumbing company makes. Same goes for the AC guy. He owns his own company. Of the cars I've seen in his driveway, I have never been able to afford any of them, and I have 8 more years of college than he does.

But here's my point. Doctors are valuable. Lawyers are valuable, but so are plumbers and builders and ac techs and mechanics. See also, road crews, maintenance crews, janitorial staff, kitchen staff, wait staff, etc. For our culture to be set up such that the only possible road to financial success is through a debt channel, is disastrous.

Do I think everyone should have an opportunity to experience university if that's what they want? Ab.so.lutely. Do I think university should be a gatekeeper to success? No. That's madness when public universities can cost as much as $200,000 for four years. Assuming you could get the classes to graduate in four years, which..ha.

If we devalue service and trade skills, then who is going to want to do it? And if trade work is beneath certain classes of people, then what does that say about us?

Maybe there should be some sort of system whereby money from the very wealthy could be siphoned back into the common good, so that a greater number of people could achieve health and happiness doing the things they want to be doing. I'm mean, I'm just spitballing here, but perhaps we should eat the rich?
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 3:47 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


The Whelk: It’s like, if you took away 80% of all the income of someone who made 350,000 a year they’d be devestated

They'd be left with $70,000 a year. Not sure if you're making a joke or not.
posted by clawsoon at 4:02 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


A side note: Clawsoon's link is to a UK writer and the complaint about pensions is different from what is usually made about American ones, which may have been confusing upthread.

The link is talking about how UK pension funds (which seem to cover far more people than US ones) are individually such significant investors that they 1. act similarly to asset-stripping wall-street companies and 2. invest very large amounts of money in tobacco, big oil, etc.

These things are about the same for US pension funds, except that I think ours tend to be comparatively passive and don't actually cover a very big percentage of society, but that's not the usual objection raised to them. Clawsoon's link seems to be saying, "the problem is that these enormous investment schemes should be made to invest responsibly at the behest of their members", whereas in the US the critique is always from the right and boils down to "what do you mean, working people should be able to pay into a relatively low-fee guaranteed return investment program so that they have a predictable income at retirement, that's an unfair burden on governments and corporations, working people should each individually be responsible for their own retirement, and the boss shouldn't have to chip in either".

It seems as though the very existence of pension schemes in the UK is less controversial than in the US, so the conversation can be more about the actual pension plan than about the mere idea that working people deserve a stable retirement.
posted by Frowner at 9:40 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


That should’ve been 150,000 a year, my slip
posted by The Whelk at 9:40 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Going from 350k a year to 70k wouldn't put you on the street, but it would make a massive difference in your standard of living, because at those levels the cost of human-scale things like food, housing, and travel are more than a blip. For the real rich it is literally impossible for them to spend so much on personal luxuries that it makes even a dent in their income.
posted by contraption at 9:42 PM on May 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: That should’ve been 150,000 a year, my slip

That brings them down to $30,000 a year. 49% of Americans live on less than that. They might find it emotionally devastating, and they might have to dramatically rearrange their lives, but... well... unless you're saying that the median American lives a devastated life? Which... well... uh... okay, fine, you win this round. :-)
posted by clawsoon at 4:42 AM on May 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


I’ve gone from an income of $212K to an income of $55K, which is pretty close to 80 percent (with my tax situation, it probably was over 80 percent). And it was devastating, because I’d made commitments based on the $212K and purchased things that needed to be maintained and gotten used to being able to do things and suchlike.

Was I still making more than most people in the world and in the U.S. and in the state of Tennessee? Of course. And I knew it. I was making more than people doing my job in the same office; people with larger families and greater obligations.

But you know what? It was still devastating to me. It was still a massive shift in my lifestyle and attitude and way of thinking, and it could very easily had done significant lasting damage to my lifestyle etc. I’m sorry if that seems bourgeois or classist or whatever to you.
posted by Etrigan at 4:53 AM on May 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also, if your income is $40 million, then you’re not living on your income in any meaningful way. You’re living on your investments and as a client of the corporation that your accountant (who works only for you) has set up, and you really won’t have the same shock if your income (or, more precisely, the income to You LLC) suddenly drops.
posted by Etrigan at 4:56 AM on May 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Etrigan: But you know what? It was still devastating to me.

Of course it was. It's emotionally devastating to those with multi-million dollar incomes, too, if they lose 80% of their income, for exactly the same reasons as for you: Massive shift in lifestyle, commitments based on the higher income, costs to maintain (and keep making payments on) stuff that has been purchased.

Imagine the British royal family's income suddenly going down by 80%, for example. Everything they knew would be turned upside down. It would be bewildering, depressing. Many of them would be frantic, trying to figure out what to hang on to and what to give up, completely disoriented.

We can get used to anything, and be emotionally devastated by the loss of it. I'm still going to have less sympathy for you (or for myself) than for someone who never had the opportunity of a higher income.
posted by clawsoon at 5:17 AM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


No, it’s not. Because when your income is $40M, you’re living off your wealth. The royal family doesn’t have an income as we think of it.

The rich and the wealthy have different lives from the middle class and from each other. No one is asking for your sympathy for any of them.
posted by Etrigan at 6:14 AM on May 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


I find the median income of the average American to be horrifically low because it hasn’t kept up with inflation for over 40 years and been propped up with access to easy credit, yes. That people get on with it at all is a testament to endurance and resourcefulness, but it should easily be double that by now.
posted by The Whelk at 9:00 AM on May 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


Imagine the British royal family's income suddenly going down by 80%, for example. Everything they knew would be turned upside down. It would be bewildering, depressing. Many of them would be frantic, trying to figure out what to hang on to and what to give up, completely disoriented.

This would be the best and most amazing thing ever and the thought of it is cheering on this depressing ass day where all seems lost.

As for the royals...

a) no, really, they’d be alright with only massive amounts of money
b) fuck their feels
c) actually that bunch is so emotionally disfunctional that after an intial adjustment they’d be better off.
posted by Artw at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean, compared to the mountains of gold sitting out there, collecting interest , untaxed, held by people or corporations with more wealth than entire nations - we’re all just fighting over scraps when we should be demanding a seat at the table. I designed a poster about this oh , ten years ago (what happened ten years ago again?)
posted by The Whelk at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


The Slate article, while generally a bit of a muddle, highlights the interesting question of how one defines a "class" given fairly continuous underlying features. The basic (unarticulated) idea in the Stewart piece is that there must be a significant amount of shared experience within the group, and also barriers to transiting into or out of the group. The problem with the former is that each individual on the wealth ladder shares some things in common with those of similar wealth, but also differs in significant ways (eg, two equally wealthy families, one white, one African-American). The problem with the latter is that, as mobility decreases and inequality calcifies, virtually every percentile becomes "sticky," so it's hard to draw clear lines between specific wealth groups. Stewart's basic idea is that, when it comes to economic class, one of the most important shared experiences is whether your wealth has grown, stagnated, or declined as a percentage of the country. The Weissmann piece quibbles with the numbers, but in the end the evidence they present and link to basically agrees: at best, they show that rather than the 90th-99.9th quantile holding steady, it's more like the 93rd-99.5th quantile. But if you accept the basic premise that the direction of change is what makes the class, the Slate article basically agrees with the Stewart piece, even while it tries to argue that the static group (9.9) doesn't matter so much as the up vs down (99 vs 1). The question is whether that basic premise is good, though, and if not, are there any cutpoints that make sense, or is this just a fundamentally continuous function that we're trying to impose hard clusters on.

As someone who does think economic experience is a still a deeply significant factor in most of our lives -- along with many other things -- I'm sympathetic to the class-based approach. But the fundamental problem is just as apparent to those who work in unsupervised learning as to those in intersectional politics. The idea that one clustering -- one set of cutting planes -- is going to cleave the data neatly into very similar datapoints who are very dissimilar from those in other classes, is almost never possible in practice. A black female teacher in Atlanta and a white male plumber in rural Maine who have the same income and wealth are just too different on numerous other dimensions -- even if the wealth part is very important -- to fit tidily into a "class" in any sense of a significantly similar shared experience. There are many ways around this problem of intersection and different ("solidarity not unity" eg), but whatever the solution, the dream of finding the perfect definition of experience along with a perfect set of cutting points in order to define a nice, tidy set of "classes" that we can neatly summarize and organize is just mathematically very unlikely. We're going to have to make due with a more complicated system of correlation matrices, factor spaces, complicated venn diagrams or the like, because that's the way the world works these days. This isn't to say we have to organize around a multiple regression table and like it -- we do need a clean set of metaphors to get people out of their seats and away from each other's throats. But it's probably time to lose the model from three or more scientific paradigms ago, and find a way to move forward without "class."
posted by chortly at 9:10 PM on May 20, 2018


... Since I don't entirely believe the above, I suppose one way of putting the counterpoint is that, whatever their theoretical drawbacks, even in the world of unsupervised machine learning on high-dimensional data, hard clusters remain quite popular, if only because such (over-) simplifications are often of real practical utility for downstream machines or humans who work with the class assignments. So by that pragmatic logic, even if the tri-partite division into 90, 9.9, and 0.1 were in some ways a cleaner classification, it is surely less useful for practical, organizational politics than a single cut between 99 and 1 (as Weissmann argues). In addition, the 99% framing avoids some of the conceptual problems of hard clustering by foregoing previous terminology (rich, poor, working class) in favor a term that explicitly evokes the underlying continuum, both binding the class while implicitly allowing for variance within. So in that sense, that kind of "class" distinction is both an improvement on past "class" frameworks, and also an improvement on -- or at least, a useful addition to -- the sometimes confusing venn diagram implied by the "intersection" set of metaphors.
posted by chortly at 9:45 PM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, about median incomes:

One in five American households have ‘zero or negative’ wealth
Almost half of US families can't afford basics like rent and food
6 in 10 Americans don't have $500 in savings

If that’s the average that means half are in worse shape.

70,000k is the median income in my congressional distinct, it does not have the same buying power as 70,000k somewhere else but just like everywhere else in the country - how much that is actually going to paying off debt? and an unexpected expense, set back or medical issue can obliterate it overnight all the same.

I have accidentally made it my mission to radicalize the downwardly mobile professionals one encounters around here who seem confused as to why their salary buys less and less every year. We’re all in the same leaking ship here.

As the middle class finishes (has finished?) the process of hollowing out, we must keep our eyes focused on the real enemies: the loan sharks, The exploiters, the people with all the freaking money who own the means of production and their highly paid rationalizers, politicians, and cheerleaders .

Fight together or die alone and all that.
posted by The Whelk at 8:13 AM on May 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


But, I don't know how to search for what the average owner of a plumbing company makes. Same goes for the AC guy. He owns his own company.

Look! it's happened again! "Being a plumber" is not the equivalent of "owning a plumbing company". Being the owner of a company is the equivalent of being the CEO of a hospital group, not of being a doctor. Owners of significantly large plumbing companies and CEOs of similarly sized hospital groups are in the same social class. Owners of companies are making marketing, advertising, accounting, human resources, and hiring decisions, not just cleaning pipes. Going to a plumbing trade school doesn't prepare you to do any of those things.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:29 AM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


>> It's emotionally devastating to those with multi-million dollar incomes, too, if they lose 80% of their income [...]

> No, it’s not. Because when your income is $40M, you’re living off your wealth. The royal family doesn’t have an income as we think of it.


This is a point worth understanding - speaking in broad generalities, the merely "wealthy" (9.9%-ers) do not live in the same universe as the 0.1%. Even ordinary wealth offers this massive security blanket, as we know from all those stories about how it is more expensive to be poor. But extraordinary wealth - when your private plane jets you from your Aspen lodge to your Bahamas beach house - is a whole other thing that most of us have no conception of. (No, it's not the latest rap star setting dollar bills on fire in his Ferrari on YouTube - that's the flim flam.)

(Yes, I know. "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.")
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:53 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


If that’s the average that means half are in worse shape.

scanners_headexplosion.gif
[morbo] AVERAGES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY! [/morbo]

i am sorry; i have this enormous stack of intro-statistics finals to grade and they make me cranky honestly i fully expect at least one student to select that another name for the average is the hangry instead of the mean
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:03 AM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


To wit: almost everyone has more than the average number of eyeballs, and only a trifling minority has fewer than the average number.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:04 AM on May 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


Being the owner of a company is the equivalent of being the CEO of a hospital group, not of being a doctor.

Whoa now, I think it's a jump to hospital group. "Plumbing companies" start at, like, 3 people. Maybe even one guy and his son. The equivalent for a doctor would be starting a partnership, or something like that.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:01 AM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


This is a point worth understanding - speaking in broad generalities, the merely "wealthy" (9.9%-ers) do not live in the same universe as the 0.1%.

As Chris Rock says, “Shaq is rich. The guy who signs Shaq’s checks is wealthy.”
posted by Etrigan at 4:41 PM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]




Being the owner of a company is the equivalent of being the CEO of a hospital group, not of being a doctor.

Whoa now, I think it's a jump to hospital group. "Plumbing companies" start at, like, 3 people. Maybe even one guy and his son. The equivalent for a doctor would be starting a partnership, or something like that.
I think the more useful distinction is: there's a difference between being the plumber who comes in and draws a regular salary, and being the plumber who owns the company and decides what the other guy's salary is going to be. Small business owners are the heart of the middle class, and another thing that's been happening in this country, especially with the consolidation of several industries and the devastation of retail, is that it's grown increasingly hard to operate as an entrepreneur.

I think the more significant point of the Atlantic article, which was left out of the Slate response, is the notion that social mobility has declined. Honestly, I believe that some level of inequality will always be present in any society. There will always be some people who will be more focused on the common good and helping others, and there will always be others who will be more focused on themselves, and that will always result in some uneven distribution of wealth, but what has made America compelling as a place to live is the continuing myth that you can come here with nothing and make a life for yourself.

Whenever I thought about this article this week, I wondered if there was going to be some inflection point where people will start leaving America because it's lost its luster as a land of opportunity. Immigration has been declining here relative to other developed countries, and more American students are enrolling in foreign universities as a workaround to the high cost of tuition in the US. At what point are those students going to just choose the expat life because they can just go further there? Then what happens when critical mass for that reaches a point where cottage industries start popping up to make travel and emigration more accessible to other members of society, and you have talent firms that just specialize in, say, placing young Americans as hospitality staff in Chinese or Qatari hotels and restaurants, or as schoolteachers in India? What does an American brain drain look like?
posted by bl1nk at 5:14 AM on May 24, 2018


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