The Real Class War
November 26, 2019 4:47 AM   Subscribe

The Real Class War Julius Krein contextualises inter-class conflict in the United States of America for American Affairs: Everybody’s oxen are gored in the process.
posted by pharm (37 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Everybody’s oxen are gored in the process seems a little overstated. The dynamics described in the article all overlap with or are otherwise compatible with Piketty's thesis. Useful for someone to have put it all in one place to point people to rather than repeatedly explaining why my understanding of history tells me that electoral politics can't save us.
posted by PMdixon at 5:15 AM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't agree with everything in there, but there are great lines throughout. Just one example:

The result is a highly stratified and largely dysfunctional Republican Party: a few billionaires and corporate interests (mainly those who cannot fit into the more attractive progressive neoliberal program) pay their second-rate propagandists to offer a discredited and incoherent policy agenda to an increasingly disaffected voter base.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:36 AM on November 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


Julius Krein tho?
posted by fleacircus at 5:58 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oops. Have flagged.
posted by pharm at 6:02 AM on November 26, 2019


This guy sounds like a great drinking buddy, I’m assuming he was drunk when he wrote the last third, which is mostly just amusing shit flinging.
posted by skewed at 6:09 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


"The socioeconomic divide that will determine the future of poli­tics, particularly in the United States, is not between the top 30 per­cent or 10 percent and the rest, nor even between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The real class war is between the 0.1 percent and (at most) the 10 percent—or, more precisely, between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on profes­sional labor."

For a counterargument, see Richard Reeves' book Dream Hoarders:"It’s now conventional wisdom to focus on the excesses of the top 1% — especially the top 0.01% — and how the ultra-rich are hoarding income and wealth while incomes for most other Americans are stagnant. But the more important, and widening, gap in American society is between the upper middle class and everyone else. ...the growing separation between the upper middle class and everyone else can be seen in family structure, neighborhoods, attitudes, and lifestyle."

I think there are two related stories: In terms of day-to-day life and child-rearing, the differences between the "dream hoarder" class and the very rich are relatively small compared to the differences between poorer families and the upper-middle class. But political power is increasingly concentrated in the 0.XX percent.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:40 AM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Those are two different claims tho that mostly support each other. One is about who is plausibly in a position to take the helm of the ship of state, the other is about who is responsible for the shoddy condition of that ship.
posted by PMdixon at 6:49 AM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


The divide between the poor and the rich (let's dispense with "upper-middle", they're rich) is the difference between the have-nots and the haves.

But we want everyone to have, and we're post-scarcity. We need to focus on the reason why the have-nots haven't, and that's the 0.01%. Their hoarding tendencies and political power is why there isn't enough for the rest of us.

The tech baron's telling the teacher that the lawyer is the reason why the teacher doesn't have enough, and that's so transparently false.
posted by explosion at 6:52 AM on November 26, 2019 [8 favorites]


But the more important, and widening, gap in American society is between the upper middle class and everyone else. ...the growing separation between the upper middle class and everyone else can be seen in family structure, neighborhoods, attitudes, and lifestyle.

See, I think that particular gap is simply the result of the bottom-up hollowing-out of American society. The poor, lower-middle, and middle classes are already pretty well consumed. The upper-middle class stands out merely because they haven't yet been seriously targeted by the 1% for hollowing-out. Once that starts to happen, I think you'll see that gap tighten-up, as the upper-middles get sucked dry just like everyone below them.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:54 AM on November 26, 2019 [11 favorites]


The upper-middle class stands out merely because they haven't yet been seriously targeted by the 1% for hollowing-out.

They need the services they provide.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:00 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


They need the services they provide.

Sure, but a hungry lawyer works harder for you! Especially when there’s ten more lined up behind them waiting to take their place!

(I should quit channelling rentier-capitalist thought patterns, it’s probably bad for me.)
posted by pharm at 7:25 AM on November 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


fleacircus: Julius Krein tho?

For others (like me) who may not know: "Julius Krein is an American conservative political writer and editor best known as the founder of the journal American Affairs." -- Wikipedia
posted by wenestvedt at 8:07 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sure, but a hungry lawyer works harder for you! Especially when there’s ten more lined up behind them waiting to take their place!

Then you can refuse to pay their bills, too!
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:18 AM on November 26, 2019


(I should quit channelling rentier-capitalist thought patterns, it’s probably bad for me.)

OTOH, it sounds like a solid, forward-looking survival skill.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:18 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


This piece needs the "elite overproduction" idea.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:28 AM on November 26, 2019


This article seems full of questionable facts:

The streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, are filled with large numbers of scientists with doctorates from pres­tigious universities working at top biotech firms or research institutes, but living seven to a house with little hope of accumulating savings.

Unless the author means two adults with five kids, this doesn't seem plausible.
posted by justkevin at 9:17 AM on November 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


I wonder if he's referring to a house being split up into condos or apartments to get his seven to a house number? But funnily enough that description actually does apply to us - at least one of us has a doctorate from a prestigious institute and is now working at a top biotech firm (my husband) and if you count up our neighbors in the unit upstairs plus us there are 4 adults and 3 kids - so yes, seven.
But 1) we own 2) we're doing fine on savings thank you and 3) we live in Somerville not Cambridge.
But on the other hand I do know people who accepted academic postdocs at universities or medical institutes who really are in much more precarious positions so there's a tiny germ of truth in that exaggerated sentence.
posted by peacheater at 9:21 AM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Unless the author means two adults with five kids, this doesn't seem plausible.

Post-docs at MIT make $45K/year. A shithole one-bedroom apartment in Kendall Square is $2500/month. Every grad student and post-doc I've ever known in greater Boston lived with either roommates or a spouse who was making real money.

You'll be happy to know, though, that MIT's president will still earn her full $832K this year, despite the Media Lab's Epstein scandal.
posted by Mayor West at 9:27 AM on November 26, 2019 [35 favorites]


I'm curious what the general reaction is to these two quotes? They seemed quite plausible to me, though I'm not the most educated person in these matters.

This underappreciated reality at least partially explains one of the apparent puzzles of American politics in recent years: namely, that members of the elite often seem far more radical than the working class, both in their candidate choices and overall outlook. Although better off than the working class, lower-level elites appear to be experiencing far more intense status anxiety.

and

Another obstacle for left-wing upper-middle-class radicals is their own debilitating false consciousness, which easily exceeds the confusion frequently ascribed to the working class. Instead of frankly acknowledging their own professional class interests,35 they project their concerns onto the working class and present themselves as altruistic saviors—only to complain about a lack of working-class enthusiasm later.
posted by Kikujiro's Summer at 9:41 AM on November 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


I haven't read the links yet but I think the problem with that might start with the definition of radical.
posted by klanawa at 9:49 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


I live in Boston, used to live in Cambridge, and yeah, I've been to some of those houses. Cambridge has some beautiful houses that have been segmented into duplex apartments, and others that are just rented out. You end up with a "four bedroom" house that has another couple of rooms ("offices") that are don't-ask-don't-telled into additional bedrooms, and one of the bedrooms has a couple sharing it. There are probably only 5 people on the lease, one or two rotate in or out every year.

For the most part, people don't live this way past 30 or 35, but in that time, they're putting in a lot of hours at work, the rest out socializing (if able), and spending little time actually at home, so might as well get the minimum viable housing unit and pay off the massive student loans.
posted by explosion at 10:35 AM on November 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Post-docs at MIT make $45K/year.

It's amazing to me that post-docs can make more in Canada than they do in the US.
posted by bonehead at 10:50 AM on November 26, 2019


This guy should have given Elizabeth Currid-Halkett credit because many of the ideas he cribs -- "Indeed the conspicuous embrace of “elite values” by journalists and academics is often little more than an aspi­rational attempt to remain connected to an economically distant elite" or "Meanwhile, the costs of maintaining elite status—and passing it on to one’s children—have risen disproportionately for the top 5 or 10 percent" -- are ideas she expanded upon in The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class. They are also agreed that the cultural elite are increasingly unable to understand, much less solve, the problems of working-class Americans.

However, since she thinks that funding healthcare, childcare & education might actually help address the growing inequality, I can see where she'd be anathema to the core contention, i.e. "liberals are deluded hypocrites who should leave the working class alone because they want nothing to do with them anyway."
posted by sobell at 11:24 AM on November 26, 2019 [10 favorites]


From its inception, modern conservatism has opposed the pro­fessional managerial class that came to dominate business and govern­ment

Lolk
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:42 PM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


For others (like me) who may not know: "Julius Krein is an American conservative political writer and editor best known as the founder of the journal American Affairs." -- Wikipedia

To be clear I didn't know, I was just questioning the spelling in the FPP because I tried to Google the author and noticed the discrepancy.

Love how this article wants to widely accuse people of virtue signaling without using that phrase. It seems like there's a disconnect between the admission that meritocracy has been dead for a long time, yet also the desire to see these elite as some kind of flower of excellence. Meritocracy is fake, but conservative institutions are staffed with second-rate elites who couldn't hack it in the better places.

Lots of cynical frissons in this article. When you feel that, you know it's truth. /s

I wonder how this story goes for other countries. Are the UK elites entrenching their social power, conservative because they don't really feel the same precariousness as the US elites?
posted by fleacircus at 12:58 PM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


My first response to this is basically - well, yeah, the Left already knows about the divide between the 25 percent and the 1 percent plus, and a certain part makes it an explicit project to build an (ideological, sloganeering) framework that encompasses everybody outside of the capitalist class. There are real divides but bridging them with a more universal politics is sort of the point. When he gets to the part where he seems to be trying to insinuate this isn't working I think he's obfuscating a little.

Eliza­beth Warren outpolls the comparative moderate Joe Biden by nearly two to one among voters with college degrees and among voters earning over $100,000 per year. (Bernie Sanders is near the top in both categories as well.)

I'm fairly sure Joe Biden is the only one of the establishment/centrist candidates who is really doing great with less educated and lower income voters, which suggests that it's not strictly ideological. And, granting that the number of supporters who don't have a bachelor's degree because they are in the process of getting one may skew Sanders' demographics, from the polls I've seen he does get distinctly more support from people who are not [highly educated or high income] than Warren or most anybody who isn't Biden.

Which all goes to say that the part of this that is convincing - but maybe kind of obvious at this point - is that the top 10 or 25 percent is in fact disproportionately politically influential. The part that is less convincing is the suggestion that there's no sign of interest in a politics that transcends this. I don't think recent flashes of energy around labor organizing are even mentioned in this essay?
posted by atoxyl at 1:11 PM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


> Even Medicare for All could potentially benefit households earning be­tween $100,000 and $200,000 the most; cohorts below that are already subsidized.

He's definitely wrong here. I just looked up the Medicaid threshold for California, and it's 138% of the federal poverty line, which works out to be $16,753.20 for an individual. Where exactly does that leave people earning between 16K and 100K? All of them would stand to benefit from Medicare for All.
posted by movicont at 2:22 PM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


I assume it's in reference to the ACA subsidies.
posted by PMdixon at 2:23 PM on November 26, 2019


I assume it's in reference to the ACA subsidies.

The subsidies to marketplace plans, for people who do not have access to an "affordable" plan through their employer? Correct me if I'm misstating the conditions for eligibility but I'm pretty sure these also only apply to a fairly limited swath of people in the cited income range.
posted by atoxyl at 2:38 PM on November 26, 2019


I keep coming back to this piece because it seems as if Julius Krein thinks he's writing a much more sophisticated and incisive analysis than he actually is, and because his conclusion is so silly:

What is remarkable about today’s oligarchy is not its ruthlessness but its pettiness and purposelessness. An all-consuming megalomania might at least produce some great art as a side-effect. But this collec­tion of mediocrities cannot even do that. Their political activities—whether pushing for a slightly lower tax rate or throwing money at a self-serving brand of faux progressivism—are too small-minded to be anything other than embarrassing. This class has no idea what to do with its wealth, much less the power that results from it. It can only withdraw and extract, socially and economically, while the political justifications for its existence melt away.

Because a quick ctl-F shows nary a mention of the Gates Foundation (which is aiming at malaria, not a petty or purposeless target), and nary a mention of how many billionaires are quietly investing in clean tech and renewable energy -- again, something that could disrupt societies and/or remake economies.

Cherry-picking facts to make a point is stock trade in sustained op-ed pieces but given the rest of the column's tenor, I suspect Krein is just disappointed more billionaires aren't doing as the Koch brothers do. And to that I say, thank goodness.
posted by sobell at 3:12 PM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


GODDAMNIT THAT WAS MY LAST OXEN.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 4:51 PM on November 26, 2019 [6 favorites]


Ctl-F increase taxes...

Yeah, maybe you should rework this, Jules.
posted by prismatic7 at 10:19 PM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


He doesn't sound like a right-wing conservative, but closer to a classical conservative. Maybe the author and others are trying to rehabilitate conservative politics.

I loved the final line, capitalism without competence and feudalism without nobility. But I think the issue is more subtle than the author's understanding because he neglects to deconstruct competence/mediocrity which he uses quite rhetorically.

And I think one systemic problem is that the piece is covering so much material, that many of the sub-arguments, e.g., the paragraph about identity politics, are moot. Like it's a great imitation of academic writing (ooh, a references list! Or is that just a veneer of research rigor.), but it isn't as rigorous and self-reflective about each claim, leaving obvious questions.

So I'd love to see Jacobson's editors review or respond to this piece, that would be fun.
posted by polymodus at 10:23 PM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Do you mean Jacobin polymodus?
posted by pharm at 12:08 AM on November 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Instead of frankly acknowledging their own professional class interests, they project their concerns onto the working class and present themselves as altruistic saviors

I have to admit that, looking up from the bottom, this really rings true to me. I don't think the problem is with the ideolog[y/ies] so much as it is that the people carrying the messages think they understand the poor a lot better than they actually do--they tend to fall prey to assuming the poor are just like them, but with less money--and that they are, honestly, pretty uncomfortable around living, breathing poor people instead of their abstract ideas of poor people.

Quick edit: I think the best example of this is the support for universal higher ed but the crickets chirping for universal preschool.
posted by mattwan at 1:49 PM on November 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


they tend to fall prey to assuming the poor are just like them, but with less money

They pretty much are. I mean, yes, there are minor differences, but if you accept that the poor are different than the middle class, then you also have to accept that the rich are different from the middle class and poor, and that the ineffable qualities that make them different are not transferable, which is completely false.


And as to your example, there are multiple school districts around the country currently pushing for universal preschool, which doesn't really require federal funding, so yes it is discussed a bit differently than universal higher education.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:36 AM on November 28, 2019


currently pushing for universal preschool, which doesn't really require federal funding, so yes it is discussed a bit differently than universal higher education.

Also, every school district I've been a part of already has universal preschool for lower income people, so the middle class and above are the ones paying extra for it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:43 AM on November 28, 2019


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