We have seen the future, and it sucks.

The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, or, Downward Mobility

31st October 2011

Kenneth Anderson has some interesting thoughts on the occupation.

 Glenn Reynolds is correct in his weekend post to point to the social theory of the New Class as key to understanding the convulsions in the middle and upper middle class; I’ve written about it myself here at VC and in a 1990s law journal book review essay.  The angst is partly income, of course — but it’s also in considerable part, as Glenn notes, “characterized as much by self-importance as by higher income, and is far more eager to keep the proles in their place than, say, [Anne] Applebaum’s small-town dentist. It’s thus not surprising that as its influence has grown, economic opportunity has increasingly been closed down by government barriers.”

The New Class has always operated across the lines of public and private, however, the government-university-finance and technology capital sectors.  It is not a theory of the government class versus the business class — as 1990s neoconservatives sometimes mistakenly imagined.  As Lasch pointed out, it is the class that bridges and moves effortlessly between the two.  As a theory of late capitalism (once imported from being an analysis of communist nomenkaltura) it offers itself as a theory of technocratic expertise first  - but, if that spectacularly fails as it did in 2008, it falls back on a much more rudimentary claim of monopoly access to the levers of the economy.  Which is to say, the right to bridge the private-public line, and rent out its access.

And Megan McArdle takes the ball and runs it down field:

 We have no hereditary aristocracy; all fortunes originated, fairly recently, in “trade”.  Except for a small and peculiar class of people in relatively old coastal cities, we don’t celebrate people who “don’t have to work”–and don’t.  And though I have been surprisingly* often consulted by panicked people worried about “using the wrong fork”**, the class markers are mostly different.  But there are still all sorts of hidden cultural signifiers that tell us, yes, we’re still in the elite, we know that Formula One is cool and NASCAR isn’t (unless you’re watching it ironically.)

Orwell’s next passage points out that it is the lower-upper-middle-class who have the most venom towards those below them–precisely because to preserve their status, they have to keep themselves sharply apart from the workers and tradesmen.  And I think that that does apply here as well, at least to some extent.  One of the interesting things about going back to my business school reunion earlier in the month was simply the absence of the sort of cutting remarks about flyover country that I have grown used to hearing in any large gathering of people.   I didn’t notice it until after the events were over, because it was a slow accumulation of all the jokes and rants I hadn’t heard about NASCAR, McMansions, megachurches, reality television, and all the other cultural signifiers that make up a small but steady undercurrent of my current social milieu, the way Polish jokes did when I was in sixth grade.

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