Class dismissed

by Henry Farrell on December 22, 2005

I “blogged”: Larry Bartels’ take-no-prisoners “critique”: of Thomas Frank last week; now Frank has come back with an “equally frank rejoinder”: It seems to me that Frank’s riposte to Bartels on the issue of how to define the white working class strikes home, although some of his other jabs miss the target. Since the definitional question is key to Bartels’ critique, it looks to me as if Franks comes out ahead (unless Bartels comes back with a more convincing justification). Still, I find some of Frank’s apologia unconvincing. He’s absolutely right to say that working class conservatism is still important, even if it isn’t a majority phenomenon – but there is a tendency (which Frank is by no means immune to) to generalize from the particular and to draw big conclusions on the basis of limited and somewhat impressionistic information. National survey data is imperfect – but it can serve as a very useful corrective to these tendencies, and it’s unfortunate that more pundits don’t use it (or at least acknowledge more directly the limits of the kinds of information that they do refer to).

(via Rick Perlstein)

Update “Matt Yglesias”: is blegging social scientists to crunch NES data for a different measure of the ‘real’ working class.



Matthew Yglesias 12.22.05 at 6:38 pm

Here’s the thing about the educational definition of class: ccording to Gopoian and Whitehead’s critique of Bartels the median household income of the “white working class” defined as white people who don’t have a bachelor’s degree was $47,500 per year in 2004. The median household income in the United States was $44,389 in 2004. Obviously, people are free to define their terms how they like, but the Frank/Gopoian/Whitehead version of the “working class” is richer on average than the typical American. This renders the phenomenon of working class conservatism rather un-mysterious. If I told you I was writing a book about why a richer-than-average group of people supported the party that represents the interests of the well-to-do, I think you’d be pretty unimpressed.

Not unrelatedly, on the Frank/Gopoian/Whitehead account Bill Gates is a member of the working class.

If you want to use education as your demarcation (which seems defensible), you probably ought to use a three-tiered scheme. The 46 percent of voters who never attended college go in one class. The 29 percent with “some college” go in a second class. And the 26 percent who graduated go in yet another class.


Hiram Hover 12.22.05 at 7:46 pm

Frank’s rejoinder is more impressive than I expected. Still, a couple of questions/qualifications:

1. Using education as a proxy for class, Frank says Bush won the white working class by 24%–which makes white working class conservatism (at least as measured by this one election) a substantial phenomenon. But it’s much less substantial when you use self-identification as the measure–Bush still won, but by less than 9% (which Frank sticks in a footnote, #10). If nothing else, I’d be curious to hear why Frank thinks Bush’s margin shrinks so much when self-identification is used, and what that says about using education as the proxy.

2. Region — These are national election results. I’d be very curious to see some control for region, and especially the South–I wonder how much of an edge Bush held among the white working class outside the South, and I’d bet it shrinks considerably from either that 24 or 9% margin.


canadian 12.22.05 at 7:48 pm

The right definition of working class is the Democratic voter and the right definiton of the capitalist class is the Republican voter. Abstainers are Candians.


Catherine Liu 12.22.05 at 8:01 pm

Minor point, but it did bother me — it’s Thomas Frank, not Franks.


david 12.22.05 at 8:13 pm

Frank comes out far ahead. Bartel’s lumping of poor with working class is really pretty bad.

Yglesias seems to think that union folks aren’t working class.. anyway, 47.5 ain’t well to do, and the policies of the Republican party favor well over 100, a point he well knows. Why he seems to think that what he’s doing isn’t lumping poor in with working class, in the same way Bartel did, is beyond me.


Catherine Liu 12.22.05 at 8:34 pm

I think the inaccuracy of class-based self-identification is part of Frank’s thesis: the working class cannot identify its interests — and here is the rub that cultural studies hates as well — the working class have been in some sense seduced by the cultural spectacle provided by militarized conservatism into identifying with the interests of those in power. I.e. in the post-desegregation South, the white working class would rather identify with their economic superiors than with minorities who share their material interests.


Hiram Hover 12.22.05 at 9:40 pm

Catherine — I read Frank’s thesis a bit differently. As he explains towards the end of this rejoinder, he thinks the white working class remains liberal on economic issues–ie, they’re capable of recognizing their interests, and would vote them given the opportunity. But Democrats won’t give it to them; they’ve converged with the Republicans to such a degree on economic issues, Frank argues, that the cultural issues are all that remains–and there the white working class does agree with Republicans. I think that argument for convergence is substantially overstated, but it is Frank’s argument.


Matthew Yglesias 12.22.05 at 9:41 pm

Well, look, presumably there’s such a thing as a “middle class” which lies somewhere above the “working class” and yet below the “lower class.” If a group of people whose median income is slightly above the national median don’t count as the “middle class” then who does? Obviously, on some level this dispute is somewhat pointless semantics but I think people wind up getting confused when they discuss the phenomenon of middle-income white people voting GOP as “working class conservatism.”

On some level, this is all semantics. But insofar as people drop out of strict technical definitions and start using language loosely, I think calling middle-income people “working class” winds up getting misleading. Loads of people seem to have walked away from Frank’s book thinking there were massive brigades of poor people backing Bush. The important takeaway from Bartels’ paper is that this isn’t true.


Henry 12.22.05 at 10:02 pm

Catherine – ouch – don’t know how I did that. Corrected.


Catherine Liu 12.22.05 at 11:34 pm

Let me try a outright Marxist thought experiment here — since I accept hiram hover”s correction of my rather hasty interpretation of Frank’s thesis — and in order to respond to matthew yglesia’s comment that it is all semantics — which I disagree with — because I think the way in which we think about power struggles shapes our strategies and our ability to confront the adversaries.

The Republicans and the Dems actually represent two factions of the dominant class — I would call them the bourgeoisie — but neither of these factions can win elections on their own, so they must appeal to the working class, — a class that does not necessarily share their values. The progressive or liberal faction once held more rational economic policies, I say rational here in the sense of socially just…but this faction got in bed with their adversaries’ allies, the big money, thereby abdicating any notion of social responsibility it may have once represented. In the meantime, the other faction sees an opportunity in exposing the hypocrisy of the working person’s party…and exploits it as a cultural and religious hypocrisy. Suddenly the party of the oligarchs appears more honest and authentic….

I also think that Frank more than Michael Kazin is an economic populist and would like to see the rise of a third party, one that would contest division of American political power between two factions of a dominant class.


The Continental Op 12.22.05 at 11:54 pm

Matthew’s criticisms of using lack of a college degree as an indicator of working class status are off the mark.

The fact that the “white no-B.A.” segment of the population has an average income just above the overall median hardly places them among “the well-to-do”. Surely Matthew isn’t suggesting that the GOP really “represents the interests of” people earning $47,000 a year? These voters are, as Frank contends, voting against their own economic interests, notwithstanding the fact that there are other voters who get screwed even worse.

As for Bill Gates, he most certainly would not be “working class” under anyone’s definition. The point of using educational attainment as an indicator of class status isn’t to assign particular individuals to particular class positions. It is an indicator that is useful for population-level analysis. To the extent that someone was interested in sticking labels on particular individuals, it would be preferable to use a more robust marker of class position, including educational attainment (of the individual and of the individual’s parents), accumulated wealth (as distinct from income), social capital, and perhaps other variables. But that exercise is more of a parlor game than social science.


rd 12.23.05 at 3:03 am

Frank’s critique is stronger than just substituting education level for income. Even if you accept income as the definition, it all depends on how you slice it. As he points out, if you look at quintiles, Republicans led among white voters in the second to lowest quintile. Surely we wouldn’t claim voters in this group as some how members of the comfortable middle class.


abb1 12.23.05 at 3:28 am

To me, “working class” is the totality of all wage-workers who receive most of their income from their employment, no matter what the wage or education. Professionals included.

If nothing else, I’d be curious to hear why Frank thinks Bush’s margin shrinks so much when self-identification is used, and what that says about using education as the proxy.

I think it’s because a lot of uneducated workers are contractors and more or less independent contractors: construction contractors, salesmen – all kinds of tradesmen/handymen and all kinds of people paid by commissions. They are not “working class”, they work for themselves, they are businessmen.


Vance Maverick 12.23.05 at 3:43 am

To me, “working class” is…

There’s obviously a major definitional problem here. Without agreement on the demographic slice we’re considering, it’s all rather pointless.

Would one of the social scientists who run this fine blog (and have read Frank’s book) step in here with a definition we can work from?


abb1 12.23.05 at 4:48 am

Why, one can analyze a slice like ‘white people who don’t have a bachelor’s degree’, that’s fine, just don’t call it ‘working class’.


Daniel 12.23.05 at 6:33 am

The fact that the “white no-B.A.” segment of the population has an average income just above the overall median hardly places them among “the well-to-do”. Surely Matthew isn’t suggesting that the GOP really “represents the interests of” people earning $47,000 a year?

But half of this class earn more than the median, which is itself more than the median for the US as a whole.


otto 12.23.05 at 8:23 am

“I also think that Frank more than Michael Kazin is an economic populist and would like to see the rise of a third party, one that would contest division of American political power between two factions of a dominant class.”

Michael Lind’s point. Given that public opinion is both economically liberal and socially conservative, a political party offering universal healthcare and no gay marriage/race-based affirmative action would seem to have enormous potential. But that would be to attack both the libertarian social values and the free-market economic interests of the US bourgeoisie.


Matt McGrattan 12.23.05 at 8:36 am

“If nothing else, I’d be curious to hear why Frank thinks Bush’s margin shrinks so much when self-identification is used, and what that says about using education as the proxy.”

I presume that’s because a lot of people who have a high-level of educational attainment still self-identify as working class.

I think of myself as working class, even though I recently submitted my doctoral thesis. I know several people who have family backgrounds like my own, who grew up in working class areas with parents who were either unemployed or in low-skilled/low-paid employment, who have `working class’ accents, and so on, and yet who have masters degrees or doctorates. Most of those people, in my experience, self-identify as working class or are less than comfortable with being described as middle-class.

I’m British, class-identification here is different from the US so I don’t know what conclusions one can draw for the US but I imagine the situation is similar.


Slocum 12.23.05 at 9:12 am

I’m a bit skeptical that there is any meaningful definition for ‘working class’ any more. Are New York TWU workers, ‘working class’ when their average wage is $50,000 and they have much better job security, health & pension benefits, and a much earlier retirement age than the typical American? Or should they be considered upper middle class?

What should the attitude of the ‘Hank Hills’ of the country be toward such workers? Hey, I’m going to vote for the party (Democrats) who will get me some of those goodies, too, someday? Or I’m going to vote for the party (Republicans) that will keep those overpaid free-loaders from digging any deeper into all of our pockets? It strikes me that over the past several decades, the second viewpoint has gradually taken precedence over the first.

In this analysis, both the owners of, say, a small construction company and those who work for the company are in one ‘class’ (with one set of shared interests), while, say, the members of the state’s teacher’s union are in another class (with a different set of competing interests).

Still thinking off the top of my head here, but could it be the case that the insecurity of large corporations has had the effect of tending to align the politics of private-sector workers and management (a task that profit-sharing schemes failed to accomplish)? That is, when GM, AT&T, U.S. Steel, TWA, etc. seemed unassailably solid and permanent, then workers felt free to think of management as the opposition and the problem was to extract as many concessions as possible. But when even the largest corporations can decline and disappear in a puff of smoke, then workers have to think more about ‘what’s good for my company’? And, ‘what’s good for my industry’? More like their bosses, that is.


GKurtz 12.23.05 at 9:57 am

This is the second round of discussion here on Frank & Bartels, and it’s even more frustrating than the first. Frank makes pretty damn clear that the most important piece of his response to Bartels is the final part, the “Threshold argument,” in which he says that WMK is

at its core, a cultural study, a look at the rhetoric and ideology of right-wing populism [and that] such as study does not depend upon a majoritarian argument of any kind.

To read Frank as if he’s making an argument about the right way for social scientists to define the white working class is to misread him. If there’s going to be a debate about Frank’s work, why not have it about the questions he is actually arguing about? There plenty to argue about there.

Here, for example, is where I’d start: Although I find Frank’s cultural and ideological argument fascinating, I’m not entirely persuaded, partly since he treats cultural conservatism as purely symbolic in its effects, and partly since he sees economic dislocation as the main cause of conservative cultural distress. That all seems too neat & tidy: straight-up “economic liberalism” (Frank’s term) solves all problems. I don’t buy it.


Hiram Hover 12.23.05 at 10:01 am

abb1 and matt: it’s interesting that your comments about self-identification and education as measures of the working class point in different directions. Those with a lower level of education might rise economically to a point where they don’t consider themselves working class (although I’d imagine that many plumbers and other tradespeople might continue to so identify, even if self-employed); and others might retain that identity even after attaining higher levels of education (as matt does—and he’s surely right that the British case is different, and I’d imagine that it’s less common in the US).

It seems to me the self-identification approach is in some ways more in keeping with Frank’s larger tendency to adopt an identitarian approach to understanding cultural politics, and to see white working class conservatism as a phenomenon that contrasts a hard-working, god-fearing “us” to a culturally liberal and condescendingly elite “them.”

And as to the second point I raised in my first comment, about where the South fits in all this—looking back at Bartels’s paper, I see that this point about regional differences was a major argument of his, and thus it’s all the more significant that Frank ignores it in his rejoinder.


abb1 12.23.05 at 11:06 am

…I’d imagine that many plumbers and other tradespeople might continue to so identify, even if self-employed…

Nevertheless, economic interests of self-employed plumbers are nowhere near of those of the wage-earners. A self-employed plumber occassionaly employs people (even if it’s his nephew, usually); things like minimum wage, family sick leave, environmental and work-safety regulations – that’s anathema to the self-employed plumber.

And I don’t think self-identification is the way to go, it’s economic interests, class interests, that’s what ‘class’ is all about.


Rich Yeselson 12.23.05 at 11:37 am

Yglesias is here uncharacteristically obtuse. That we note from Bartels that poor people didn’t vote for Bush is merely the relearning of a truism–an utter banality. The poor are disproportionately composed of African Americans and non-Cuban Latinos, groups which vote overwhelmingly Democratic, particularly African Americans. So no one ever denied that poor people voted for Dems, even “lumpen” white poor people.

So we do return to the definition of working class, and everyone, including Frank and the savvy people over at Timber, seem to have ignored questions of power relationships, which were always the core of Marxist and neo-Marxist definitions of class. Somone, I think, maybe Doug Dowd or James O’Connor, lefty economists writing 30 years or so ago, once defined class as being able to skip three successive days at work unexcused without getting fired. I think that tells you a lot more than whether there are still some construction and auto workers and even UPS drivers around who are making substantially more than the median income–those people not only have highly regimented work lives, which could lead to their termination for various violations of company policy, they are also subject to company failures, sectoral declines and economic recessions, which lead to lost jobs in the hundred of thousands in an instant, e.g. many steelworkers in the 1970s, quite well off by median income standards, had this happen to them, and clearly, by any reasonable standards of exercising power at their workplace and in society at large, were working class.

So college education is probably closer to mark as a class demarcation–whether matriculation or graduation–than a crude income standard , per se, but it doesn’t quite do it. Working class status has more to do with, I would argue, wage versus salary work, although that also doesn’t fully reflect power at the workplace (white collar workers can also lose their jobs in an instant). More refinement is needed–all ideas welcome, and references to thinkers like early Anthony Giddens appreciated.


CM 12.23.05 at 12:47 pm

‘now Franks has come back with an equally frank rejoinder’
You still have Franks rather than Frank in the first sentence.


ash 12.23.05 at 12:58 pm

Nevertheless, economic interests of self-employed plumbers are nowhere near of those of the wage-earners.

I think you mean political interests.

A self-employed plumber occassionaly employs people (even if it’s his nephew, usually);

But he may, nonetheless, work very hard, live in a working class neighborhood, all his friends may be working class and so on. Further, he may shift back and forth between working for a company as a plumber and working for himself.

things like minimum wage, family sick leave, environmental and work-safety regulations – that’s anathema to the self-employed plumber.

Since it would tend to put him out of business, or force him to go to work for a company instead of doing it himself. I’m not sure where you’re going, abb. To me that implies that wooing the working classes would require being careful not stomp the self-employed. Or is the self-employed plumber (whatever his income level) to be regarded as the oppressor?

I should also point out that many people working in trades work as independent contractors for tax purposes. It’s just like being a wage slave but you don’t get taxed for SS and you get no benefits or protections afforded wage slaves. Those people would qualify as ‘self-employed’ even though there is no practical difference between the two states except for taxation purposes.

Anyways, nobody has pointed out that the worth of given amount of income varies widely over the country. 45k in income in Texas would be comfortable; in New York, not so much.

[‘Speaking as part of the (sorta-)white working class, whatever the hell that is.’]


Henry 12.23.05 at 2:15 pm

cm – should be sorted.

Rich – I think you’re right – but I also think that there are two slightly different issues. One, which you are referring to, is how best to define class in the US and advanced industrial societies. For my money, best recent semi-popular piece I’ve seen is this “interview”: with Erik Olin Wright. Two, there’s a methodological issue – given that we don’t have good data on the economic insecurity of people’s jobs, what are the best proxies that we can find for this in existing data? Both measures that have been proposed are unsatisfactory in many ways – after reading Frank, I’m more convinced by his take than by Bartels.

gkurtz – I was trying to speak to some of these issues, albeit in a slightly different way in the last sentence or two of the post above.


abb1 12.23.05 at 2:21 pm

I’m not saying that self-employed plumber is a bad guy. I’m only saying that his favorite economic policies are often opposite of those of a wage-earner.

This means that the same political party can hardly satisfy both. Thus a self-employed plumber with no BA and 40K income may vote Republican and be rational about it (well, at least in part).

Also, I think the self-employed do get taxed for for the SS, it’s called ‘self-employment tax’, and it’s twice higher than employee’s portion of the FICA/Medicare tax; the self-employed pay over 15% for SS/medicare. This could be a reason for them not to be too fond of these programs.


Catherine Liu 12.23.05 at 2:34 pm

I’ll take a stab at the definition of working class from the point of view of cultural capital and its emergence in the 19th century as the “possession” of a newly dominant class of the bourgeoisie who defined themselves as superior to both the proletariat and the petit bourgeois because they had an organic that is familial relation with “high” culture. Of course this was a European innovation.

But then the socially progressive elites of the US decided as well to adopt division of culture into high and low (see Lawrence Levine on this): from Jane Addams to Frederick Law Olmsted, progressives took up high culture as an instrument to educate the poor and immigrant classes, or those most explicitly exploited by massive industrialization.

This is at the root of American working class suspicion of cultural elites — and the working class relationship to culture is not one of uplift — either through symphony or museum attendance, or New Ageism but rather one that is more unabashedly indulgent in the remnants of folk spectacle, even if industrialized (which is often identified as kitsch) — so NASCAR, excessive Xmas lights, the Crystal Cathedral, professional sports are seen as somehow “working class” even if their participants make a lot more money that your average University professor who has more cultural capital, but less income on her W-2 form at the end of the year.

Thus, Frank’s definition of working class as a mode of consumption would obtain here — this is the stage of capitalism that we have reached in these United States –class status is not self-defined as it defined by modes of consumption.

Now the ruling elite in the US has become more and more explicitly pohilistine in order to reach out to the discontentment of the culturally marginal — this is perhaps the ultimate achievement of of post-modernism’s overturning of high/low divisions.


John Emerson 12.23.05 at 2:58 pm

1. Removing retirees of working-class origin from the working class is stupid. Retirees and the working-class are different stages of the same people.

2. One classic definition of “working class” ignored by Franks is just anyone who depends on wages for their living. Education is irrelevant to that.

3. There’s quite an enormous income overlap between workers with and without four-year degrees, especially because a lot of tech degrees are two year degrees, and because a lot of four-year degrees are economically useless. Generalizations about”college education” do a lot of wild lumping.

4. If the lack of a 4-year college degree is written into the definition of “working class”, and if income level is written out, then the cultural-politics divide is defined as a class divide pure and simple. There’s a valuable perception here, but I think that it’s a misuse the idea of class.

5. The cultural war should rather be seen as a battle between non-poor non-rich workers without 4-year degrees, and non-rich non-poor workers with four-year degrees. There are other variables such as unionization and category of employer, and I would suspect that such non-poor Democrats tend more to be in unionized jobs or working for large somewhat paternalistic institutions such as government, the universities, or non-profits.


Rich Yeselson 12.23.05 at 3:23 pm

Henry–Yes, thank you. Erik Olin Wright is the man here–he’s got the most sophisticated modern take on the class question. I inexplicably failed to list him at the end of my posting. And, as I hope I made clear, I agree with you that Frank has the better of the argument with Bartels–but it is somehow insufficient. College itself is such a grab bag–Harvard? Chico State? Philosophy major? Electrical Engineering? Pre-med? There really are a lot of non-college grads who make more money over long periods of their careers than college grads(see the case of “Jerry” a poster over at Yglesias’s site) depending on the field–often, the first two years of college, not matriculation is where the biggest bang for the buck is, so that takes us to….

Catherine’s Bourdieu-lite intervention, which is helpful because it links the characteristic and historically enduring anti-intellectualism of American political culture, with its equally powerful suspicion of malleably defined “elites.” While, as Catherine points out, this free-floating contempt can sometimes, as today, be manipulated by moneyed interests, it can also create bonds among workers which generate class antagonism toward both cultural and economic elites. Indeed, the 19th century roots of modern kitsch is powerfully traced in Ann Douglas’s great, “The Feminization of American Culture”, and the homogenization of that strain into the nascent mass culture of the early 20th century paradoxically laid the groundwork for the cross-ethnic solidarity that created the CIO–thus under the right historical circumstances, mass culture can become a prod, not a tranquilizer, to class consciousness.

Catherine continues, however, to do a better job of explicating Frank than Frank–she insists that he isn’t interested in the self-definition of the working class, whereas in good Thompsonian fashion, HE insists that he is, and, indeed, that that is one of the best ways to understand class as an analytical category! And she imputes to him a sophisticated definition of “working class as a mode of consumption” that I think, in fact, is more implict, and somewhat muddled for that, in his work–see especially The Baffler essays. (actually, I guess I’d say that’s a poor explication, but a good refinement of his argument!)


abb1 12.23.05 at 5:14 pm

Isn’t it a bit too sophisticated? Employee contradictory class locations – c’mon, give me a break.


Hiram Hover 12.23.05 at 5:35 pm

gkurtz – On the one hand, you’re right about the central thesis of Frank’s book; on the other, his argument has hardly been slighted over the past year and a half. If many commenters here are focusing on the theoretical or methodological question of how to define class, it’s because that question is at the core of this recent dispute between Bartels and Frank.

As for the “threshold” argument—yes, white working class conservatism is an important phenomenon, whether or not it accounts for the majority of that class. But in writing that “such a study does not depend upon a majoritarian argument of any kind,” Frank is being at least a little bit disingenuous: WMK makes just such a majoritarian argument, so it hardly seems beside the point to criticize him for it. (In his rejoinder, Frank denies only that he makes a “systematic argument” to that effect. Part of what’s frustrating about the book, for all its interest and appeal, is that Frank fails to make many of his arguments consistently or precisely. So it’s pretty exasperating to see him invoke that as a point in his defense.)

Moreover, to the extent that white working class conservatism isn’t a majority phenomenon, it affects both Frank’s analysis and prescription. For one thing, it suggests that maybe a study of the “rhetoric and ideology of right-wing populism” shouldn’t limit itself from the outset to looking primarily at the white working class, or even to the economically insecure (which is hardly the same thing). Second, if Frank is wrong about how and to what extent the Dems lost the white working class (and here the regional question matters as well), then he’s probably wrong that a return to a straight up economic liberalism will make winners of them again. On that point, at least, I think we agree.


Paul Baer 12.23.05 at 11:58 pm

Reading through the stream of comments on this thread is exhausting. It should be clear enough by now that terms like “working class” and “middle class” do not, and cannot have precise and stable definitions. There are a huge range of attributes that are relevant to these kinds of classifications in different contexts. Do we want to know whether people who went to different kinds of colleges, or have different kinds of degrees, are more like each other than like people who have similar incomes but didn’t go to college? Do we want to know whether self-employed plumbers are more like wage-earning plumbers or self-employed computer programmers?

If we’re interested in a broad thesis like Frank’s, it makes sense to take a broad enough definition to capture a significant fraction of the population; but then if one wants to account for the aggregate characteristics of the group, one has to disaggregate to see what further can be learned.


abb1 12.24.05 at 7:34 am

That ‘broad enough definition’ has make sense in the context of this examination.


Erik 12.24.05 at 12:35 pm

A poor lecturer with a PhD is as much part of the working class as is a wealthy businessowner without a college degree ( a member of the wc according to Franks’definition). The bottom line is that Education=Education and Income=Income, both are important and neither is a proxy for class. What bothers me about Franks’ reply is his arrogant and ignorant dismismissal of “number-based” research and his inability to admit that he did not define working class very carefully at all in his book.


Omri 12.25.05 at 8:48 pm

Has anyone done this study by defining the working class as that of people who do not need college degrees to enter their trade?


Answer Guy 12.27.05 at 10:47 am

Still thinking off the top of my head here, but could it be the case that the insecurity of large corporations has had the effect of tending to align the politics of private-sector workers and management…when even the largest corporations can decline and disappear in a puff of smoke, then workers have to think more about ‘what’s good for my company’? And, ‘what’s good for my industry’? More like their bosses, that is.

The flaw in this (admittedly interesting) argument is that it posits that the workers have gone from a place where they can reasonably expect for the company to take care of them in a sense to a place where they could find themselves destitute in fairly short order.

And at some level it’s profoundly irrational for anyone in such a place to support the interests of CEO types in dismantling safety social safety nets. Admittedly, that may not be an obvious fact to these voters until they actually see people in their peer group start to fall through the cracks.


99 12.27.05 at 3:00 pm

I was having a discussion with a friend from my private liberal arts college (Antioch — but I got a bunch of loans, honest!), after having spent an afternoon helping build a wall at a squat in Alphabet City (this was circa 1991) during summer co-op. A friend of his from the squat was listening to us yammer on about some political point. She called us a couple bourgeois wankers, something like that. Except she went to Reed. All of this happened in the midst of the Jacob Riis houses, overlooking the East River. I suspect that our first year out of college our combined income was near or lower than many of the people looking out their windows and probably wishing us a great deal of ill will. We were not, and are not, working class, no matter how little we make. I have about 130 cousins (first second and third) of college-age. Together, we hold 4, maybe 5 degrees. My sister and I posses 3 of that number. The rest of my family, they are working class, if they are lucky. I’m sick to death of the educational elite wrapping themselves in the robes of ‘worker’ identity. I don’t care how hard it is to be an adjunct at NYU. It’s more of the disgusting behavior we see in wastrel liberals, unconscious of their privilege and absconding with the actual trials of another group to project their own unique, peronsal, suffering, meriting at the very least some column inches in the Times’ Magazine ‘Lives’ before they die.

This doesn’t make them worse the their brethern on the other side of the self-identified political aisle, but let’s not let them off the hook because they are pro-gay marriage. The have nearly nothing in common with the lower third, by income or education, and it is these people who form the cultural identity of Democrats as witnessed in the media. That is Frank’s point. Thirty years ago that wasn’t the case, but it most certainly is now. TWU workers are middle class, and an MIT junior professor isn’t? With logic like that, I’m surprised you folks aren’t still turning in circles trying to figure out why Kerry lost.

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