babble home - news for the rest of us
today's active topics

Post New Topic  Post A Reply
FAQ | Forum Home
  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» babble   » walking the talk   » labour and consumption   » Aspects of Class in the United States

Email this thread to someone!    
Author Topic: Aspects of Class in the United States
blake 3:17
Babbler # 10360

posted 27 July 2006 03:56 AM      Profile for blake 3:17     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The Monthly Review site is much improved! Here's the intro to the latest:

Aspects of Class in the United States: An Introduction
by John Bellamy Foster

If class war is continual in capitalist society, there is no doubt that in recent decades in the United States it has taken a much more virulent form. In a speech delivered at New York University in 2004 Bill Moyers pointed out that,

Class war was declared a generation ago in a powerful paperback polemic by William Simon, who was soon to be Secretary of the Treasury. He called on the financial and business class, in effect, to take back the power and privileges they had lost in the depression and the new deal. They got the message, and soon they began a stealthy class war against the rest of the society and the principles of our democracy. They set out to trash the social contract, to cut their workforces and wages, to scour the globe in search of cheap labor, and to shred the social safety net that was supposed to protect people from hardships beyond their control. Business Week put it bluntly at the time [in its October 12, 1974 issue]: “Some people will obviously have to do with will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more.”1
The effects of this relentless offensive by the vested interests against the rest of the society are increasingly evident. In 2005 the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal each published a series of articles focusing on class in the United States. This rare open acknowledgement of the importance of class by the elite media can be attributed in part to rapid increases in income and wealth inequality in U.S. society over the last couple of decades—coupled with the dramatic effects of the Bush tax cuts that have primarily benefited the wealthy. But it also grew out of a host of new statistical studies that have demonstrated that intergenerational class mobility in the United States is far below what was previously supposed, and that the United States is a more class-bound society than its major Western European counterparts, with the exception of Britain. In the words of The Wall Street Journal (May 13, 2005):

Although Americans still think of their land as a place of exceptional opportunity—in contrast to class-bound Europe—the evidence suggests otherwise. And scholars have, over the past decade, come to see America as a less mobile society than they once believed. As recently as the later 1980s, economists argued that not much advantage passed from parent to child, perhaps as little as 20 percent. By that measure, a rich man’s grandchild would have barely any edge over a poor man’s grandchild....But over the last 10 years, better data and more number-crunching have led economists and sociologists to a new consensus: The escalators of mobility move much more slowly. A substantial body of research finds that at least 45 percent of parents’ advantage in income is passed along to their children, and perhaps as much as 60 percent. With the higher estimate, it’s not only how much money your parents have that matters—even your great-great grandfather’s wealth might give you a noticeable edge today.
As Paul Sweezy once observed, “self-reproduction is an essential characteristic of a class as distinct from a mere stratum.”2 What is clear from recent data is that the upper classes in the United States are extremely effective in reproducing themselves—to a degree that invites no obvious historical comparison in modern capitalist history. According to the New York Times (November 14, 2002), “Bhashkar Mazumber of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago...found that around 65 percent of the earnings advantage of fathers was transmitted to sons.” Tom Hertz, an economist at American University, states that “while few would deny that it is possible to start poor and end rich, the evidence suggests that this feat is more difficult to accomplish in the United States than in other high-income nations.”3

The fact that the rich are getting both relatively and absolutely richer, and the poor are getting relatively (if not absolutely) poorer, in the United States today is abundantly clear to all—although the true extent of this trend defies the imagination. Over the years 1950 to 1970, for each additional dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of income earners, those in the top 0.01 percent received an additional $162. In contrast, from 1990 to 2002, for every added dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent, those in the uppermost 0.01 percent (today around 14,000 households) made an additional $18,000.4

Wealth is always far more unevenly divided than income. In 2001 the top 1 percent of wealth holders accounted for 33 percent of all net worth in the United States, twice the total net worth of the bottom 80 percent of the population. Measured in terms of financial wealth (which excludes equity in owner-occupied houses), the top 1 percent in 2001 owned more than four times as much as the bottom 80 percent of the population.

Full article and link to Monthly Review site.

From: Toronto | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 4140

posted 27 July 2006 05:48 AM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
From that issue:
At present there is no well-developed theory of class in all of its aspects, which remains perhaps the single biggest challenge facing the social sciences. Indeed, failure to advance in this area can be seen as symptomatic of the general stagnation of the social sciences over much of the twentieth century.

There is, however, unsurprisingly, a vituperative and tendentious hostility towards class analysis as "unscientific" and so on which might, in part, explain that lack of development of the social sciences in this regard. "There are no classes in our society" is the important lie, repeated with a shout if necessary, that gets regurgitated over and over again by the very people who look the other way when class analysis comes up.

Nevertheless, a considerable portion of the population still seems willing to accept substantial differentials in economic rewards on the assumption that these represent returns to merit and that all children have a fighting chance to rise to the top. The United States, the received wisdom tells us, is still the “land of opportunity.” The new data on class mobility, however, indicate that this is far from the case and that the barriers separating classes are hardening.

That's a keeper issue of MR and worthy of a careful read.

From: Vancouver Island | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 10872

posted 27 July 2006 01:23 PM      Profile for wobbly     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I would say part of the problem as far as a lack of a coherrent class analysis is what people mean by class. While there is the standard economic category of the nineteenth century there is also a parallel sociological catgegory. The two may overlap in some characteristics but we are talking about decidedly two different things. This often confuses things, for instance economically speaking the middle class is largely meaningless and can be broken down into prolaterian or bourgeois camps on its own; however there certainly is a self identified middle class in this country, even if it is rapidly being eroded.
From: edmonton | Registered: Nov 2005  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 4140

posted 27 July 2006 01:38 PM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
One of the authors in that issue of MR [I forget which] draws a distinction between "middle class" as middle income and "middle class" as having relational aspects associated with more than one social class embodied in a single individual. In the latter case it's like having a foot in several camps; Erik Olin Wright has written about this as "contradictory class locations". Class as defined by income, status and quantitative measurements in general are quite different from class as defined by relational aspects of work and so on. The former sterilizes class into a caricature of the latter.
From: Vancouver Island | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
Babbler # 4600

posted 27 July 2006 02:29 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The thing is, these classifications are based on the outcomes of much more interesting questions: who finishes high school/goes to university/gets a high-paying job/etc and why?

Insofar as these outcomes are not predetermined at birth, classifying people according to final outcomes doesn't interest me nearly as much as trying to understand how they got there in the first place.

[ 27 July 2006: Message edited by: Stephen Gordon ]

From: . | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 4140

posted 08 August 2006 10:54 AM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
SG: ... classifying people according to final outcomes doesn't interest me nearly as much as trying to understand how they got there in the first place.

Social class and "final outcomes"? Hmm. It's not simply an ontological variable. Nor is social class a quantitative aspect of reality. It's a dynamic, relational aspect of reality that only exists in the social settings of human beings. Hence the possibility, nay, the necessity, of its social demise if it were a socially-determined, not permanent, aspect of reality. Abolition of social classes would be a "final outcome" only to capitalism as a socio-economic system.

It's quality versus quantity. Don't you get it?

The dismal science mimicks the most mechanistic notions of nature and treats it as the whole man, the whole human being.

What's interesting is a future free from such notions of classifying people at all. Real class analysis is founded on such deep philosophical and imaginative, spiritual principles. An imagined future beckons through such humanistic principles.

[ 08 August 2006: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

From: Vancouver Island | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged

All times are Pacific Time  

Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic    Move Topic    Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
Hop To:

Contact Us | | Policy Statement

Copyright 2001-2008