While there’s a lot of possibilities for issues to address from your previous post, the persistent wave of paperwork and readings that the Fall semester gladly sends my way is an unfortunate, but not unwelcome, limitation on my available time. So, I think the most important topic to tackle is our disagreement on whether or not an upper and lower class are realities in the United States. While I agree with you that the middle class is, of course, an American reality, as well as the most important and revolutionary class in history, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s the highest class present in our socioeconomic system.
I don’t think any contemporary middle-class American would argue that there isn’t a class of top-earners that exist in an economic class wholly separate from their own. How can two large swaths of America be considered a part of the same class when they are different in every way – income, culture, location, opportunity, etc. – except nationality? By upper class I’m referring to the people that no one in the middle class would ever interact with, or even catch a glimpse of, in their private lives.
Now, one could make the argument that there’s tons of Americans that’d never interact with each other because of cultural or locational differences, but the class of people which I’m describing so-often remain tucked away in their gated communities and clusters of McMansions. An average, middle class, American wouldn’t even be permitted to enter an area where it’d be possible to meet such a wealthy person. To say that none of these economic separations – whether it be separation by class or by location – exist is, in my eyes, disingenuous.
While it’s easy to caricature someone like Bernie Sanders, who can’t answer a single question without starting a rallying cry against the “One Percent,” that’s not to say that there isn’t a class of economic elites within the United States. However, to discuss such a cabal of elites is to go even beyond our current discussion of the upper class. While the U.S. doesn’t subscribe to an aristocratic system of governance, it seems quite obvious to me that there are certain families – Bush, Kennedy, Clinton, Koch, and now Trump – that are persistent in the game of pursuing political power through the avenue of economic dominance. While I have stated several previous times that I believe in the American system of governance, there is room for pointing out discrepancies. And, one such discrepancy is the ability of economic elites to secure and maintain their hold on political power.
However, like I mentioned up above, the issue of economic and political power being concentrated in a handful of influential families is entirely separate from the issue I raised in my previous piece. So, I’m going to put that specific topic back in the ammo box for the time being, and leave it to your discretion as to whether you want to load it up for a future gun shot.
Now, back to the subject at hand. Within my previous piece, I never directly said, or even insinuated, that members of the American middle class were incapable of earning comfortable incomes. However, there’s a difference between being comfortable and being upper class. The way I see it is that each class within the American economic system contains a spectrum. The largest spread is present within the middle class, seeing as it’s the largest economic class within the United States. Most people lie in the middle of the middle class, where they earn a decent, livable wage that allows for small bits of disposable income. Then there exist separate sub-classes at the upper and lower ends of the middle-class spectrum that contain less, but still a significant amount, of Americans.
If you follow the spectrum of income upwards, you eventually find yourself in the upper class that I’ve spent time describing. The number of Americans present within the upper class is fewer than the middle class, and that number continues to shrink as you approach the now-infamous “One Percent” at the peak. The polar opposite of the upper class is, of course, the lower class, which is comprised of the poorest Americans. The gap that exists between the income and wealth of these two poles is so great that I can’t possibly imagine how they could ever be considered to be in the same class.
However, to be fair, I don’t think that’s what you were saying. You mentioned the working class and the underclass. I think these are instances of conflicting vocabulary between you and me. I would consider the working class to be part of both the lower and middle incoming sections of the middle class. This is where I attempted to place my paternal family members, but I may have failed in that endeavor. I agree with your assessment that the working class is indeed shrinking, which I, in part, tried to attribute to a backward-looking culture. However, this culture I speak of only perpetuates a problem that was brought upon by avenues of capital quickly fleeing to cheaper markets. It’d seem that we agree on at least some of that.
But, the main point I’m trying to convey is that, in my eyes, there’s more to the American socioeconomic system than the middle class, both above and below. There does exist an upper class that has a handle on an abundance of the country’s wealth, as well as an even more exclusive club of elites that reside even above them. Then, a lower class lies slumped beneath the middle class, and is – as you alluded to in your piece – shackled by economic misfortunate, social exile, and a lack of purpose in the economy.