Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Professional Class

What I Think in 2020

Now that the Bernie Sanders movement is comprehensively failing, it is time for those of us who supported it to take a step back and reflect. We can only learn from defeat if we are willing to be honest with ourselves and recognise it as such. This post is more autobiographical than most of what I run here. The aim is to do some hard introspection about how I came to support the Sanders movement and where its downfall leaves me, politically.

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The True Believer, Eric Hoffer, and the Contemporary Left

The main difference between small-c conservatism and Marxism is the level of optimism. Both conservatives and Marxists despise capitalism and the individualism it produces. But socialists believe there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that by going through the upheaval we can come to a better place. Old-fashioned conservatives think we are only going to fall ever further away from ancient virtue, and they fight to obstruct or delay that process in whatever ways they can. They defend the status quo not because they like capitalism, but because they think the future can only produce ever worse iterations of it. For this reason, I have always enjoyed reading old-fashioned conservatives and greatly prefer them to the libertarians who straightforwardly champion capitalism and relish in its intensification. In this vein, I find myself reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Read the rest of this entry »

Coronavirus and the Fable of the Bees

Coronavirus puts elected governments in a sticky situation. If they appear to fail to solve the public health crisis, they will lose the next election. If, in the process of solving the public health crisis, they create an economic crisis, they will also lose the next election. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. It all reminds me of Bernard Mandeville’s “Fable of the Bees”. Mandeville’s bees live luxurious, decadent lives, and their drive for ever greater pleasures pushes them to build an extraordinarily elaborate economy to keep up with their excesses. One day, a divine intervention rids the bees of their vices, leaving them full of modesty and virtue. But this collapses demand and destroys the bees’ economy, annihilating their living standards. The fable serves to highlight one of the paradoxes of capitalism–the welfare of the poor becomes dependent on the vices of the rich. If the rich stop spending money on frivolous nonsense, the poor lose their jobs and go hungry.

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The Political Isolation of the Professional Class

In the old days, when the New Deal Coalition was just beginning to fray, the right made a distinction between the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor”. Deserving poor people worked hard, while the undeserving poor were drug addicts, welfare queens, and all the rest of it. This language was used to reform welfare to make it crueller and stingier, and it induced many people to think of the poor as takers, as scroungers, as people they didn’t want in their political movements. Today, a new distinction of the same kind is made between those with college degrees and those without them. You’re just supposed to go to college now, and if you don’t there must be something wrong with you, and in the eyes of many you don’t deserve a good life or a good job or healthcare. No, they demand that you go back to school. The result is that the bar for being one of the virtuous, deserving workers has moved up. Now, if you are a hard worker who didn’t go to college, you get lumped in with the drug addicts and chronically unemployed. The professional class is the only remaining part of the working class entitled to social respect. It relishes in this prestigious perch, looking down its nose at the unwashed and uneducated. But those without college degrees can sense this contempt, and they reciprocate it. The result is a working class which has been split asunder, politically. This is unfortunate, because neither faction can prevail without the other. The professionals have money and organising power. The ordinary workers have manpower. But they each keep to their own candidates, and this division permits those who care little for either to prevail over both.

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An American Class Divide: The Aristocrats v. The Professionals

In the United States we usually don’t like to think about ourselves as members of economic classes. Most of us, when asked, identify as middle or upper-middle class. But of course there are class differences, and in recent years we’ve started to talk about them a little more. People like Thomas Frank have drawn attention to “the professional class” as distinct from “the working class”. The professionals go to college and get degrees in things like engineering, medicine, law, finance, business, or computer science. They get access to those prized STEM and management careers, to the jobs in the court rooms, on Wall Street, and in Silicon Valley. In contrast, members of the working class often don’t go to college. In recent years they sometimes get uneconomical degrees and end up underemployed with lots of debt. But while the professional/working distinction is important and needs to be drawn more often, I’d like to take some time today to draw another distinction, between the professional class and what I’d like to call the “aristocrats”.

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