Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Professional Class

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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