CLASS WAR: Consider this passage:
The class war in our country is business class vs. first class; in automotive terms, it’s E-Class vs. S-Class. Everybody’s comfortable. And that produces some odd outcomes: Nobody’s going to do one goddamned thing about how they conduct business in Philadelphia or Chicago or any other corrupt, Democrat-dominated city, but there are going to be some “new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility,” and we are going to be treated to — joy of joys! — a deep national discussion on whether some Broadway stars don’t have it quite as good as other Broadway stars. The bloody-snouted hyenas have looked up from the kill just long enough to announce the creation of the Goldman Sachs Fund for Racial Equity.
It’s always the same thing: Our newspapers are full of intense interest in Harvard’s admissions standards but have very little to say about New York City’s dropout rate. People can’t help being fascinated with themselves and their peers. If you want to know what is on the minds of the leaders of the American ruling class, it’s no secret. They’ll tell you, if you ask — and if you don’t.
George Floyd is still dead. Jacob Frey is still mayor of Minneapolis. Medaria Arradondo is still the chief of police. More than a third of black students will drop out of high school in Milwaukee. But Forbes has announced a change in its in-house stylebook and will henceforth honor the woke convention of uppercase Black vs. lowercase white. And George Floyd is still dead. Jacob Frey is still mayor of Minneapolis. Medaria Arradondo is still the chief of police.
Oh, but they got James Bennet, the opinion editor at the New York Times. And surely that is something? It is, indeed, a very useful illustration of the E-Class vs. S-Class divide. Bennet was fired after purportedly endangering the lives of black Times staffers — a charge no mentally normal adult actually takes seriously — by publishing a guest column about the riots and the Insurrection Act by Senator Tom Cotton. The campaign to end Bennet did not come from America’s poor black communities as the workers of the world looked up, stunned, from page A24 of the New York Times — the venom came straight and undiluted from 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y., with Bennet’s underlings and juniors more or less putting him on an ice floe and pushing him out to sea.
Bennet was pushed out on behalf of marginalized black Americans, which necessitated that Bennet immediately be replaced by . . . a well-off white woman who went to Georgetown and Columbia and won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about that great loathsome theater of American middle-class anxiety: restaurants.
I’m reminded of what Kenneth Anderson said about the Occupy movement:
In social theory, OWS is best understood not as a populist movement against the bankers, but instead as the breakdown of the New Class into its two increasingly disconnected parts. The upper tier, the bankers-government bankers-super credentialed elites. But also the lower tier, those who saw themselves entitled to a white collar job in the Virtue Industries of government and non-profits – the helping professions, the culture industry, the virtueocracies, the industries of therapeutic social control, as Christopher Lasch pointed out in his final book, The Revolt of the Elites.
The two tiers of the New Class have always had different sources of rents, however. For the upper tier, since 1990, it has come through its ability to take the benefits of generations of US social investment in education and sell that expertise across global markets – leveraging expertise and access to capital and technological markets in the 1990s to places in Asia and the former communist world in desperate need of it. As Lasch said, the revolt and flight of the elites, to marketize themselves globally as free agents – to take the social capital derived over many generations by American society, and to go live in the jet stream and extract returns on a global scale for that expertise. But that expertise is now largely commodified – to paraphrase David Swenson on financial engineering, that kind of universal expertise is commodified, cheaply available, and no longer commands much premium. As those returns have come under pressure, the Global New Class has come home, looking to command premiums through privileged access to the public-private divide – access most visible at the moment as virtuous new technology projects that turn out to be mere crony capitalism.
The lower tier is in a different situation and always has been. It is characterized by status-income disequilibrium, to borrow from David Brooks; it cultivates the sensibilities of the upper tier New Class, but does not have the ability to globalize its rent extraction. The helping professions, the professions of therapeutic authoritarianism (the social workers as well as the public safety workers), the virtuecrats, the regulatory class, etc., have a problem – they mostly service and manage individuals, the client-consumers of the welfare state. Their rents are not leveraged very much, certainly not globally, and are limited to what amounts to an hourly wage. The method of ramping up wages, however, is through public employee unions and their own special ability to access the public-private divide. But, as everyone understands, that model no longer works, because it has overreached and overleveraged, to the point that even the system’s most sympathetic politicians understand that it cannot pay up.
The upper tier is still doing pretty well. But the lower tier of the New Class – the machine by which universities trained young people to become minor regulators and then delivered them into white collar positions on the basis of credentials in history, political science, literature, ethnic and women’s studies – with or without the benefit of law school – has broken down. The supply is uninterrupted, but the demand has dried up. The agony of the students getting dumped at the far end of the supply chain is in large part the OWS. As Above the Law points out, here is “John,” who got out of undergrad, spent a year unemployed and living at home, and is now apparently at University of Vermont law school, with its top ranked environmental law program – John wants to work at a “nonprofit.”
Indeed. Plus, just a reminder: In America, class war is disguised as cultural warfare, and cultural warfare is usually cloaked in talk of race.
Related: A New Class Problem.