Brian Holmes on Wed, 15 May 2013 16:30:33 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> the middle class doesn't exist

On 05/15/2013 08:56 AM, allan siegel wrote:

The thesis of the death of the middle class is simple and not
peculiar to Sweden: every time you try to define the allegedly most
important contemporary social formation, this "middle class" breaks
into two, writes Greider; one part that serves the economic power and
another that has more in common with blue collar workers and
unemployed, with the sans papiers and the precariat."

This is exactly it. What's happening is massive proletarianization, caused by the rapacity of the rich.

In the 1930s, the emergence of the social state and the rise of middle-management as a major category of corporate employment created that ambiguous social category, the middle class. Clearly its members had an interest in the status quo, but to protect themselves from both politicians and bosses, they created professional organizations, imposed college-degree requirements and built up (so-called) ethical codes which made their professional behavior subject to peer review rather than outside discipline. Bourdieu described this relative autonomy in his theory of fields, a thousand sociologists have described it. It's hardly a joke because it structured society for seventy years, cold war, moon shot, air-conditioned nightmare and all. And then there's another thing: Access to professional status pretty much guaranteed access to assets: house, retirement fund, savings and for many, investments. Again, no joke, previous generations accumulated them massively.

But now the lower end of the professions - including engineers in manufacturing, teachers, legal assistants, mechanics, secretaries, accountants, a very lengthy list - have become adjuncts to software and robots, when not just redundant because of outsourcing. They whittled their (often inherited) assets down over the long period of wage stagnation and if they had a house, they "used it as an ATM machine" like Nouriel Roubini says, with the result of losing it when sudddenly it lost a third of its value and they lost all of their job. Proletarianization is when you have no status, no special guarantees and no assets. You just have your labor to sell and when you're out of a job, you are part of the industrial reseve army that strikes fear into everyone else's heart. Exactly this is situation is what now confronts students graduating with a huge debt-overhang from the universities that were supposed to gurantee their middle-class status.

But wait a minute: Yesterday everything was different! Abundance is everywhere! Basic goods cost almost nothing! I've still got an internet connection! I studied philosophy, political science, medicine, physics, nuclear engineering! I understand what's going on! They can't do this to me!

The perfect recipe for revolution - masdsive poverty amidst overwhelming abundance - already produced the Arab Spring, the Indignados, Occupy. What's it gonna produce next? I guess our story isn't over. Stay tuned for the next episode of your life.


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