Life at № 42
It’s election season and they’re at it again. Politicians and the media all using the term middle class. That’s become the everyman term, especially in the Americas. When I was a boy, middle class had a very precise significance; it was used to refer to the bourgeoisie. That’s from the french Bourg, meaning town, so, town-folk.
In the classical context the nobility owned the countryside and agricultural lands and the town-folk were the professionals, people in commerce and so forth. The working class were people employed by the nobility and the bourgeoisie. (Generally under not entirely excellent conditions.)
Up until a couple of decades ago the line was very clear. Workers considered themselves working class. Doctors and lawyers considered themselves middle class, and business owners were categorized according to the size of their concern and the number of people they employed. But here comes the problem, in our allegedly post-class society, although the economic hierarchy hasn’t genuinely changed, the propagandistic efforts of people in power have created the myth of The Middle.
I’ve noticed that almost anyone who’s asked to self-categorize now answers middle-class. A couple of years ago I remember John Prescott interviewing a group of benefit recipients living on a council estate who were all self-described ‘middle-classers’. It seems people believe that if they’re not starving, and also not related to the royal family- then they are The Middle.
The greatest danger of this error in categorization is of the political variety. It distorts the real distribution of resources. By doing so we suddenly have swathes of people who are actually living financially marginal lives defending (and voting for) policies that only benefit a tiny sector of society who are already exceptionally privileged as compared to the rest.
I found an interesting recent graphic of income distribution in the UK that illustrates what I’m saying:
Vertical is income, horizontal is percentage of the population. One of the most interesting figures on the chart is that 50% of UK workers live on up to £14 thousand per year (that’s £12,474.72 after tax and national insurance contributions.) Even more interestingly, a full 90% of British workers live on up to (meaning not necessarily a full) £28 thousand per year. Even one who makes the full £28k, after taxes only takes home £22k. That’s not counting property taxes!!!
With the poverty line in the UK being drawn at around £9 thousand per year, that means that a massive proportion of the population is only one accident, illness, divorce or job-loss away from joining the ranks of the officially poor. Pardon me, but what sort of Middle Class is that?
All of this is why the left has to change the debate and make people understand what the real situation is. I hope Jeremy Corby’s election is a sign people in Britain are starting to see through Tory propaganda. The propaganda that has made everyone believe they’re part of The Middle, when the middle they’re referring to is actually the people in the top 5%.