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How the middle class hoards wealth and opportunity for itself | Inequality | The Guardian

“… Opportunity hoarding does not result from the workings of a large machine but from the cumulative effect of individual choices and preferences. Taken in isolation, they may feel trivial: nudging your daughter into a better college with a legacy preference [giving applicants places on the basis of being related to alumni of the college]; helping the son of a professional contact to an internship; a single vote on a municipal council to retain low-density zoning restrictions. But, like many “micro-preferences”, to borrow a term from economist Thomas Schelling, they can have strong effects on overall culture and collective outcomes.

Over recent decades, institutions that once primarily served racist goals – legacy admissions to keep out Jewish students, zoning laws to keep out black families – have not been abandoned but have been softened, normalised and subtly re-purposed to help us sustain the upper-middle-class status. They remain, then, barriers to a more open, more genuinely competitive and fairer society. I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending there are no costs here. By definition, reducing opportunity hoarding will mean some losses for the upper middle class.”

Source: How the middle class hoards wealth and opportunity for itself | Inequality | The Guardian

Fantastic article in today’s Guardian. (Thanks, Makagutu!) It’s interesting to consider how much in our lives is passed on to us through mere familial circumstance. In my case I can see very clearly the absolutely direct impact of my childhood on my adult. All the little choices my family made back then (whether I agreed with them or not) paved the way for my place in the world. From tennis lessons, to visits to museums, to travel and (the gift of) books- it was all part of a strategy of success (as measured by bourgeois standards) that’s passed on from one generation to the next. And interestingly, as rebellious as I seemed to them, I ended up being and doing exactly what I was programmed to do. This reminds me of a line from Edouard Louis’ The End of Eddy:

“… She thought she had made mistakes, that without meaning to she had closed the door on a better future, on a life that was easier and more comfortable, one far from the factory and the constant stress (no: the constant state of anxiety) of making sure she didn’t mismanage the family budget – where a small misstep could mean no food on the table at the end of the month. She didn’t understand that her trajectory, what she would call her mistakes, fitted in perfectly with a whole set of logical mechanisms that were practically laid down in advance and non-negotiable.”

Side note: The author takes the important (and rare) step of separating out the American “middle class”. Nine out of 10 US adults describe themselves as middle class. That’s evidently not backed up by any serious analysis. An important chunk of Americans have less than US$1000 in savings (the same is true in Australia and the UK). Not making things any better is the matter of debt. Time reports the average US home has 16k in credit card debt. Those things don’t quite fit in with the British definition of middle class or the French definition of bourgeoisie.

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15 comments on “How the middle class hoards wealth and opportunity for itself | Inequality | The Guardian

  1. anisioluiz2008
    July 16, 2017

    Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

    Like

  2. foolsmusings
    July 16, 2017

    When I think back to my childhood, I realize how lucky is was to grow up when I did. There was a will create a more egalitarian society back then to ensure my own family’s relative poverty wasn’t generational. I see no such will today even as a Canadian.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. acflory
    July 17, 2017

    My Dad’s father was a metal worker. My Dad was a mechanical engineer. He was also very well read and played the violin. When we arrived in Australia we had zip. Literally. But by the time I was old enough to go to school we had a house and my parents could afford to send me to the local Catholic schools BUT we never owned a car, all my clothes and toys came from opportunity shops and our furniture was second hand. We never ever took a holiday or wasted money on non-essentials.
    I’ve always considered myself middle class, but in a lot of ways I think that was always more aspirational than real.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      July 17, 2017

      Location and period of time also complicate the calculation. In French it’s much easier because bourgeoisie implies ownership of assets, then petite, moyenne or haute qualifies the term further.
      A petit bourgeois would be a small business owner. A member of the moyenne bourgeoisie would probably be an educated professional (engineer, doctor, lawyer), and an haute bourgeois would be like the wool industrialists of Mazamet. The thing is those terms are outdated because society functions in a very different way now. Education can cost a fortune, and in the post war debt starts playing a major role in everyday life. That means ownership of assets lives alongside the *appearance of* ownership of assets. Because of the levels of debt in society today, I think the most reasonable measure of middle class-hood is proposed by Professor Edward Wolff (NYU). He defines it as “the middle three-fifths of the wealth spectrum”. That translates to: if your assets are liquidated you end up from the low end of simply owing nothing, up to having 400k. It’s a wide margin, but it’s the most reasonable way of measuring.

      Like

      • acflory
        July 17, 2017

        400k ? That’s a strangely arbitrary figure, and I’m not too sure of the ‘middle three fifths of the wealth spectrum’ either. I mean, isn’t the top ‘1%’ bandied around ad nauseum these days? 1% is a lot less than 1/5th. At least I assume he means that the lowest 1/5th is for the poor and the top 1/5th is for the super wealthy?

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        July 17, 2017

        It’s a complicated calculation. What measure do you think works best?

        Like

      • acflory
        July 17, 2017

        Meh…you’re asking someone who is number phobic. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. I have no idea how to quantify the middle class, but I know it’s more than just owning property or having money in the bank. I think it’s also a state of mind. We have the leisure to ask the big questions – such as, what is life all about? We can also turn our discontent with the status quo into a new invention or a piece of art.
        Not saying all artists were, or have to be, middle class, but it helps when you don’t have to worry about your next meal all the time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        July 17, 2017

        Interestingly I think your view is sort of in sync with the professor. He uses the 0 to 400 measure fifth, I have the impression, as the measure where there’s considerably less stress than the proletariat, but not as little stress as the wealthy.

        Like

      • acflory
        July 18, 2017

        Okay, stress makes so much more sense to me than economics! I’ve long thought that the good life occurs when there’s a balance between stress and relief [for want of a better word]. We all need to strive for something, but not to the point of fearing for our lives. In that sense, being middle class really is the healthiest position to occupy.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. appletonavenue
    July 18, 2017

    There no longer is a Middle Class in America. It’s been dying since Ronny Reagan’s ‘trickle down economics’.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Argus
    July 19, 2017

    The guy went to the States looking for a nation with no class?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Argus
    July 19, 2017

    At a guess I’d say he had no trouble finding it …

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      July 19, 2017

      For effect that should have been all one comment 😛

      Like

      • Argus
        July 19, 2017

        It was all one comment … I hit the wrong key halfway through; with no option for recall. (I do that sometimes, I call it the ‘Dr Strangelove’ syndrome.)

        Liked by 1 person

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