Class/Classism

One’s socio-economic position or “class” is acknowledged as a central and determining feature of quality of life by virtually everyone. On the other hand, people strongly disagree about whether or not there is anything unjust or unfair about existing class differences, e.g. about the distance between the “top” and the “bottom” of the income/wealth hierarchy, or about the degree of obstacle faced by those in the lower half of the income distribution.

Many on the left consider class inequality and classism to be among the most important issues facing American society (see income inequality).  And many leftists would say as well that most Americans don’t come close to understanding what leftists and Marxists actually believe on the subject (see here).

For many on the right, the liberal emphasis on class is based on a false and dangerous narrative: false because it greatly exaggerates the obstacles to economic success faced by anyone willing to work hard, and dangerous because (a) it discourages people in the lower half of the income distribution from working hard and (b) it leads to a proliferation of expensive and counterproductive government programs meant to “help” the poor.

To complicate matters, leftists and conservatives alike disagree amongst themselves about whether or not those in the upper class malevolently or deliberately try to maintain class distinctions. While increasing numbers across the political spectrum see the wealthy as intentionally creating a system that harms the poor and the middle classes, others see the harm done as a result of the system itself, independent of anyone’s conscious intention.

What exactly constitutes the middle classis another point of substantial disagreement.

People’s belief about the degree to which Americans are able to “move up” in the class system also varies, with conservatives more optimistic than those on the left. More specifically, conservatives on this subject see the key variables as hard work, perseverance, and talent.

Leftists, conversely, believe that, while many do move up because of those traits, the class system sees to it that those numbers are very limited. Many leftists also believe, moreover, that the personal cost of moving up is very high; that moving up often means losing community, abandoning neighbors, and becoming estranged from one’s parents (who might for example feel uncomfortable in their daughter’s middle-class home, and not know what to converse about).   

Many libertarians see government itself as one of the greatest enforcers of class position.  Thus in order to increase social mobility, libertarians promote school choice; ending occupational licensing; and reducing government subsidies and the regulatory state, both of which almost always favor established interests.

 

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

-Is too much or too little attention being paid to class right now in America, in your opinion?

-Are there any potential positive or negative consequences for a greater focus on class?

Dialog Tips: 

A Workshop on Social Class Differences (Public Conversations Project) http://www.publicconversations.org/resource/workshop-social-class-differ...

Contributors: 

Phil Neisser, Michael Strong

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