Joel Kotkin: We Now Join the U.S. Class War Already in Progress – The Daily Beast


CK MacLeod

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  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think that a class and culture war on has been on slow boil along these lines for a long, long time. A variety of factors are causing it to boil over now. Wages have been stagnant for decades. The fiscal crisis caused once sure paths into the middle class to become precarious and we see this with the rise of white-collar contingent workers like adjunct professors. Being a professor was never a well-paid profession compared to other educated professionals but it did offer a form of stability and a life of the mind.

    Others have noted this but there is a large disconnect between the elite of both parties and the bases of both parties and the rawness is finally showing and the elites are largely panicking and have no answers. The GOP elite is largely more socially secular and liberal than their base but economically much more conservative. Trump is tapping into the base of the GOP that dislikes immigration and other socially liberal measures but also wants to maintain Social Security and Medicare and probably thinks raising taxes on the rich is a good thing (even though Trump announced huge tax cuts for the rich in the GOP tradition.) For a long time, the Republican elite paid lip service to social conservatism via dog whistles while secretly believing that their white, working class base really wanted to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it. The GOP elite often come from the same professional class and schools of the Park Slope liberals that they love to mock. They often have the same love of microbrews and farm to table restaurants as well.

    The Democratic situation is more difficult because much of the Democratic base is more socially liberal than their GOP counterparts. Sanders supporters might be more socially liberal than the African-Americans and Latino(a) bases which make larger portions of the Democratic Party base but those sections are still more socially liberal or apathetic than social conservatives in the Republican Party. However, the Democratic elite is much more economically conservative than the Democratic base and is also willing to vote for “entitlement reform” which the Democratic base does not want. Many Sanders supporters I know would rather have four to eight years of obstruction with a GOP controlled Congress because they believe that Sanders will not accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare but HRC will.

    The problem is that the elites are running around like chicken littles and don’t know how to respond. They honestly and sincerely believe in the mantra of globalization, free trade, and manufacture out sourcing but the bases are not taking this and arguments about absolute wealth and cheaper consumer goods are not playing well. Clearly low-paid service jobs with little dignity or decency are not what people want. No one knows how to institute Basic Guaranteed Income. The elites are slow to admit or even concede that outsourcing has decimated some communities in the United States.

    No way of life is going to continue forever but the problem for the elites is that it might require severe authoritarianism to institute their preferred free-trade policies. The first wave of Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution occurred in countries with a much more limited franchise as opposed to the franchise that exists in the Western World today. Basically the franchise was largely controlled by the elites and they could vote for elite interest things. The elite don’t know how to make people take their lay-offs and economically precarious conditions lightly.

    I agree that outsourcing and globalization increase the standards of living for the global poor. I don’t doubt that factories in Bangladesh have significantly increased the standards of living for many in Bangladesh and similar countries. But I am not gobsmacked that the working class of the United States objects to their well-paid manufacturing jobs going away and being replaced by service jobs with much lower pay and no benefits. Many on the free-trade side seem to be gobsmacked that their arguments fall on deaf ears when heard by those who suffer.

    Maybe the situation of mid-century United States was very unique and not to be repeated but it this situation is still in living memory of most Americans including Americans between 17-44. It should not be surprising that people do not take it lightly when told “that way of life is dying and not coming back. Get used to it.” That message is appalling when it comes from people who are very economically comfortable to wealthy.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      Overall an excellent, thoughtful comment, in my view, OG DeGraw.

      I liked this aside:

      The GOP elite often come from the same professional class and schools of the Park Slope liberals that they love to mock. They often have the same love of microbrews and farm to table restaurants as well.

      In the last episode of Showtime’s “The Circus,” Jeb Bush is followed as he prepares to give a speech at Bob Jones University, which most of us would consider the most conservative of conservative redoubts. It happened to be his birthday, so he was presented with a little birthday gift by the young representative of BJU: a couple of gourmet “vegan paleo” cupcakes. They weren’t quite sure how to pronounce “paleo,” and they also noted that cave-people probably didn’t have cupcakes…Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Depending on how you define the elite of the Republican Party, I’m not really sure if the Republican party elite are more liberal than their base. A lot of party actors in the Republican Party seem sincere with their desire to role back the social changes of mid-20th century America rather than being cynical about it. In European countries, party actors of the center right parties might not have liked mid-20th century social changes but they did not promise their base a return to what existed before. Sometimes they even fought against their base when it came to these issues. Republicans waged a more active battle against mid-20th century social changes along with conservative Democratic Party actors. This suggests that they are aligned with their base on social issues.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        They might be sincere but it is not always a priority because they know that there is not much they can do or they care more about their fiscal issues and business deregulation over true social conservatism. The exceptions seem to be abortion and guns and failed attempts at :”religious liberty” bills when it comes to LGBT issues.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        For what it’s worth, I think Saul is pretty spot-on here. At least on the GOP side (no opinion on the other).

        You can sort of see it with the enthusiasm with which they are ready to put issues to rest. They’re ready to move on from gay marriage, wanted immigration reform in part just to put the issue behind them. In the 90’s they were cool with bygones on abortion and guns until they were brought to heel when it looked like the issue was hurting them. Tax cuts? The party must be ever-vigilant and stand firm.Report

        • Avatar El Muneco says:

          “They’re ready to move on from gay marriage”

          West Virginia overwhelmingly passed an RFRA this week. The base is certainly not ready to move on, and their representatives are listening to them.

          Ted Cruz proudly states in multiple public fora that his own beliefs supersede the oath that he would have to take to uphold the Constitution, and not only has he not been called on it, he gets plaudits.

          A major part of the absolute intransigence re: Scalia’s successor is that he was a solid vote for overturning Roe (regardless of the merits of the case in front of the SC), and replacing him with someone who is not is absolutely intolerable.

          The GOP elites might be more socially liberal than the base in disconnected philosophy, but judging them by their actions they’re still trying to take this country – not back to anywhere that actually existed – but to a version of “Leave It To Beaver” directed by and starring Kirk Cameron.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            I didn’t say that they were moving on, only that that particular part of the party would like to.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            FWIW, I generally think state legislatures are closer to the needs and wants of their bases over Congresscritters. This includes being much more like their base. They are relatively more elite but not by much.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              I think we need to be clear here that the term “elite” is a double-edged cutting machine. One thing I think nobody wants is crazy toothless guy from the tire repair to be making policy for a state, let alone the federal. Generally speaking , even toothless guy wants someone who knows more about public policy, science, politics and culture to do the governing.

              So in my mind, when we talk about “elites”, what we really mean (following Palin here!!) are people so intellectually and culturally disconnected from the doings of the vast majority of us that they’re opinions on policy and governance amount to diddlypoo.

              And that strikes me as what the rebellion in the GOP is based on, and quite probably the Democratic party, too, tho to a lesser extent. (Since the disconnect isn’t quite so glaring.)Report

            • Avatar El Muneco says:

              Yeah, I know that intellectually – it just doesn’t make much difference to me whether the elites are leading or following. The GOP has a unified message, and it’s being dictated by the hardline socons because anyone who strays from the party line will be primaried by someone who doesn’t.

              And I’m looking ahead to the next round of the War on Women’s Sexual Autonomy, and then to Anything That Isn’t An Actual Theocracy Is French Laicite Secularism. Both of which are likely to make us reminiscent of the relative peace and lack of acrimony over Gay Marriage.Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater says:

    I think he’s sorta right, sorta wrong. Class was certainly a big deal in the New Deal Era, but that’s because class was a REALLY big deal going back to the late 1800’s and on thru the aughts, culminating – politically! – with policy moves in the 30s directly responsive to the clamoring for change. From the New Deal era thru 1970 or so, tho, class remained a big deal with the two parties moreorless institutionalizing the conflict at the partisan level: Dems were for labor and unions; Cons were for business and free enterprise. That dynamic played out in polite disagreement till the rest of the world caught up to US productivity requiring radical changes in the way the US does business.

    So the current manifestation of class tension needs to be placed in a post Nixon context, seems to me. And I think it can be characterized this way: as unions eroded and trade barriers broke down (from necessity or choice!) both parties sorta surrendered to a capital-centered economic model whereby liberating capital from its earthly chains was sold as the way forward (“rising tides!” “service economy!” “jobs Americans won’t do!” “competitiveness!” “cheaper prices!” etc) and constituencies in the rival parties realigned along non-economic axes, taking straight-ahead class-based economic concerns off the table and outa public consciousness. (Add: which in itself constitutes a HUGE victory for capital over labor …)

    Until now. So the interesting question to me is this: why is the electorate only now refocusing on policy choices with a class element to them? The data has been crystal clear (for a long time!) that this has been going on for a long time. So why now? Is it that the hubris of one or both parties finally collapsed the house of cards? That massive propaganda has a limited shelf-life? People are just smarter now? (Heh, I kid!)Report

    • Avatar katherinemw says:

      Until now. So the interesting question to me is this: why is the electorate only now refocusing on policy choices with a class element to them?

      The end of the Cold War brought on the belief that unrestricted markets were the only way of the future and that any other economic policy had been discredited – a component of Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis.

      The Great Recession has, in turn, discredited the assumption that unregulated markets and skyrocketing income inequality are the only economic policies with any basis. The non-rich are rebelling against the neoliberal consensus imposed by the rich and by mainline economists.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        Emphasis added:

        katherinemw: The end of the Cold War brought on the belief that unrestricted markets were the only way of the future and that any other economic policy had been discredited – a component of Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis.

        A gross misreading of Fukuyama and of the “end of history.”Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The problem with Social Conservatism (fsvo “Social Conservatism”) is that Social Liberalism always wins eventually (fsvo “always”).

    The problem with Fiscal Liberalism (fsvo “Fiscal Liberalism”) is that Fiscal Conservatism always wins eventually (fsvo “always”).

    And those are the two battles that will continue to be fought until doomsday.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Hanley posted an article on the social conservative angle recently. Basically by the time social conservatives start a culture war, they have already lost. You can see this in history. The permissive society that was created by Home Secretary Roy Jenkins during the 1960s caused a cultural conservative backlash in England but the laws were already written and passed by the time the social conservatives launched their attack.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Not to be nitpicky, but according to one value of “always”, those statements are vacuous. Seems to me it’s more accurate to say those concepts are in constant tension with neither ever finally “winning”.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Progress, socially, always has more places to progress to. Just look at how far we’ve come in 100 years (and, of course, look at how far we’ve yet to go). The line Morat uses is that he is progressive now and hopes to die a conservative.

        Economics, however, seems to be a harsh mistress. A society that would have appeared to be a post-scarcity society 100 years ago still has significant disparity and, moreover, we still have relational goods.

        I imagine that this will continue for a while. And the winners will continue winning and the losers will continue losing. Onward to 2500.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      This is a good point and the main reason that I used to vote for Republicans (the other reason being that I lived in NY). I understood that Republican efforts to push back social progress would ultimately fail, but that Democratic efforts to tax and spend their way to utopia can do very real damage to the economy. That was then.

      Now that Republicans have abandoned all but the lamest pretensions to fiscal responsibility, their value proposition has been diminished in my eyes and I am happy to sit in the balcony and heckle.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Class is becoming a big issue but in the United States, you always have to include race into the factor. While class conflict did exist in previous periods of American history, white racism against African-Americans spared rich Americans the pain observed by European elites. The socio-economic situation in the South between the Civil War and World War II mirrored all the problems that existed in southern European countries like Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Poor Southern whites did not become radicalized in the same way that their counterparts in Southern Europe did because of racial animus. The grange movement was somewhat easily defeated because of this. Radicalization was more prominent in the industrial areas of the Northeast, Mid-West, and West but nativism and racism were able to blunt for radicalization.

    We see this same factor work out in the class conflicts of the presence. Working class whites tend to rally around Trump if the are older while younger ones go to Sanders. Neither side is making common grounds with working class people of color to form a more unified class conflicts. Many people of color are staying loyal to Clinton regardless of their socio-economics or what Clinton’s policies will to do them for many reasons. The non-class based divisions in the United States should ultimately help the really well off Americans.Report

  5. Elites pursuing their own interests is how things are supposed to work; non-elites pursuing their own interests is class warfare. And the latter is always accompanies by the elites richsplaining about how their interests aren’t what they think they are.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      Or as noted socialist and hater of free marked economics Warren Buffet stated, “‘There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:


      Nicely done. Man, I wish you introduced this word a few years ago. It’da come in handy during some of the LoOGs more heated discussions on economics.Report

      • Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

        The question is, how do you decide who fits into that upper right quadrant? What about the guy who’s paying the 15% long term capital gains tax rate on millions of dollars? How about the carried interest income?

        Is the lower tax rate on this income a benefit to society, or is it the result of a rent seeking deal in the regulations creating the different tax rates for different kinds of income?

        One the goalposts are cemented into the ground we can talk about class warfare.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          The graph is actually the perfect description of contemporary conservatism- spending on people I don’t like or for causes I don’t like is “waste” – spending on stuff I like or for people I like is, just, y’know, good governance.

          For an easy laugh, look at the graph and try to see where spending for the F-35 fits in; then imagine how your answer would fit with the RedState reader.

          I know, because I did it.Report

          • Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

            Don’t forget the other two parts of the triumvirate: fraud and abuse.

            I’m only able to dip my toes into the Red State waters so often and today isn’t one of those days. I can’t afford the certain loss of brain cells.

            Matt Taibbi tweeted something very appropriate to this yesterday:

            The hysterical concern over how to pay for Bernie’s plans is hilarious. Nobody worries about how we afford the F-35.

            Nor do we ask how we afford non-negotiated Medicare drugs, the Littoral Combat Ship, the carried interest tax break, or other idiocies.

            Just saying we waste gobs of money on idiotic things and we only hear words like “unrealistic” when it’s something like free education.


            • Avatar j r says:

              Either Matt Taibbi doesn’t understand policy making very well or it’s part of his shtick to pretend as such. We can’t afford the F-35 or any of that other stuff. We finance those purchases by going into debt. And the reason that we continue to pay for those things is because they all have a constituency of vested interests that makes sure that Congress keeps the appropriations coming.

              Every time the Pentagon says that they don’t need some weapons system and the Congress considers getting rid of it, Lockheed Martin gives a friendly reminder to those Congressmen and women that Weapon System X jeeps Y number of people employed in districts A, B and C and wouldn’t it be a shame if all those folks had to be laid off because of how their member voted.

              There is no such constituency for the stuff that Bernie wants, for the simple reason that it hasn’t been created yet. In countries where free or nearly-free tuition is the norm, it’s very difficult to increase tuition (look at what happened in Quebec a few years ago). In the United States, no such entitlement exists, so the pressure exists in the opposite direction; that is, it is very difficult to shift the cost of tuition from students and their families onto the general taxpaying public.

              ps – please note that my comment is completely agnostic as to the desirability of either the F-35 or subsidized college tuition; it’s just a comment on how the political process functions. New programs and entitlements are very hard to enact; old programs and entitlements are very hard to cut.Report

  6. Avatar dexter says:

    I am one of those older working class whites and under no circumstances will I vote for Trump. If there is even a hint of racism you have lost my vote. I do think having all those undocumented aliens working under the table is a serious problem, but I do not think they are anything other than people who are coming from a third world hell hole full of poverty and violence. I do not blame them for coming. I do blame the government for not enforcing the laws and for creating the horrid conditions in first place.
    I had a giant epiphany the other day and now I think it is an excellent idea to send about 40billion dollars a month for years on end to a dictatorial regime that has no worker rights and an environmental policy that allows the air to get so saturated with carcinogens that visibility is down to three blocks.
    Plus, I should not be in the least bit upset that in 1970 at the start of my carpenter career(also known as steep learning curve period) I was making, adjusted for inflation, 27 an hour and when I retired in 2008 I was making 20.Report

  7. Avatar Alan Scott says:

    On the Republican side, that seems like a reasonable argument, but I’m deeply skeptical that the Clinton/Sanders divide has much to do with class.

    I know it fell out that way in New Hampshire, but New Hampshire also voted for Kasich over Cruz, Bush, and Rubio. I think we need to account for the fact that New Hampshire isn’t necessarily indicative of broader trends.Report