The Class Structure of the Future

The middle class is not as much eroded or destroyed as it is torn towards the poles.

This is the hallmark of the post-nation state: the poles grow while the middle is hollowed out. For now, it looks like the future class distribution tends towards:

~60% on the bottom (the bottom being not hungry and ragged but obese and constricted in movement physically, geographically and symbolically)

~25% on the top

~15% in the middle.

Remember, though, none of this is set in stone. It is up to us to change these numbers but we will have to come up with new methods that correspond to the new realities and not try to stretch the old blanket over fresh problems.

22 thoughts on “The Class Structure of the Future

  1. “and symbolically”—I really like this observation, and your whole blog entry really… and I think we are substantially there with the symbolic constriction right now. And this in turn feels connected to the current freak-out that is the tiger on which Trump is riding.

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    1. You are absolutely right! There is a definite connect. It’s the seeming ease of the immigrants’ mobility that bothers Trump’s supporters so much. It reminds them of the limits of their own mobility.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the easiest ways to fight this trend is basically to be a big advocate for free market capitalism which drives DEFLATION in housing, health care, education and food and transportation. aka.. the shit people really use.

    I offer this because my biggest area of knowledge / passion / expertise/ career is in the finanical / economic markets, so just wanted to give you a trend to look out for. The majority of the establishment want moderate inflation because deflation is bad for wealthy interests, especially levered (have debt supporting their equity positions in companies and real estates) wealth.

    It is why fundamentally I am a free market capitalist with the unique angle (at least in main stream finance circles) of despising the financial systems impact. Just something to be on the lookout for. As you read you will generally hear both wall street and the Fed highlight the evils of deflation.

    Lastly, on the political front its one reason Trump has some appeal to me. He is the most anti-wall street of all the conservatives (up their with Rand Paul). He would be the least likely to support financial elites while still believing in a general business first / free market to generate broader wealth. Now thats not why he is leading now, but it is something I actually think he would be pretty good at in office.

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    1. Deflation is evil, beacuse it favors creditors over debtors. In elite-audience publications, they even refer to it as a “creditors rights” agenda. As for Donald Trump, there is a textbook example of a highly leveraged businessperson. Good luck getting pro-deflation policy out of that one. But entrepreneurial businesses almost always run in the red. It is financial institutions (the real financial elite, more elite than the business elite of which Trump is an elite member) that are the creditor class, and are the real beneficiaries of the (public) debt hawkery and inflation hawkery at the core of conservative “populism” in all its variants, from John Birch Society to Tea Party to the Trump campaign.

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      1. The creditors are the middle and lower middle class. Wealthy people own assets (real estate or companies with debt financing.. think PE, or many public companies with increasingly high debt ratios). What do middle class do with their money.. much is in checking accounts (which is used to fund loans), in bonds, in pensions (heavily bond demoninated, but changing some because rates are so low) and in insurance / annuity contracts.. which primarily invest in bonds.

        You do not get wealthy owning bonds (with the exception of some distressed debt and high yield bonds that hedge funds can use additional leverage to take advantage of).

        The wealthy get to use the savings of middle class to leverage their equity, increase their returns. Consumer prices going down is good for all but the equity owner. Would it be good for everyone who rents if the rent went down? If health care adn insurance was cheaper? If college education went down? Absolutely.. that is deflation (we can get into semantics if you only call deflation a decrease in the money supply or in nominal prices. they both matter, but ultimately lower prices for the consumer is good).

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  3. Why do you assume that in the future there will be no hungry people at the bottom? There are plenty of hungry people in the US already.

    I agree with you though that the hollowing out of the middle class is not a force of nature, it is a result of human actioms and we can change that with enough imagination and will.

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    1. The US poverty is obese, not emaciated. This doesn’t make it less important to address but it’s impossible to address an issue imagined in outdated Dickensian terms.

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      1. Yes there are obese poor people and there aren’t children with sticks for limbs and swollen bellies in the US. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have people who don’t have enough to eat, there is plenty of research showing this only a Google away. Perhaps the fairest thing to say is that there are degrees of hunger in our country, and that is especially jarring since we are such a rich and developed nation.

        I saw very, very few fat people the year I volunteered at a weekly soup kitchen. Most of our guests were extremely meek, quiet and passive. They looked like they had already internalized the idea that no options existed for them.

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        1. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t have people who don’t have enough to eat, there is plenty of research showing this only a Google away.”

          • Enough for what? One can find anything one wants on Google but lack of food is not this country’s problem and it’s not any developed country’s problem. It is not even a problem that exists in Ukraine any longer, no matter what Google says. Lack of good, healthy food is obviously a problem.

          In any case, the 60% that’s at risk of being left behind in the fluid society will not be suffering from hunger, cold or lack of clothing. A very different kind of deprivation awaits them. And that deprivation still merits being discussed, even though it doesn’t look like a scene from Oliver Twist. I find it very curious that whenever there is an attempt to discuss this reality, the conversation immediately gets derailed into the non-existent hunger and imaginary “Girls with Matches“.

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  4. 60% on the bottom (the bottom being not hungry and ragged but obese and constricted in movement physically, geographically and symbolically
    To have a non hungry and non ragged bottom, one must have welfare of some sort. This is in the current system. Since the result of a collapsing post nation state system is the eradication of welfare, why would you assume there would be any organized food assistance from any entity with significant power?
    In my US-centric experience the general quality of clothing has gone way down as compared to ten, twenty even five years ago at most price points. Older clothing is much better in quality, but it also is sized for a population that is smaller. Also plus size clothing is shoddier in quality and more expensive than straight sizes. Fewer and fewer people know how to sew and I see even basic tailors lack for work.

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    1. Clothes go down in quality because nobody plans to keep the same outfit for more than one season. This is what consumer society is like. The joy does not reside in buying as much as it is in tossing because that allows for more buying.

      Cheap, abundant food is not all that a welfare state is about. The food, the housing and the screens will stay but everything else, everything that allows people to leave the ghetto is disappearing. And that’s a tragedy.

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  5. Clothes go down in quality because nobody plans to keep the same outfit for more than one season. This is what consumer society is like. The joy does not reside in buying as much as it is in tossing because that allows for more buying.

    I don’t plan to keep the same outfit for more than one season because it doesn’t last, even if I baby it. I managed to wear a turtleneck from the 1970s 20 years later. I had t-shirts from 1990s that just became unusable now. Clothes from 5 years ago are totally faded and worn. You can’t say the US hasn’t been a consumer society in all this time.

    Cheap, abundant food is not all that a welfare state is about. The food, the housing and the screens will stay but everything else, everything that allows people to leave the ghetto is disappearing. And that’s a tragedy.

    Of course cheap abundant food is not the only part of a welfare state. But it’s the literally the most basic thing a welfare state can offer. Food is cheap and abundant, relatively speaking, because certain ingredients are subsidized. I’m not sure what renter subsidies (Section 8?) will still be in place — certainly the people who own homes will decrease so the mortgage deduction will not apply to them.

    I guess when I think of “welfare state” and “the bottom” I think of people in such straits that common consumer joys like changing some clothes every season are a strain and switching out tvs and electronics are carefully considered. I don’t think of people on contract with cell phone companies; I think of people with tracphones. Maybe your definitions of the “bottom” and the “middle” are different than mine?

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    1. “I don’t plan to keep the same outfit for more than one season because it doesn’t last, even if I baby it.”

      • There are more consumerist people and less consumerist. My husband doesn’t understand why one would need two pairs of shoes when there is one pair and it’s still quite usable. However, there is a cultural rite of buying clothes several times a year.

      We’ve all read these recent accounts about people in Appalachia, Massachusetts, West Virginia, etc. Their tragedy is not that they are about to starve and can’t go outside for lack of shoes. Their tragedy is that they have no hope, they are effectively excluded from productive society. So they turn to heroin, alcohol, pills. Their life span begins to plummet. These people deserve help, even though they don’t look like Hugo’s Les Misérables.

      The only people in the ghettos or trailer parks who are emaciated are drug addicts. And they are thin not because they are actually hungry.

      It is very, very important to change the mentality according to which a person who is obese and has a cell phone doesn’t need help. That’s what poverty and hopelessness often looks like in developed countries.

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  6. Fascinating insights regarding “constriction on movement.” It sounds spot on to me. Limits on the ability to travel, both locally and long-distance, Limited ability to move up economically and socially, the general feeling of impotence, including politically. People feel stuck, either in reality or symbolically. I need to think more about this. Reminds me of feudalism, slavery and all types of economic oppression. people on the bottom are constantly reminded to stay in their place, not try to rise above their place. The discussion about what poverty will look like in the future is speculative. Just because we have plenty of food now and the poor are often obese doesn’t mean that will be a long-term trend. Regarding the quality of clothing: I would say the big difference is that clothing used to be made by unionized garment workers in New York City, and now our clothing is made by low-wage, unskilled workers, sometimes child labor, in less developed countries.

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    1. The existence of a cheap labor economy (anywhere within the world economy) is the reason for the cheaply made clothing, but also the reason for the end of the working-middle-class. A population of 7+ billion and growing, and virtually all economic sectors (including the so-called service sector which was supposed to take up the employment slack) are becoming less labor intensive every year.

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      1. “A population of 7+ billion and growing, and virtually all economic sectors (including the so-called service sector which was supposed to take up the employment slack) are becoming less labor intensive every year.”

        • In the meanwhile, there is an enormous number of jobs it’s impossible to fill for love or money because qualified personnel is not in existence.

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    2. “Limits on the ability to travel, both locally and long-distance, Limited ability to move up economically and socially, the general feeling of impotence, including politically. People feel stuck, either in reality or symbolically.”

      • Absolutely, that’s exactly what I meant. In the world where mobility is everything, those who can’t acces this valuable resource are doomed to lose out and be left behind.

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  7. “It is up to us to change these numbers but we will have to come up with new methods that correspond to the new realities and not try to stretch the old blanket over fresh problems.”

    Nice idea but those in charge of the dismantling of the nation state are carefully not telling people what’s going on. People can’t come up with solutions unless they know what the problem is.

    “none of this is set in stone”

    It kind of is. People who are aware of what’s going on can plan accordingly (and let others know as much as they can).

    The big problem is that those who are pushing this agenda have methods at their disposal that make anything that most people can do meaningless. Angela Merkel with one speech undid 60 years of work in Germany (that’s how it’s going to be remembered).

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    1. \ Angela Merkel with one speech undid 60 years of work in Germany (that’s how it’s going to be remembered).

      Can you clarify what she said and what work it undid? I am unsure I understood you fully.

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      1. Angela Merkel was named yesterday as TIME MAGAZINE’S “Person of the Year,” identifying her as the most influential person in the world, for good or ill, in 2015 — beating out Putin, the President of Iran, the leader of ISIS, and Donald Trump. (Of course, Obama was nowhere in sight.)

        She’s the fourth German leader (the first was Hilter in 1938) and the only fifth woman to make the list since it started in 1927 (the other women were celebrity jokes).

        Granted that TIME’s annual selection is a gimmick to sell magazines, Merkel’s selection over Putin and Trump might be worth a short post for discussion on your website, Clarissa. What do you think?

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    2. “Nice idea but those in charge of the dismantling of the nation state are carefully not telling people what’s going on. People can’t come up with solutions unless they know what the problem is.”

      • People don’t seem to want to know what the problem is. On this blog, yes, but this is an exceptional group. Otherwise, everybody is gleefully participating and the response to any apprehension one might voice is the inane, “But it’s convenient!” If only, if only it was an initiative of a few folks at the top. But no, it’s everybody’s shared project.

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  8. Interesting observations. I live in Toronto and the two upscale regional shopping malls near me have undergone major renovations in the 300+ million range. Out with Sears and in with Nordstrom and Park Avenue. The poorer customers in the area have moved from Wal-Mart to the dollar stores since Wal-Mart’s core constituency can no longer afford to shop there (including their staff). I would say that 80% of the upscale mall’s merchandise is women’s fashion and accessories, 10% men’s fashion and accessories and 10% everything else. This is because clothes give you the highest margins and turnover. Even the nominally sporting goods stores are essentially clothes stores.

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