January 2, 2020
The Real Class War by Julius Krein is one of the best essays I’ve read in a long time. While I don’t agree with every word, it is brilliant. Its general thesis:
The socioeconomic divide that will determine the future of politics, particularly in the United States, is not between the top 30 percent or 10 percent and the rest, nor even between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The real class war is between the 0.1 percent and (at most) the 10 percent—or, more precisely, between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on professional labor.
Looked at through this lens, broad elite sentiment starts to make a lot more sense. For example, it offers a credible answer to a question that’s long bugged me: Why is it that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders receive “the highest number of donations out of all presidential candidates from Google employees” and similar tech firms?
While the “billionaire class” (Pop. 607) might not support Warren or Sanders, consider the reality of your average SF tech worker:
A study by the Brookings Institution showed that the median income rose by 26 percent in San Francisco from 2008 to 2016, but rents more than doubled during the same period. Because of rising real estate costs, households earning in the top 25 percent nationally are actually classified as “low income” in San Francisco. The household “low income” threshold in the Golden Gate City is now approximately $117,000. By comparison, a household needs to earn about $100,000 to make it into the top 31 percent nationally; the national top 10 percent household income threshold is approximately $178,000.
Being in the elite is not all it’s cracked up to be, as Krein details in the piece, and it’s certainly not all that the elite expected. This is leading to severe status anxiety relative to, and resentment against, the elite’s peers at the very very top. There’s clearly way more status anxiety and resentment among this cohort than the working class, most of whom it seems would support Joe Biden or Donald Trump. So of course…
Many of the most aggressive proposals associated with the Left—such as student loan forgiveness and “free college”—are targeted at the top 30 percent, if not higher. Even Medicare for All could potentially benefit households earning between $100,000 and $200,000 the most; cohorts below that are already subsidized.
Where does this trend lead? One possible outcome is the collapse of center-left parties as we have seen in Europe, most recently in the UK where an unprecedented working class exodus to the Tories left Labour to the “top 30%” urbanite cosmopolitans. In Germany the working class is exiting for AfD and leaving the Social Democrats to “white-collar workers and pensioners.” What about the U.S.? I don’t understand how candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who have promised to ban fracking can win the working class vote in, say, Pennsylvania. If the democratic nominee is Warren, I wonder what effect that would have on the black vote.
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