April 18, 2006

The upper middle class vs. the working class

A reader writes:

In reading your post on Cynthia Tucker’s column (and then the rest of her column) there is one point that bothered me. She says:

"The pay was hardly exorbitant — $6 an hour. But it seemed reasonable for unskilled labor."

As a teenager I spent my summers stacking hay, chopping weeds, and performing other jobs in the fields of west Texas for similar wages. My buddies and I were hired by the day or week by local farmers in much the same way as Ms. Tucker found workers. This was in the 1980’s. What bothers me is that after 20 years the same wage for unskilled labor is considered “reasonable” by a member of the educated class. Considering the increases in housing and energy costs since then (as your later posts demonstrates) means unskilled day laborers are making a much lower real wage than 20 years ago. I know illegal immigration contributes to the problem. If you have 15 young guys sharing an apartment then they can work for much less, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.

I think, and I think Ms. Tucker’s attitude demonstrates, that culture may play a large part in this problem. I’m now a member of the so-called suburban educated class, but most of my family is still among the working poor. The things I hear from some colleagues and neighbors are beyond belief. Your statement about the upper middle class despising the working class is an understatement. They believe they have a right to $50 a day maid and yard service, and that Americans who won’t work themselves to death and take abuse for those wages are lazy bums who don’t deserve even modest dignity. I’ve heard things said about the working class that these same bleeding hearts would never speak of any other group.

What I wonder is this: Are the educated classes so far-removed from the working classes and so contemptuous of them that they’ve deliberately decided to exclude the native working class from the system? Are open-borders and other destructive policies being pursued so that the “betters” don’t have to deal with the rabble? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the cultural side of this.

Well, these attitudes aren't brand new. In Robert A. Heinlein's 1957 sci-fi novel The Door into Summer, the hero, inventor of a robot that does household chores, says:

"Housewives were still complaining about the Servant Problem long after servants had gone the way of the mastodon. I had rarely met a housewife who did not have a touch of slaveholder in her; they seemed to think there really ought to be strapping peasant girls grateful for a chance to scrub floors for fourteen hours per day and eat table scraps at wages a plumber's helper would scorn. That's why we called the monster Hired Girl—it brought back thoughts of the semi-slave immigrant girl whom Grandma used to bully."

I'm reminded of how much the White House servants and guards hated the upper-middle class Clintons, compared to how much they liked the upper class Bushes (41, not 43).

The old Northeastern upper class was raised to have servants, and they tend to know how to treat them. Moreover, in a society of hereditary privilege, there is little expectation that a Bertie Wooster will be a superior individual to a Jeeves. He just happened to have chosen his parents more wisely. Bertie didn't earn the master's role and Jeeves' didn't fall into the servant's lot in life through his own shortcomings. Those are just the places in life they were born into. If they carry out their fate-assigned roles in the time-honored fashion, they both will be satisfied.

The modern meritocratic Baby Boom upper-middle class, in contrast, had little experience with servants growing up. Furthermore, its ideology of egalitarian informality mixed with meritocracy is ill-suited to a master-servant relationship, and often reacts to it in a toxic fashion. Yale Law School grads like Bill and Hillary believe that they are better than other people, including their servants, because they are smarter. But they don't allow themselves to admit they are smarter because they chose their genes more wisely. That would be racist! So,, as good liberal meritocrats, they believe they earned their smartness. No wonder their servants despised them.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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