Populism vs. Elites – who is elite

The United States of America was founded as republic. It does not recognize that members of a hereditary aristocracy have formal legal power to make laws or command other persons, or any personal legal rights and privileges. America has social classes, based on wealth and income. Sociologists recognize 6 classes:

  1. Upper Class or the SuperRich;
  2. Upper Middle Class – affluent or rich – highly-educated, most commonly salaried, professionals and middle management with large work autonomy;
  3. Lower Middle Class – semi-professionals and craftsmen with a roughly average standard of living. Most have some college education and are white-collar;
  4. Working Class – clerical and most blue-collar workers whose work is highly routinized. Standard of living varies depending on number of income earners, but is commonly just adequate;
  5. Working Poor – service, low-rung clerical and some blue-collar workers. High economic insecurity and risk of poverty;
  6. Underclass, lower class or the Poor – limited or no participation in the labor force. Reliant on government transfers.

Some sociologists and political scientists maintain that social and political power is held by individuals who are members of elites. American Populism, as an ideology, asserts the wishes and interests of “common” people against elites. Americans tend to deny that they are elite. Sociologists have not developed a common clear way of referring to elites, as opposed to classes.

Michael Lind is a centrist on the left-right spectrum of American political views. He was a conservative, but broke with American conservatism. He is a critic of the upper and upper middle class elites who administer neo-liberal economics in American business management. He is critical of the globalization of trade. He disagrees with American libertarianism. He has supported the idea of liberal nationalism.

He has published his ideas in his 2020 book The New Class War, and in articles America’s Asymmetric Civil War, published January 5, 2022, and The End of Citizenship, published in March 22, 2022 on the website of the magazine Tablet. One of the central ideas of The New Class War is that labour relations are permanently segmented between elite upper middle class managers and professionals, and lower paid lower middle class and working class workers. Lind relies on split labor market theory. Financially elite upper class and upper middle class shareholders play the elite workers in the middle class(es) off against the working class and the working poor on immigration, trade, social policy, and other issues, and win most political fights in the US system. Lind is critical of the broad acceptance of the neo-liberal economics of the American upper class and upper middle class by the media and by most politicians in American politics, and the obliteration of movements for financial equality by identity politics.

The New Class War was written before Donald Trump and his supporters tried to resist the result of the 2020 election. The Asymmetric Civil War article was written for the anniversary of the riots in Washington DC in January 2021. It repeats and updates the book on some points:

The Democratic coalition is an hourglass, top-heavy and bottom-heavy with a narrow middle. In addition to hoovering up the votes of college-educated Americans, the Democrats are the party of the Big Rich—tech billionaires and CEOs, investment banking houses, and the managerial class that spans large corporate enterprises and aligned prestige federal agencies like the Justice Department and the national security agencies. …

The social base of the Democrats is neither a few liberal billionaires nor the more numerous cohorts of high-school educated minority voters; it is the disproportionately white college-educated professionals and managers. These affluent but not rich overclass households dominate the Democratic Party and largely determine its messaging, not by virtue of campaign contributions or voting numbers, but because they very nearly monopolize the staffing of the institutions that support the party—K-12 schools and universities, city and state and federal bureaucracies, public sector unions, foundations, foundation-funded nonprofit organizations, and the mass media. By osmosis, professional and managerial values and material interests and fads and fashions permeate the Democratic Party and shape its agenda.

While the liberal Big Rich cluster in silver apartments and offices in trophy skyscrapers in the inner core of blue cities, the elites of the outer suburbs and exurbs tend to be made up of the Lesser Rich—millionaire car dealership owners, real estate agents, oil and gas drilling equipment company owners, and hair salon chain owners. This group of proprietors … forms the social base of the Republican Party despite efforts ,… to rebrand the GOP as a working-class party.

….

If hourglass Democrats are dominated by urban managers and professionals linked to the national and global economies, and the diamond Republicans by moderately rich local business elites, then who speaks for the two-thirds of Americans who are working class, who lack college diplomas and must work for wages? The answer is: nobody. At 6% and falling, private sector trade union membership in the United States is lower than it was under Herbert Hoover.

The only time that the working-class majority had any real influence in American politics, as well as in their workplaces, was between the 1940s and the 1980s, when private sector unions were a force that both parties had to reckon with. Private sector unions have been annihilated in the last half-century in the United States because hatred of organized labor is one of only two areas of agreement between socially liberal Democratic Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs, CEOs who donate millions to Black Lives Matter, and small-town Republican sweatshop owners and overseers who think Social Security and Medicare constitute “socialism.” The other thing that the Democratic Big Rich and the Republican Lesser Rich agree on is the need for more indentured servant “guest workers” from other countries who are bound to the employers that sponsor them, and who are thus more easily manipulated and intimidated than either free American citizen-workers or immigrants with green cards who can quit bad employers.

Lind’s analysis of the differences between woke capital, old Capital, the woke managerial-professional class, the lesser Rich (the lower upper class and the wealthy upper middle class), and the working class does not account for large parts of the middle classes (the American petite bourgeoisie). Others agree that the disputes between American elites are significant but classify the disputes differently. Joel Kotkin, (author of The New Class Conflict 2014 and The Coming of Neo-Feudalism 2022) writing for the British online magazine unHerd in “Do We Need a capitalist civil war“:

… the French economist Thomas Piketty aptly divides our capitalist class into what he calls “the Brahmin Left” and the “merchant Right”. One side, as its caste association assumes, tends to see itself as more spiritually enlightened, as priests of the progressive secular religion. The merchant side, however, is more concerned with market competition (particularly from China), the cost of goods, and the impact of regulatory policies on their core businesses.

Today, the Brahmin Left has its base in large corporations and investors, and has allied itself with the academic and media establishments, financing non-profits and generally supporting increasingly intrusive government. By contrast, the merchant Right draws its natural support from the traditional middle class — skilled workers, high-street businesspeople, and small property owners — who also have become the bulwark of the Trumpian Republican Party.

….

[The] corporate shift to the Left, particularly since the Black Lives Matter protests, has created a backlash within the capitalist class, with many concerned at what they see is the creation of a highly regulated, less competitive and openly politicised economy. Add to this Biden’s own embrace of progressive ideology and it’s hardly surprising that many traditional capitalists now fear for their future.

….

And at first, this corporate class seemed to support the Biden administration’s priorities on immigration, racial “equity”, gender, and climate change. But the government’s incompetent Afghanistan withdrawal, the intensifying border crisis and its own economic programme weakened this capitalist ardour. Most critical has been Biden’s stunning failure to address the roots of rising inflation. While costs of living soared, his supporters claimed everything was either temporary or Vladimir Putin’s fault. But it is clear inflation was rising rapidly before the Ukrainian invasion, and is now considerably higher than key competitors, such as Japan, Germany, France, Canada and China.

….

Amid a contentious climate, who will win this new capitalist civil war? Hopefully neither side, at least not too decisively. As unromantic as it may seem, the middle and working classes rely on political competition between the elites to survive, as it forces them to make concessions … the enemy of mass progress is in the uniformity of elites: when autocracy thrives, and when a small group of people — be they feudal lords, oligarchs or party cadres — control the political field, it is the middle and working classes who suffer.

What Lind wrote about American Democrats applies to the self-styled progressive Canadian political parties, the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens. What Lind wrote about American Republicans apples to the Canadian Conservative party – a neoliberal party that wants to lower wages.

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