Saturday, June 13, 2020

"The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, or, Downward Mobility"

A repost from 2019 that is probably more pertinent now than it was last year.

As Covid-19 exposes the huge comfort/financial gap between, say, academics posting on Twitter all the live-long day vs. the working stiff who doesn't have the luxury of not going in to stock shelves at the grocery store; or between the person of some means and the person who is insolvent if the next check, unemployment or payroll, is late; or Silicon Valley vs. Mississippi valley, as these differences are exposed we are going to reach a point where some donations to BLM or some cancel-culture scalps are not going to be enough to paper over just what the reality is.

If some bright poli-sci major does a real, granular slice-n-dice of major party political support across the Anglosphere we will definitely link. Otherwise I might, operative word "might" do one myself.

Oriinal post:
Some of the ideas in yesterday's "Classes, Masses and Uncomfortable Truths About the Precariat" can trace their lineage at least as far back as this piece from the law-professor-types at the Volokh Conspiracy in 2011.

The VC at the time of this essay was a stand-alone blog. It subsequently went on to be hosted at the Washington Post and when the Post instituted their paywall moved to Reason.
The author of the essay, Professor Kenneth Anderson exemplifies that same type of trans-political chameleonship. His mini-bio at Wikipedia begins:
...a law professor at Washington College of Law, American University, a research fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a Non-Resident Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a blogger
Anderson was the legal editor of Crimes of War, a book about international humanitarian law (W.W. Norton, 1999).
He is a member of the International Council of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation....
So you've got him hanging out at both the right-leaning Hoover Institution and the left-leaning Brookings Institution which may be a bit meta as you shall see.

One other orientation note. At the time this was written Occupy Wall Street was THE happening thing and if I recall correctly some entrepreneurial types were making bank by running busloads of tourists to look at the anti-capitalists in Zucotti Park and the social-commenter crowd was having the best time of their lives and then, like those old-timey British nature shows when the lions approach the wildebeest, and the narrator intones "Sadly now there can be but one outcome" it all went to crap. Literally.
Some links below.

From the Volokh Conspiracy, October 31, 2011:

Glenn Reynolds is correct in his weekend post to point to the social theory of the New Class as key to understanding the convulsions in the middle and upper middle class; I’ve written about it myself here at VC and in a 1990s law journal book review essay.  The angst is partly income, of course – but it’s also in considerable part, as Glenn notes, “characterized as much by self-importance as by higher income, and is far more eager to keep the proles in their place than, say, [Anne] Applebaum’s small-town dentist. It’s thus not surprising that as its influence has grown, economic opportunity has increasingly been closed down by government barriers.”

The problem the New Class faces at this point is the psychological and social self-perceptions of a status group that is alienated (as we marxists say) from traditional labor by its semi-privileged upbringing – and by the fact that it is actually, two distinct strands, a privileged one and a semi-privileged one.  It is, for the moment, insistent not just on white-collar work as its birthright and unable to conceive of much else.  It does not celebrate the dignity of labor; it conceived of itself as existing to regulate labor.  So it has purified itself to the point that not just any white-collar work will do.  It has to be, as Michelle Obama instructed people in what now has to be seen as another era, virtuous non-profit or government work.  Those attitudes are changing, but only slowly; the university pipelines are still full of people who cannot imagine themselves in any other kind of work, unless it means working for Apple or Google.

The New Class has always operated across the lines of public and private, however, the government-university-finance and technology capital sectors.  It is not a theory of the government class versus the business class – as 1990s neoconservatives sometimes mistakenly imagined.  As Lasch pointed out, it is the class that bridges and moves effortlessly between the two.  As a theory of late capitalism (once imported from being an analysis of communist nomenkaltura) it offers itself as a theory of technocratic expertise first  – but, if that spectacularly fails as it did in 2008, it falls back on a much more rudimentary claim of monopoly access to the levers of the economy.  Which is to say, the right to bridge the private-public line, and rent out its access.

The OWS movement against this social theory backdrop?  (Let’s leave aside the material reality of its occupation, so far as one can tell today from shifting reporting: geographies in which public order was deliberately withdrawn to indulge a certain class of youth and not-so-youth (and the aging generation of New Class professionals projecting its political nostalgia onto it). The result is theft, violence, sexual assault, and levels of filth that, absent the infrastructure of the world’s richest large society, would mean what it means in Haiti – dysentery, cholera, epidemic disease.  Epidemic disease is what happens when you shit your nest, unless there is a larger society that will clean up after you.  
The culture industry averts its eyes in its effort to have its nostalgic dream intact.  But leave that aside, and leave aside, too, the folks who send in the organic beet root and goat cheese – for the consumption of the wanna-be New Class that, somehow, has notions of property and entitlement of an intensity that only a born regulator can have, and therefore fine-tuned notions of who eats organic and who goes to the soup kitchen.  This is further complicated by the confused politics of the protestors, engaging in confrontations with police, as Harry Siegel reports from New York, who seem to have responded by encouraging the homeless and disturbed to join them.  Ann Althouse is right to point to Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem, on the decline of the Haight-Ashbury utopia.)
In social theory, OWS is best understood not as a populist movement against the bankers, but instead as the breakdown of the New Class into its two increasingly disconnected parts.  The upper tier, the bankers-government bankers-super credentialed elites.  But also the lower tier, those who saw themselves entitled to a white collar job in the Virtue Industries of government and non-profits – the helping professions, the culture industry, the virtueocracies, the industries of therapeutic social control, as Christopher Lasch pointed out in his final book, The Revolt of the Elites.
The two tiers of the New Class have always had different sources of rents, however.  For the upper tier, since 1990, it has come through its ability to take the benefits of generations of US social investment in education and sell that expertise across global markets – leveraging expertise and access to capital and technological markets in the 1990s to places in Asia and the former communist world in desperate need of it.  As Lasch said, the revolt and flight of the elites, to marketize themselves globally as free agents – to take the social capital derived over many generations by American society, and to go live in the jet stream and extract returns on a global scale for that expertise.  But that expertise is now largely commodified – to paraphrase David Swenson on financial engineering, that kind of universal expertise is commodified, cheaply available, and no longer commands much premium.  As those returns have come under pressure, the Global New Class has come home, looking to command premiums through privileged access to the public-private divide – access most visible at the moment as virtuous new technology projects that turn out to be mere crony capitalism.

The lower tier is in a different situation and always has been.  It is characterized by status-income disequilibrium, to borrow from David Brooks; it cultivates the sensibilities of the upper tier New Class, but does not have the ability to globalize its rent extraction.  
The helping professions, the professions of therapeutic authoritarianism (the social workers as well as the public safety workers), the virtuecrats, the regulatory class, etc., have a problem – they mostly service and manage individuals, the client-consumers of the welfare state.  Their rents are not leveraged very much, certainly not globally, and are limited to what amounts to an hourly wage.  The method of ramping up wages, however, is through public employee unions and their own special ability to access the public-private divide.   But, as everyone understands, that model no longer works, because it has overreached and overleveraged, to the point that even the system’s most sympathetic politicians understand that it cannot pay up.....

Some of our Occupy Wall Street posts: 
The Retired Trader Who Bankrolled #OccupyWallStreet 
"DJ Spooky, Occupy Wall Street, and the Frictions of Radical Chic"  
Some Thoughts on the OccupySesameStreet Protests
#OccupySesameStreet Turns Violent
Breaking--From the OccupySesameStreet Protests: "Three Die After The Electric Company Privatized"--Breaking  
Ayatollah Khamenei says Occupy Wall Street could mark the fall of the west
China and GE's Immelt Sympathise with #OccupyWallStreet 
North Korea Comments on #OccupyWall Street   
#OccupyRedSquare Doesn't Go at All Well
We Will NOT Be Co-opted: "Luxury Ice Cream Unit of Multinational Unilever Endorses #OccupyWallStreet 
#OccupyWallStreet: The Revolution Will be Televised (and trademarked)
Adbuster Calls on #OccupyWallStreet to Declare Victory and Go Home; "Zuccotti Lung"; and Jay-Z Pulls Occupy T-Shirts from Website 
Today in #OccupyWallStreet News: "I'm a F***ing Journalist, You Motherf***er!
"The Occupy Wall Street bank" 
Octopi Wall Street
Banks Much More Successful at Panhandling than #OccupyWallStreet
"Ossify Wall Street: Russell Simmons/Kanye West; Richard Trumka, Tim Robbins Swing By; Jesse Ventura only Gets as Far as Minneapolis". 
Michael "I'm Part of the 99%" Moore Heckled at #Occupy Rally
"Occupy Wall Street in New York running out of cash" 
"Occupy Wall Street leader now works for Google, wants to crowdfund a private militia"

#OccupyWallStreet Proclaims Victory, Announces Plan to Re-launch #OccupyMom'sBasement 
Don't get me wrong, I'm as much into anarcho-capitalism as the next guy, I think I'd do pretty well whatever the ground rules.
It's just that #OWS isn't showing the kind of higher-level cognitive abilities you'll find at, say, MI-6...
Good times.  
See also CHAZ