CORNERSTONES OF OPPRESSION: THE UPPER MIDDLE CLASS
Let me begin by making two things clear:
First: Most upper middle class people have no intent to oppress. They’ve found themselves in an assigned role, and they are simply playing it. And let it further be said that the other class-groups (poor, lower middle class, etc.) would do precisely the same.
Second: This article addresses the current role of the upper middle class in the West and especially in the US. It does not address other places or times.
That said, and as someone of upper middle class background myself, I want these people to do better than to amorally play a role. They are educated, literate, and generally quite able. If and when they decide to find the truth of things, they are able to do so. I want these people to reclaim their morals and place them above wealth and status. The poor aren’t nearly as able, and the lower middle class are more restrained. We who are able, must do.
How Their Role Formed
The current ruling structure in the West derives from the industrial society that thrived from roughly 1910 through 1980. That system was designed to reap the production of industrial workers; everything from withholding taxes to government schools was put in place to maximize the take. Whether purposely or by trial and error, the Western world was structured to keep industrial workers moving in a single direction and to reap from them as they went.
Between 1979 and 1981, however, things turned, and the industrial workforce steadily declined. But the elite class (we’ll define them some other time) was in no position to rebuild the structure. So, they adapted as best they could. Among other things, stock and bond markets, which had previously been for “rich people,” became the destination for everyone’s retirement money. IRAs and 401(k)s were enacted and popularized at just this time. Exporting dollars for foreign goods became policy at this time too.
Details aside, the upper middle class (UMC) – generally the most agile of the non-elite classes – adapted to the new environment. After all, their commercial positions allowed them to gather bits and pieces of inside information. With a few associates in high places, they could make out what was happening and how to take advantage of it.
And so they did. Haphazardly, of course, but far better than the poor, who had no chance, or the lower middle class, who gathered bits and pieces of information from the upper middle class, just as the UMC did from their higher-level associates.
And so, from roughly 1980 until 2007, the financialization of the US and Western economies proceeded apace, as if it would be permanent. Then came the crash and the doubling down of the elite: Their institutions (big banks) were protected, and the lower classes (“Main Street”) were allowed to suffer, although they were provided with government handouts.
The Current Role
As I write this in 2016, the role of the upper middle class is clear. In brief, the work assigned to them is:
Pay lots of taxes: US government tax receipts are at record highs, and as Mitt Romney infamously but correctly noted, the poor pay very little, while the upper classes pay almost everything. The upper middle class, in fact, is carefully kept in a position to play this role. The Fed is very reliably keeping the stock market up, protecting this class’s wealth. And because they’re in the highest tax brackets, a large percentage of everything they earn goes right back to the state. So, as long as the UMC has the Fed protecting them, the tax man remains well fed.
Keep Wall Street strong: The lords of Wall Street pay even more taxes than the upper middle class, and they also pay oceans of money to politicians, keeping their games going as well. And Wall Street needs reliable clients like the UMC, who are carefully given no alternative. Interest on savings is roughly at zero – in some places below – and endless regulations give people nowhere else to go. And so, all the UMC’s mobile assets stay in Wall Street’s pot and under the ultimate control of the US government.
Buy luxury goods: I recently saw a gift registry for an upper middle class wedding where the bride and groom requested olive spoons. Yes, olive spoons! Such purchases are simply status tokens, the UMC’s part of “keeping the economy going.” More than that, these people simply don’t know what to do with their money – most of them have no real purpose in their lives beyond “success.” And so, they default to status tokens that will sell for pennies on the dollar at their eventual estate sales.
Providing inertia: The upper middle class is crucial to keeping the system going, even though the industrial class it was designed to reap is gone. These people must legitimize the regime. “Things are fine,” “we just need the right people in office,” and a dozen other trite phrases serve this purpose. They can support either the Blues or the Reds, so long as they support “the process” and an idolatrous belief in “democracy.” The illusions of permanence and inevitability must be maintained above all, and these people are in a position to do it. This is the most essential part of their role.
“Is That All There Is?”
This is the question I’d like upper middle class people to ask themselves. Is getting and displaying stuff the sum total of life? Is servicing a system a fitting role to a conscious, intelligent being?
As I said at the outset, the upper middle class is composed mainly of literate, competent people. If they wish to, they are able to see past slogans and frauds. And they are familiar with morality, even if they tend to ignore it in public.
There is more to life than playing a role in a game, even a pampered role. If we sell our souls to status, we are fools, and upper middle class people are able to be more than fools.
We who are able must choose to understand, not just to gather stuff. We must choose the future over the present, morality over mere expediency.
We who are able must do the things that matter.