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Time to Abandon the Middle Classes

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Mark Easton | 12:30 UK time, Monday, 21 March 2011

The Sunday papers positively drool over stories about class - a peculiarly British form of navel-gazing that plays to our national prejudices and sense of self.

Acacia avenue street sign

No surprise, then, that yesterday's supplements had cleared acres of space for a survey suggesting that seven out of 10 Brits now describe themselves as 'middle class'.

"So we're ALL middle class now (or so 7/10 think, as climbing the social ladder soars in popularity)" was the Mail on Sunday take on the online poll of 2000 people conducted by BritainThinks.

"The popularity of being middle class appears to seal the victory of 1980s Thatcherism, which championed the values of property ownership and self-reliance that are now nearly universal," the paper concluded.

My concern is that the results of asking people if they regard themselves as middle class may not, actually, tell us very much at all. The point about self-definition is that it relates not only to who we think we are but also to who we think we are not. Identity, our sense of self, implies that we can put a fence around our characteristics and say that those outside the boundary are "not one of us".

I remember the exercise in my school maths lesson where the class had to draw a Venn diagram incorporating eye-colour, hair-colour and height. No-one wanted to be the kid whose features were an isolated island, separate from the mainstream.

Defining oneself as middle class is saying one is not working class or upper class. Virtually no-one in the survey described themselves as 'upper class'. God forbid! I don't know whether any Dukes or minor royals were among the 2,000 respondents, but who would want to associate themselves with a social group whose cultural status is generally thought to have been inherited from the blood or bank balance of Mummy and Daddy? The use of the word "upper" seems to imply arrogance and superiority - quite un-British.

"Working class", a handle accepted by one out of four Britons, has associations with the tribal politics of the 20th Century but also, as the Mail article implies, with lower aspirations. Once the working classes would have dressed differently - blue collar rather than white - and the jobs they did would be manual rather than sedentary. There was a powerful sense of group identity associated with the noble virtues of hard work and the struggle to make ends meet.


The notion of the 'working class' has changed

Today, many of the occupations paying minimum wage are service jobs - call centres, contract cleaning, office security and catering. Low paid workers often wear a uniform, a suit, even a tie. They may be indistinguishable from the middle classes waiting for the bus to the office. The nobility of the proletariat has been diluted in the social emulsion of sameness.

Being middle class in Britain, therefore, is about not being upper or working class. It says I am not some snooty aristocrat, nor am I a class warrior or a couch potato. I have get-up-and-go, determination and spirit. Who wouldn't want to be that?

Which is why I think it is time to abandon this notion of middle class. It is an almost useless expression, so vague that even the BritainThinks pollsters were obliged to sub-divide it.

"The survey is clear that the 71% 'middle class' are not a homogenous group, but fall into six distinctive segments" they claim. How polling companies love their "distinctive segments".

We are introduced to Bargain Hunters and Squeezed Strugglers, Comfortable Greens and Urban Networkers, Deserving Downtimers and Disciplinarians. Political strategists are encouraged to believe that only if they find a message to appeal to the latest manifestation of Worcester Woman or Mondeo Man can they guide their party to victory.

In reading all the stories yesterday, I was reminded of some work done by another polling company, Ipsos MORI, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation looking at attitudes to poverty in 2009 - in the midst of the recession.

Focus groups of working adults from across the income range were assembled. However, "participants demonstrated a strong tendency to place themselves in the 'middle' of the income distribution".

"For most of the participants in our discussion groups, it is people 'like them', whom they perceive to be in the broad 'middle' of the income spectrum, who seem to be undergoing a particularly difficult time. In their words, it is the 'middle band of people' who 'get forgotten', who 'suffer the worse' and who are 'worse off', losing out to both top and bottom."

Ipsos MORI also sub-divided this "middle" group into "Traditional Egalitarians and Traditional Free-marketeers", "The Angry Middle" and "Post-ideological Liberals".

This would seem to be further evidence that the phrase "middle class" is such a catch-all that we might as well ask people whether they are, in yet more sociological jargon, "strivers" or "skivers".


  • Comment number 1.

    The defining factor in being middle class is of being free from the precarity of the labour market.

  • Comment number 2.

    When David Cameron (Old Etonian, grandson of a Baronet, millionaire) refers to 'middle class parents like me', then you know the term is now meaningless.

  • Comment number 3.

    2. At 12:55pm on 21st Mar 2011, afcone wrote:

    "...When David Cameron (Old Etonian, grandson of a Baronet, millionaire) refers to 'middle class parents like me', then you know the term is now meaningless..."


    The term is not meaningless. Cameron used it wrongly rather than tell the truth, that is, that he belongs to a highly privileged minority.

    Just as the 7/10 who describe themselves as such would rather say that, than, for instance "I am a service-sector wage slave", (probably the true position in a large proportion of cases, irrespective of income level).

    The writer of the article seems to make various confusions, too.

  • Comment number 4.

    Things have moved on from the Frost Report sketch. For most people, working class is the easiest to define as doing a job that involves manual labour. Every other job is middle class, and if you don't have a job, you are either in the underclass at the bottom end, or the upper class at the top end.

    But this doesn't equate to earnings. Some working-class jobs are very well paid. Whereas many middle-class jobs are minimum wage.

  • Comment number 5.

    There are three types of people in this world namely :
    a) The extremely rich that do not need to work either because they have inherited wealth or they built a business empire that uses ordinary people to generate there wealth for them.
    b) the working people that have to work to pay bills and put a roof over there head, going pay cheque to pay cheque to basically just survive.
    c) People who have no intention of contributing to society e.g. people who spend the whole of there life doing unofficial work, also full time students who never ever go out into the work place.

    The reality is sector b) supports a) and c) and they get the worst part of the deal.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's not 7 out of 10 of us that consider ourselves middle class, it's 7 out of 10 of the survey respondents which would skew the results heavily towards middle class anyway.

  • Comment number 7.

    Could it just be that now being working class is associated with being a job-seeking, benefit claiming, Jermy Klye watching chav which no respectable person wants to be compared to.

    The old days of working class people performing necessary stable respectable jobs in factories, working the land or any job that required more hands-on skills rather than mental theorectical knowledge no longer exists.

  • Comment number 8.

    It is a political and economic category.There are only two classes in society.Those who own sufficient of the means of production and distribution to never 'need' to work and those who own little or nothing 'other' than their ability to work for a wage or a salary.The latter are working class (wage-slaves), the small minority consisting the former are in the capitalist class.You will find the best explanation, cutting through the bull, on the world socialist movement website.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    I would not know how to define Middle Class but I do know how to define Working Class.

    The struggling Female Cleaner/Shop Asst. working long hours for the minimum wage or less paying her Bills at the end of the week and still having nothing left in her purse ( no matter how many hours extra she works.)

    The Surrey Strockbroker who earns £1,000,000 a year but has a £1,000,000 Mortgage and needs to work flat out long hours to maintain his Life-style and status.

    They are both Working Class!

    Take the Coin of other Men and do their bidding and YOU are working Class,no matter how you see yourself or how others see you.

    A humiliating, degrading way to live your Life as it destroys the Soul.

    "Man does not live by Bread Alone."

    Become self-sufficient at any cost....... downshift before the unfair System forces you to do so.

  • Comment number 11.

    I believe that we all fall into two classes now. One class is the super rich individual or corporation who has fabulous wealth and government lobbying powers, the other class contains the rest of us, who are now controlled by the new corporate and wealthy Tsars.
    The wealthy corporations and individuals keep wealth in tax havens, they also lobby governments to keep taxes down or threaten to take their business elsewhere, and without the democratic or political will to make them pay their taxes, the rest of us will lose our jobs, or be paid less. We will also lose our NHS, and local services.
    The rights and privileges won by the middle and working classes in the past having been lost, the rest of us will all be in it together, watching the very wealthy classes get wealthier, while we get poorer.
    Unless we decide to do something about it.....

  • Comment number 12.

    What of the nearly 9 million people of working age most of whom are able and willing to work in some capacity - what do we call them the idolariat or the reserve army of labour? The term is not meaningless but not particularly useful. What really matters is the level and means of receiving income and the provision of personal public services particularly education and health. The cuts are particularly severe for those who depend on both state benefits and services - the vast majority of whom are in this position through no 'fault' of their own.

  • Comment number 13.

    The whole notion of class is and always was a divisive construct aimed at fomenting unrest, whether that was to validate some politico-economic treatise, or to bolster a power base in the Trade Union movement. Defining 'class' solely by economic attributes kind of misses the important 90% of life, and presupposes that politics is determined solely by economics -- utterly wrong, and unhelpful.

  • Comment number 14.

    To be honest I think the terms working and middle class are now defined by attitudes, education, taste and behaviour rather than money. When old 'blue collar' trades started earning more than professions like teachers, the financial aspect of the classes became pretty meaningless.

  • Comment number 15.

    " is people 'like them', whom they perceive to be in the broad 'middle' of the income spectrum, who seem to be undergoing a particularly difficult time. In their words, it is the 'middle band of people' who 'get forgotten', who 'suffer the worse' and who are 'worse off', losing out to both top and bottom."

    I think this one has come up before and Mark was critical of the word 'middle' looking at definitions like mean or median income to question it.

    I think the quote above makes the point many are feeling.

    There are people at the bottom of the pile too poor to be paying tax and perhaps with no job to lose. There are people at the top who certainly don't pay much tax and make other people unemployed. Then there are the rest of us who do our work, dont do badly or spectacularly well. We certainly do pay tax, our jobs are either going or at risk, our purchasing power is declining.

    Fundamentally we are in mourning for 'security' we used to feel.

    Interesting that both components of the ConDems are at great pains to point out that they really don't care about this group. Fertile ground for labour - in what was previously tory territory? I think I have heard the first hints of this from them.

  • Comment number 16.

    Middle class is the G string of life stuck between the cheeks of immorality

  • Comment number 17.

    "Interesting that both components of the ConDems are at great pains to point out that they really don't care about this group. Fertile ground for labour - in what was previously tory territory? I think I have heard the first hints of this from them."

    Didn't Tony Blight and Gordon Blown already try that?

    And get found out?

  • Comment number 18.

    Its time that all of you in the UK abandoned any reference to a 'class' system, and it should start (or end) with the media, but I have doubts that you ever will grow up and grow out of it. In the 35 years since I left the UK for North America it's become much worse. It actually holds you back when you get an immediate biased impression of someone based on the way they speak, what they drive, where they live or what they own. Yes, there is 'status' in most societies but in the UK your narrow attitude toward 'class' is an anachronism that should long be gone. I'm thankful that I left it behind and had my eyes opened by living in a meritocracy rather than an outdated and limiting class system.

  • Comment number 19.

    Without Merit.

  • Comment number 20.

    I love the class system for sources of entertainment, especially after reading Kate Fox's outstanding light hearted book "Watching the English". I almost defy anyone who reads it not to recognise either themselves or the majority of their family and friends within the first 1 hour of reading. Highly recommended to give you years of fun after reading it and observing the dress, mannerism's and behaviour of all of those around you.
    BTW, I consider myself lower class after reading it, and I have an extremely well paid job, and I get to keep my money being an expat! Enjoy your life no matter where you are on the social ladder and none of it will actually matter!

  • Comment number 21.

    18. At 21:48pm on 21st Mar 2011, Lsd wrote:
    'I'm thankful that I left it behind and had my eyes opened by living in a meritocracy rather than an outdated and limiting class system...'

    What is so great about 'meritocracy'? It is just another way for the rich and powerful to justify their control. The fact that 'anyone' could be a multi-millionaire does not alter the fact that not everyone actualy can be. Meritocracy... aren't the military leaders in Burma or Libya justified by 'meritocracy'? Surely they have risen to the top because they are the best at what they do?

  • Comment number 22.

    I think people totally misunderstand what class is, including Mark Eaton. Class has nothing to do with what job you do or how much money you earn.

    Class, in the sense most people judge it, is about intelligence, education and taste. In this measure most people are working class.

  • Comment number 23.

    The middle is a hard place to define - it started off as those who were not from the landed gentry, but nor were they the uneducated slobs who manned the factories - that of course pretty much now defines all of us, many low paid jobs are service based, and what remains of manual work (trades, haulage etc) are now often paid better than those who need higher education, like teachers

    I am reminded of a comparison often made between myself and a close friend, he is decidedly 'middle class' - speaks RP, comes from a professional one-income household, huge house in the leafy suburbs, wears a tie to his job in the corporate world - he is clearly above myself, coming from a single parent family, raised in a 2 bed terrace and worked to pay through uni - but am I working class? Nope, I have a better degree and am more interested in academia than him, I even work in an office, but I am still more 'common'

    I am, as Homer would put it, upper-lower-middle class

    Also, I would point out that 'working class' these days refers to those at the bottom, as it always has, this of course is now the workless class, or underclass - no self-respecting tax-payer would want to be associated with them

  • Comment number 24.

    22. At 10:51am on 22nd Mar 2011, bigsammyb wrote:

    "...Class, in the sense most people judge it, is about intelligence, education and taste..."


    How come the best educated and most intelligent don't call themselves "upper class", then?

  • Comment number 25.

    23. At 12:19pm on 22nd Mar 2011, tarquin wrote:

    "...I am, as Homer would put it, upper-lower-middle class..."


    Don't tell me. You live at Leamington Spa in the North South-East West Midlands, too.

  • Comment number 26.

    #22 bigsammyb wrote:

    "Class, in the sense most people judge it, is about intelligence, education and taste. In this measure most people are working class."

    So a Mensa-rated, university educated dustman who likes fish and chips has 'class' in abundance. He even calls his council house "Shugborough".

  • Comment number 27.

    18. At 21:48pm on 21st Mar 2011, Lsd wrote:
    'I'm thankful that I left it behind and had my eyes opened by living in a meritocracy rather than an outdated and limiting class system...'
    I think the vast incomes of fairly dumb members of the Bush & Kennedy clans rather prove that the US is not a meritocracy. Do you think George W Bush would still have been elected President if he'd been born poor?

    Getting back on topic when a 'working class profession' like driving a tube train or petrol tanker pays more than a junior doctors wages & twice what a teacher earns then the term is clearly losing its meaning. I've got two degrees and work as a research scientist. I'd be paid more, work fewer hours, have a better pension & have vastly better job security emptying dustbins.

  • Comment number 28.

    Seven out of 10 Brits now describe themselves as 'middle class'.
    Poor dolts! Dream on...
    But you really should stop looking at your navel and look towards the ocean: There is an economic tsumnami headed your way!
    Defining oneself as middle class is saying one is not working class or upper class. I think that most Brits, with the unemployment rate being the way it is, cannot even make working class. So forget middle class!
    The only persons that can use "upper" class are likely those that belong at the echelon of the banking industry where s/he is receiving bonuses that exceed the salary of the PM (and all his MPs added together?).
    I dare to think that most Brits are "working stiffs" that why they are blue-collar and getting bluer each day. I dare to think that most Brits are "working stiffs", just waiting to get buried deeper in debt.
    I agree that it's time to abandon this notion of middle class. It's useless, and no longer exists. You are either very, very rich or scrimping. How about the "scrimping" class?
    Focus groups of working adults from across the income range were assembled. However, "participants demonstrated a strong tendency to place themselves in the 'middle' of the income distribution". Okay, but that's only good if the income distribution is a bell curve. If its skewed towards poverty, the "middle" = a little step above poverty.
    This situation has been caused by the investment banks, gambling casinos that trade in nefarious financial products that when you come right down to it are worthless; the investment banks know that bundled derivatives amount to nothing; investment banks know that CDO insurance is really insurance against nothing; investment banks are making us all poor while they reap in huge bonuses and ridiculous salraies.
    So why doesn't the government take on the investment banks, split them from retail banks? Why doesn't the Government apply a Financial Transaction Tax on all investment bank financial transactions so that audit trails can b established and nefarious trading practices be brought to light (and perhaps taken to Court)?
    The investment banks have killed the middle class and made themselves rich in doing so.

  • Comment number 29.

    18. At 21:48pm on 21st Mar 2011, Lsd wrote:

    "...I'm thankful that I left it behind and had my eyes opened by living in a meritocracy rather than an outdated and limiting class system..."


    So what does "trailer park trash" mean, then?

  • Comment number 30.

    Being Middle Class is more a state of mind than a product of quantitative analysis. We should get away from the old mindset of "Upstairs, Downstairs." The days of the idle rich are long gone. Most of us work for our sustenance. Our pensions shortfall require us working into our 70's now. Millionaires are just as busy working as those of us chasing pay packets. I've taken advanced University courses with people whom are worth £6 - £12 million at evening classes. The rich are working hard just as we do. They drive nicer cars that I do to include Mercedes Benz; Audi Auto Union, Lexus and such compared to my Vauxhall. But I've had hamburgers and chips with some of these wealthy people at Burger King. They speak in middle class terms using middle class English, not rolling their r's. At the end of the day don't we want a middle class existence for all of the people of the world whom are poor? A global middle class would mean the end of hunger, access to potable water and access to Internet teaching classes. Is this the sort of world we would like to have?

  • Comment number 31.

    So 71% of those surveyed thought they were middle class. Take it therefore that this particular part of the sample have a private income and don't work, or just work for the love of it, not need. Also that said private income is large enough that they need never worry about the vagaries of the world free market. If this isn't the case, then they're working class, not matter what their ideological aspirations. Still, it's an ill wind that blows no one any good - I haven't laughed so much since the MP who claimed expenses for having his moat cleaned.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    Time to Abandon the Middle Classes

    31. At 08:42am on 24th Mar 2011, silverfish51
    That's my analysis too.

    Incidentally, I read on BBC News website that:

    "A former Conservative MEP expelled by the party over expenses allegations has been ordered to repay £345,289 in "unjustified" claims.

    Den Dover, 72, originally faced a demand for £538,000 the European Parliament said should not have been paid to him".

    One way of getting a rebate, I suppose, but perhaps not what his voters meant. I wonder to what class he would claim to belong...

  • Comment number 34.

    The class system in the UK in the 21st century has nothing to do with money - Alan Sugar (forgive me, Sir Alan) may be wealthy but he could never be considered upper class. Nor, I should imagine would he want to be described as such. Perhaps it would be more relevant to describe oneself as being a Middle Englander rather than middle class if one has a strong sense of justice, fairplay, distrust of wasteful spending, a love of books, music and learning. There are old families in UK living in ruins of their former manor houses, going around in rags who would certainly be called upper class, because of the way they look at life and their value system. No money in the bank accounts there. The banker down the road though has 3 TVs, foreign holidays, drives an expensive car and wouldn't know Dvorak from Dion. Is he upper class because he earns millions in payouts each year? Certainly not. Across the pond here in the US one is defined by one's earning power and that's it. Thus Donald Trump is (you guessed it) upper class. My foot! Enuf said.

  • Comment number 35.

    "26. At 07:53am on 23rd Mar 2011, Aneeta Trikk wrote:
    #22 bigsammyb wrote:

    "Class, in the sense most people judge it, is about intelligence, education and taste. In this measure most people are working class."

    So a Mensa-rated, university educated dustman who likes fish and chips has 'class' in abundance. He even calls his council house "Shugborough"."

    Being university educated does not make you 'educated' it makes you a person who sat through a course and being in mensa only requires an IQ of 135.

    Class is about how intelligent you actually are not what job you do or what piece of paper you can wave at someone as proof. A conversation with someone should allow you know what class they are.

  • Comment number 36.

    35. At 15:55pm on 24th Mar 2011, bigsammyb wrote:
    "26. At 07:53am on 23rd Mar 2011, Aneeta Trikk wrote:
    #22 bigsammyb wrote:

    I agree entirely, apart from the mensa arguement. To be a member of mensa you must have an IQ within the top 2%. By definition, you cannot just become a member of mensa, unless you are in that 2%, no matter how much you may want to be.

    People want to be middle class because no one wants to be at the bottom. You cant choose to be middle class, you end up being a working/lower class person who thinks they are middle class. There must always be someone at the top and someone at the bottom. The survey is clearly floored because if 7 out of 10 people I interact with on a daily basis were truly middle class, my life would be much more pleasant.

  • Comment number 37.

    I love watching the British and class attitudes. It is a source of immense fun; a product of a childhood within an extended family which included royal servants.

    The biggest laugh in recent years has been watching the people who think that because they can borrow a shed load of money to buy a large house in an area they think is posh that they have arrive in the Middle Class. I have never actually got to grips with the word `chav' but there seems to be a lot of it about.

    Me and `er indoors are from the artisan class; namely, highly skilled manual workers with a signficiant intellectual content to their work who are often self-employed. Sadly, our traditional skills base has suffered badly from computerisation so we have had to evolve into other areas. This has made me into a `professional' which probably makes me middle class at the moment, at least until I retire.

    Yet how does one define the division between the working class and the middle class? I would always revert to the old fashioned perception that a worker is an employee who obeys orders whilst the middle class is a professional who gives advice and takes instruction. The worker is prevented from taking control of his own life.

    The biggest jolt you can get is going through your family history and discover how your family has risen and fallen in the world over the generations. What you do learn is that nothing is fixed, people make mistakes, some are lucky and others not so. Whilst income is important so are ethical standards. Our generation is rather lacking in the latter and over-borrowed in the former.

    What is the modern middle-class? In the old days we would call many of them debtors and consign them to Newgate until they had paid their dues. Then they would become paupers and live off the parish. You see nothing changes all that much.

    The best advice ever given to me was when I was seventeen and like all seventeen year olds I was full of myself. It was in a chat with a bus conductor who told me quite simply that whoever you are and whatever you do you have to pay the rent. Very true!

  • Comment number 38.

    There are three classes really: the proletariat (wage earners); the petit bourgeosie, who run their own small shops and businesses; and the bourgeosie who run everything and want to blame everyone else when they mess up.

  • Comment number 39.

    We may not have a 'proleteriat' in the the classically derived sense but as long as you belong to the 'precariat' ie are dependent on the next month's pay check, you are quite clearly not middle class.

    The acid test...could you live comfortably without a wage income for five plus years without recourse to social security.

    If you can't, you are working class because you HAVE to work as opposed to CHOOSING to work.

  • Comment number 40.

    Of course, the reason the bourgeosie want to blame everyone else for their mistakes is because they make everyone pay for their mistakes

  • Comment number 41.

    All this shows is that up to 70% of people in the UK suffer from "Hyacinth Bucket Syndrome".

    In my experience the only people who really care about social class these days are the lower middle class and those working class people who aspire to be (or wrongly consider themselves to be) middle class. This is the class of people who are forever trying to keep up with the neighbours, getting themselves into debt in order to fund their middle class lifestyle & consider themselves to be superior to everyone else; especially those people they consider to be working class.

    For the rest of us social class is no longer an issue and hasn't been for several decades.

  • Comment number 42.

    Middle Class is not just economic, it is mainly social. I would probably qualify on economic grounds ( income >£50k, saving etc), educational and aspirational (No for myself but for my children) but not on some of the other social (formal dinner parties, golf handicap) & community activities (magistrate, lay minister, local busy body).

    39. At 11:27am on 25th Mar 2011, blefuscu wrote:
    The acid test...could you live comfortably without a wage income for five plus years without recourse to social security.
    20 Questions like this covering all aspects of life, which you can answer atleast 15 in the affirmative then you are probably middle class.
    I expect over 70% will answer atleast 1

  • Comment number 43.

    Any statement that suggests abandoning the label of middle class is undermining a very important issue. The collapse of any form of class system is essential before the introduction of a society based on equal rights can be installed. Since we are all part of a society plagued with inequities there will always be a sharp divide between those considered to be privilaged people and those people who are underprivilaged. School catchment areas have become a major concern for parents wanting to choose the right education for their children. If you live outside of the specific allocated area for a specific school then your child will not be able to attend the school of your choice. This is just one example to highlight that belonging to the middle class has its privilages and believe me when the proverbial sh.. hits the fan and the underprivilaged decide to rise and revolt they will know who the enemy is and where they reside. You can try and hide at your peril but even your middle class accent will give you away. This article, and any other that attempt to suggest there is no longer a predominant middle class in British society, can only be written by those who fear that their privilaged position could also cost them dearly when the revolution smashes down their doors.

  • Comment number 44.

    It is curious that the society which gestated marx is now unable to understand the fundamentals of class based analyses.

    Marx was an academic. Das Kapital was not a novel.

    He suggested a class model that divided society into "Working Class" and "Ruling Class". He did not talk about the "lower class", "middle class" or "upper class".

    Therefore it makes no sense at all to speak of the "working class" without reference to the "ruling class". To discuss the boundaries of "working class" and "upper class" is nonsense. There are no such boundaries, because these concepts originate from entirely separate models of human behaviour.

    If you discuss "lower", "middle" and "upper" class, then you choose to stratify people in society according to the level of their disposable income, without looking at what they do, or to whom they are accountable for their income. So this analyses makes no comment about political power, it simply lumps people together based upon their lifestyles and consumer habits. This model of class analysis is widespread, because you can chatter about it forever and never once come close to talking about anything important, in political terms. All you ever really say is that some workers get paid more than others, and that some folks work for themselves.

    But once you start to speak of a "working class" and a "ruling class", things become very different. The idea of a ruling class is the idea that certain people in a given social order are above the law: they rule by virtue of their "class", and that "class" is a closed shop. You marry into it, subject to the approval of a priest. You can't get voted into it. And the property rights which enables you to operate as part of this ruling class is protected by the legal institutions of the day, and if you should lose this property through greedy speculation, the mechanism of taxation serves to re-establish your property holdings such that they are commensurate with your class, which you hold virtue of the circumstances of your birth.

    And if you are a "working class" person, then you sell your time and energy, for the means of bare subsistence, to the ruling class. And when the ruling class seek to seize your property through taxation, to restore their power when the market has confounded them, you submit to their power, and go back to work. Because that is what you do, because you are "working class", and not "ruling class".

    Whether or not the rule of law can be said to operate in a society where a ruling class and a working class are present is an interesting question. Arguably you can have the rule of law without political freedom for the majority. You merely restate the rule of law to be that no person is above the law FOR THEIR CLASS. You get around the idea that all members of a society must be equal before the law by making the distinction between different types (classes) of human beings absolute.

    But regardless of how the rule of law is perverted, no society that exhibits a ruling class and a working class can be said to be free, or even enlightened. Where one class of human beings farms another like rude animals, for material benefits, you cannot claim to have enlightenment or political liberty.

    In such a society, those who are appointed to be the entertainers of the working class by the ruling class will tend to chatter and waffle on about models of social organization that mean nothing, that are entirely impotent. They are appointed to entertain, and so they do their best at that work. Because they are working class.

    They may even come to believe their own chatter, and to believe that they are actually free.

  • Comment number 45.

    "It was in a chat with a bus conductor who told me quite simply that whoever you are and whatever you do you have to pay the rent. Very true!"

    Unless the people you sponsor in elections bail you out, and pay your rent with tax revenue they take from those who are already paying their own rent.

    I suppose you could argue that the sponsorship of politicians is paying something, and so even those who own government have to pay their rent. Whereas we might rent houses, they rent the House.

    It might therefore be very true that everyone pays some kind of rent, but it is also an entirely idiotic thing to say, for it implies something which is absolutely not true: that at some level we are all equal in a political system where one person works doing what they are told to do, and pays taxes that go to another person who does not have anyone telling them what to do, and who receives those taxes as private income.

    But that is the English way: murmur sweet nothings to each other, and don't forget to tip your hat to any lord who wanders by.

  • Comment number 46.

    @18 Lsd

    Thank you so much, I needed that laugh. Lecturing Britons on how we should abandon class assumptions from the only country on earth even more obsessed with class than we are was the height of comedy genius. Thank you so much for brightening up my day.

  • Comment number 47.

    I notice that the Mail assumes the report to be a vindication of Thatcher, the politician they have loved the most since Hitler in the Thirties (note, don't start getting riled, this is really true). Still, they interpret the sun's rise as vindication of Thatcher so that shouldn't be much of a surprise.

  • Comment number 48.

    As an ex-pat Brit now living in Canada, a country that is a classless meritocracy, I can look back at the UK and see how its society was so heavily based on class. But class was not based necessarily on one's income, nor on one's employment. Class was to do with one's education, one's speech/accent and one's cultural values. You could not buy class. You had to be born and bred into it, so it was more of the making of your parents and your upbringing. Here in Canada the country is so young that society has been formed by two or three generations of European and Asian immigrants who have achieved their status in society through their own abilities and endeavours.

  • Comment number 49.

    Class... I'll tell thee about class.... (thanks to Monty Python!)

    Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.
    And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you.
    They won't!

    Not that I'd be intimating that all, some or even perhaps one or two Yorkshire folk would fall into one or more of the Britsh 'social classes', be they working, ruling, lower, middle or upper...

  • Comment number 50.

    This article is only interesting article because of the comments, class is
    practically irrelevant.

    It doesn't matter how people want to classify themselves or the pollsters for
    that matter what is important is that there is still a bell curve of indicators
    that people consider important factors for how content they are with life.

    Safety - where you live, work and play are you forced to endure an environment
    that is more or less safe then the average.

    Health and Environment - are you given the opportunity to have a healthy lifestyle,
    with adequate health provision, food, medicines, etc.

    Security - how secure is your lifestyle - what happens if you are sick, sacked or die?
    How does your standard of living or that of your dependents decline in terms of
    % deviation from the average.

    Leisure Opportunity - can you afford to spend money and take the time on
    discretional items of spending, luxury goods, cars, jewellery, art, fine food & drink, entertainment, holidays, etc.

    Aspirational Opportunities - Do you have access to opportunties for self
    improvement, social mobility, educational opportunties for yourself and
    any children, chances to be promoted or succeed in business, opportunity
    to leave your dependents with a legacy.

    Do you have freedom of choice in work, politics and religion ?

    Can you benefit from contentness due to a position of responsibility,
    or the ability to influence others as well as yourself, or by having
    independence and moral integrity ?

    I think if we look at these criteria we all know who the have's and have not's
    are we know the people who by by means of wealth, property, influence
    can afford to maintain above average lifestyles, feel independent, secure
    and content, are healthy and can leave a legacy and have the influence over
    others necessary to protect their positions.

    We can all quote the millionaire businessman or trader living 1 deal away
    from bankruptcy, but the reality is that if when risk factors conspire agaisnt them,
    they are able to downsize and liquidate assests or network contacts to still
    maintain lifestyles that several standard deviations above the average, what
    difference does it make that they go from 10,000,000 to 1,000,000 or that their
    wage drops from 500,000+ to 200,000+ ?

    There will always be a priveleged few, and a disadvantaged minority the question
    is how prepared is the rest of society to put up with the status quo?
    In other words how fair do most people or the people in the middle think the
    situation is ?

    Also bear in mind that these factors are always relative to a population average,
    as the standard of living rises then even the disadvantaged minority have lifestyles
    which have more opportunity for contentment than in many developing and even
    some G20 countries.
    In recession as the standard of living falls even those with expensive houses, cars and
    multiple foreign holidays find it hard to be objective that things are bound to
    become a bit more difficult and complain of being squeezed.

  • Comment number 51.

    What baffles me is: why would one want to climb this social ladder? What does graduating into 'middle-class' bring?
    The social classes are words, not havens.

  • Comment number 52.

    There is no such thing as middle class, there are people who have to earn a living to pay the bills (working class) and people don't have to work because they either rich enough not to have to work or are scroungers who the rest of us support through our taxes.

  • Comment number 53.

    I don't know about abandoning the middle class to thier own devises. But this government along with nearly all councils have abandoned the vunrable/the sick/disabled/and more importantly the frail elderly. Gone is the time when people felt it is right to support those less able than themselves.Now it's a case the elderly are a burden to get rid of.The sick are swinging a leg. The disabled are scroungers. All to be cleansed from the society and the community at large. Much has been said about ethnic cleansing including world wars the fight against hitler is one.But aren't the government and the society in this country doing the same by stealth to those who need help, these vunrable groups. After all it's not them who got us into this mess, it's not them who racked up debt personal or otherwise.But boy oh boy are they paying for it, all because they can't stand up for themselves.

  • Comment number 54.

    the only"true" definition of so called "middle" class is the thatcherite maxiom of "the state cannot touch us" if you are free by the definition, free from poverty you are middle class.however,no matter how fine you build your mock tudour mansion it doe's not mean you "have" class.that is more about a person and their principles,their purityof heart,if their motivation is sincere then our actions ouse class,even our political initiatives will have an element of class about them.


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