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  #1  
Old 06-12-2003, 03:57 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is online now
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How many social classes are there in the United States?

There is a persistent myth in America that we are a classless society and always have been. It's obviously not true, but what's the real picture?

The most compelling analysis of the class system in America I've read in the past ten years comes from The Next American Nation by Michael Lind (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1996), pp. 141-145 (very long quote, you might want to skip to the bottom):

Quote:
Understanding the white overclass requires revising the most common misconceptions about class. The discussion of social class has been confused for generations by Marxist thinkers, who made the mistake of completely identifying class with economic function. Like the Marxists, old-fashioned American liberal pluralists tend to misunderstand class. What they refer to as class is typically not a social class at all, but a mere occupational or income category, such as service-sector workers or millionaires. Meanwhile, the New Left which came to prominence in the sixties has tended to drop the idea of class altogether, in favor of race and gender. . . . In recent years, conservative ideologues have added further confusion by defining political factions and lifestyle subcultures as classes. . . .

In order to think about class in twenty-first century America, we must first clear our minds of these Marxist, liberal, New Left, and conservative definitions of class, and return to the older notion of class found in classical and European political thought from Aristotle to Montesquieu.

A class is a group of families, united by intermarriage and a common subculture, whose members tend to predominate in certain professions and political offices, generation after generation. Note that the class -- the group of similar families -- has an existence independent of the offices which its members tend to hold. Indeed, we cannot talk intelligently about class unless we make a distinction between a social class and a mere institutional elite. . . . Indeed, we cannot talk intelligently about class unless we make a distinction between a social class and a mere institutional elite. Those who talk about "the political class" or, with C. Wright Mills, about "the power elite," are confusing two very different things. Every modern society, even the most perfectly egalitarian, will have an institutional elite -- top civilian politicians, military officers, judges, diplomats, financial and industrial executives, publishers, editors and leading intellectuals, clerical leaders, and so on. The subject of class is raised only when you examine the social origins of the particular individuals who hold office in the institutional elite or elites. Learning the organization of judicial offices in a country tells you nothing about class. However, if you find out that most of the judges tend to come from old-money families in a particular region of that country, and that most attended one of half a dozen schools, then you have learned something important about that country's class system.

The United States at the end of the twentieth century has both an institutional elite and a dominant social class. The institutional elite is composed of upper-level officials in the federal and state governments, plus executives and professionals in the concentrated private sector and foundation and university executives (low-level government officials and small business owners are not part of the institutional elite). Almost all of the members of the American institutional elite also happen to be members of a single social class: the white overclass. To put it another way, the labor pool from which most elite positions are filled is the white overclass. The overlap is not complete. Though most members of the institutional elite belong to the white overclass, most members of the white overclass are not part of the institutional elite (since the overclass greatly outnumbers the elite); and -- though this is uncommon -- a person can become a high-ranking politician, military officer, judge, CEO, foundation president, or university president in the United States without having been born into the white overclass. It is possible to imagine a United States in which most members of the institutional elite did not have similar class origins. But that is not the country in which we live.

. . . The white overclass is the child of the former Northeastern Protestant establishment, produced by marriage (not only figurative but literal) with the upwardly mobile descendants of turn-of-the-century European immigrants and white Southerners and Westerners. Unlike the Northeastern establishment . . . this relatively new and still evolving political and social oligarchy is not identified with any particular region of the country (though it is concentrated in East and West Coast metropolitan regions). Nor does the white overclass dominate other sections through local, surrogate establishments, as the Northeastern establishment once did. Rather, overclass Americans are found in the higher suburbs of every major metropolitan area, North and South, coastal and inland. Unlike the sectional elites of the past, members of the white overclass are not even identified with the regions in which they happen (temporarily) to live. The white overclass, homogeneous and nomadic, is the first truly national upper class in American history.

The white overclass is the product, not merely of the amalgamation of Anglo- and Euro-Americans, but of the fusion of the rentier and managerial-professional classes. This blurring of the upper and upper-middle strata is a relatively new development in the United States. In earlier generations, there were distinct landowning and rentier classes, with their own lifestyles and institutions -- cotillions, seasons spent in the country, and the like. The elaborate rituals that governed upper-class life, such as dressing for dinner, were designed to conspicuously display wealth, including a wealth of leisure time. That was a long time ago. There is a class, or rather a category, of the clebrity rich, and there are still pockets of old-fashioned rentiers in the U.S. -- in Virginia, there are still planters who do not work and who hunt foxes with hounds -- but these subcultures are detached from the summits of power. Members of the upper class who want to make a mark in the world tend to adopt the style of life and dress and speech of the managerial-professional elite. Even though they do not have to, most members of the small hereditary upper class go to college and get executive or professional jobs, and work, or at least pretend to. Instead of serving as a model for well-to-do executives and lawyers and investment bankers, the hereditary segment of the American overclass conforms to the segment immediately below it, the credentialed upper middle class.

. . . The composition of student bodies at Ivy League schools is a good surrogate for the composition of the white overclass. If you factor out black and Hispanic students admitted under affirmative action programs, you ar lef with a student body that is disproportionately of British or German-Scandinavian Protestant and European Jewish descent. There are relatively few evangelical Protestants and Catholics in the overclass, despite their significant numbers in the general population. If you are Episcopalian or Jewish, have a graduate or professional degree from an expensive university, work in a large downtown office building in an East or West Coast metropolis, watch MacNeil/Lehrer on PBS, and are saving for a vacation in London or Paris, you are a card-carrying member of the white overclass, even if your salary is not very impressive. If you are Methodist, Baptist or Catholic, have a B.A. from a state university, work in or for a small business or for a career government service, watch the Nashville Network on cable, and are saving for a vacation in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Branson, Missouri, or Orlando, Florida (Disneyworld), you are probably not a member of the white overclass -- no matter how much money you make.

Although there are residual religious and ethnic differences among members of the white overclass, these are minor compared to what they have in common. There is, for example, a common white overclass accent, which is more or less identical in corporate boardrooms from one end of the continent to another -- the "NBC standard," which is the equivalent of BBC English or Britain's Received Pronunciation (RP). As formerly distinct local elites have fused into a single national ruling class equally at home in New York and Texas and California, this accent has become the badge of elite status. In order to advance in overclass circles in America, a white American has to suppress any regional or ethnic dialect, whether it be a Southern drawl or a Boston honk or Brooklynese, and learn to speak this flat, clipped, rather nasal version of English. . . .

. . . The overclass eats pate and imported cheeses; the middle class eats peanut butter and Velveeta. The overclass sips wine; the middle class drinks beer. The overclass plays squash and tennis; the middle class plays pool and bowls (both golf, but the middle class does so at second-tier country clubs and public courses). The overclass jogs; the middle class does not. . . . These are cliches, but they are a better guide to the real class structure in the United States than income categories in the census or pseudoscientific sociological measures like the SES (socioeconomic survey).
All of the above is about the white overclass. In Lind's analysis there is also a black overclass and a Hispanic overclass, but they are socially separate and distinct groups, with only limited intermarriage with the white overclass. They lack the white overclass's financial independence, and mostly work in civil service jobs and corporate middle management. In fact they are salaried dependents of the white overclass.

Now, this is a good start. But Lind appears to be uninterested in the picture below the overclass level. It's not just the overclass and all the rest of us, is it? There's plenty of class tension between the middle class and those below. Even the way Lind defines a class -- "a group of families, united by intermarriage and a common subculture, whose members tend to predominate in certain professions and political offices, generation after generation" -- would seem to apply to the ruling class only.

I read a book once called Class by Paul Fussell, which carefully divided American society into ten classes, layered one above another. Fussell, however, was writing humorous journalism and did not even pretend to be doing serious sociological analysis. Furthermore, I hesitate to accept a simple hierarchical model of our classes, without taking race and ethnicity into account. It seems inappropriate to place poor whites and poor blacks in the same class, for instance, since they historically have been two definitely separate groups with practically no intermarriage or cross-association -- separate enough that the white elite often could play them off against each other in wage-competition and strikebreaking. Someday they might merge to form a single class -- the process is already beginning, I think, as taboos against interracial marriage fade -- but for now, black and white workers should be distinguished, just as Lind distinguishes three overclasses by race.

So what do you think? Apart from the white, black and Hispanic overclasses, how many social classes are there in America. Is a janitor in the same class as a plumber? Is a homeless person in a different and lower class?
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  #2  
Old 06-13-2003, 12:59 AM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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I've always believed that life is just like high school, except that you don't get to graduate in 4 years. In high school there were 2 social classes: The jocks and the freaks. So, I go with 2.
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Old 06-13-2003, 01:36 AM
Mr2001 Mr2001 is offline
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You must've gone to a pretty small high school. Mine only had ~1000 students, and we had far more than 2 cliques.
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Old 06-13-2003, 01:44 AM
MrVisible MrVisible is offline
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I would have to do a lot of research to figure out the number of classes in the US, and the nature of those classes. But one thing is becoming pretty clear.

The class barriers in this country are pretty impermeable. There are occasional exceptions to this, but the class that you're born into is the one you'll probably die in. It takes money to make money, and if you're not born with money, you've got a snowball's chance in hell of being rich.
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Old 06-13-2003, 01:50 AM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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Quote:
Originally posted by MrVisible
I would have to do a lot of research to figure out the number of classes in the US, and the nature of those classes. But one thing is becoming pretty clear.

The class barriers in this country are pretty impermeable. There are occasional exceptions to this, but the class that you're born into is the one you'll probably die in. It takes money to make money, and if you're not born with money, you've got a snowball's chance in hell of being rich.
First of all, you're confusing economic class (or what would more acuarately be called income percentile) with social class. Two different things

Secondly, you have presented 0 data to support your claim.
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Old 06-13-2003, 02:24 AM
DanBlather DanBlather is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by MrVisible
I would have to do a lot of research to figure out the number of classes in the US, and the nature of those classes. But one thing is becoming pretty clear.

The class barriers in this country are pretty impermeable. There are occasional exceptions to this, but the class that you're born into is the one you'll probably die in. It takes money to make money, and if you're not born with money, you've got a snowball's chance in hell of being rich.
Oh what complete crap. I was so poor I though "Irregular" was a designer label. We used catchup for spaghetti sauce. The 3 kids in my family, a girl and 2 boys, shared a single bedroom. Now I live in a half-million dollar house and have a six figure income. Meanwhile, a friend of mine whose father went to Harvard and is related to two presidents, three Mayflower passengers, and Edgar Alan Poe, is now just scraping by in a sucky, low paying job.

How about friggin Bill Clinton. He was complete peckerwood. Being born rich makes things easier, but hard work, good choices, and dumb luck make moving up the class ladder very possible.

Best decision I ever made was leaving the East Coast, where remnants of class conciousness remain. Out west no one cares about class.
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Old 06-13-2003, 03:20 AM
Rhum Runner Rhum Runner is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by MrVisible
The class barriers in this country are pretty impermeable. There are occasional exceptions to this, but the class that you're born into is the one you'll probably die in. It takes money to make money, and if you're not born with money, you've got a snowball's chance in hell of being rich.
I strongly disagree. I have only anecdotal evidence, but my father was first generation off the farm, he was a very successful businessman, despite having gone to a no-name college that doesn't even exsist anymore. He was never given anything by anyone. I am in law school, and many of my friends here are/were the first in their families to attend college, much less profesional school. With education and hard work it is entirely possible to create your own future in this country. I firmly believe that.
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Old 06-13-2003, 03:44 AM
even sven even sven is online now
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Hmmm...well I went to a public high school with the normal distribution of bright and not-so-bright students. We had the usual assortment of 4.0 valedictorians and the like. However, in ten years we only had one person get into Stanford (the most prestigious college our people had any chance at). Essentially if you went to my high school you had next to no chance of getting into Stanford no matter how hard you tried.

My friend went to a public high school with the normal distribution of bright and not-so-bright student. Their 4.0s didn't go to Stanford, they went to the Ivy Legues. Stanford was plenty interested in their less spectacular students though, and every year dozens would end up there.

Guess which class was rich and which one was poor, and then give me a lecture on social mobility.
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Old 06-13-2003, 03:46 AM
spanna spanna is offline
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Class seems to get everybodies backs up.

Basically, all it means is that if you are poor you may have low expectations, you may even believe that people in positions of power and authority are really, really clever. Your parents may not be in a position to support you and you have to take the first job that comes along to bring any amount of money into the family.

If you are born to a rich family, you meet and know lots of people in high powered jobs and learn that they are just normal people (the good, the bad and the dickheads) So you know you could do those sort of jobs. Also your parents can support you while you bum around trying to figure out what you are going to be.

Whilst there are is mobility between classes / economic groups these other factors either hold us back or provide a platform for us to reach higher.
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Old 06-13-2003, 03:47 AM
MrVisible MrVisible is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by John Mace
First of all, you're confusing economic class (or what would more acuarately be called income percentile) with social class. Two different things

Secondly, you have presented 0 data to support your claim.
On both your points, you're absolutely right.

But I think that economic class and social class are pretty well related. On that front, I can provide you with some interesting data. Taken from Family Income Mobility--How Much Is There and Has It Changed? byPeter Gottschalk and Sheldon Danziger,Revised December 1997.

Quote:
...94.6 percent (75.1 plus 19.5) of individuals who started in the lowest quintile of family income/needs in 1990 ended up in the first or second quintile one year later. There was also relatively little mobility out of the highest quintile. Of those in the top quintile in 1990, 79.2 remained there and 94.8 ended up in one of the top two quintiles.
....

Mobility was greater for whites than non-whites (29.7 versus 14.4 percent) and for college graduates relative to those without college degrees (41.8 versus 23.7 percent).18 Upward mobility was especially low for welfare recipients, as only 7.5 percent of them left the lowest quintile.
...

46.9 percent of the people in the lowest quintile in 1968 were still in the lowest quintile in 1991. Nearly half of those who had moved up, landed in the second quintile (25.1/53.1) and only 1.3 percent had made it all the way to the top quintile.
To compensate for temporary fluctuations in the income of their subjects, the authors also did a comparison based on a three-year average income for the beginning and end points of the study, i.e., the subjects' average income from 1968-1970 compared to their average income from 1989-1991. In that table, which I'm unable to reproduce here, it shows that if you start out in the lowest fifth of incomes in the US in 1968, you have a 75.6% chance of being in the lowest or second lowest quintile thirty years later, and you have a 0.9% chance of landing in the top quintile by then.

Given the increasing disparity between rich and poor over that period, I find that kind of economic stasis pretty appalling. Individual examples like Dan Blather aside; there are always exceptions to the rule, but they are, as the data indicates, a one in a hundred shot over thirty years.

This one is from a paper at The Century Foundation.
Quote:
Overall, an American has one chance in five (20 percent) of ending up in the top 20 percent of the income distribution. But as Figure 1 shows, those odds change a lot depending on what sort of a family you were born into:

- If your father was in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, you have about one chance in fourteen of ending up in the top 20 percent, roughly a third of the overall chance.1

- If your father was in the top 20 percent, the chance that you will also end up there is about two in five, roughly double the overall chance.

- A child born to a father in the top 20 percent of the income distribution is about five times as likely to end up in the top 20 percent as the child of a father in the bottom 20 percent.

In fact, recent research for the U.S. population shows that the exact opposite of Glenn Hubbardís claim is true: while a childís income might deviate from that of his family for a few years, the longer one compares economic outcomes, the more the experience of the children reproduce that of their fathers.

Studies of economic mobility typically predict the sonís or daughterís income on the basis of fatherís income, correcting only for the age of parent and child.2 As recently as 1988, economists thought that a fatherís earnings were only weakly correlated with his childrenís income. Recently, however, new data sources have permitted studies that look at ten times as many father-children pairs (3000 versus 300) for periods as long as sixteen years.3 These studies show that the longer the period over which income is averaged, the higher the correlation between the incomes of fathers and children. That is to say, there is indeed a lot of year-to-year income variation over a workerís lifetime. But averaged over many years, the income of the father is a very strong predictor of the income of the son or daughter. The correlation is even higher for families with low wealth(the poor) than for the wealthy; it is also higher for black families than for white.
The idea that anyone can grow up to become anything in the US is, actually, quite true. But the higher up you start on the ladder, the higher your chances are of ending up on top. And starting up there means you'll probably end up there as well.

Not surprising? Well, no. But it certainly speaks to the existence of classes in the US. If you're born into a wealthy family, you'll probably stay wealthy all your life. Welcome to the upper class.
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Old 06-13-2003, 08:09 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Err... to be honest with you, no amount of social equality (and American has an awful lot of it) is going to compensate for a complete lack of moeny. Given lower starting resources and equal opportunity and skill, the player in a game with more resources grows them faster tha the player with less. You can complain about the game, but the only unfair point is the start, which no one has EVER been able to really rectify over the long term.
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Old 06-13-2003, 08:13 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Sorry, forgot to say, that in America, the existence of economic classes is a lot fuzzier, too. Middle class people drink wine, can buy good quality imported food, and wield THE decisive power in politics - as a voting bloc they are the ones politicians of all stripes want to woo. Moreove,r it has become increasingly clear that there are no discreet economic classes, but rather a continuum of economic class, which only partly correlates to social class. Moreover, at any one point in economic class, you will find imense difference of opinion. Ultimately, a "class" is defined by those who aren't a part of it.
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Old 06-13-2003, 08:48 AM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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"The idea that anyone can grow up to become anything in the US is, actually, quite true. But the higher up you start on the ladder, the higher your chances are of ending up on top. And starting up there means you'll probably end up there as well.

Not surprising? Well, no. But it certainly speaks to the existence of classes in the US. If you're born into a wealthy family, you'll probably stay wealthy all your life. Welcome to the upper class."

Probably true, but that has nothing to do with how hard it is to get into that class if you [b]didn't[b/] get born into it.

Without backing this up with data, I'd suspect that the people born into the extremes of wealth or poverty tend to stay there, but the vast majority inbetween are quite mobile. No time to search but data. Maybe later.
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Old 06-13-2003, 08:58 AM
Evil Captor Evil Captor is offline
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I would say class was once a fairly meaningless distinction but that it's becoming more meaningful as the US economy continues to go to hell in a handbasket. Everyone is having to work longer hours for less real income. Result: more people who can literally be described as wage slaves, as the bulk of their waking lives are spent doing things for wealthy people to earn money so they don't lose what they have.

Lotsa poor people now work two jobs to survive. Middle class people find their work weeks creeping up to 60 hours from the formerly standard 40 hours as the working class has all but given up on unions and other forms of collective bargaining. Wage slaves all.

Some Americans are working part time in 34-hour-per-week jobs so their bosses don't have to classify them as full-time and pay them benefits, typically they are also struggling to make ends meet.

You have to have disposable income and free time to enjoy the benefits of freedom. Americans in the middle and lower economic classes are losing both rapidly. In the future the only people with enough money and time to be a meaningful consumer group for anything but basic necessities will be the upper class, if trends continue as they are at present.

As for the upper class, it's a just another subculture.
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Old 06-13-2003, 09:01 AM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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I would urge you to read Torstein Vebeln's great work "THE THEORY OF THE LEISURE CLASS". In this very old book (ca 1899) he gives a through explanation of class in America. Though old, the book is still essentially true..the old WASP inherited-income elite isstill around. What I find interesting..the "social climbers". Take the example of a guy I know..and Italian American (2nd generation) who , through hard work and honesty, made a fortune in retailing fruits and vegetables. His kids go to prep scgcolls, and play lacrosse (and date Wasp girls). He however drinks beer and plays bocce. This guy (for all his wealth) will never be accepted by the upper class-and he knows it (and doesn't care!). Then you have the degenerstes..old-time wasps who have squandered the family fortune and now live in bare houses and wear their grandfather's suits! They still theink that they are upper class-even though they are broke!
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Old 06-13-2003, 09:15 AM
furt furt is offline
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Re: How many social classes are there in the United States?

Quote:
Originally posted by BrainGlutton
There is a persistent myth in America that we are a classless society and always have been. It's obviously not true...
Ah, yes. "Obviously."
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  #17  
Old 06-13-2003, 09:59 AM
Neurotik Neurotik is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by MrVisible
...94.6 percent (75.1 plus 19.5) of individuals who started in the lowest quintile of family income/needs in 1990 ended up in the first or second quintile one year later. There was also relatively little mobility out of the highest quintile. Of those in the top quintile in 1990, 79.2 remained there and 94.8 ended up in one of the top two quintiles.
So people who are in one quintile tend not to leap into the next quintile or get sent down to the lower one from year to year? Big deal. What the heck did you expect?
Quote:
46.9 percent of the people in the lowest quintile in 1968 were still in the lowest quintile in 1991. Nearly half of those who had moved up, landed in the second quintile (25.1/53.1) and only 1.3 percent had made it all the way to the top quintile.
Sounds pretty mobile to me. What this study shows is that after 30 years, most people end up in the next quintile. Just because they don't shoot up to the very top means nothing. More than half of those who moved up landed in the third quintile or better.

So basically, this study says that if you start out in the lowest quintile, the odds are better than 50/50 that you'll be out of it in the next 30 years. And if you do move out it, the odds are better than 50/50 that you'll end up making around $42,000 a year (2001 mean income for 3rd quintile). In other words, there's a one in four chance that you'll go from the bottom to the middle. Not great odds, but certainly not some sort of wall and is actually not a bad bit of mobility.
Quote:
[b]If your father was in the top 20 percent, the chance that you will also end up there is about two in five, roughly double the overall chance.[b]
But your chances are three in five that you won't end up there. So the odds are better that you will end up in a lower class than your father if you are in the top quintile than to stay there. Sounds like an impenetrable system of upper class social welfare to me.

So to conclude: if you are born into the economic upper class (top quintile) than you are more likely than someone from a lower economic class to end up there. But the odds are still against you staying up there.

If you are born into the lowest economic quintile, there is a better chance that you will move up into the next economic quintile during your 30 year career, and a 25% chance that you will end up in the middle class.

Sorry, MrVisible that's not a dire indicator of economic immobility.
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Old 06-13-2003, 11:31 AM
Rhum Runner Rhum Runner is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by even sven
My friend went to a public high school with the normal distribution of bright and not-so-bright student. Their 4.0s didn't go to Stanford, they went to the Ivy Legues. Stanford was plenty interested in their less spectacular students though, and every year dozens would end up there.

Guess which class was rich and which one was poor, and then give me a lecture on social mobility.
I graduated from a large, and good, public high school. Over 700 people in my graduating class. I doubt we even sent "dozens" to U of I. Maybe 25, but not "dozens." I'd like more information on this public school where many go to the Ivy League, and "dozens" settle for Stanford every year.
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Old 06-13-2003, 11:55 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is online now
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Everyone seems to be obsessing about social mobility. Even a very high degree of mobility is not inconsistent with the existence of a class system. As Lind pointed out in another of his books, Up From Conservatism, "For centuries commoners have been ascending to the British aristocracy and younger sons have been falling out of it. That does not mean there is no British aristocracy."

Everybody's discussing class-issues, but, nevertheless, we're drifting off-topic. I started this thread taking Lind's description of the existence and character of the overclass as a given, as a starting point. As yet, nobody on this thread has directly challenged Lind's analysis. And I challenged all posters to direct a similar analytical process to all classes BELOW the overclass.

Let's focus on that: What, exactly, separates or distinguishes the "middle class" from the "working class"? What, if anything, separates the "working class" from the "working poor"? What separates the "working poor" from the "underclass"? I mean, APART FROM INCOME LEVELS. It is possible for me to belong to a higher class than you even though your income is higher than mine. To continue the analysis in Lind's terms, the things we need to be looking at are the boundaries of association, intermarriage, membership in organizations, lifestyles, cultural assumptions, race and ethnicity, religion, dialects and patterns of speech, and above all, life patterns. For instance, it seems to be that the higher up you go on the class ladder, the longer you delay marriage and childbearing. What else can we find, that distinguishes one class from another?

Also -- as I argued above, in some cases we can distinguish two classes without placing them in a hierarchical relationship, one above the other. In my view, working-class whites and working-class blacks are two separate and distinct social classes sharing roughly the same level of the social pyramid. Does anyone care to dispute this, or to build on it?

Finally -- Lind rejects such class-analysis models as Marxism, but purports to base his own analysis on "the older notion of class found in classical and European political thought from Aristotle to Montesquieu." Is there any doper who agrees that a class system exists in America, but thinks some other analytical model is more appropriate than Lind's? Anyone care to take a stab at arguing that, for instance, Marxism is still relevant?
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Old 06-13-2003, 02:03 PM
eponymous eponymous is offline
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Originally posted by BrainGlutton

Quote:
Also -- as I argued above, in some cases we can distinguish two classes without placing them in a hierarchical relationship, one above the other. In my view, working-class whites and working-class blacks are two separate and distinct social classes sharing roughly the same level of the social pyramid. Does anyone care to dispute this, or to build on it?
OK - I'll take a stab. I'll agree that working-class blacks and working-class whites are roughly at the same level of the social pyramid. But why make the distinction based on race? For your thesis to hold, you would need to show what distinguishes working-class whites from working-class blacks. In other words, there are socio-cultural variables of the working class that can be sharply drawn along racial lines.

My intuition tells me that if you were to look at a list of social-cultural characteristics of the working class that there would be no sharp distinction made along racial lines. That is, working-class whites and working-class blacks would share many of the same socio-cultural characteristics. Thus, there would be no need to distinguish working-class whites from working-class blacks as distinct social classes. Here is where, I think, a Marxian analysis would prove fruitful (working class vis-a-vis overclass).

If you could point out distinct socio-cultural differences between the two, then your claim would be stronger.
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  #21  
Old 06-13-2003, 03:47 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is online now
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The socio-cultural differences are obvious. Working-class black Americans speak a different dialect of English than working-class whites. They belong to different churches, mostly all-black churches. They usually live in black-majority neighborhoods. Even today, they rarely marry outside their racial group. Most of a black's friends will be black, at least at the working-class level. The blacks have their own distinctive cuisine, customs, myths. "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand."

To point up a contrast, American Jews have become much more assimilated to mainstream culture. Forty or even thirty years ago Jews, even the wealthiest of them, formed a separate, parallel social class from the Anglo-Saxon elite. They had their own distinctly Jewish educational institutions, organizations, law firms and financial companies. They were not welcome in respectable hotels, they were not welcome in most elite country clubs, and they were only grudgingly welcome in Ivy League schools. An elite Anglo who married a Jew would risk ostracism, even from his or her immediate family. None of these things are true any longer. The Jews have kept their religion and some of their customs, but they are now full, unconditional members of American society, and rich Jews are full, unconditional members of the white overclass, with free intermarriage back and forth. Blacks -- at all class levels -- have a long way to go before they reach that point.
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  #22  
Old 06-13-2003, 04:38 PM
Muad'Dib Muad'Dib is offline
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I hate this debate. There is no class in America. If you want to see class go to India, you will find a pretty rigid class structure there. Or look at the Middle Ages of Europe, where there were real and distinct social classes of people. There is some remnant of this today, just look at House of Lords in England.

We do not have this, we have never had this yet people still keep talking about "class" using the word for one set of meanings while implying a connection to the other, older set of ideas. You just end up with a knotty epistemological mess, which is why class is so hard to define when concerning America, because it does not really exist.
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  #23  
Old 06-13-2003, 08:48 PM
eponymous eponymous is offline
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Originally posted by BrainGlutton

Quote:
The socio-cultural differences are obvious. Working-class black Americans speak a different dialect of English than working-class whites. They belong to different churches, mostly all-black churches. They usually live in black-majority neighborhoods. Even today, they rarely marry outside their racial group. Most of a black's friends will be black, at least at the working-class level. The blacks have their own distinctive cuisine, customs, myths. "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand."
Obvious at first glance, but let me address the following:

It is not obvious that working-class blacks speak a different dialect than working-class whites. Or rather, there's a fairly wide range of dialects spoken by working-class whites versus those among working-class blacks. Think of a working-class white in rural Georgia with one living in an urban area of the Northeast.

Same applies to churches - contrast the working-class white Baptists of the south vs. the working-class white Catholics of the urban Northeast. Likewise for marrying outside one's group (Baptist vs. Catholic), friends, cuisine, customs, and myths.

The point I'm getting at is why should we lump all working-class whites together as a group?

I should point out that I tend to agree with you that working-class blacks have distinctive socio-cultural differences from working class-whites, but only in the broadest general sense. There are distinct socio-cultural differences between whites and blacks, period (regardless of socio-economic status). Working-class blacks and blacks from other socio-economic groups have much more in common than whites from different socio-economic backgrounds. "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand" applies to all blacks across all spectrums (in general).

A key here - why is this the case? To take your example, why is it that someone who is Jewish is much more readily accepted today into the overclass than blacks?
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  #24  
Old 06-13-2003, 11:43 PM
kunilou kunilou is offline
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Okay, BrainGlutton. I directly challenge Lind's analysis

Michael Lind's concept of some coherent, white "overclass" is utter hogwash. He starts with Northeastern Protestants, then mixes in Southerners, Westerners, those of European Jewish descent, descendents of European (presumably non-Jewish) immigrants and the celebrity rich. Sounds pretty much like the only thing all the members of the white overclass have in common is that they're white, and presumably have more money than the middle class.

That, I submit, is not a definition of a class. That is a demographic.

The fact is, this is a nation where "peckerwood" (thank you DanBlather) Bill Clinton should never even meet, much less have a chance, with suburban, Midwestern, upper-middle-class, former Goldwater Girl Hillary Rodham and where Colin Powell shouldn't have had a chance of making General.

Too many people in this thread are trying to define class as a single thing -- income, race, whatever.

The reality is that an untenured college instructor is "higher" class than a plumber with twice the annual income. On the other hand, an African-American college professor can still get randomly stopped by the police.

The class structure in the U.S. (and yes, I believe there is a class structure) is a jumble of sometimes contradictory mixtures of income, family history, race, education, religion. Attempts to oversimplify it are destined to fail.
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Old 06-14-2003, 12:37 AM
Muad'Dib Muad'Dib is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by kunilou

Too many people in this thread are trying to define class as a single thing -- income, race, whatever.

The reality is that an untenured college instructor is "higher" class than a plumber with twice the annual income. On the other hand, an African-American college professor can still get randomly stopped by the police.

The class structure in the U.S. (and yes, I believe there is a class structure) is a jumble of sometimes contradictory mixtures of income, family history, race, education, religion. Attempts to oversimplify it are destined to fail.
That is because it does not exist. People are trying to define something that is not there and all that they are left with is a confused nothing.
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  #26  
Old 06-14-2003, 02:26 AM
even sven even sven is online now
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Originally posted by Muad'Dib
That is because it does not exist.
Okay, maybe it doesn't actually exist. That doesn't mean that everyone doesn't still act, and live their entire lives, like it does.
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  #27  
Old 06-14-2003, 03:49 AM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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Originally posted by even sven
Okay, maybe it doesn't actually exist. That doesn't mean that everyone doesn't still act, and live their entire lives, like it does.
But the thing is.... who the hell cares.

Let the hoity-toyts think their upper class. Big f***ing deal.
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  #28  
Old 06-14-2003, 04:11 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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First you would have to define classes. Would you use income? Net worth? Education level? Race? Respectibility? Job title? Family tree?

Is a lawyer with a BMW making $80,000 a year in the same class as a roofing contractor with a pickup making $80,000 a year? Is a rapper who makes $20 million but then blows it all in the same class as a restarurant owner who retired with an accumulated $20 million in wealth?

How about a Harvard graduate who becomes a teacher or a state school graduate making $500,000 a year as a stockbroker?

There are too many variations to simply lump people into a nice neat class structure.



Quote:
Originally posted by MrVisible
The class barriers in this country are pretty impermeable. There are occasional exceptions to this, but the class that you're born into is the one you'll probably die in. It takes money to make money, and if you're not born with money, you've got a snowball's chance in hell of being rich.
[/B]
How do you think people become rich? Do you think it is all handed down from generation to generation.
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  #29  
Old 06-14-2003, 09:02 PM
Kempis Kempis is offline
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I like the idea that a class is better defined by a majority of its members staying the same (in one way or another) through multiple generations, and marrying like people. Is kunilou more right to call this a demographic than a class? Does the fact that African Americans tend to marry the same make them a separate class?

The OP seems to find something interesting... the "overclass" sure is easy to define: Ivy League education, vacations in Europe, fox hunting, knowing what "The Hamptons" means, etc.

However, I think such things are considered a caricature of "Idle Wealth" more suited to "Masterpiece Theater" fiction than something rational wealthy people believe in. The rest of us wouldn't consider such desires as being "Over" what we like.

And as to whether this topic is important... it sure is. Such labeling of people makes rational people nausiated, but politicians frequently exploit such fallacies to get elected. And the far left makes economic policies based on these lies, too.

-k
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  #30  
Old 06-14-2003, 10:25 PM
Evil Captor Evil Captor is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by msmith537
How do you think people become rich? Do you think it is all handed down from generation to generation.
I have read references to several surveys that indicate that the vast majority of wealth is inherited. There are poeple who make thier own fortunes, they are a small minority.

So, yes, that's how people become rich, it's handed down from generation to generation.
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  #31  
Old 06-14-2003, 10:37 PM
Kempis Kempis is offline
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I've heard the opposite, 80% earned, 20% inherited. Both need cites.

-k
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  #32  
Old 06-14-2003, 10:38 PM
Neurotik Neurotik is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Evil Captor
I have read references to several surveys that indicate that the vast majority of wealth is inherited. There are poeple who make thier own fortunes, they are a small minority.

So, yes, that's how people become rich, it's handed down from generation to generation.
That's nice. How about a cite?

How are we determing wealth? A billion or above? Top 10%? Top 1%? How are we defining inherited? Did someone from a doctor family who then became a doctor, but used student loans and not his family's money "inherit" it since he started out in a rich family or did he earn it himself? And what constitutes a small minority? Less than 10%? Less than 50%? Less than 25%?
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  #33  
Old 06-14-2003, 10:44 PM
Neurotik Neurotik is offline
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In fact, I'm just going to do this myself.

According to this, of the 400 richest folks on the Forbes list, 42% inherited enough wealth to be on the list (of course, some like Philip Anschutz still made a lot more, he turned a $500 million inheritance into $5.2 billion).

31% of those started out as normal folks. The rest inherited some wealth between $1 million and $475 million and grew it into what they needed to achieve the list.

So that's an idea.

I hardly think that 31% is a small minority.
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  #34  
Old 06-14-2003, 10:47 PM
Kempis Kempis is offline
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It's certainly not a majority.
And the sample size isn't very big, 400 of the tippity top rich?
I'm not convinced yet of an iron ring around the wealth in this country.

-k
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  #35  
Old 06-14-2003, 10:49 PM
Neurotik Neurotik is offline
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No, it's just to give a vague idea.
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  #36  
Old 06-14-2003, 10:56 PM
Kempis Kempis is offline
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Still, people who say "he's rich 'cause his daddy's rich" send me the message "Don't work hard, you can't win."

-k
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  #37  
Old 06-15-2003, 01:50 AM
even sven even sven is online now
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kempis
Still, people who say "he's rich 'cause his daddy's rich" send me the message "Don't work hard, you can't win."
It doesn't matter what message something sends you. What matters is the reality. And right now we live in an era where your economic status pretty much determines the quality of your education as a child. This, combined with the forces of tuition, pretty much determines your access to post-secondary education. It also determines the kind of educational support you are able to give your children (and thus the cycle continues). And while there are ways to "make it' without college, those ways are pretty rare- rare enough to be discounted. Your pretty much out of the "professional" class without a degree, and the most you can hope for is "para-professional", if you can afford trade school.

There are whole neighborhoods where, no matter how smart you may be, your chances of getting into a four-year university is next to nothing, and it has been that way for generations. I call that "class". I guess I believe that class is largely a product of educaiton. One or two may get out. But just because a class is theoretically mobile doesn't mean it is any less of a class.

And sticking your fingers in your ears and going "lallala this is America and anyone can be president (although nobody but fairly well off white men ever has been)" won't change a single thing.
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Old 06-15-2003, 08:13 AM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by even sven
It doesn't matter what message something sends you. What matters is the reality. And right now we live in an era where your economic status pretty much determines the quality of your education as a child.
I think it would be foolish to argue that the surroundings a person is born into does not have an effect on their future status in life. An kid born into a working class neighborhood where everyone works in the local ball-bearing plant is probably more likely to end up working at the plant then the same kid born into a upper-middle class family where it's basically understood that he will attend some kind of college and become a professional person like all the neighbors. I noticed this a lot in college where the students mostly came from upper-middle class and wealthy homes while the local population was mostly poor and middle-class steel workers.

Still, I would hesitate breaking America into hard and fast "classes". It's more like a spectrum of socio-economic status with Bill Gates at one end and some anonymous crackhead at the other.



Quote:
Originally posted by even sven
And sticking your fingers in your ears and going "lallala this is America and anyone can be president (although nobody but fairly well off white men ever has been)" won't change a single thing. [/B]
I never understood what was wrong with wealthy men being president. Would we be better off if one of our nations fuck-ups led the country for awhile?
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  #39  
Old 06-15-2003, 09:21 AM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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2 classes, those who believe they are responsible for themselves and their actions, and those who don't. Despite all the injustices and social barriers, it has always always possible for a citizen of the US to better themselves.
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  #40  
Old 06-15-2003, 10:21 AM
even sven even sven is online now
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Quote:
Originally posted by msmith537
I never understood what was wrong with wealthy men being president. Would we be better off if one of our nations fuck-ups led the country for awhile?
Great, so now I'm a "fuck up" for being born to a poor single mother, succeeding academically enough to be one of the few people in my high school to go to a four-year college, and needing student loans to pay off the debt.

I guess my boyfriend is a "fuck up" for working in the non-profic sector where he can do work that he loves and that helps others, but that does not provide much oppertunity to get rich.

Becauwe the persuit of money is the only worthwhile thing to do, and not doing it (or not being able to do it) makes you a "fuck up"

Yep. That certainly disquailifies us from being president.
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  #41  
Old 06-15-2003, 10:46 AM
Neurotik Neurotik is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by even sven
It doesn't matter what message something sends you. What matters is the reality. And right now we live in an era where your economic status pretty much determines the quality of your education as a child. This, combined with the forces of tuition, pretty much determines your access to post-secondary education. It also determines the kind of educational support you are able to give your children (and thus the cycle continues). And while there are ways to "make it' without college, those ways are pretty rare- rare enough to be discounted. Your pretty much out of the "professional" class without a degree, and the most you can hope for is "para-professional", if you can afford trade school.

There are whole neighborhoods where, no matter how smart you may be, your chances of getting into a four-year university is next to nothing, and it has been that way for generations. I call that "class". I guess I believe that class is largely a product of educaiton. One or two may get out. But just because a class is theoretically mobile doesn't mean it is any less of a class.

And sticking your fingers in your ears and going "lallala this is America and anyone can be president (although nobody but fairly well off white men ever has been)" won't change a single thing.
Oh please. Those neighborhoods are the minority of the population of the United States. The reality is that if you work hard and make smart decisions, you can better your life. Even coming from the ghetto. There are scholarships, there are loans. So what if you don't go to an Ivy...go to a state school, they are usually plenty good enough.

I went to a working class school. I had illegal immigrants, kids that had to go to the local church for food every week, kids whose parents never even made it so far as graduating high school. Our school had to cut programs and sometimes had 50 kids in a class with history books that ended with Iran-Contra.

And you know what, a lot of those kids went to college. They didn't go to Harvard or something, but they went to a Cal State or a community college and got a degree in something. And they're doing all right now.

Hell, look at yourself, by your own admission you went from a poor, single mother to graduating from a four year university. And you're STILL complaining about lack of opportunity and crap. Except, you've just proven that it CAN happen if someone has the drive to do it.

Geez.
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  #42  
Old 06-15-2003, 02:28 PM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by even sven
Great, so now I'm a "fuck up" for being born to a poor single mother, succeeding academically enough to be one of the few people in my high school to go to a four-year college, and needing student loans to pay off the debt.

I guess my boyfriend is a "fuck up" for working in the non-profic sector where he can do work that he loves and that helps others, but that does not provide much oppertunity to get rich.

Becauwe the persuit of money is the only worthwhile thing to do, and not doing it (or not being able to do it) makes you a "fuck up"

Yep. That certainly disquailifies us from being president. [/B]

Why don't you spare us your personal issues?

Not every president of the USA was born the son of a billionare. Jimmy Carter was the son of a farmer and a nurse. Regan was born in a small town in Illinois and attended Eureka Collge. Clinton's father was an auto parts salesman in Arkansas. Hardly what I would call a "ruling class".

What disqualifies you from being president is you (and your boyfriends) averageness. By the time a person is old enough to be president, I don't expect them to be super-rich, but I would expect that would be highly successful in whatever career field they happened to have choosen. Generally, some degree of financial success tends to follow.
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  #43  
Old 06-15-2003, 07:24 PM
even sven even sven is online now
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The difference between "some college" and an Ivy Legue is pretty big, though. Kids from Ivy Legues go on to do some things, and kids from non-Ivy leagues go on to do others. Kids from state universities and trade schools end up somewhere else completly.

Yes, hard work and talent will occasionally pay off with a better life. I'm not argueing that it is worthless to work. But there are some things that hard work isn't likely to do anything about, especially when it comes to overcoming a crappy chance at an education as a young child.
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  #44  
Old 06-15-2003, 08:29 PM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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Quote:
Even Sven wrote:
There are whole neighborhoods where, no matter how smart you may be, your chances of getting into a four-year university is next to nothing,
BULL SHIT

Show us a cite on that. Anyone with good grades can get into a 4 year college in the US. They might have to work to put themselves thru school, but so what?

Quote:
The difference between "some college" and an Ivy Legue is pretty big, though. Kids from Ivy Legues go on to do some things, and kids from non-Ivy leagues go on to do others.
More BS. "Pretty big?" You're kidding if you expect anyone on this board to accept that statement.

There is no doubt that going to a top school can open some doors for you. But if you think an education from UC Santa Cruz, for example, is going to hold you back, you live in a world of self delusion. Hell, I personally know dozens of successful people who got their educations at Chico State and San Jose state. You should be well aware that neither of those schools is hard to get into.
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  #45  
Old 06-15-2003, 10:25 PM
Neurotik Neurotik is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by even sven
The difference between "some college" and an Ivy Legue is pretty big, though. Kids from Ivy Legues go on to do some things, and kids from non-Ivy leagues go on to do others. Kids from state universities and trade schools end up somewhere else completly.

Yes, hard work and talent will occasionally pay off with a better life. I'm not argueing that it is worthless to work. But there are some things that hard work isn't likely to do anything about, especially when it comes to overcoming a crappy chance at an education as a young child.
So, basically, you just don't understand anything about anything. Hey, fantastic.

So state universities and trade schools end up somewhere else completely? State universities and trade schools are somehow on the same level? You've got to be kidding me. Kids from Ivy Leagues sometimes go on to do things that are different from kids who go to non-Ivies, a lot of times they do the same thing. Please spare us your whininess until you actually get out in the real world. And this is from someone who's only been in the real world for about a year.

Hard work most certainly does overcome a crappy chance at an education as a young child. Hard work and smarts. If you have those, you'll go far.
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  #46  
Old 06-15-2003, 11:35 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is online now
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*Sigh.* Guys, you're all getting sidetracked. You're turning this into a debate about how much social mobility there is in the United States; and within that question, you're focusing on how hard or easy it is to reach the very top. These questions are important and relevant, but they are not the focus of this thread; maybe a different thread. Social mobility exists, but social classes exist too. And it is a fact that most Americans die in the same class in which they were born.

Look, I'll give you all a start. The following is from Class: A Guide to the American Status System, by Paul Fussell (New York: Summit Books, 1983), pp. 27-50:

Quote:
My researches have persuaded me that there are nine classes in this country, as follows:

Top out-of-sight
Upper
Upper middle
------------------------
Middle
High proletarian
Mid-proletarian
Low proletarian
------------------------
Destitute
Bottom out-of-sight

One thing to get clear at the outset is this: it's not riches alone that define these clases. . . . "Economically, no doubt, there are only two classes, the rich and the poor," says George Orwell, "but socially there is a whole hierarchy of classes, and the manners and traditions learned by each class in childhood are not only very different but -- this is the essential point -- generally persist from birth to death. . . . It is . . . very difficult to escape, culturally, from the class into which you have been born." When John Fitzgerald Kennedy, watching Richard Nixon on television, turned to his friends and, horror-struck, said, "The guy has no class," he was not talking about money.
* * * *
Not that the three classes at the top don't have money. The point is that money alone doesn't define them, for the way they have their money is largely what matters. . . . The main thing distinguishing the top three classes from each other is the amount of money inherited in relation to the amount currently earned. The top-out-of-sight class (Rockefellers, Pres, DuPonts, Mellons, Fords, Vanderbilts) lives on inherited capital entirely. . . .

"When I think of a really rich man," says a Boston blue-collar, "I think of one of those estates where you can't see the house from the road." Hence the name of the top class, which could just as well be called "the class in hiding." Their houses are never seen from the street or road. They like to hide away deep in the hills or way off on Greek or Caribbean islands (which they tend to own), safe, for the moment, from envy and its ultimate attendants, confiscatory taxation and finally expropriation. . . .
* * * *
The next class down, the upper class, differs from the top-out-of-sight class in two main ways. First, although it inherits a lot of its money, it earns quite a bit too, usually from some attractive, if slight, work, without which it would feel bored and even ashamed. It's likely to make its money by controlling banks and the more historic corporations, think tanks, and foundations, and to busy itself with things like the older universities, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Association, the Committee for Economic Development, and the like, together with the executive branch of the federal government, and often the Senate. . . . And secondly, unlike the top-out-of-sights, the upper class is visible, often ostentatiously so. . . . When you pass a house with a would-be impressive facade visible from the street or highway, you know it's occupied by a member of the upper class. . . .

* * * *
We now come to the upper-middle class. It may possess virtually as much as the two classes above it. The difference is that it has earned most of it, in law, medicine, oil, shipping, real estate, or even the more honorific kinds of trade, like buying and selling works of art. Although they may enjoy some inherited money and use inherited "things" (silver, Oriental rugs), the upper-middles suffer from a bourgeois sense of shame, a conviction that to live on the earnings of others, even forebears, is not nice.

Caste marks of the upper-middles would include living in a house with more rooms than you need, except perhaps when a lot of "overnight guests" are present to help you imitate upper-class style. . . . This class is also the most "role-reversed" of all: men think nothing of cooking and doing housework, women of working out of the house in journalism, theater, or real estate. (If the wife stays home all the time, the family's middle-class only.) Upper-middles like to show off their costly educations by naming their cats Spinoza, Clytemnestra, and Candide, which means, as you'll have inferred already, that it's in large part the class depicted by Lisa Birnbach and others' Official Preppy Handbook, that significantly popular artifact of 1980.
* * * *
. . . The middle class is distinguishable more by its earnestness and psychic insecurity than by its middle income. I have known some very rich people who remain stubbornly middle-class, which is to say they remain terrified at what others think of them, and to avoid criticism are obsessed with doing everything right. . . .

"Status panic": that's the affliction of the middle class, according to C. Wright Mills, author of White Collar (1951) and The Power Elite (1956). Hence the middles' need to accumulate credit cards and take in The New Yorker, which it imagines registers upper-middle taste. . . .

If the audience for that sort of thing used to seem the most deeply rooted in time and place, today it seems the class that's the most rootless. Members of the middle class are not only the sort of people who buy their own heirlooms, silver, etc. They're also the people who do most of the moving long-distance (generally to very unstylish places), commanded every few years to pull up stakes by the corporations they're in bondage to. They are the geologist employed by the oil company, the computer programmer, the aeronautical engineer, the salesman assigned to a new territory, and the "marketing" (formerly sales) manager deputed to keep an eye on him. . . . IBM and DuPont hire these people from second-rate colleges and teach them that they are nothing if not members of the team. Virtually no latitude is permitted to individuality or the milder forms of eccentricity, and these employees soon learn to avoid all ideological statements. . . . Terrified of losing their jobs, these people grow passive, their humanity diminished as they perceive themselves mere parts of an infinitely larger structure. Interchangeable parts, too. "The training makes our men interchangeable," an IBM executive was once heard to say.
* * * *
. . . Oddity, introversion, and love of privacy are the big enemies, a total reversal of the values of the secure upper orders. Among the middles there's a convention that erecting a fence or even a tall hedge is an affront. And there's also a convention that you may drop in on neighbors and friends without a telephone inquiry first. . . .
* * * *
. . . Proceeding downward, we would normally expect to meet next the lower-middle class. But it doesn't exist as such any longer, having been pauperized by the inflation of the 1960s and 1970s and transformed into the high-proletarian class. What's the difference? A further lack of freedom and self-respect. Our former lower-middle class, the new high proles, now head "the masses," and even if they are positioned at the top of the proletarian classes, still they are identifiable as people things are done to. They are in bondage -- to monetary policy, rip-off advertising, crazes and delusions, mass low culture, fast food, consumer schlock. Back in the 1940s there was still a real lower-middle class in this country, whose solid high-school education and addiction to "saving" and "planning" maintained it in a position -- often precarious, to be sure -- above the working class. . . . These former low-white-collar people are now simply working machines, and the wife usually works as well as the husband.

The kind of work performed and the sort of anxiety that besets one as a result of work are ways to divide the working class into its three strata. The high proles are the skilled workers, crafstmen, like printers. The mid-proles are operators, like Ralph Kramden, the bus driver. The low proles are unskilled labor, like longshoremen. The special anxiety of high proles is fear about loss or reduction of status: you're proud to be a master carpenter, and you want the world to understand clearly the difference between you and a laborer. The special anxiety of the mid-proles is fear of losing the job. And of the low proles, the gnawing perception that you're probably never going to make enough or earn enough freedom to have and do the things you want.
* * * *
But high proles are quite smart, or at least shrewd. Because often their work is not closely supervised, they have pride and a conviction of independence, and they feel some contempt for those who have not made it as far as they have. The are, as the sociologist E. E. LeMasters calls them and titles his book, Blue-Collar Aristocrats (1975), and their disdain for the middle class is like the aristocrat's from the other direction. . . . Like other aristocrats, says LeMasters, these "have gone to the top of their social world and need not expend time or energy on 'social climbing.'" . . .

Since they're not consumed with worry about choosing the correct status emblems, these people can be remarkably relaxed and unself-conscious. They can do, say, wear, and look like pretty much anything they want without undue feelings of shame, which belong to their betters, the middle class, shame being largely a bourgeois feeling. . . .
* * * *
High proles are nice. It's down among the mid- and low proles that features some might find offensive begin to show themselves. These are people who feel bitter about their work, often because they are closely supervised and regulated and generally treated like wayward children. . . . Andrew Levinson, author of The Working-Class Majority (1974), invites us to imagine what it would be like to be under the constant eye of a foreman, "a figure who has absolutely no counterpart in middle-class society. Salaried professionals often do have people above them, but it is impossible to imagine professors or executives being required to bring a doctor's note if they are absent a day or having to justify the number of trips they take to the bathroom." . . .

The degree of supervision, indeed, is often a more eloquent class indicator than mere income, which suggests that the whole class system is more a recognition of the value of freedom than a proclamation of the value of sheer cash. . . . One is a mid- or low prole if one's servitude is constantly emphasized. Occupational class depends largely on doing work for which the consquences of error or failure are distant or remote, or better, invisible, rather than immediately apparent to a superior and thus instantly humiliating to the performer.

Constantly demeaned at work, the lower sorts of proles suffer from poor morale. As one woman worker says, "Most of us . . . have jobs that are too small for our spirits."
* * * *
At the bottom of the working class, the low prole is identifiable by the gross uncertainty of his employment. This class would include illegal aliens like Mexican fruit pickers as well as other migrant workers. Social isolation is the norm here, and what Hoggart says of the lower working class in Britain applies elsewhere as well: "Socially . . . each day and each week is almost unplanned. There is no diary, no book of engagements, and few letters are sent or received." Remoteness and isolation, as in the valleys of Appalachia, are characteristics, and down here we find people who, trained for nothing, are likely out of sheer despair to join the Army.

Still, they're better off than the destitute, who never have even seasonal work and who live wholly on welfare. They differ from the bottom-out-of-sights less because they're much better off than because they're more visible, in the form of Bowery bums, bag ladies, people who stand in public places lecturing and delivering harangues about their grievances, people who drink out of paper bags, people whose need for some recognition impels them to "act" in front of audiences in the street. When delinquency and distress grow desperate, you sink into the bottom-out-of-sight class, staying all day in your welfare room or contriving to get taken into an institution, whether charitable or correctional doesn't matter much.
In the concluding chapter, Fussell identifies a tenth class, a "Class X" of declassed bohemians and intellectuals.

I started out talking about the "white overclass" theory of Michael Lind -- in Fussell's terms, the overclass would be the top-out-of-sight, upper, and upper middle classes. Lind is probably correct that these three classes now have merged to the point where they freely intermarry between levels.

Now, as I mentioned early, I find Fussell's analysis somewhat unsatisfactory as it fails to account for divisions between ethnic subcultures. Also, the book is now 20 years old, times have changed . . . somewhat . . . and I think the whole topic needs to be revisited. So, all of you: What do you think of Fussell's picture of the American class system? Do you have a better model to offer?
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  #47  
Old 06-16-2003, 12:30 AM
Evil Captor Evil Captor is offline
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Offhand, I'd say the portrait of the top classes has held, based on all the sotries about coporate CEOS making millions while their companies fail. The upper classes WILL take care of their own, and the devil take the rest.

As for the lower classes, I think the very bottom -- what he calls the out-of-sighters and the proles are still the same, though I would argue that a lot of the out-of-sighters aren't really there because of class but because they're suffering from untreated mental illnesses, esp. schizophrenia. Schizophrenics have a way of not taking their meds and getting worse instead of better.

I think there's a tremendous amount of churn between the lower class and the middle class and even into the lower reaches of the upper class. The difference between where you are on the ladder generally has to do largely with whether or not you have a job, and what job you have, and that changes a lot nowadays.

I think a lot of the cultural attributes that go or do not go with the various classes the sociologists have come up with are bogus because they don't take into account the levelling effects of the mass media. I've known people from all walks of life as a writer and editor, and it's amazing how much commonality of experience they all have thanks to newspapers, radio and TV. I've worked with black women working as administrative assistants (i.e., clerks) who liked to politic and spend their free time doing volunteer work at their community theater and who came to me for advice on buying home computers and software. They liked to go on vacation in the Caribbean and be rich American women wooed by the local studs.

I've worked with leaders in my state -- I mean, the sort of middle-aged white guys who got sent to the Soviet Union when it collapsed to show them how to establish local services and so forth when the central economy collapsed -- who liked to politic, drink beer, eat barbecue, chase women and virtually nothing else.

There just aren't any hard-and-fast rules about class in America in the middle and lower ranges. Too much churn, baby. How people behave is more a matter of what their opportunities are at the moment than anything else.
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  #48  
Old 06-16-2003, 08:50 AM
Neurotik Neurotik is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by BrainGlutton
*Sigh.* Guys, you're all getting sidetracked. You're turning this into a debate about how much social mobility there is in the United States; and within that question, you're focusing on how hard or easy it is to reach the very top. These questions are important and relevant, but they are not the focus of this thread; maybe a different thread. Social mobility exists, but social classes exist too. And it is a fact that most Americans die in the same class in which they were born.
Maybe because you have yet to prove some sort of case. Basically, you quote guys who can't even agree on what class is, what defines class - except it may have something to do with economic status, race, ethnicity and habits. You haven't broken down class, you've broken down demographics. There is no clear hierarchy aside from economic ones in the US as there is in other countries, or as there used to be in Europe. And the economic ones are fairly mobile, as are the social ones over time.
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  #49  
Old 06-16-2003, 09:17 AM
John Mace John Mace is online now
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"And it is a fact that most Americans die in the same class in which they were born."

It is? Well I must've been sick the day they taught us that "fact" in high school civics class.
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Old 06-16-2003, 09:41 AM
Evil Captor Evil Captor is offline
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Y'know, I've looked for some cites on the total amount of inhertied wealth, but I've found nothing comprehensive to date -- just the Forbes 400 survey, which I'm gonna go way out on a limb here and say is atypical.

My suspicion is that most people who inherit wiealth don't want it widely known. I am reminded of articles I have read about lottery winners, who are advised to changek their address and get an unlisted phone number and otherwise hide themselves from all the never before seen relatives and firends who would help them divest themselves of their winnings.

In short, I'm wondering if any accurate data on this info is available at all. The census collects nothing on inherited wealth and the IRS has only estate tax records, which apparentlty the really wealthy are able to avoid.

Most of the cites on inherited wealth were clearly politicized pieces, mostly having to do with the proposed repeal of the estate tax, which tended to cite the Forbes survey.
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