13 votes

Why Democratic leaders still misunderstand the politics of social class

20 comments

  1. [16]
    tempestoftruth
    (edited )
    Link
    I've been mostly skimming, but I'm confused on what this author believes he and Bernie have different opinions on. He seems to accuse Bernie of being like the rest of the democratic establishment...

    I've been mostly skimming, but I'm confused on what this author believes he and Bernie have different opinions on. He seems to accuse Bernie of being like the rest of the democratic establishment in pushing the importance of "college for all." Instead, the author suggests that a radical democratization of education and the workplace is more important. But the goal of democratic socialism is - you guessed it - to democratize society in a fundamental way by eliminating power disparities in places like schools, universities, and workplaces. I believe Bernie represents this radical change the most of all the candidates, indicated by numerous endorsements from groups seeking radical social change towards democratization. So why is the author a Warren supporter? Seems somewhat inconsistent to me (although that may just be the tendency of socialists to find the positions of social democrats incomprehensible).

    Some other things I wanted to point out:

    [extra college graduates with these business degrees] supervise the working class—all of it, white, black, and brown. So if everyone in the working class did go to college—and thank God that they don’t—there’d be no one left to supervise. In other words: A college education is valuable to the extent other people are not getting one. But of course, we’re not supposed to think about such a thing. 


    Douglas’s findings illustrate what happens to children whose parents are stuck in authoritarian workplaces where they learn to take orders and pass on that culture to their children. In short, they raise their children in the same way that they experience their working lives.

    These are great observations (or inclusions, I suppose, in the case of the latter). The way the system is currently designed, some people have to be on the bottom. Manufacturing of poverty and all that. The examination of generational inequality and the way that is passed down is super insightful here as well. The most terrifying part of it is that I recognize that pattern in my parents and myself.

    EDIT:

    Co-determination, if it is to work, needs a strong labor movement outside of that corporate structure to prevent it from being co-opted.

    He even says a strong labor movement outside of the corporate structure is required for true democratization of the workplace? The only candidate with a movement outside of the corporate structure right now is Bernie?

    14 votes
    1. [4]
      skybrian
      Link Parent
      It's a rambling article, but I think the main point is that big programs to help college-goers might not look so good to people who didn't go to college, and that's a huge percentage of the...

      It's a rambling article, but I think the main point is that big programs to help college-goers might not look so good to people who didn't go to college, and that's a huge percentage of the electorate. Why should college-goers get extra help when they make more money (on average)?

      This is one reason I like UBI (Yang's proposal) better. It helps people who go to college, and it also helps people who don't. It's a bit surprising that Yang wasn't mentioned in the article.

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        tempestoftruth
        Link Parent
        Yeah, agreed. I know you're just stating this, and so my comments from here on out aren't directed specifically at you, but rather just general thoughts, if anyone else would be interested in...

        a rambling article

        Yeah, agreed.

        the main point is that big programs to help college-goers might not look so good to people who didn't go to college, and that's a huge percentage of the electorate. Why should college-goers get extra help when they make more money (on average)?

        I know you're just stating this, and so my comments from here on out aren't directed specifically at you, but rather just general thoughts, if anyone else would be interested in discussing further. The quoted section seems similar to these new anxieties about college for all programs bankrolling the college attendance of the children of the rich.

        I think Bernie's focused on making college more accessible as well, expanding the group of people we would normally define as "college students" (from middle- and upper-class high school grads to pretty much everyone), and so therefore the help targeted at the group "college students" will be helping more than just who it traditionally would be helping. Also, a lot of college grads aren't doing better financially than their non-educated counterparts, I think the United States higher education system is at the point where it's not a financial no-brainer to invest in a bachelor's degree at a university to maximize your overall lifetime earnings. Not only is it not guaranteed to make you more money over your lifetime, even if it does, if you're saddled with student debt for twenty or thirty years, you probably didn't get to enjoy much of your life, if at all. It's different if you're graduating from an elite university with a degree in finance or consulting, but the vast majority of people aren't graduating from these schools (I assume) which generally will have far less lucrative prospects. So I don't think this reform is necessarily wrongheaded, especially when it's comparatively a sideshow to the other, far more important rallying cries of the growing leftist movement (fight for $15, M4A, etc.).

        5 votes
        1. [2]
          skybrian
          Link Parent
          It wouldn't be "pretty much everyone" because most people are beyond college age and probably aren't going to go back to school. But people with families might be happy for their kids. It seems to...

          It wouldn't be "pretty much everyone" because most people are beyond college age and probably aren't going to go back to school. But people with families might be happy for their kids.

          It seems to me that, if you want to help college age kids, just give a lump sum to everyone who graduated high school and wide latitude on how to spend it?

          1 vote
          1. tempestoftruth
            Link Parent
            Right, but some of these people that we currently define as "beyond college age" because it would be impossible for them to pay for and attend college AND support their families AND work a job,...

            It wouldn't be "pretty much everyone" because most people are beyond college age and probably aren't going to go back to school.

            Right, but some of these people that we currently define as "beyond college age" because it would be impossible for them to pay for and attend college AND support their families AND work a job, would potentially be willing to go to school even in their 30s and 40s (and possibly even older folk) if it means they could improve their standard of living or if it was just something they had always wanted to do. It's important to note it still leaves people who are so poor that whether or not they attend (free) college would be a matter of time and not money.

            The lump sum approach would be useful for people absolutely, giving them a bit of a safety net as they enter a point in which they are expected to provide for themselves. Important to note that misses individuals who don't finish high school, presumably because they needed to start working to support themselves or their family.

            3 votes
    2. [10]
      NaraVara
      Link Parent
      Not really. It presumes the purpose of college is to train people up for management/supervisory positions which even a Masters degree will barely qualify you for these days. A...

      These are great observations (or inclusions, I suppose, in the case of the latter). The way the system is currently designed, some people have to be on the bottom. Manufacturing of poverty and all that. The examination of generational inequality and the way that is passed down is super insightful here as well. The most terrifying part of it is that I recognize that pattern in my parents and myself.

      Not really. It presumes the purpose of college is to train people up for management/supervisory positions which even a Masters degree will barely qualify you for these days. A non-technical/liberal arts education is there to teach you to be a better thinker, which is valuable for everyone regardless of what line of work you’re in. If anything we should be exploring ways to let general science, literature, and philosophy education get in the hands of everyone without the baggage of 4 year degree programs. But all anyone wants to fixate on is what you need to learn to be a better producing/consuming animal. This is the problem with the fixation on pure materialism that hardline Marxists have.

      3 votes
      1. [9]
        tempestoftruth
        Link Parent
        This isn't a problem with Marxist thought, this is a problem with capitalism, and specifically neoliberalism, which Marxism is analyzing. When every single aspect of society is being run using...

        But all anyone wants to fixate on is what you need to learn to be a better producing/consuming animal. This is the problem with the fixation on pure materialism that hardline Marxists have.

        This isn't a problem with Marxist thought, this is a problem with capitalism, and specifically neoliberalism, which Marxism is analyzing. When every single aspect of society is being run using market logic and all the things around us are being transformed into commodities, of course Marxists (and everyone else) are going to discuss how society is pressuring us to become better at producing and more desperate for consumption.

        3 votes
        1. [5]
          skybrian
          Link Parent
          We depend on the efficient production of both commonly available and many specialty goods for both our survival and much of what makes life enjoyable. It seems pretty important? We have a complex...

          We depend on the efficient production of both commonly available and many specialty goods for both our survival and much of what makes life enjoyable. It seems pretty important?

          We have a complex global supply chain that produces all sorts of stuff inexpensively and in large quantities. What we don't have is secure access to it for everyone.

          2 votes
          1. [4]
            tempestoftruth
            Link Parent
            Why are the commodities produced by the global supply chain so cheap? It's probably because the people who produce the commodities are not being paid a living wage. The environmental damage caused...

            Why are the commodities produced by the global supply chain so cheap? It's probably because the people who produce the commodities are not being paid a living wage. The environmental damage caused by such mass production is also not reflected in the price we pay at the store. Some people are necessarily excluded from the global supply chain because in order for the global supply chain to function, cheap labor is necessary and paying those people a reasonable wage would make the current system infeasible (rich CEOs are not willing to change the system to where they make less money in order to spread the wealth to their workers).

            I would also strongly question your claim that we "depend on the efficient production of both commonly available and many specialty goods for both our survival and much of what makes life enjoyable," or at least ask that individuals who share this belief to re-examine it in light of the way global production of commodities is carried out at the expense of the most vulnerable.

            Since most people ask me "what is the alternative" when I explain my position on the issue, I'll go ahead and talk a bit about that. I believe in self-sufficient communities that are capable of providing the vast majority of their sustenance by themselves. If production is local, you eliminate costs associated with CO2 emissions from transportation and the people can determine how things are produced and ensure no exploitative practices are going on. With regards to happiness, I think most people would be much happier living in one of these supportive and connected communities than they currently are now. In such a community, individuals would have a clear impact on the people around them and their work would be immediately meaningful, instilling a sense of responsibility and a life purpose which is more fulfilling than what most people are experiencing in late capitalism (or whatever you want to call it).

            2 votes
            1. [3]
              skybrian
              Link Parent
              It sounds like you might be underestimating the challenge of creating any separate, self-sufficient system? Even entire countries are not big enough to go it alone. They suffer if they are forced...

              It sounds like you might be underestimating the challenge of creating any separate, self-sufficient system? Even entire countries are not big enough to go it alone. They suffer if they are forced to stop trading and this is why trade embargoes are a threat.

              It's not that we have to produce food in the most efficient way possible (certainly we don't do that). It's that there are billions of people, many of whom live in cities, who all need food to live. Alternative food production schemes need to produce the same amount of food, preferably healthier, at the same scale, and without requiring a lot more land or a lot more labor.

              I don't know how you get from New York City or Los Angeles to a self-sufficient community, let alone Singapore or Hong Kong. I'm certain that all those city-dwellers don't want to become farmers.

              And that's just food. Assuming you think public transportation is good, where does the equipment come from? If you like having electricity, who builds the solar panels and wind turbines? If you like having computers, where do the microchips come from?

              Certainly there are a lot of improvements possible and all sorts of ways to make things more sustainable and more just. But unless you're willing to give up most technology, I don't see any alternative but to trade with people all over the Earth for all the stuff we can't make ourselves. There is essentially only one system, no outside, or not for very long anyway. It's possible to disconnect for a while, but eventually you need supplies.

              1. [2]
                tempestoftruth
                Link Parent
                So I'm not arguing that we eliminate global trade, what I'm saying is that we need to radically reorganize the way global trade is conducted in such a way that the downsides of the current system...

                So I'm not arguing that we eliminate global trade, what I'm saying is that we need to radically reorganize the way global trade is conducted in such a way that the downsides of the current system are eliminated while focusing on what global trade can offer every community.

                I mention agriculture because that's a really strong example of the current system's weakness. It's often cheaper for companies to produce a product in A and transport it to B using trucks, than it is to produce in B and sell it there. It would never be cheaper to do this, however, if the company had to pay for the emissions it produces when transporting from A to B. Food is an example of something most communities can simply make themselves, and where extra supplies are needed or products that only grow in certain areas are desired, then trade can fill that gap. That's what global trade should do, let us try things from other places in small, reasonable quantities, and help us make ends meet, as opposed to bringing us literal tons of commodities that either we don't buy or buy and then throw away, all while the people being made to produce those commodities get paid pennies on the hour.

                2 votes
                1. skybrian
                  Link Parent
                  Ok, that sounds better. However, I'm doubtful that transporting bulk commodities long distances is inherently bad for the environment? I haven't run the numbers but I suspect that using shipping...

                  Ok, that sounds better.

                  However, I'm doubtful that transporting bulk commodities long distances is inherently bad for the environment? I haven't run the numbers but I suspect that using shipping containers or other bulk shipping methods to move things thousands of miles by water would still be very cheap even with a carbon tax and better regulation of emissions. It's more when you get to the last 100 miles that things start getting somewhat more expensive, and local shipping wouldn't be eliminated by growing things locally.

                  More generally, I think we need a collective way to do math to figure out environmental and labor costs, and having prices for things is a way to do that. Many prices are wrong. But it seems like they could be made better by changing the rules?

        2. [3]
          NaraVara
          Link Parent
          Capitalism and Marxism are both high-modernist ideologies that are mired in positivist, naturalist, and materialist systems of values. Marx is explicit about this in his writings.

          This isn't a problem with Marxist thought, this is a problem with capitalism, and specifically neoliberalism, which Marxism is analyzing. When every single aspect of society is being run using market logic and all the things around us are being transformed into commodities, of course Marxists (and everyone else) are going to discuss how society is pressuring us to become better at producing and more desperate for consumption.

          Capitalism and Marxism are both high-modernist ideologies that are mired in positivist, naturalist, and materialist systems of values.

          Marx is explicit about this in his writings.

          1. [2]
            tempestoftruth
            Link Parent
            I don't really see where I contradicted this claim that you seem to be correcting me on?

            I don't really see where I contradicted this claim that you seem to be correcting me on?

            1 vote
            1. NaraVara
              Link Parent
              I said Marxism's fixation on purely materialist analysis is a weakness it has. You said this isn't a problem with Marxism, it's a problem with Capitalism. I said it's a problem with both.

              I said Marxism's fixation on purely materialist analysis is a weakness it has.

              You said this isn't a problem with Marxism, it's a problem with Capitalism.

              I said it's a problem with both.

    3. tea_and_cats_please
      Link Parent
      I know, right? Workplace democracy is so in Bernie's wheelhouse. See here, here. Seems to mesh quite nicely with the "strong labor movement" the author was calling for. I don't get it and it...

      I know, right? Workplace democracy is so in Bernie's wheelhouse. See here, here.

      Double union membership within Bernie’s first term.

      Seems to mesh quite nicely with the "strong labor movement" the author was calling for. I don't get it and it honestly turned me off the article at first. Still not getting it, although I did like the article. Like, how you got such a blindspot?

      2 votes
  2. skybrian
    Link
    From the article: [...] [...] [....]

    From the article:

    The center left and progressive left—or the postgraduates who control both sides in the party’s debate—have a similar answer to inequality. Higher taxes? Yes. More welfare? Yes. And what else?


    More college—a lot more college. What to do about lack of mobility? More college. What about competing in the global economy? More college.


    Or if a few have started to detect the class snobbery here and added community college, it’s still … well, it’s still in the hope that the upward-striving student population will go on to obtain a four-year college degree. And yes, I know; we are living increasingly in a knowledge- and data-driven economy, managed by credentialed and accomplished symbolic analysts. So to them it’s obvious: How can the answer not be education?


    [...]

    Imitate us. And that’s the center left: Further left, it gets worse. Bernie Sanders has a bill titled College for All. That’s all, as in “everyone.” I regret that even Elizabeth Warren has signed on to the same cause. She’s my ideal of a presidential candidate; I’ve even given money to her campaign. But like any smart liberal today, she is reflecting what so many highly educated Democrats think.


    In past years, I used to despair: Does anyone in the Democratic Party get it? Of late, I think a few in the leadership do. But does most of the party still not get it? This is a high school nation. Even now, after all the years of pumping up college education as the only way to survive, there’s still close to 70 percent of U.S. adults from age 25 and older—yes, living right now—who are without four-year college degrees. If a college education is the only way to survive in a global economy, then the party’s effective answer to anyone over 30 is: It’s too late for you. And of course, that message gets across.

    [...]

    It’s true that just under 70 percent of high school graduates now go on to college. But it’s also true that this is why we have so many dropouts, people who tried to imitate us and now carry so much shame and debt. It’s hard to think of a better way of creating a social explosion. 


    [....]

    So long as there is no agency in the workplace, education can only save a few: There is no collective salvation. That’s in part why nearly 70 percent of high school graduates start in college—and then so many start dropping out. To be sure, the forbidding expense of a four-year college education is a deal-breaker for many working-class students. In a broader sense, though, the high number of middle-to-working-class dropouts reflects a wisdom of crowds. Students not rigorously acculturated to succeed in college from the start of their educational lives soon see, quite rationally, that the whole college project was set up for them to drop out of—and they see further that this is a sign that the whole project is either dishonest or misconceived.


    5 votes
  3. [3]
    Leonidas
    Link
    This is a very interesting article, and I think it makes a lot of insightful points. I think it's also important to recognize other ways the possession of a degree has been used to shut people out...

    This is a very interesting article, and I think it makes a lot of insightful points. I think it's also important to recognize other ways the possession of a degree has been used to shut people out from opportunities--after outright racial discrimination became unacceptable, many companies simply filtered job applicants by their education level, knowing that as one ascends the hierarchy of the education system, its composition skews more and more white (and male). I think it is also important to note that Sanders' plan also includes making trade school free, so even if that aspect of the "Education for All" policy isn't pushed as much, it's still there and reflects a desire on some level to include more groups than just college-educated people. Sanders does have high working-class support, so maybe that's in spite of the emphasis on student debt and more due to other policies like Medicare for All, rather than due to any desire of tons more people to go to college.

    This is why I think it's fascinating to see the distinction between Warren and Sanders' rhetoric. Warren typically talks about "corruption" and how "she's got a plan for that," implying the system itself is fine and has just been temporarily subverted. Sanders, in contrast, often says the system itself is "rigged," and that temporary, limited reforms or simply electing one person will be enough to build a new one. Obviously there are more factors at play, but some people have interpreted that as reflective of the reasons Warren's base is largely college-educated white liberals, while Sanders' is more diverse, both class- and race-wise.

    The comparison to the Industrial Revolution was also insightful, and reminded me of something I read about the original Luddites: their opposition to machinery wasn't due to some superstitious fear of advancing technology, but rather the very real economic threat of their replacement by bigger, better textile mills with less manual labor involved. Similarly, you could argue that the opposition to outsourcing and the "global economy" is due less to xenophobia or opposition to the departure of manufacturing capacity from the U.S. on principle, and more the issue that it's not replacing those jobs with anything similar, leaving many people in the lurch and forced to try to adapt or go into poverty.

    The part about how different classes raise their children was also interesting to me because it echoed something I'd been learning about recently--"elaborated" and "restricted" codes of communication. Everyone in a society is exposed to the restricted code, which focuses on talking about shared experiences and reinforcing social bonds, while also emphasizing obedience to authority and being ordered to do something rather than given a reason. However, people with access to environments with better education learn in the elaborated code, which is based on communicating precisely, being objectively analytical and providing logical reasons to explain things. This isn't to say being limited to the restricted code makes you less smart (and I'm probably doing a poor job of explaining it regardless), but it's a very similar phenomenon which I noticed.

    4 votes
    1. [2]
      frostycakes
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I think that phenomenon is totally tied together. One issue that I've noticed through personal experience is that if your teachers/school think you're just going to be a grunt, then trying to work...

      I think that phenomenon is totally tied together. One issue that I've noticed through personal experience is that if your teachers/school think you're just going to be a grunt, then trying to work in the elaborated code is heavily punished vs. the people they feel are going to be those 'higher status' folks.

      Personal anecdote about restricted/elaborated codes in school incoming The example that immediately came to mind is an incident that happened in second grade for me. I was in a "gifted/talented" program that my school district, which was in what was at the time the wealthiest county in the US based on per capita income--basically the environment where you'd expect elaborated codes to be pushed more, no? And for some (if not most) of my cohort, that in fact was the case.

      Enter myself, a mixed-race (black/white) child (in the six years I was in this program, I was literally the only person with any black ancestry who was in it), the only one being raised by a single parent, and one of only two with diagnosed ADHD. There were innumerable times where my questions/line of thought were met with anger and punishment, while others in my class got similar questions answered, and similar actions left unpunished. (Worse was, when my mother was a chaperone for a field trip and called my teacher out for punishing me for actions she let slide on other children in the same group, they threatened to kick me out of the program!)

      The singular incident that sticks in my mind was a day when we were reading a story out of those Junior Great Books compilations and discussing it. (I think it was a Rudyard Kipling short story, fitting that we were nose deep in that imperialist asshole during this)

      One of the questions asked was what the currency of the UK was. In said story, the only currency references were shillings and pence. A classmate answers "pence" and told "No, not quite." I then put my hand up, get called on, and say "Shillings!", given that in context of the story itself, there was no mention of the pound.

      Do I get a "No, not quite?" Of course not. I get my teacher screaming at me, "[frostycakes frostycakes frostycakes] (she used my full first, middle, and last name like she was my mother calling me down for punishment), this isn't a guessing game! Stop wasting everyone's time if you don't know the answer!"

      I was taken aback, and, trying not to cry in front of my whole class, asked "But pence and shillings are the only money they talk about in the story!"

      Her reply? "Wrong answer AND you want to backtalk me? Go to your desk in the office then, if you want to be contrary."

      (Yes, I was sent to the in-school-suspension desk that faced a wall in the copy room of the office so often in second and third grade that they called it my desk. In fact, third grade I spent more time in there than I did in class!)

      The point of my long, rambling anecdote is that, since I was pigeonholed as only needing to know the "restricted" code at such a young age, my attempts as using the elaborated code were punished extra harshly (probably subconsciously on the part of my teachers and school admin, or at least so I hope) because, in my thinking, I was seen as trying to reach above my station.

      I know that racism played a hand in it all too (the most comical attempt was in fifth grade, when they tried to kick me out for poor academic performance when the lowest grade I had in any subject was a B, in math that was two years ahead of what I would have been studying in a standard grade level class-- there's zero explanation for that one that I can think of even to this day besides that), but I think even that ties into these codes-- the lower classes are only allowed to use the lower codes publicly, and that's drilled in from an early age on.

      Sadly, issues from this time are part of why I haven't been able to make myself go back to school to finish my degree, and make me worry about how I'd even get a non-"working class" job, but I digress. It's funny, since in my current working-class job as a produce manager, I get myself into the most trouble by being the one who can't fully limit himself to the restricted code with my superiors. I'm just grateful my store manager and regional department director aren't the type to get mad at that and have managed to act as a filter for it between myself and the people higher up than them.

      12 votes
      1. tempestoftruth
        Link Parent
        Man, that's a really shitty story. I'm sorry to hear it. I had absolutely awful teachers in elementary school who would do the same things, calling me out in particular for things everyone else...

        Man, that's a really shitty story. I'm sorry to hear it. I had absolutely awful teachers in elementary school who would do the same things, calling me out in particular for things everyone else was doing, always trying to get me in trouble with the administration, and so on. It was unbearable, and although it got better in middle and high school from the teachers themselves the administrators continued to be discriminatory whenever I had the displeasure of encountering them.

        7 votes