Brave New World

In comments there’s a discussion going on of the possibility of American society being bifurcated into one of patricians and plebeians. As suggested in my previous post I don’t think that’s inevitable but what concerns me is that I believe that for some people that’s the preferred outcome. I can’t help but wonder if the business, political, and other leaders of today, people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and, in many cases, the children of farmers, factory workers, and pushcart vendors realize that their choices are making our society increasingly hostile to the grandchildren of farmers, factory workers, and pushcart vendors?

This seems to me part and parcel of the “I’ll be gone; you’ll be gone” mentality. Decisions have consequences and those consequences may ripple outwards for decades or even centuries.

5 comments… add one
  • schaffman Link

    I remember arguing with friends in the late 70s that women entering the workforce en masse would inevitablely lead to the rise of an aristocracy in America. My argument was that because women are less inclined to “marry down” than men, higher incomes and social status would become more concentrated into families.

    I assumed in a automated society, where physical strength is less of an asset, that women would be as capable (or even more capable) that men in their chosen field, and would excel in at least comparable numbers. I also assumed that women would continue to want to marry men of equivalent or higher status (an idea that was not so obvious then). A high-powered female attorney is unlikely to marry a plumber, but her male counterpart may marry a nurse. This does not have to be true all of the time, only a general tendancy for it to be true more than not. To me, the inevitable result will be a general segregation and bleeding from the middle and upper-middle classes into a more two-tiered society of upper or lower classes.

    I’m not saying the solution is to go back to the old male-dominated workforce, but I think the consequences of gender equlity to our society have not been completely thought out.

  • Brett Link

    I suspect one flaw in the whole “bifurcated economy” idea is the implicit assumption that many of the low-paid, labor-intensive Service Economy positions will remain low-paid positions. If, as I think is likely, we have a labor force that’s contracting in overall size at the same time that there’s massive new demand for various medical services from the ballooning population of elderly, the assumption may not be the correct one.

    Which is not to say that I think people will be making a living working at Future McDonald’s as a cashier. Just that I think many of the low-paid positions of today, the ones that do non-routine work, may not stay as low-paid positions.

  • steve Link

    In the 20s we were heading towards a two tiered society, then the Depression hit. Laws were changed and we had a robust middle class. Now, we are again heading towards a two tiered society. Again, calamity ensues, but this time I see no evidence that the trend will be altered. Yes, yes, I know our economic position is much different now with globalization and all. A lot of middle class jobs are gone for good. Still, I think we should at least wonder if our economic policies are exacerbating this trend. I would also suggest that the wealthy are not just doing well because of their interaction with government, but also because they have learned to control the message in the media.

    Given your choice, in the US, would you rather control government or public opinion?


  • matt b Link

    Stepping aside from arguments as to whether the “middle class” is a historical anomaly, I think a part of the larger problem has been an ongoing association (at least among educators and may citizens) of higher education (or lack of manual labor) as a mark of guaranteed success or elite social standing.

    This in turn led to the idea that “everyone” *needs* a college level degree. Colleges grew to match those needs. And, then colleges fell in “love” with growing (as growth=success). The result (especially for non-endowed colleges) was the need to keep up (and growing class sizes) to support salary and infrastructure.

    The fact remains that crafts/trades people can out earn a lot of college grads and often have more stability in their jobs.

    When I was teaching in a college program (at a highly-ranked regional school) that often attracted more trade oriented students, I often ran into students who clearly *should not* have been in college (and were going into long term debt to be there). These were really good kids who were interested in doing “hand work” – jobs that required a certain level of mechanical inclination (or specialized tech skills that could easily be picked up in a community college or tech school program). They were usually unhappy in class (often disengaged — especially as I focused foremost on theory versus teaching a skill) and could suck the energy out of a room. When I talked with them outside of class, and learned about their interests, I would often encourage them to leave school (and the huge debt they were building up) and go to a vocational program. The biggest hurdle was typically their parents, who saw that type of a move as a “failure” and that their “kid wasn’t dumb” (seriously — I was told that by parents a number of times).

    Given the general lack of skilled, custom hand labor within the US (and the reducing return on College, due in part to having a lot of students in classes who *don’t* really want to be there), it’s my hope that this trend will reverse.

    My fear, however, is that no-one ever wants to shrink the size of their program. And that means far too many colleges will continue the fundamentally (in my opinion) unethical position of excepting more students than there will be jobs for in four years.

  • Icepick Link

    Bifurcation isn’t a possibility. It is a reality.

    I should note that Seminole County is probably the nicest county in Central Florida. It also has the second lowest UE rate locally, at 11.1% in January. Overall UE is at 11.9% in Florida. No doubt we all just have bad attitudes.

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