(links and images still need to prettify’d, but the text is set)
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Oscar Wilde https://www.flickr.com/photos/aarika/ Nastassia Davis Classless One of the most seductive descriptions of our society is that it is without class structure. This characteristic goes back to the settling of the eastern seaboard and the founding of the country. It is a story that is easily fashioned from the derelicts and outcasts who willfully, and not so willfully, set out for this land and in express counter position to the epitome of class distinctions, the British we broke away from. This fanciful narrative is underscored by the remarkable rise to power, prominence, and influence of so many poor and unfortunates. Most of these were faceless, some highlighted our national narrative with their names.
Though without royal titles our society has a class structure and hierarchy as clear as any other. The true items that demarcate it are power and money. Tied to these are the opportunities and access the people in different classes have available to them. On a small group or family level the best way of ensuring advantages to date is to pass along an inheritance. Money and property are a clear option but just as valuable, especially as the generations extend onward, is the capability to use these resources and pass them along yet again. Passing along capabilities is certainly not as easy or transferable as physical objects (https://faculty.washington.edu/easmith/Bowles,Smith,Borgerhoff_Mulder_2010-CA-Intro.pdf) . Education is one clear way. By providing the groundwork for knowledge and mixing our children with others of like minded aspirations we push forward their social net, bonds, and advantages.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=189840 Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons We can see class all around us and its markers are clear even to the uninitiated. Your class is marked out by your accent, job, college degree, where you live, what car you drive, and the views you hold. Your class is on display in the trips you take, the schools you send your children to, the friends you have, and the restaurants you frequent. Class is marked out by the clubs joined, the business opportunities available, and the likelihood of doing jail time when breaking the law.
We do speak of class, or at least invoke the name, when we discuss the different economic levels in our society. The three common types are upper, middle, and lower though what each means is as unique as those using the labels. There is a sort of bizarro Lake Wobegon phenomenon where most people believe they are middle-class (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/08/why-americans-all-believe-they-are-middle-class/278240/) , though making some fine gradations as if they were stating their steak preferences: upper middle, middle middle, upper lower middle-class. Whether out of pride, aspiration, modesty, or sense of jealousy at others doing better, a majority see themselves along the spectrum of “middle-class“.
There are several ways to consider what it might mean to be middle-class: property, education, salary, net worth (or lack there of), all contrasted against place of residence and other citizens. The median household income of $51K is a good place to start. Should we throw a standard deviation on either side of this marker we might have a first approximation of what we have in mind. Alternatively, if we look at what people expect to have as part of the American dream, nothing extravagant by previous generations’ standards, we can call out the time honored home, family car, and two children with or without private schooling. Asking what this would require may also provide a number to suggest middle class and its attainability, or lack thereof (it would take an yearly income of $130k to attain the American dream (https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/07/04/american-dream/11122015/) ).
Your income, net worth, and education taken together can provide a very good gauge on where you fall. Fall is a good word because over the last few decades we have seen a decline in upper mobility (https://psmag.com/news/economic-mobility-is-fading-and-so-is-the-american-dream) against both our own past and present countries (if you still want the American Dream you may have to move to Denmark (http://cphpost.dk/news/living-the-perfect-american-dream-in-denmark.html) ). It is now far more unlikely for someone from the bottom fifth to make it into the top fifth. Instead of a rearrangement of chairs we are seeing an expanding split. The thought that we would expedite this divergence by changes to our taxes, especially the estate tax, something that only comes into consideration for net worth’s above $5.49 million/person (2017) and impacts just 2 out of 1,000 estates (https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-tax/ten-facts-you-should-know-about-the-federal-estate-tax) , is lunacy.
Getting American Style Played Familiar uses of the word: play a game, play a sport, play an instrument, play a role, and play someone for a fool. Each of these helps shed light on what goes into playing someone, especially the latter, which is effectively a substitute statement. The others stress different aspects of the act of play, together helping to triangulate the overall meaning and nuances of getting played. With respect to a game we have rules to regulate the action and goals to motivate strategies and tactics. Sport is an exemplar in this respect. While not deterministic, the rules, goals, skill level and knowledge of the participants offer a range of behavior and probabilities for each. If I do this, you do that. You may do a third thing, but it is less likely, more risky, or something too difficult to pull off. Action, reaction, and through a dance of the physical dialectic we get to a resolution by way of passing different states, each linked together and likely to occur from the one before and influence its successor states.
When someone gets played they are unwittingly placed into a roll from which another can extract certain goods and behaviors based on different levers and influence. We have the dreaded use of others as means to an end, but do not get Manny* all wound up just yet. It is just a passing comment. Knowledge always plays a role in attempts of using another. Most notably the player holding onto knowledge the played one does not have.
This knowledge asymmetry becomes increasingly more difficult to create or retain against a worthy adversary. With two people of equal expertise you still have disagreements and different preferences, biases, and personal histories that inform their judgment but some/much of this may be mitigated by the body of knowledge available. All people, smart and stupid alike, fall for cons but they are susceptible to different hazards as a result of their intelligence. Yet we all know who the easier marks are (act accordingly (https://youtu.be/GVBdb_NjO9A) ).
Big-league tax dodging (Oxfam) George Santayana has a famous line, quoted so often most people do not know the source or context, about those who do not learn from history being doomed to repeat it. The crux of his meaning is predictably in the part that gets overlooked, the portion about being left in a state of childhood for not holding onto things and failing to learn.
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience” (The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. Scribner’s, 1905: 284).
A child is defenseless, powerless, vulnerable, but full of promise. We protect, teach, and train our children so that they can act with autonomy and agency in the world. Knowledge and education is a big part of equipping them to move effectively in the world.
What we see happening in our society on a broader scale is the deterioration of our educational institutions. There are the self sorting patterns of housing and schools (https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/economists/chakrabarti/MIsortingJPubERR2.pdf) , the rising tuition of public universities (https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2017-09-20/see-20-years-of-tuition-growth-at-national-universities) and private (despite record endowments (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colleges_and_universities_in_the_United_States_by_endowment) ), while at the same time defunding these same public institutions (https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/funding-down-tuition-up) . Far too often we stay glued to the short-term interest, chasing next quarter‘s returns, producing derivative goods and services, meanwhile the government has the ability, backed by our money, interest, and wishes to take chances and explore different avenues of research. Alas, that too is being hollowed out (http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/what-s-trump-s-2018-budget-request-science) .
Similarly to infrastructure, at a time when the world is looking to US bonds for security and borrowing is cheap. At a time when we can use our (relative) good standing to take on significant and bold projects that will reinforce and perhaps increase our opportunities we are pulling back, entrenching ourselves, holding on to what we have, afraid to lose anything, not being honest and courageous enough to admit that staying put is also a form of theft. We are far too short sighted or at least we behave as if we are and will inexorably pay the cost for our timidity. How about a relief package for the student loan debt (https://www.newyorkfed.org/newsevents/news/research/2017/rp170216) instead of predatory and illegal banking practices (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-citi-mortgages-fine/citigroup-fined-28-8-million-for-harm-to-home-borrowers-idUSKBN1572I0) ? How about reinvesting in our public universities? How about doubling down on research?
No one wants dummies for children but that is what we are allowing to happen. We are shamefully failing in our responsibility to provide them the proper education. Personal income is expected to fall in coming decades as a result of declining graduation rates (http://www.highereducation.org/reports/pa_decline/pa_decline.pdf) , at both high schools and colleges. We can be near certain that one follows the other from data on lifetime income (https://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2011/collegepayoff.pdf) and unemployment rates by degree (https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/unemployment-rate-2-point-5-percent-for-college-grads-7-point-7-percent-for-high-school-dropouts-january-2017.htm) .
The elites are looking out for themselves, entrenched in extractive practices. They too are products of compounded failures. Failure to think inclusively, creatively, daringly, and to make a true impact, thereby leaving a legacy worth celebrating. Instead, they are cheap reflections of previous thieves who accumulate all they can now, divest it into narrow trusts, and eventually get a building named after them. They too play themselves by squandering their opportunity.
https://youtu.be/G787_r_y6GU rock a block rocafella