The Class System of the United States

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Class and Status

Class refers to one’s political and economic position, while status includes one’s cultural standing, or the esteem one’s culture has for them, which is affected by one’s class, but not wholly restricted by it. These are quite often correlated to some degree, such that “class status” may be useful, but this is not always the case. There are times when one’s status is elevated above one’s economic class, or when it falls below.

For instance, a greatly skilled artist from the lower class may find him or herself elevated in status when they find the favor of upper class spectators or otherwise come across wide support. On the other hand, if one goes against the norms or customs of the upper class, as by engaging in the wrong conspicuous consumption, or doing the “wrong” thing, they may fall in their status, without falling in their class.

Class relates to property, but status includes social esteem. Status is composed of the power and/or privilege of one’s class (relationship to property ownership), but also includes one’s level of prestige. Power is the ability to decide or make changes, to rule, while privilege is a granted opportunity (by power), and prestige is social esteem or influence. At times, elevated status, from high levels of prestige, allows one to transcend class boundaries.

In the United States there are three main classes, with some subdivision.

The upper class includes people who own private property or are executives of corporate property and make idle income from that. The middle class owns personal property and make an active income. The lower class is the working poor, who rent property and actively work, but who do not make much money. The lower and middle classes together compose the working class.

Upper

The upper class includes private and corporate lenders, landlords, and employers. Typically, corporations or limited liability companies will dominate over private owners in their class status, but there is a significant overlap in some cases. Similarly, lenders will often be of a higher status than landlords who may be indebted to them, who themselves often rent their property to business owners, giving them a higher class status. This is especially true within private or corporate ownership, but not between them. For instance, a private landlord will often derive an income from the business it rents to that is higher than the income of the private business owner. However, a private landlord renting to a corporation or LLC may make less than that business. Oftentimes, corporations will buy from private landlords. But there are many times that corporations or LLCs will rent from real estate corporations or LLCs. There is also, again, significant overlap.

This class may work, but it usually does not have to in order to make a living. It owns property that makes money for it.

The upper class is also the political or ruling class. This owning class makes all of the executive decisions in the economy that are not delegated to the state. The state is the board of directors for this class, and acts exclusively in its interests, though it appears to involve everyone. Only members of the ruling class are strongly considered for nomination and election by the owning members of society.

Within the ruling class there is an elite that has the most power of persuasion and control. This elite is composed not only of the wealthiest among this class, but also its most respected intellectuals. The elite compose the leadership of the ruling class. They are not in unison, however, but factional, split along philosophical differences, ethnicity, etc. Elites between nations intermingle and work together, as well as oppose one another. Ruling classes often support one another in a similar fashion.

Middle

The middle class includes professionals, small business owners, middle management, some government officials, and people who generally own their own property without making a living on idle income from it, but must work to make ends meet.

The middle class can be divided into three main subclasses, upper, middle, and lower middle.

The upper-middle class is composed of the middle class elites. This includes lawyers, doctors, and other high-level professionals, sometimes including private practitioners with employed assistance, who nonetheless must work for their income, because they do not own large enough amounts of property to make passive income from it. Also included are highly successful owner-operators, artisans, and so forth, who sometimes require paid assistance, but nonetheless must work for a living. This class may be debt-free.

At times this upper-middle subclass can transcend into the ruling class, by serving its members dutifully. For instance, family doctors of ruling class families or corporate lawyers or professors of Ivy League colleges may make enough income to invest in property to make an idle income with. Some doctors become employers to others. However, it’s always easier to move down, rather than up, the class ladder.

This class also takes a more active interest in politics than the rest of the middle class, and even has some influence.

The middle-middle class includes nurses, teachers, community college instructors, mid-management, skilled laborers, successful owner-operated businesses that do not require paid assistance, and others who have mild success, but who are not as well-off or well-positioned as the upper-middle class. This class is often indebted, but has hopes of paying their loans off.

The lower-middle class includes people who may own their own property or run their own business or have a professional job, but who may nonetheless have a hard time getting by. This includes lower-management, struggling family farmers, struggling business owners, home-owners struggling with mortgage and interest, and others who are just barely out of the standard wage-labor market.

Most of the middle class is apolitical or politically inactive.

Lower

The lower class includes everyone who does not own or manage property, but who rent their places of living from landlords and seek employment from others– such as service workers, factory workers, farmhands, unskilled government workers, and so on– or who are otherwise unemployed or on welfare. These individuals must follow orders and take commands, and receive very little income for it, and/or lack opportunity for employment or are stuck in welfare traps. Saving comes very hard for these folks.

The lower class is easiest split into two upper and lower subclasses: Those who are stably employed, and those who are not.

The majority of the income of the upper class results from the unpaid labor of the working poor, including those stuck in the prison-industrial complex of slave production.

This class is typically apolitical, and tacitly aware that they can’t affect politics.

Overlap and Mixed Class

Between the classes there can be significant overlap in income, lifestyle, and status. The upper middle class may at times approach the wealth of the lower-upper class, and the lower-middle class may at times be worse off than some of the upper-lower classes, for instance.

A person may have a mixed class disposition. For instance, one may be middle class, in that they own their home and are not a tenant or landlord, while being an employer and so upper class, or an employee and so lower class. A person may have gotten lucky and enter the upper class as New Money, in which case there may be a clash with Old Money. Or they may lose their class status and become déclassé. This may not all happen at once, but will involve a transition in which people have mixed class statuses. In these instances, individuals will tend to self-identify with their highest status, while others will identify them by their lowest.

Generally, people identify and associate with members of their own class, but there are times when this is not a hard rule, particularly when it comes to consumption habits, ideology, blood relation, or cultural preferences that may be held in common. These different preferences lead to tribes or subcultures and their elites.

Special Cases

There are some special cases or situations worth noting.

Criminals often but not always come from the lumpenproletariat, or the lowest of the low classes. Whichever class they come from, a successful criminal can bring themselves out of poverty. Some have been successful enough to join the ruling class. For some, crime represents a class unto itself, which forms a ladder of upward mobility. But for many others, the risk of getting caught outweighs the benefits of upward mobility. Criminals can include the poorest of pick-pockets to the richest of drug-lords.

Even when a criminal is successful, however, he or she represents something of an untouchable, and must often remain hidden from the public eye while in practice. This is less true if one is committing white collar crimes, in which case one’s crimes are largely hidden away. Like the common criminal, white collar criminals may use crime to advance their status.

The military is something of a class system unto itself, in particular a system of regimentation. Everyone is ranked, and there is a clear distinction between officers and non-officers. Officers come from the upper and upper-middle classes, who can afford military college, or who are nominated to such schools as at Westpoint. A middle class individual with an unrelated degree may find themselves a special niche in the division of labor, or may more quickly become a sergeant or corporal, but most others join in (or are drafted) as commonly enlisted military personnel of some sort or another. There is limited potential for upward mobility, but it does occur.

The police force often employ people with a middle class standard of living. These individuals are a special case of the middle class, however, as their loyalties lie with the rulers. This is because the police force is largely composed of members who would otherwise be lower in status if the ruling class weren’t in their position of power, and because their ideology is intrinsically tied to that of the ruling class’s. Some sell out on their ethics to be where they are at, while others have low ethical standards. There are many instances of police officers engaging in criminal activity, like drug trafficking or illegal arms dealing.

Federal agents, career politicians, and important executives of corporate think tanks, government departments, and so on, are in a very similar position to the police, but represent a higher, upper class level, and are semi-loyal to their upper class peers, and particularly the elite, who they are reluctantly accountable to.

In some cases, managerial and technical and innovative positions in a society can– like the success of criminals, or moving up in rank in military regimentation– represent a means of upward mobility between the classes. This is especially true within corporations that employ a wide sampling of the classes, as a ladder is available in such situations, which may be able to be moved up. It can also be true when one’s achievements raise the demand for the individual and make them a hot item for employment by many competing employers. In some cases, governments and multinational corporations may compete for certain skilled individuals. This can raise an individual from the middle class and into a position within the ruling class, or even the elite.

Rural and urban populations will experience their class situations differently. For instance, a lower-middle class rural person may typically own more property than an upper-lower class individual, but their incomes may match, or may even be higher for the lower class urban individual. This can be because middle class rural folks experience more déclassé pressures, while there may be more opportunity in the city for upward mobility. Another reason is that urban centers involve closer quarters, and so low standards of living become a more public concern.

Class, Tribe, and Conspicuous Consumption

While individuals belong to and usually associate within their particular class or classes, they do the same within tribes or subcultures. Where there is interaction between the classes, it most often occurs within these tribes or subcultures. In cases in which tribes or subcultures appeal to members of every class, they may offer an opportunity to increase one’s opportunity of upward mobility, through appeals to the elites among the tribe.

Tribes may be religious or secular, ethnic or cosmopolitan, ideological or not. They may be centered around religion, politics, ethnicity, race, sex, artistic or cultural expression, sexuality, hobbies, or any number of interests that people find in common.

Tribes are often identified and the classes reinforced through their conspicuous consumption. People use their consumption habits as symbolic of their status as well as their tribe of choice. For instance, metalheads and gangster rappers distinguish themselves by their choice of music and manner of dress and habits of speech and so on, and so belong to different tribes or subcultures. But within each of these, class shows itself by the quality and quantity of the tribe-related items purchased and displayed by each member. There are upper (New Money), middle, and lower class metalheads and gangster rappers. A subculture like anarcho-punk or skinhead, on the other hand, may roughly limit– either tacitly, as with punk; or explicitly, as with skinhead–, its participation to working class or déclassé members; while the yuppie or “prep” subcultures will limit its numbers to the upper and perhaps some upper-middle class elements.

The class system of the larger society permeates every tribe that does not restrict its membership in regard to class participation. For instance, the atheist and Christian subcultures usually include members from across the class spectrum, but who hold different religious or non-religious views. Within these groups, however, the class system still applies. Each will tend, once established, to be led by members of the upper-middle or upper classes. While members of the ruling class may hold to different ideologies, they often maintain a class affinity regardless, and may affirm the right of their opponent’s direction from the top, downward. This is because, at the end of the day, each is ruling class, and benefits from the more abstract system of hierarchy and stratification. Without this system, neither would be the upper class of their tribe, and so they both have a mutual stake in preserving that system.

There have been some groups categorized as a “classless class,” “Class X,” and so forth. These often refer to tribes of mixed class which are composed of members who do not necessarily identify with the disposition of their class of origin, and which offer a wide range of opportunities or affinities with or for people of like mind, despite their class origins. “Classes” of this sort, which tend to be intellectually open, can establish themselves as societal pivot-places and mechanisms for power-transition. For instance, “Class X” represents disaffected (not to be confused with déclassé) members of the middle and sometimes upper classes, as well as enlightened members of the upper-lower class, who comingle and dislike the confines of class. As a united force Class X has had a political impact which has raised their standards of living. Similarly, the “Bobos” or “bohemian bourgeois” have, with organized Zionism and other forces, displaced some of the power of the old WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) elite. This represents the strength of liberal-progressive and social democratic appeals to the working class. “Classes” like the Bobos and Class X have conspicuous consumption habits of their own, and may be dressed down or up for their class origins.

Some sociologists have begun to factor social capital into the class equation. In Britain, new “classes” have arisen which have a lot of wealth in social capital, while remaining nominally poor.

Caste, Class, and Identity

Some like to include race, ethnicity, sex, etc. into the class dynamic. These factors have much to do with one’s opportunities in life, as they often affect one’s potential to be profiled by authorities or discriminated against by employers, etc. Affirmative action imperfectly addresses these problems and causes problems of its own, like resentment.

It’s important to understand that the chattel slavery of black Africans and the subjugation of women was not an element of the modern class system, but of a caste system. This same caste system once included white make serfs and peasants.

Caste systems are different from, or a specific variant of, class systems in that caste systems are more rigid than the typical class system of modern times, and offers far less social mobility. Whereas one has some possibility of rising up in class status, one has little to no possibility of rising up in caste status.

The subjugation of women and the slavery of blacks was a caste, not a class, relationship. This relationship was upheld by laws which did not allow black slaves or women to own property, and which segregated the population.

Today, in the United States, we lack social castes, but the history of castes influences one’s class status. For instance, because blacks and women come from a history of caste subjugation, they lack a history of inheritance. This affects blacks today more than women, because women come from the same families as men, and so white women are now beginning to gain substantial inheritance from their fathers, like their brothers do. Black women, like black men, often lack a history of family wealth. Old prejudices also continue to exist, and do lead to discrimination.

While it is true that race can lead to discrimination, upward mobility can and does occur, and the mobility between the status common to one’s race is today demonstrably more frequent than that between the classes. Absent the caste system, class is a much larger factor than race is. Race happens to mostly be a coincidental factor of class. It just so happens that most people’s class status is inherited in some form from one’s father (patriarchy), and most blacks and many latinos lack a history of family wealth. Many blacks, latinos, and some whites are forced into welfare programs or are given government jobs. Discrimination is not near as much of a problem for people of color as their class status, which puts them in a position to be discriminated against.

Ethnicity, like race, can lead to discrimination and alliances, and may correlate loosely with class. One common example is that of white supremacy, a little less common is of Jewish supremacy and Zionism. These individuals on both sides will often both be white caucasians, such as Anglo-Europeans and Ashkenazi Jews, and so of the same race, but will come from different religions (Christianity or neo-paganism and Judaism) and ethnic backgrounds (Indo-European and Semitic).

Sex and gender-roles can cause faction, as can sexuality. Feminism and masculism in various waves, opinions about gender and the family structure, and sexual preferences are all issues of alliance and opposition among some. Gender in classical and modern societies, until recently, was a role very much like a caste, which was applied based on sex. This has only recently not been the case, and so, like blacks, women have not historically benefited from the inheritance of family wealth, due to the system of patriarchy, in which wealth and status is passed down through the father. This is today more the case with businesses than it is with other forms of wealth, and women are gaining status, by inheritance opening up to them and through affirmative action for women.

Religious and political party affiliations make up some of the most well-established of the tribal identities. Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, and Republicans represent the political mainstream, while Christian denominations, Jewish synagogues, fraternities, and secular groups represent the religious divide. Typically, but not always, elites of the Democrats and Greens and of poorer churches and synagogues, and from secular groups, will be upper-middle to lower-upper class, and will have a mostly passive lay following from the middle to upper-lower class. Elites of the Republicans and Libertarians, and of wealthier churches and synagogues and fraternities, will be more upper class.

Some ideologies and tribes are exclusively reserved for ruling classes or elites. These include those of esoteric religions and secret societies, which are often informed by the perennial philosophy. Such ideologies focus on the commonality between elites of different backgrounds. The divisive exoteric ideologies, including religious or church denominations and political parties, are typically approached in a disattached fashion on behalf of ruling class elites, who may favor one over another, but who especially favor their elite status and esoteric ideology. Thus, elites will often enforce one another’s power, to the expense of their own tribal following.

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