Romney gets it right!

February 4, 2012

Well, sort of.  I was pleased to read this recent statement by the great white hope of the Republicans, my emphasis:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America — the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

As Charles M. Blow of the Times notes, he went on to say that his campaign was focused on “middle-income Americans” and that “we have a very ample safety net” for the poor.

Wow!  Confirmation from the lead Republican candidate for my historical-sociological analysis of the American way of ‘middle-class!’  Maybe Romney is reading my blog!

See this post:  Who Rules America?

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Newlyweds

January 6, 2010

 

Life in the 17th century royal courts was a highly regimented affair.  The ruling class had a lot of rules to play by!  No, not a free and easy existence.

Here’s a snippet from the memoirs of Saint-Simon about the marriage night of Phillip V of Spain, Louis XIV’s grandson.  He left France to take the Spanish throne, precipitating the lengthy Wars of the Spanish Succession – Blenheim being a glorious victory for Louis’ opponents, led by Winston Churchill’s ancestor – and searched about for a bride.  He was about 18 – he found a suitable Savoyard duchess.  She was 13.  I have added some italics.

After a long and disagreeable supper, the King and Queen withdrew. Then feelings which had been kept in during supper overflowed. The Queen wept for her Piedmontese women. Like a child, as she was, she thought herself lost in the hands of ladies so insolent; and when it was time to go to bed, she said flatly that she would not go, and that she wished to return home. Everything was done to console her; but the astonishment and embarrassment were great indeed when it was found that all was of no avail. The King had undressed, and was awaiting her. Madame des Ursins was at length obliged to go and tell him the resolution the Queen had taken. He was piqued and annoyed. He had until that time lived with the completest regularity; which had contributed to make him find the Princess more to his taste than he might otherwise have done. He was therefore affected by her ‘fantaisie’, and by the same reason easily persuaded that she would not keep to it beyond the first night. They did not see each other therefore until the morrow, and after they were dressed. It was lucky that by the Spanish custom no one was permitted to be present when the newly-married pair went to bed; or this affair, which went no further than the young couple, Madame des Ursins, and one or two domestics, might have made a very unpleasant noise.  [Unlike the French custom, which was to have witnesses present in the room as the newlyweds ‘enjoyed’ their first sexual intimacy, and the consummation of their marriage.  After all, the father of the heir must not be in doubt!]

Madame des Ursins consulted with two of the courtiers, as to the best measures to be adopted with a child who showed so much force and resolution. The night was passed in exhortations and in promises upon what had occurred at the supper; and the Queen consented at last to remain Queen. The Duke of Medina-Sidonia and Count San Estevan were consulted on the morrow. They were of opinion that in his turn the King, in order to mortify her and reduce her to terms, should not visit the Queen on the following night. This opinion was acted upon. The King and Queen did not see each other in private that day. In the evening the Queen was very sorry. Her pride and her little vanity were wounded; perhaps also she had found the King to her taste.

The ladies and the grand seigneurs who had attended at the supper were lectured for what had occurred there. Excuses, promises, demands for pardon, followed; all was put right; the third day was tranquil, and the third night still more agreeable to the young people. On the fourth day they went to Barcelona, where only fetes and pleasures awaited them. Soon after they set out for Madrid.


Schadenfreude Anyone?

March 21, 2008

schadenfreude.jpg

It’s hard to restrain oneself from chuckling with glee at the ci devant masters of the universe at Bear Stearns as they contemplate their fortunes turned to dust in the twinkling of an eye. Surely the ghost of J. P. Morgan is heaving his paunch and laughing heartily somewhere, up there? down below? jpmorgan.jpg Still, at the banking firm of Bear Stearns – should we just call it BS? – where the culture was to buy the stock of the padrone, quite a few of very ordinary folks will go down with the ship. Secretaries, mail-room workers, lower level admin and research staff, etc. In terms of percent of the people affected, they will be the majority, and they are royally screwed.

In a crisis, they say, you see what people are made of, and so too, a system. Without trust, there can be no business, and trust is dwindling a bit these days. “Come to think of it, just how were those people making all that money?” Why, when you examine the entire business, it does seem a little like a shell game, a Ponzi scheme, don’t it?

It’s all fine as long as the stock is going up. If you aren’t getting rich, it’s your fault, your genes, your backbone, your sorry moral state. The elect and the masters are chosen by The Market, and the words of the Lord are written in the annual reports (doctored, it’s true, but every deity needs an interpretor, a prophet). Now, once again, we hear the words of Captain Renault from the film, Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

Oh well, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead and socialize the risk, privatize the profits! See the recent NY Times editorial on this that sums it up well.

Meanwhile, consider this snippet from a day or so ago in an article about the collapse of Bear:

“In this room are people who have built this firm and lost a lot, our fortunes,” one Bear executive said to Mr. Dimon with anger in his voice. “What will you do to make us whole?”

Why the hell should anyone care about making this troglodyte “whole?”


Who Rules? America’s Ruling Class

August 26, 2006

Here in America, the ‘C’ word is taboo: CLASS! We have no ruling class, and we have no classes, except for the middle-class, which includes just about everyone except for Bill Gates and the few homeless people still left. This fuzzy way of thinking about society obscures the facts, and is partly an example of what right-wing Republicans like to use to explain why working-poor people will vote for a party that advances policies that are really in the interest of a tiny, wealthy minority: voting their “aspirations.” Well, here’s to hope!

Now, I’m not arguing for a Marxist concept of rulers-proletarians and all that, but the fact is, every society of any complexity has a ruling elite, and whether or not they constitute a social class, well that’s a knotty problem for sociologists to argue over. Was the Soviet upper crust a “class” rather than a ruling clique? Maybe, but here in the USA, we have what looks like a pretty tried and true ruling class.

Having a ruling class does have its advantages. After all, somebody has to run things, or at least provide cultural continuity.  (Some call this ideology).  I am more concerned with whether the ruling elite are “sensible”, open to some change, and comprise factions, of which one might be a liberal, compromising group. That way, the ruling class can allow new members once in a while, change with the times, give up privilege at times, and generally allow society to evolve instead of lurching along with violent rebellions when people get fed up with being treated like cattle. I guess that’s the Edmund Burke concept of a ruling class. So even though things can be relatively democractic, there is still a group in charge, if only because they have so much money, time on their hands to do all the politicking, they all know each other, and they’ve been running things for a long time. (A few hundred familes in the USA control more than 40% of the national wealth.) Because, as everyone knows, the easiest and most common way to be a member of this class is to be born into it.

American’s notions of middle class are woefully at odds with the facts now, and in the past. We all think about ancient society as being structured like a pyramid: pharaoh on top, then some priests and scribes, and then a lot of poor jerks who do the heavy lifting of schlepping stones, tending fields, herding goats and the like.  Most people are way below the pinnacle, which includes only a tiny population of the privileged ruling elite.

A more recent incarnation of the social pyramid is the way it’s used to describe feudal society, or the ancien regime before the French Revolution: King at top; some nobles and priests; then the peasant mass. Enter the middle class – the thrifty shopkeepers, tradesmen, and craftsmen, merchant princes etc. who occupy the sliver of society between the king/noble/priests and the peasant mass. They were called the middle class because they were in the middle between those two groups, but they too were a tiny portion of society. Nowadays, we have a bizarre notion of that class.

Today, in America at least, we have the bell-curve view of social structure. We have the ruling elite way off at the right hand side of the income distribution curve, and we have the really miserably poor way down on the left, but most people are in the middle, the middle class! The basic error is to associate the term middle-class with the notion of “average” or “typical”. Thus, the fat center of the bell-curve is seen by many as the habitat of the American middle-class. I would argue that our society is still pretty much the pyramid as in ancient days: we have the ruling elite, however democratically constrained they may be; and we have the poor and the working poor, and the working-class (which no one thinks exists anymore because all of its members are now, or think they are middle-class); then we have the real middle class, just where it always is, a thin sliver of privilege in between the elite and the rest of the mass.

income101d.png

Instead of looking at a bell-curve distribution, we should look at a cumulative distribution curve, which would look something like the one above. The bottom axis is income, lowest to the left, highest to the right. Almost nobody has an income of zero, so that’s where the graph starts. About half way up the left hand axis, percent of USA population, we have a pretty low income, about $45,000 for a family of four. Half of the households have a lower income, half have a higher one. Way off at the right, we see a household income of $200,000; about 95% of the households in America make less than that. And waaaay off to the right, off the chart, are the super high incomes, including Bill Gates, and nearly everyone makes less than that! These numbers are rough, but the distribution curve is true. And the middle class is right where it always has been; a sliver off to the right of nearly everyone else on the income curve, but to the left, lower than, the really rich people in the society.

American middle-class people don’t like this notion because they protest that “we’re not rich!” And they are not, compared to the upper crust, but compared to the rest of the USA? the rest of the world? definitely! The median income for a household in the USA (3.5 people) is about $45,000, so a lawyer, accountant, engineer, etc. even if married with child is going to be well above that level most likely soon, if not right out of school. So that’s more money than half of the rest of the USA – and how is that other half living?! Well, wealth is all relative to something, right? People feel poor just because they can’t jet to Europe whenever the urge takes them, and then complain about people living ‘well’ on welfare. I’d like to see them try it.

So, middle-class America, the real one, I mean, the professionals, the white collar drones and entrepreneurs making $50K, $70K, $100K a year or more for your household – all you dual income familes with gross annual incomes over $120K a year, stop your complaining! You may not be in the ruling elite, but you have a pretty cushy existence. Would you like to be below the median? And all you folks who aspire to a “middle-class” lifestyle on a barely or lower-than-middle-class income and educational level- stop fooling yourselves. You’re on the bottom of the food chain so you should vote and think accordingly.