In recent musings about Las Vegas, I called myself bourgeois. Refresher: according to Karl Marx, the bourgeoisie are the capitalist class, prone to consumerism — also often associated with snobbery and intellectual affectations. Think New Yorker readers.
I bring this up because commenter gaikokumaniakku said, “There are a lot of folks who thought they were bourgeois, and then they woke up one morning to another rejected job prospect and realized that they were lower-class.” I agree with Scott Alexander that class does not solely hinge on money, but the point is a good one.
gaikokumaniakku also asked what I think of the term “precariat”, which is a play on “proletariat” (opposite of the bourgeoisie). The precariat are people without financial reserves or job security. Macmillan Dictionary’s BuzzWord blog published this in 2011:
“New, international labour markets, significantly expanding the available workforce, have weakened the position of workers and strengthened the position of employers. Increasingly, workers are in jobs which are part-time and/or temporary, have unpredictable hours, low wages and few benefits such as holiday or sick pay. This means that employers can follow what demand dictates and simply [fire people] if work is not available, and are also not obliged to pay anyone that isn’t actually working.”
I find it plausible that globalization is a big part of this. That’s been an ongoing trend: jobs once located in [country where labor is expensive] disappear offshore to [country where labor is cheap]. Workers don’t have the same freedom of movement that employers do, so they can’t easily respond to market changes. Larger companies especially, which rely on many people’s labor, can shift operations to wherever costs the least.
Demonstrators in New York City during the 1913 May Day parade. Signs feature Yiddish, Italian, and English. Photo via Library of Congress.
Priest and professor Giles Fraser wrote a Guardian editorial on this very topic:
“In this era of advanced globalisation, we believe in free trade, in the free movement of goods, but not in the free movement of labour. We think it outrageous that the Chinese block Google, believing it to be everyone’s right to roam free digitally. We celebrate organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières for their compassionate universalism. But for all this talk of freedom from restriction, we still pen poor people into reservations of poverty. […] At present, globalisation is a luxury of the rich, for those of us who can swan about the globe with the flick of a boarding pass. The so-called ‘migrant crisis’ is globalisation for the poor.”
The other macro factor that might be creating (and provoking) the precariat is technological unemployment. The machines are taking our jobs!!!!! Ahhhhh!!!!! My guess is that we’ll adjust to new levels of productivity, like we did after the Industrial Revolution, but the transition phase will be very painful. (I basically stole this theory from Ben Thompson.)
Beyond that, I don’t have any particular insights. If you do, hit reply and let me know?