Friday 12 April 2013

Why class really isn't about money

We may not think about class much these days, but the Today programme obviously does - returning to the theme yet again this morning (0855), and enjoying the thought that George Orwell identified himself as "lower upper middle class".

It is conventional to say, as Juliet Gardiner did this morning, that we are confused about class.  I'm not sure we are, but the BBC is: it seems to think that class is all to do with income.

That is why the Great Class Calculator identifies me as 'traditional working class' - because it is old-fashioned enough to equate my miniscule earnings as a writer with my class.  This is what I wrote about doing the survey last week.

Earnings just confuse the issue. One recent study in 2008 found that 48 per cent of those calling themselves ‘working-class’ earned more than the average salary and a quarter of them earned more than £50,000 a year. In some cities (Leeds for example) people calling themselves working-class are better off than those who see themselves as middle-class.  A third of bank managers in one recent survey identified themselves as working-class.

This isn't about income, it is about background and culture - and maybe values.  The fact that the BBC is pedalling a calculator that emphasises income is a measure of how much traditional middle class values, of thrift, deferred gratification and independence, are under assault from the new class of Masters of the Universe in financial services.

None of this implies that working class values are any the less important, but they emphasise different things - community, mutual support and dignity.  Or they did.  These are under an even more powerful assault from above.

These things are important. Middle class values, often caricatured, sometimes a caricature of themselves, were shaped quite deliberately by writers like William Cobbett in the 1820s who saw the new class emerge, and were determined that it should strike out in a new moral direction, away from the dissipated aristocracy who gambled, drank, bullied and horsewhipped their way through life.

The middle classes were designed, in that respect at least, as an antidote to ruling class, ubermensch culture.  That is why it is so important that they are defended now, when the possibility of our independence is being corroded.

It is also why I, for one, am determined to argue that there is a fundamental difference beyond income between the old classes and our new overlords - it isn't just that we are the same but poorer.

More about this, and why it is so important, in my forthcoming book Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes.

1 comment:

martin said...

this is a really interesting debate.i think money does come into it,as you can have good values but still be poor and those from a poor background have little chance of for culture,you're either born with a silver spoon in your mouth or you're not,and if you're not,you are at a great disadvantage to start with..that's not to say you can't progress,but it becomes very difficult.i feel that the old middle class has been swallowed up by what we now might call the upper working class,that is those who earn this so called average wage or above..although i don't know anyone who earns that kind of money..but are still regarded as the underclass by directors,executives and those in government or attached to royalty.this upper working class will never be the so called elite..but under this present government,it would be so easy for them to become the standard working the unemployed,forced onto all sorts of workfare schemes to get their benefits..or else end up in meaningless low paid would only take whatever company they work for to fold or make them redundant..then there they are,unemployed,mortgage,family etc and the prospect of signing on or having to work for a far lower wage than they are used a nutshell,i see only two classes..the working class,which is split into an upper and lower tier,then the upper is important to remember also,that the gap between rich and poor widens every hour.