Bosses and Workers

Some smart May Day reflections from John Quiggin:

I’m a worker and a union member, but on a higher income than many employers, and (thanks to research grants) effectively an employer myself. Where Marx and others in the 19th century foresaw a sharpening of the divide between capitalists and proletarians, the actual outcome has been that the lines have been increasingly blurred. A term like ‘working class’ is more of a cultural and occupational label than a statement about economic position – I read somewhere that ‘working class’ households in the US have about the same average income as households in general.

The stat he’s thinking of may be the point that in the United States the median income of white working class households is somewhat higher than the national median income, so there’s not really a great explanatory mystery about white working class conservatism.

Not only is the blurring of the lines significant, but one important way in which the current moment differs from the Gilded Age of yore is that labor income now constitutes a much more important source of money for the richest people. 100 years ago the prototypical super-rich person was a coupon-clipping rentier living off investment income. Today it’s a hedge fund manager or a Fortune 500 CEO. Someone who is, in some sense, more worker than owner.