On November 10, 2016, an article titled “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class” appeared in the Harvard Business Review. The author is Joan C. Williams, the Distinguished Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, who has a new book coming out on “The White Working Class” that presumably is a full-length treatment of the arguments found in the article. They can be boiled down to the claim that “the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich.”
It rests mostly on her personal experience of having a father-in-law who was “a blue-collar white man who thought the union was a bunch of jokers who took your money and never gave you anything in return.” He rose from poverty to become an inspector in a factory that made machines that measure humidity levels in museums, read the Wall Street Journal and was a registered Republican. Apparently, he is the prototypical Trump voter in Williams’s eyes.
With respect to white workers resenting professionals, she cites Barbara Ehrenreich who referred to her blue-collar father as not being able “to say the word doctor without the virtual prefix quack.” Furthermore, he believed that “Lawyers were shysters…and professors were without exception phonies.” Perhaps Ehrenreich’s father was not the most representative sample. He was a copper miner but went to the Montana State School of Mines and then to Carnegie Mellon, finally settling in to a position as senior executive at the Gillette Corporation. If he resented management, it was not to such a degree that he avoided becoming part of it.
Apparently fond of citing leftists to buttress her argument, Williams also cites a sociologist who is considered a follower of Pierre Bourdieu:
Michèle Lamont, in The Dignity of Working Men, also found resentment of professionals — but not of the rich. “[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding,” a laborer told her. “There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” chimed in a receiving clerk.
There’s only one problem with Williams’s citation of Lamont. The people workers “can’t knock for succeeding” are not the rich but the managers they supposedly resent–as an article on workers voting Republican in the Nation Magazine indicated:
In fact, while these workers generally did not feel resentment toward the middle-class managers and professionals above them–saying, for example, that “I can’t knock anyone for succeeding”–their view of them was far from admiring.
You get more or less the same thing in today’s NY Times from Andrew Ross Sorkin in an article titled “A Billionaire’s Party Is a Lens on Wealth in the Trump Era” written by Andrew Ross Sorkin. From the opening paragraphs, you’d think you’d be getting the sort of thing that Matt Taibbi or Chris Hedges writes:
So, Stephen A. Schwarzman had another birthday party.
The celebration for his 70th birthday at his Palm Beach, Fla., home over the weekend included live camels, trapeze artists and a performance by Gwen Stefani. Some reports speculated the party cost as much as $20 million, a price tag that insiders say is ridiculously inflated, but clearly the event fell in the category of over-the-top expensive.
Yet, the entire purpose of the article is to legitimize this gilded-age bacchanalia because working people want to emulate the Stephen A. Schwarzman’s of the world.
The populist, anti-Wall Street sentiment that was so loud after the financial crisis found its voice last year in the campaign of Bernie Sanders — and to some degree, ironically, in Mr. Trump’s. Whatever animus exists against fat cats has been muted among Mr. Trump’s red-state voters, at least temporarily, as long as he follows though [sic] on his promise to create jobs. It’s a point that many of us in the media — myself included — largely missed.
Indeed, Mr. Trump’s surprise election may speak volumes about how large parts of the country view big business today, as well as Mr. Trump’s efforts to lower taxes and deregulate parts of Wall Street. And Mr. Schwarzman is at the center of many of those efforts.
Back in 2012, NPR ran an article which clearly did not get the attention it deserved, especially given what it portended for the subsequent election cycle. The headline: “The Income Gap: Unfair, Or Are We Just Jealous?”
At the time, much of the media was regularly reporting on income inequality, the widening gulf between the rich and poor.
The NPR article was based on the results of a survey by the Pew Research Center that bear repeating: They showed “a significant shift in public perceptions of class conflict in American life,” but “they do not necessarily signal an increase in grievances toward the wealthy.”
According to the Pew report, “It is possible that individuals who see more conflict between the classes think that anger toward the rich is misdirected.” The data, the report said, did not indicate “growing support for government measures to reduce income inequality.”
Maybe that explains it. Or perhaps everyone who criticized Mr. Schwarzman a decade ago is now just too busy focusing on Mr. Trump.
To start with, Sorkin is a sleazy defender of the one-percent so this article is par for the course. Not long after Occupy Wall Street began, Sorkin took it upon himself to investigate the movement in order to provide a dossier for a Stephen Schwarzman type that would allow him to judge the risk to his ill-gained wealth:
I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the C.E.O. asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?”
Like Williams, Sorkin cherry-picks the data to support his conclusion. In referring to the Pew Research report that dismissed support for “government measures to reduce income inequality”, he fails to mention that such measures are supported by 46 percent of Americans. Considering the utter failure of both the Democrats and Republicans to support such policies, the fact that nearly half the country is for some redistributive measures speaks volumes. He also failed to mention another Pew finding that hardly squares with the notion of working people only seeking to emulate Horatio Alger type to become like Schwarzman. Pew pollsters found that 82% of Americans favored policies that encourage economic growth should be high priorities. Since the word policy means government action, this represents a huge mandate for New Deal type action that both Trump and Clinton would have avoided like a vampire avoids a cross.