13 February 2005

Class in a Classless Society

Driving home this evening, I listened to an outstanding discussion of the meanings of class in America; the archived program, "To the Best of Our Knowledge: Class Lessons" is available online (RealPlayer required). This is a topic I don't generally think much about, having been raised solidly within the middle class in a nation where nearly everyone self-identifies as within the middle class. Nonetheless, I found myself questioning what I really mean when I define myself or others as "middle class". Is "middle class" purely a state of mind, a reflection of the aspirational, egalitarian philosophy we all share as Americans? Can it be objectively defined by income level? Does it identify groups who enjoy high degrees of freedom within the workplace (but have not yet attained the status of "Capitalist Overlords")? Have "white-collar" and "blue-collar" lost their traditional meanings as we find ourselves an economic era characterized in part by lower-income "white-collar" professionals and higher-income "blue-collar" workers? All of these questions were raised and addressed by economics professor Michael Zweig, of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, in the especially compelling first segment of the program.

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