Friday, February 27, 2015

The New Social Class War Code Words

Will Barratt, Ph.D.

Watching the media show that was the 2015 State of the Union Address highlighted some of the emergent language around class currently being used in the political arena. The critical key phrases were middle class and pro-business. Unpacking each of these phrases takes some critical effort. Middle class is a vague term that seems to include every one not in poverty and everyone not in the 1%. The connotation is that the middle class are regular people like you and me. The idea of pro-business takes a little more effort to unpack and we need to peer behind the code word a little. Corporations, or in this case businesses, are a legal fiction allowing non-persons to enter into contracts and do some, but not all, people like things of a business nature. Pro-business, as I read it, is a code word for pro-business owners and managers. Corporations, or businesses, are made up of people, so being pro-business is being pro-people-in-business. This would include workers, managers, and owners. My guess is that the code word is really about people who are business owners or people who are in senior management. Not all business owners or senior managers make a lot of money so it is unfair to characterize all business owners and senior managers as wealthy, but among the wealthy most of them are business owners or senior managers.

Pro-middle class seems to be about regular people.

Pro-business seems to be about wealthy people.

The State of the Union is a critical part of how our government works. The government of the USA was set up as much to help the citizens as to help the businesses. The Constitution and Bill of Rights is about people, not about businesses. The government emphasis on business or on people shifts. Businesses create jobs, and this is a good thing. Most of us are wage slaves of some sort, working for businesses or for the government. People need jobs. The extent to which businesses or people drive the economy, and consequently have importance, is a hotly debated topic.

Republican President Lincoln noted in 1863 that we have a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Republican President Eisenhower famously warned us in 1960 about the Military-Industrial complex. I recall fondly watching the play and movie Li'l Abner and remember the phrase “What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA.” Class warfare has been part of our national narrative for a very long time.

That was then, this is now. The dialog of pro-business and pro-middle class can be seen as open class warfare. As with all warfare camouflage is central to hiding our true position.