Spandrell has a piece on economic growth in China, and how it plays out in a highly nepotistic country. He has an aside on Steve Sailer’s bit on the ethnicity of the serving class.
Economic growth is great. Everybody gets more, and what is almost as important, possibly more, is that everybody expects to get more. Hope is a very powerful emotion. Americans believed for a long time that their children would improve upon their own standing in life. If you are successful, you can hope your children will be big shots or Ivy Leaguers. If you live in the shame and disappointment of poverty or a meager living, you can hope they will have middle-class respectability.
This however obviously can’t go on forever. It’s a pyramid scheme, and these always end if grief. Spandrell speculates the Chinese pyramid scheme is coming to an end. I believe the American pyramid scheme, which ran well for centuries, ended around 1970, was sustained by credit for another 30 years, and now is clearly collapsing, an upward mobility is gone. In the case of China, one result is mass emigration. Americans don’t have this option in large numbers. A few have specialized skills to leave, but that is a tiny minority. And frankly leaving other than for a lot of money is probably not worth the trouble.
Once upward mobility is exhausted, the possibility of downward mobility comes up, and since people of higher classes tend to dislike the lower classes, this is very uncomfortable to them. Sailer attributes the greater comfort upper-class people have with Hispanic service people to cultural differences; Spandrell to the reminder of the possibility of downward mobility.
I think it’s some combination, with other things added. White service people usually make decent money and have a standard of living that compares well with what we call the middle and even upper-middle class. They don’t make as much money, but they don’t have to spend money on things like cars, clothes and travel that are necessary to show middle-class status. Although a plumber might make as much as a primary car doctor.
It’s humiliating for middle-class people to be around such people, because they are a lot more carefree. Middle-class people like to think their college education makes them more affluent and important members of society, but the presence of people who don’t give a crap about such things and enjoy life without worrying about how they look is galling. If you have a couple plumbers in your house talking about their weekend at the lake on their jetskis, they are reminded that these people have a lot of disposable income and free time, and while a yuppie would not enjoy a weekend at the lake on a jet ski, drinking domestic beer and barbecuing, he knows the proles are having more fun than him, and he hates it.
Ben Affleck made some movie about a yuppie who gets laid off and has to work construction for his brother, and the humiliation he experiences. But this guy- an increasingly rare creature these days, as yuppies now rarely have blue-collar relatives they can turn to for work- was lucky. Downward mobility for a college graduate means working at Starbucks.
Orwell talked about this in “The Road to Wigan Pier”. He noted that there was a low stratum of English middle-class people who made little more than working-class people, but were further stressed by the need to spend money on things like having a servant. He thought such people should can the pretense and unite politically with the working-class. Why he would think this could be done I don’t know. He pointed out in the same book that the working-class had much different manners, including a contemptuous rejection of middle-class customs like politeness. Middle-class people don’t want to go down, and even if they do the working-class doesn’t want their company.
Emigration has been a way to slough off unwanted people for some centuries now. Europe got rid of huge numbers of unneeded agricultural workers in the 1800’s. Mexico has done the same recently. China and India have exported many middle-class people who lacking connections, or wanting to make better use of their connections went elsewhere. America now has a lot of people who think they are middle-class, but other than a useless degree and a huge student loan debt, have nothing to prove it.
Class in America is largely a matter of education. The marginal middle-class of Orwell’s England was born to that class, but maintained that status by education. Status being as important to people as it is, people will continue to pay for useless education at resident colleges even if it makes no financial sense.
Marginally middle-class people can’t maintain or improve their economic position, although they can maintain some illusion of class by attending college. Stable middle- and upper middle-class people can deal with class stress by using immigrant service people and tradesman. Downward mobility won’t even help the marginal middle-class, because well-paying trades jobs are not that easy to come by, the people who work in them don’t want them around (whether they are Hispanic or white) and they aren’t suited for them.
Germans solve this by training bright youngsters in manufacturing skills. Germany is an international powerhouse in high-level manufacturing, as is Japan, which is not supposed to be possible in high-wage countries. In Germany or Japan a bright, quiet but well-spoken young man can be a technician. But America is an English country, and in English countries the intelligent and well-spoken can hold no tool in their hands other than a pen. Manual work of whatever sophistication has to be done by uncouth people who should be paid as little as possible.
I think this kind of artificial split is the source of a lot of class hatred in England because of this, and this is what caused Marx to theorize a worldwide revolution of the working class. I don’t think he understood that despite such resentment, the working class in England doesn’t want to be middle-class, in fact is kind of happy not to be, and this divide doesn’t exist in most other societies.
The US is very Anglo-centric; it is assumed the Anglo way of doing things is best and all other countries need to be brought around to it. This has happened to a great extent, as Moldbug describes. But this artificial divide, with a meddling middle class of respectable Methodist clerks, is both extremely inefficient and frankly ridiculous. Orwell wanted to eliminate it as part of a communist revolution; better just to dispose of it to have a more humane society.