How Is Nobody Upper Class?

by Patrick Appel

A reader takes the thread in another direction:

I'm finding this an interesting conversation that we really need to have as a country. I've thought so ever since I first learned the roots of class theory and what the origins of the term "Middle Class" are. Living as we do in a country that did away with aristocracy (in the pure sense) at its founding, I've often felt that we miss the point in most international socio-political conversations about class. Rather than defining class by social access and privilege, we're left with a rather sloppy and arbitrary distinction of annual income, which often generates misunderstanding about class struggle and revolution (and never seems to experience inflation). Most Americans, even educated ones, fail to understand that, historically speaking, the Middle Class was a wealthy class that often out-earned the aristocracy. What they didn't have was direct access to the tools of political power. That's why they were willing to topple the Ancien Regime, but merely shrugged under Napoleon and again in 1848.

What we are witnessing in today's widening income gap is a collapse of this deliberately elastic definition Middle Class, which can stretch and contract as is convenient. As a white male who grew up in Connecticut and went to a Midwestern private 4-year-college, I've generally considered myself to be lower-middle class, even after earning a doctorate. Never mind that my hometown is one of the poorest in the state, that neither of my parents went to college or earned more than $70k/year collectively. But venture 25 miles west, across the CT River and you could think you have entered a whole new country with a different concept of Middle Class. And of course, *NO ONE* admits to being upper class. In fact, I think the title of this discussion is itself off the mark. It should really be, "How Is Nobody Upper Class?"