Won't You Please Let Me In?


Posted on : 11/03/2011 07:30:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , , , ,

Via the Blogfather comes this excellent essay from The Volokh Conspiracy about the Occupy movements and the underlying socioeconomic forces that have created it.  The short version is that they have dutifully gotten their tickets punched and now expect the rewards to flow regardless of their actual talents or the collective need for their "abilities".  Such as they are.

The longer version....

     The problem the New Class faces at this point is the psychological and social self-perceptions of a status group that is alienated (as we marxists say) from traditional labor by its semi-privileged upbringing — and by the fact that it is actually, two distinct strands, a privileged one and a semi-privileged one.  It is, for the moment, insistent not just on white-collar work as its birthright and unable to conceive of much else.  It does not celebrate the dignity of labor; it conceived of itself as existing to regulate labor.  So it has purified itself to the point that not just any white-collar work will do.  It has to be, as Michelle Obama instructed people in what now has to be seen as another era, virtuous non-profit or government work.  Those attitudes are changing, but only slowly; the university pipelines are still full of people who cannot imagine themselves in any other kind of work, unless it means working for Apple or Google.

     The New Class has always operated across the lines of public and private, however, the government-university-finance and technology capital sectors.  It is not a theory of the government class versus the business class — as 1990s neoconservatives sometimes mistakenly imagined.  As Lasch pointed out, it is the class that bridges and moves effortlessly between the two.  As a theory of late capitalism (once imported from being an analysis of communist nomenkaltura) it offers itself as a theory of technocratic expertise first  - but, if that spectacularly fails as it did in 2008, it falls back on a much more rudimentary claim of monopoly access to the levers of the economy.  Which is to say, the right to bridge the private-public line, and rent out its access.


     In social theory, OWS is best understood not as a populist movement against the bankers, but instead as the breakdown of the New Class into its two increasingly disconnected parts.  The upper tier, the bankers-government bankers-super credentialed elites.  But also the lower tier, those who saw themselves entitled to a white collar job in the Virtue Industries of government and non-profits — the helping professions, the culture industry, the virtueocracies, the industries of therapeutic social control, as Christopher Lasch pointed out in his final book, The Revolt of the Elites.


     The upper tier is still doing pretty well.  But the lower tier of the New Class — the machine by which universities trained young people to become minor regulators and then delivered them into white collar positions on the basis of credentials in history, political science, literature, ethnic and women’s studies — with or without the benefit of law school — has broken down.  The supply is uninterrupted, but the demand has dried up.  The agony of the students getting dumped at the far end of the supply chain is in large part the OWS.  As Above the Law points out, here is “John,” who got out of undergrad, spent a year unemployed and living at home, and is now apparently at University of Vermont law school, with its top ranked environmental law program — John wants to work at a “nonprofit.”


     The OWS protestors are a revolt — a shrill, cri-de-coeur wail at the betrayal of class solidarity — of the lower tier New Class against the upper tier New Class.  It was, after all, the upper tier New Class, the private-public finance consortium, that created the student loan business and inflated the bubble in which these lower tier would-be professionals borrowed the money.  It’s a securitization machine, not so very different from the subprime mortgage machine.  The asset bubble pops, but the upper tier New Class, having insulated itself and, as with subprime, having taken its cut upfront and passed the risk along, is still doing pretty well.  It’s not populism versus the bankers so much as internecine warfare between two tiers of elites.

Being a longtime Instapundit reader, none of these ideas is particularly new.  This essay, as with many other conservative-libertarian commentaries, is not particularly critical of the Occupy participants.  It is far more critical of the process that created the conditions that caused the Occupy folks to end up in the position in which they currently find themselves.

I humbly suggest that they might have been better served by teaching them real world concepts such as supply, demand, individual effort, and individual achievement.  Instead, many of these people have squandered their lives pursuing the proper "credentials" to "run things".  They have willingly donned fiscal chains created by the upper crust, our "credentialed" class, with the expectation that they would be welcomed into the 1% with open arms.

The resulting condition is, sadly, predictable.

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Comments (2)

I agree that the engine of job training is more reactive than proactive to changes in the job market, and it's reached critical levels. As a new field or new tech appears, degrees and training programs then appear to fill it and the time lag is getting bigger and worse as the world changes faster and the old guard wants an old world that doesn't really exist anymore.

I couldn't argue that a lot of the previously sound career paths that academia has trained people for are dying and the colleges have a huge structure petrified in place to teach to the dying careers, and that it's stupidly hard to change. Too much of the academic system is about closing ranks, privilege for a few, and keeping the outmoded.

Somehow, this basic issue has become twisted into a form of hate. I know you'll probably say that my calling this essay a "hate" piece is liberal hyperbole at best, and i understand. The writer certainly doesn't call this group any particularly nasty words like leeches, etc.

But what it does say fosters more contempt toward the OWS group than that would, precisely by gently slubbing from a plausible argument into a bogus "therefore" pile-on of deceptively gentle sneers. The reactive training problem becomes, not an outdated system that sells its reason-for-being to student customers, but the fault of the customers who bought it.

I'd even agree that in choosing training or learning, students should look more critically, cynically, at the trends in the world and see the new paths that are going to feed into better jobs.

But it is indeed uber-critical of the participants. Their shortsightedness, if that's what it is (technology replacing human workers is a whole other topic), is a far cry from wanting to live high "in the jet stream" as he puts it.

This simpering, condescending writer has even more discerning readers like you buying into a completely bogus extrapolation from the economic problem -- the idea that these graduates know too little about "supply [and] demand," -- into characterizing the jobless as the "privileged" with "birthrights" who think themselves above labor and have a weak ethic for "individual effort, and individual achievement." The writer neatly segued from one real issue into a picture of the Occupy movement as entitled snots who want jobs but don't want to work.

I dunno, Dann, you're often pretty good at picking out the wise bits of a piece and discarding the bad ones, cafeteria style, but this time you bought it hook, line and sinker.

Hi Ruth,

Thanks, as always, for your thoughts. It is nice to know that someone is still out there!!

I demur.

The point of this writer's essay is not to be 'hateful' in any way. It is to be critical of a larger social structure that has both failed and victimized an entire generation.

His point is that this social structure has created an expectation where getting a degree ought to automagically result in wealth and success. The Nation has an article on the OWS folks that includes the story of a New York teacher that decided to leave his lucrative job to pursue his MFA.

In puppetry.

He wound up teaching in the same district as a permanent, "part-time" teacher making less money and having no benefits. He also has a fair amount of debt.

The larger point, IMO, is that the only people being held accountable for their actions are the ones that are least likely to understand the logical result of those actions; the students.

The folks at the top have rigged the game so that no one can walk away from that debt. They are guaranteed a return on their investment! At the same time, these kids are being sold a degree, any degree, as the key to prosperity.

So the folks at the top get their guaranteed return. When those newly degreed folks show up with their shiny 'keys', the folks at the top then point out that none of those keys fit the 'locks'.

Part of the social structure that is being criticized is a certain perspective. This perspective considers "profit" to be a four-letter word. It isn't that the OWS folks are not willing to work. It is that they have been told that the kinds of labor that we need are not the kinds of labor that they should pursue.

It is hard to fault the kids if we teach them that the sky is green and the grass is blue.

Instead, they seek to be "directors" of a non-profit. Or master puppeteer in a country that has largely adopted animation in lieu of puppetry.

I am fully willing to accept that my argument is poorly constructed. But the intent is not to blame the OWS folks for their situation. It is to criticize a larger society that taught them to have certain expectations, financed the pursuit of those expectations, and is now expecting repayment without fulfilling those expectations.