Monday, January 2, 2012

The New Precariat Class

A recent review in the New Inquiry of Lauren Berlant's new book, Cruel Optimism, touched on the issue of describing current class structure and socio-economic conditions in the U.S. The terms "proletariat" and "bourgeoisie" now seem wildly outdated, so Jenna Brager's usage of the term "precarait class" is a welcome addition to the contemporary left-wing lexicon. She writes:
Although the experience is different across economic and social situations, we are, at least the 99 percent of us, the new precariat class. We are frantically digging to keep the tunnel from caving in — digging for air, not treasure. And what’s really hemming us in is an unwillingness to eat dirt, to embrace precarity “as the condition of being and belonging,” instead of clinging desperately to the paradox of predictability and security — “buy this car to go to work, go to work to pay for this car.”
The rest of the article can be found here:
As the gap between the richest and the poorest has widened, it has become increasingly difficult to accurately describe class distinctions in industrialized Western societies. Even Alinsky's tripartite distinction between the Haves, Have-Nots, and Have-a-Little Want Mores seems outdated. The Occupy Everywhere movement's cry of "We are the 99 percent" seems a bit more accurate, but it should be stressed that what unites the 99 percent is more than a place on the socioeconomic ladder. A simple quantitative assessment of class distinctions lacks nuance and ignores the reality that the choice that nearly every working person faces: the choice between starvation and wage slavery. This is what truly distinguishes the 99 percent from the 1 percent.

This terrible choice is faced even by portion of working Americans sometimes referred to as working professionals. Many of these Americans make considerably more money than the U.S. median income and have assets (mostly in home equity) that are worth more than those of the average American. Considered members of the upper middle class, these people at first glance seem to have more in common with the top 1 percent of income earners than the 70 or 80 percent of individuals below them. However, this "era of precarity" has in a sense proletarianized even those once thought to be well-off. Just like their economic subordinates, these workers are similarly alienated from the work and coerced into choosing wage slavery by the nature of only existent alternatives - starvation and bankruptcy. For these members of the upper middle class are similarly "frantically digging to keep the tunnel from caving in." They may have enough money to shop at Whole Foods rather than at Shop Rite, or maybe they live in the greener parts of suburban neighborhoods. But, the fact of the matter is that even the petit bourgeoisie is subjected to the routine - what the French call metro-boulot-dodo - that dehumanizes and demoralizes.

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