The Middle Class Do Exist

An Industrial Worker capitalist class critique
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In a recent blog post Stephen Kinsella has the following to say about the Middle Class in Ireland:

When you look closely, you see the middle class just doesn’t exist.

While I would agree in principle that on paper and using accepted definintions the middle class in Ireland is very small, but thats not what matters. It is self perception.

When I read his post, I could see myself agreeing but then realising, hang on, thats not how people will perceieve themselves. As we humans are always likely to rate ourselves higher then what statisticians tell us.

Why do I think that? Well look at any of the cities in Ireland you have your areas that are nice to live in, and those that aren’t. Most people *I* think in Ireland would base their social class by where they live.  Not on by the type of job they have or the amount they earn in comparison to the national average.

Its whats how people perceieve themselves that matter, not the box acedemics put them in.

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Author: Stephen

Cork born and bred, proud European and Irishman. Involved in many organisations and politics. Also writes for SpirtualityIreland.org and UCC Express.

2 thoughts on “The Middle Class Do Exist”

  1. Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for writing this thought provoking post.

    Psychologists—some of them academics I’m sorry to say—have a term for what you’ve just described. It’s called weight-supportive bias—the tendency to remember one’s choices as better than they actually were, or to project them better than they might be in the future.

    People think they are middle class, because they see people above them, and people below them, in the social hierarchy, so they think they are in the middle, and they find many reasons to confirm that bias, just to use the example you give, by citing what location they live in. But these positional ‘markers’ turn out to be only relative, not absolute.

    So in Moyross, you have some streets that look down on others as being the ‘bad streets’, and similarly in Foxrock and Killiney, the same bias applies within locations as well as between them.

    The problem also comes when people rate themselves. Most people, for example, think they are above average drivers. But statistically speaking, that just can’t be true.

    You quite rightly point out that my key discussion point is distributional: I’m of the strong opinion that, based on recent studies, we don’t have a large group of people or households in the middle of our distribution of income or classes. What we have are very large gradations between those who are materially wealthy, and those less so. So even though you think you’re in the middle, you are in fact a lot closer to the poorer end than you might think, especially when we round out the description of what exactly it is you might do for a living, or where you come from.

    The notion of a ‘middle’ class conjures up images of bell curves, or Gaussian (sometimes called ‘normal’) distributions. But income distributions aren’t normal at all. They are highly skewed, and become more skewed when other factors are included like type of work, etc.

    I’d also argue that it is pretty hard to buy a house and live in Killiney or in Foxrock while living 10 euros a week above the poverty line. It is also quite hard to see someone in Foxrock selling their house and moving the wife and kids to Moyross.

    You point out, importantly, that how people perceive themselves is what matters. I agree. But I also think that I might perceive myself as potentially richer than I am, or have any right to expect to be in the future given my current income and potential prospects, and go out and borrow on the expectation of that never to come income increment, saddling me with debt and a serious case of ‘keeping up with the joneses’, which is, by the way, good for present consumption (and for GDP growth), but not so good if I default on my loans.

    Overall, there’s a lot of work to be done on matching expectations about the future to current circumstances. Gerald O’Neill at turbulenceahead.com has done a lot of work recently on this area.

    Sorry I don’t have more time to post about this issue, I’ve got to run. Thanks again for reading.

  2. Wow, longest comment ever on the blog! Thanks Stephen 🙂 . You do hit right on the head exactly what I was talking about! Lots of things to think about there, thanks for replying!

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