Are There Two Americas? Or Three?

As regular (and admittedly close) readers of this blog may have inferred, a journalist whose work our CSO regularly takes time out for is Şahin Alpay, a columnist at Turkey’s bestselling newspaper Zaman and its English-language sister publication Today’s Zaman. Alpay – a Professor of Political Science at Bahçeşehir University, a foundation university located in the upmarket Beşiktaş neighbourhood of Istanbul – studied for his PhD at Stockholm University, and his (always thought-provoking) articles evince a particularly rich Scandinavian-Turkish fusion of sensibilities.

In a recent pieces for Today’s ZamanHillary Clinton: Next president of the US? – Professor Alpay posits that the 2012 presidential election in the United States was illustrative of a country split in two, with ‘postmodern America’, a multicultural and broadly tolerant entity with its heartlands ‘based where knowledge industries prevail’ identifying with the victorious candidacy of Barack Hussein Obama; ‘modern America’, an increasingly fossilised and inflexible agglomeration which prizes perceived economic freedom and seemingly revels in stark inequality, is the America of the ultimately doomed Mitt Romney.

Professor Alpay’s typology has much truth to it: it is indeed the case that on one level the United States is divided along the lines that he postulates, with Democrats and Republicans using different political lexicons and extraordinary racial cleavages apparent in both voting patterns and general political preferences across the country. But after some contemplation, we think that it would be more accurate to adopt the following tripartite classification:

1. The Überclass. This is the tiny grouping of Americans – notably the financial industry elites – who enjoy incredible economic and social privileges that dwarf anything that the rest of the country may have access to. This social class is comprised of the very wealthiest denizens of the US who virtually monopolise not merely the commanding heights of the world’s largest economy but the entire enterprise: as we noted in our blog post of 12th October 2012, 93% of the income gains from the 2009-2010 US recovery have ended up in the pockets of the top 1% of Americans, with the top 0.01% hoovering up an incredible 37% of the total.

2. The Middle Class. This is an increasingly historical category which is arguably characterised by two main attributes: declining economic standing and biological leakage. According to the Internal Revenue Service (‘IRS’), the inflation-adjusted average income of an American taxpayer actually declined in the twenty years from 1988 to 2008, despite (or perhaps because of) this period being defined by a massive credit-based economic expansion; with regular taxpayers picking up the tab for banking malfeasance and plugging the revenue gap left by wealthy corporations, this trend only seems set to intensify. At the same time, middle class Americans constituted just 51% of households in 2011, down from 61% in the 1970s.

3. The Underclass/’Unterklasse’. A burgeoning and exceptionally diverse grouping, the American underclass are united not merely by low incomes but by a precariousness exacerbated by all kinds of socio-economic phenomena, including gang violence, often alarmingly decayed family structures, appalling public infrastructure and an absence of social mobility. With well-paid jobs for young Americans scarce and the country facing the likely implosion of yet another debt bubble – this time in higher education – the underclass is set to grow, and perhaps even find a political voice, over the years to come.

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6 Comments

Filed under Economics, Political Science

6 responses to “Are There Two Americas? Or Three?

  1. The Uberclass has forgotten that it needs to keep the Middle Class fairly content for the system to work, and the Underclass do need a minimal level of looking after to ensure law and order. The Uberclass is in control and obviously use their power to benefit themselves as has always been the case, but at some point you break the system to everyone’s detriment. The Middle Class and Underclass are undergoing quite rapid deteriorations in their life qualities, certainties, opportunities etc, which is going to be a shock. The frequent rioting in several European countries is probably just the start of the reacting back.

    • By the end of this crisis I don’t think that there will be a single major political or economic concept left unaffected or, at the very least, unchallenged. Fukuyama did warn us about this in Part V of his The End of History and the Last Man, but virtually no one seems to have read this bit of the book.

  2. The great thing about a democracy is that major inequalities can eventually be rectified. However, all spectrums of America’s political class seem to be enthralled by keeping the status quo and creating a new sub-class.

    This is worrying, as democracy then has a major deficit is how can the inequalities be rectified. Like ‘Holly’ mentioned, the riots in Greece are only the beginning.

    • Democracy is definitely a system worthy of serious consideration (not to mention implementation and replication) but even the best system can be subverted, hijacked and rendered parodic. If anything democracies are that bit more vulnerable than other systems because of the power of the label: we live in a democracy, so how could things be that bad?

  3. I think the important point about End of History and the Last Man is that it gives an ending (i.e. a logical foreseeable one) which cannot be an ending, because frankly Mankind will not settle for the boredom of office politics, small mindedness, and a goal which is ‘economic growth’. Fukuyama realises that once you have educated your population you have to give then democracy, but it cannot end there. Once you’ve educated people the conceptual leaps they are capable of go way beyond that because we have incredible imaginations and we live in a vast (spatial) reality that’s going to make us go places.

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