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 Zaman – Hillary 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.