Thanks to American political discourse someone else is thinking about what class means

I was directed to this series by a radio listener. One of the first parts of the series I read contained the following,

“What does middle class really mean?

I’ve decided to create my own definition for the term. To me, middle class has much less to do with the actual amount of income one earns, and more to do with the degree to which one can manage the various aspects of life that involve money.  In other words, it’s not about how much you’ve got, but what you can do with what you’ve got.

And here’s my list of middle-class qualifiers:

If …

… the rent or mortgage is paid,

… food is in the fridge,

… the lights are on,

… hot and cold water are running,

… living expenses and consumer debt aren’t eating you alive,

… you can see a doctor when you’re sick — instead of an emergency room,

… you can occasionally enjoy dinner at a “sit down” restaurant,

… then you’re safely a card-carrying member of the middle class!

And I suppose the question of where you fit on the spectrum can be answered by how comfortably you can do all of these things.”


In some of the only times I have heard the concept of class used outside of academic contexts in Australia (well, Melbourne’s suburbs to be specific) it is much less about what you can afford. Perhaps I have just spent too much time with other people who do things in the community sector?



3 Responses to “Thanks to American political discourse someone else is thinking about what class means”

  1. Tomboktu Says:

    Interesting approach — taking the ‘basket of goods’ idea used in poverty and changing the values.

    One other item I would suggest could be considered, not related to money, would be access to a politician. How precisely that would be defined would depend on how politics operates in the state concerned (for example, in Ireland we have multi-seat constituencies, so I would suggest that middle classness would reflect being able to get a meeting with a Minister rather than just a TD (MHR, I think, in Australian).

  2. Tomboktu Says:

    I should have added, I first got thinking about access to powerful people in light of an essay by Brian Barry on social exclusion, in which he drew attention to the ‘other’ social exclusion of those at the top end of the income and wealth scales. They choose to exclude themselves and their families from many social institution: don’t do public health because they buy private medical care, they don’t do state schools because they pat fees for private education, they don’t worry about street violence or being mugged because they have private security, and they don’t need to vote because they meet the PM at their company’s annual confernce or think-in.

  3. Tracey Says:

    I have been thinking a bit about exclusion by choice at the top, and I see where you’re going with access to a politician. (Also, good job with the translation into Australian, I’m not sure how many Aussies even know what MHR or even an MP after a name means.) However, I am starting to think that social capital is not quite that simple as access to those people in power (not that it does not matter). I think it can be about the range of skills and dispositions that can allow you to negotiate your way through bureaucracy and be taken seriously. I have noticed the significance of word choice, dress, accent and your outfit.

    It seems that in Australia, as I am sure it is in much of the world, some of the wealthy will represent their interests through direct access to politicians and through paid advertising. However, the ever present threat (it only has to be a perceived threat) that the wealthy and the big corporations may take their wealth overseas can keep politicians keen to avoid acting against the interest of the wealthy. After all how does a country even stay afloat in a globalised economy if it is not attractive to at least some wealth?

    Returning to exclusion by choice at the top, Brendan Gleeson in Australian Heartlands looks at how new exclusive suburbs actually rely on public money. In these cases these people are gaining exclusivity but it is at a cost to the state as a whole. Also, we have some quite odd policies in Australia such as a private health insurance rebate (so not only do you get out of a levy if you earn over a certain amount and do not have health insurance but the state actually pays part of your private health insurance).

    I do not think I have read any of Brian Barry’s work yet, but thanks for the pointer. I will check some out.

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