The International Writers Magazine: Modern Lives
MIDDLE CLASS REALLY EXIST?
A symbol of the Middle Class or an aspirant icon
impossible for many
When I was
at college studying engineering, way back in the good old days when
Britain was ruled by the Labour Party and industrial strikes were as
common as bacon and eggs (or hamburger and fries, if you are an American
reader) I recall that the Education Department of the British government
decided that all those stupid enough to be studying science subjects
needed a certain amount of cultural indoctrination. Our logical brains
had to be widened and massaged to interpret art and the likes whilst
we tried to figure out Newtons laws or Pythagoras theorems.
Apart from mathematics, electronics, we had to pursue social sciences
which amounted to anything from understanding the imagination
of modern artists to basket weaving techniques in the Himalayas. As
I was, in those days, a militant member of the student union, although
not active enough to create sit-ins or other stupid student antics,
and with all respect to the Picassos and Renoirs of this
world, I refused to allow our department to be subjected to extra useless
work. Turners unmade bed was decades away.
So whats your alternative, Jim? asked the head of
the science department. You tell me, I answered. Im not
the government! We both pondered for a while and suddenly a light
shone back up the tunnel. Economics, I said, how about
that as a social subject? Why cant we combine our curriculum with
useful knowledge such as bookkeeping, accounting and the like?
And so it came to pass that for the remaining two years we had 4 hours
per week on how to read a balance sheet or learn how stock markets worked.
Why am I telling you this? Quite simply because during one of the lectures,
the tutor explained what is commonly known as humanitys pyramid
of wealth. He made a graphic presentation on how wealth is distributed
throughout the world. The bottom layer, or foundation is the absolute
essential, which are food, followed by shelter. The peak highlighted
the wealthiest person or institution on earth. I remember him saying,
everyone needs food to survive and if possible, a roof over their
heads. But most people can do without a Mercedes Benz! The bulk
in the middle is meant to be the satisfied world middle class.
How is that for a good bit of old fashioned Socialism!
A friend of mine recently returned from a holiday trip to India. He
was talking to a bunch of us, as we enjoyed a good dinner of lobster
and fresh salmon, how out of a population of around 1 billion, only
15 million or so were filthy rich whilst the rest were considered to
be poor. The funny thing is, he went on, that most
of the scraggy ones seemed very happy. I thought back to the pyramid
lecture and concluded that most Indians fitted into the two bottom layers.
I am not into the statistics of China but I would imagine that not long
ago, about a decade or so, the wealth theory could also apply. In other
words, as long as the Orientals in question had enough rice to eat and
some sort of a roof over their heads, they were satisfied inhabitants
on the planet Earth. (Now of course they are all good consumers doing
their duty for commerce.)Ed
But what about the USA?
The United States of America is by far the richest country in the world.
Most of its population fit somewhere not far off the peak of my hypothetical
pyramid. In fact, if we were discussing the subject back in my student
days, the whole figure would have to be placed on its head to represent
Uncle Sams society. Just think, except for bag people and junkies,
most Americans are way above the 2000 per day calorie rate of survival
as per WHO (The World Health Organisation) criteria. Yet during the
recent US election campaign both candidates emphasised their commitment
to eradicate poverty. What poverty? Using what criteria? Bolivias,
Pakistans, Sudans elementary figures?
If we move over
to Europe, we find the same argument amongst the wealthiest nations
economic discussions. British society complains about the lack of decent
social services including health care. Compared to what? Honduras, Bangladesh
or maybe Irans? Spain says that half the populations pay
cheque cannot meet the end of the months consumption demands.
Come off it! How does an average Spanish pay cheque compare to that
of one from Zimbabwe or the Philippines? When health organisations,
non-governmental agencies and general do-gooders around the world raise
the rich versus the poor argument one has to compare survival needs
against over saturated consumerism.
Wouldnt the best way to measure a countrys poverty or richness
level be to evaluate its percentage of middle class population? What
constitutes middle class anyway? Supposing that in an ideal world, most
humans had sufficient income to meet basic survival needs with a small
surplus to satisfy leisure and other non-essential goodies. Under a
democratic system, freedom of choice would exist and therefore a certain
variation of expenditure levels per person would be available depending
on supply and demand. The general services would be controlled by the
state. Would this constitute a society of middle class families? Smells
like Marxism, doesnt it? Maybe. Trouble is it wouldnt work!
Why not? Because we in the West are a greedy bunch of bastards, have
grown accustomed to our wealth and are constantly craving for more!
The gulf between poor and rich remains.
Take the following scenarios highlighting opposite levels of wealth.
Scene 1. Mrs. Robinson tries to drive off in her Porsche but it wont
start. She lives in downtown Manhattan and is about to attend the Opera.
Pavorotti is in town. A quick call on the mobile and a sophisticated
engineering agency rushes to the rescue. Within minutes she is on her
way to meet up with her concert party.
Scene 2. Pedro Jimenezs 1953 Chevy parked outside a multiple dwelling
in Havana has a similar problem. In this case it is resolved with the
use of a simple pair of pliers by one of the family members. There is
no money to pay for external servicing. The Cubans still make it to
Fidels annual Revolution speech on the Malecon.
In both cases, a solution was available. Yet if you reversed the roles
a different picture would emerge. Do you think the lady would put up
with no Jim-will-fix-it till the next day? She would probably
commit suicide. What about the Cubans? They would simply walk. However,
neither would fit my pyramid theory of middle class. One has too much
and the other too little. Lets say we try to break even. The lady
catches a cab and Pedro and his family take the bus. Now you have middle
class. Get the picture?
But how do you place the above on a universal scale. Taking a snapshot
with a wide-angled lens camera of all the different societies and cultures
on the planet, what yardstick would you use to define Middle Class?
You cant! If everyone in this world were allowed to own a house,
have a television set plus a car, and do their shopping at a local mall,
which is what the West considers as middle class, this planet earth
would collapse. It would be the end of humanity. Can you imagine 6 billion
people trying to wipe their backsides with proper toilet paper? There
arent enough forests to produce so much useless paper!
Middle Class simply does not exist!
© James Skinner. December 2004.
jamesskinner at cemiga.es
- A world full of them
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