Middle Classes and The Middle
Who needs the middle class then? The dominant approach in Development thinking is that the more middle class a country has, the better: So much so that we can call the whole thing 'Middle Class Economics' with justification. Some might feel poor people are a drag on the nation, or from the opposite vantage point, the rich people are, but never never the people in the middle.
There are two things to say about this. First, middle classes were not the cause, but the outcome, of material prosperity. Professions came as technologies allowed wealth to be created without ownership of land, and as towns sprang up. Second, the middle classes are judged kindly by history as they are the ones who wrote it (like Churchill): The poor man's struggle usually become middle class' victories (and victorious poor men often became one themselves). The stories of democracy, welfare state, freedom etc are usually told as an accommodation of middle class visions and gifts, but they hide more than they tell: The poor foot-soldiers of those struggles are somewhat set aside and forgotten among narratives of speeches, leaders, manifestos and power struggles.
At this moment of history, though, the role of Middle Class - which is dominant - is not emancipatory, but exclusionary. And, besides, being not a class, it excludes from within its middle. There is no sense of solidarity in the fight for school places or for Christmas deals (discounting Nutella spreads caused a full-fledged riot in Interemarche stores in France last week), and the Middle Class politics is, by the logic of its own design, reactionary and aimed at destroying the middle classes. The Liberals of various hues, a political creation of middle classes of an earlier era, have failed to appreciate this turn altogether, blinded, as they are, by the assumption that future will be like the past. They have not fully understood the chasm in the middle of the Middle Classes - that middle classes have no middle!
We don't usually see this in our obsession with the super-rich, the top 1% who controls between one-third and half of all global wealth and whose influences are only rising (one estimate puts that the top 1% got more than 80% of all wealth created last year). This is a legitimate concern, but the reason why middle class economics and politics are failing miserably is not because of the direct actions of these super-rich, but the day-to-day intervention of the next 20%, upper middle class dream-hoarders, who controls opinions and dominates the political agenda. It is they who want segregated school districts, hierarchical workplaces, preferential lending, gated communities and corrupt politics of influence. They are scrambling to destroy middle classes, as an identity for themselves and a label in general.
The politics of reaction that has arisen in the wake of Trump and Brexit (and Modi etc) is a creation of this Middle Class without a middle. The corruption of education and civic engagement, the rebound of racial identities, the unapologetic return of selfishness and the inversion of the agenda of inclusivity and diversity, are the symptoms of the world this classless class has made. It is an unique political phenomenon of our time, something that explains the regression of our politics and breakdown of the consensus that we lived with over the last half century.