Friday, August 15, 2014

The Bright and Shiny Lumpen Professional Class of the Post-Industrial Age

For Karl Marx, the lumpenproletariat -- I love the sound of the word, "lumpen" -- is the lowest stratum of the industrial working class, including also such undesirables as tramps and criminals.

The members of the Lumpenproletariat—this “social scum,” said Marx—are not only disinclined to participate in revolutionary activities with their “rightful brethren,” the proletariat, but also tend to act as the “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue.”

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I wonder what he would think of those well-paid, well-educated, employees of the state, usually with defined benefits pension plans, that make the system run and are as about inclined to bringing about any meaningful change to the present status quo as the "social scum" of Marx's day were inclined to participate in his so-called revolutionary activities.

Just as the lumpens of olden days gave no second thought to the well-being of the population at large, the same could be said of the bright and shiny lumpens of the post-industrial age.

Marx got it wrong.  Capitalism is much more resilient than he ever dreamed of.  There is no inevitability to its collapse in the foreseeable future.  Instead, increasing productivity brought on by technological change drives a deep wedge into what he believed to be the existing solidarity of the so-called working class.

Pay those who would otherwise "rouse the rabble" well enough so that the gulf between classes separates those who make the system run, (elected officials, school administrators, senior bureaucrats, doctors, lawyers, etc.) from those that the system is supposed to serve, the vast majority of those who have to work for a living, and you have figuratively cut the head, those who could lead, from the body politic.

Those who are able to climb the rungs of our meritocracy are much more inclined to pursue the material rewards that their taxpayer-funded salaries afford than to serve the real interests of those whose lives are affected by the quality of the social services that the state offers.

In other words, make the system run, not so that it runs well -- that would require a significant redistribution of wealth -- but that it runs well enough so that nothing emerges that would challenge the ever increasing share of the nation's wealth that is destined for those who never have to work for a living.

In exchange, the bright and shiny lumpen get a much cheaper and much more scaled down version of the lifestyle that the haute bourgeoisie enjoy, especially if two of the bright and shiny lumpens decide to marry and raise a family.

In this case, the lumpen couple can afford to live in a neighbourhood that offers a social milieu very favorable to the development of their children: daycare, schools, summer camps, access to private schools if necessary, and family vacations abroad, which gives them a huge advantage in performing well in our meritocracy.

Just as material wealth is transferred from generation to another, so are the soft skills and competencies that enable people to earn higher salaries.

Indeed, research shows that the only factor that is of importance in the prediction of the child’s educational attainment is the education of the parents. Most importantly, the children of parents with less than high school education are much less likely to proceed beyond high school than are the children of parents at other educational levels. And the children of parents with university degrees are much more likely to complete university themselves than are the children of parents with lesser education.

In general, people don't tend to marry others with lower socio-economic status.  As a result, those who could make a difference to the plight of Marx's proletariat don't make a difference.  They are too busy looking after themselves and their own.

With regard to being effective agents of social change, the bright and shiny lumpen professional class is as about as useless as Marx's lumpenproletariat for the former will never bite the hand that feeds it.

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