Just as “proletarian” once was to the communist model, “middle-class” has become a rallying term of endearment for a capitalist society. Although frequently references, it exists nowadays loosely as a flexible term of political rhetoric, instead of any true economic bracket. Election season demonstrates this better than most other times. In the purview of political campaigns, I’m middle-class, and you’re middle-class; the guy cleaning the toilets at my work is middle-class, and the managers of major corporations are middle-class; just as the elected officials sitting in Congress are middle-class–sometimes it sounds as if everybody is middle-class, regardless of their actual earnings. The reason for this is that the term serves as a nice label onto which one can project all things a society might deem as decent personal attributes. Hence, giving skilled orators the opportunity to tweak its definition just enough to meet their specific agenda. “We need to strengthen the middle-class!”, “I stand for the men and women of the middle-class America!”, “My plan is to help rebuild middle-class America!” And, bit by bit, each tweak eventually brings us to an economic model where individuals earning $40,000 a year are placed in the same income group as individuals earning $140,000 a year, as if their interests and hardships can be addressed by the same universal platform.
It would be incorrect to ascribe middle-class as a word whose meaning has died, or is on the verge of dying. Rather, it is a label that has become wholly undefinable, which makes its usage as good as dead from my perspective. Literally speaking, there certainly exists a class of people whose earning wage places them in, or near, the center bracket of the population, and in that sense, it is fair to refer to such individuals as being middle-class. However, the disparity between those on the high end of the “middle-class” spectrum has so drastically exceeded those on the low end, that to continually categorize the two within the same income realm seems to me as not just nonsensical, but incoherent.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that something is clearly off when those making over three times more than your income are considered your class equals.
A further issue I have with the term is that it so easily serves as a smokescreen against enacting substantial reform needed to alleviate the plight of the lower working class, as well as the downright poor. And, sadly, this is an offense committed by the political Left, which claims to hold the plight of the poor far more to heart than the political Right. Because, while the Left will rightly dismiss trickle-down economics when it’s set-up on the fallacious belief that wealth will naturally distribute itself evenly amongst all sectors of society as long as the affluent top is given the economic means and versatility to prosper, much of this same Left will often wholeheartedly embrace the equally fallacious idea that by focusing on the interests of the middle-class, it will trickle-down aid to the lower-class sectors of society. It hasn’t, it doesn’t, it won’t; namely, because the concerns of the former do not evenly align with the concerns of the latter, and benefits enacted to aid one class can (and often will) conflict with the interests of the other. To pretend otherwise, and insist that elevating the concerns of the middle-class will also somehow elevate the plight of the downright poor (not those tightening their belts, or just getting by living paycheck to paycheck–the actual no-belt, no-steady-paycheck, forgotten-and-ignored poor-poor), is to be willfully ignorant and choose a one-size fits all solution to a problem that cannot have one quick fix.
And no amount of political rhetoric will change that, regardless of which side of the political spectrum it’s coming from.