The End of the Working Class

Recommend this long read by Brink Lindsey, vice president and director of the Open Society Project at the Niskanen Center, in The American Interest.

Lindsey argues the “working class” was a creation of the industrial era. As IT supplants smokestack industry at the vanguard of technological progress, and demand for labor shifts in favor of high-skilled workers, the working class isn’t just in decline, it is disintegrating.

We can see this in declining attachment to work, declining participation in community life, declining marriage rates and declining life expectancies due to alcohol and opioid abuse.

Lindsey cautions against nostalgia for the postwar era. Even then, blue-collar existence was a kind of bondage, he writes:

Factory work was always dehumanizing when it treated people as machines. But it did make workers class-conscious. Existence was hard, but workers had a sense of identity and pride.

Today’s “precariat” doesn’t even have that. There is little sense of commonality and no pride in drifting from one dead-end job to the next.

Having failed to acquire the educational credentials needed to enter the meritocracy, they are excluded from modern society.

Being ill-used gave industrial workers the opportunity to find dignity in fighting back. But how does one fight back against being discarded and ignored? Where is the dignity in obsolescence?

The challenge Lindsey sees is twofold:

Finding respected and valuable contributions for people without abstract analytical skills to make; and
Mending fraying attachments to work, family and community.

He is optimistic. Technological advances hold out the promise of a radical reduction in the average size of economic enterprises, creating the possibility of work that is more creative and collaborative at a scale convivial to family and community.

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