“Middle Class” As Deflection

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“Middle Class” As Deflection

Jeffery R. Webber

Saving the middle class has become fashionable again. With alarming regularity, opinion pieces in the country’s leading newspapers, magazines, and online media call for the reorienting of Canadian state policy around this elusive goal. Despite (or because of?) the shared commonsensical tone adopted in such commentary, explanations of the middle class, or indeed of social class in any sense at all, are vanishingly rare.

In all of these senses, Max Fawcett’s recent Walrus article, “How to Save the Middle Class,” draws the same useless cookie cutter from that old, cluttered baking drawer of mid-brow Canadian journalism. Fawcett’s use of “middle class” is symptomatic... of the kind of political diversion typically enabled by this concept. In wrestling with the “inherently amorphous nature” of the category, he gestures at income, status, life-style, success, and aspiration, before settling principally on issues of consumption and home-ownership. The “upper class,” from this perspective, has more of these things, and the “lower class” fewer.

In this kind of accounting, the overwhelming bulk of us seem to be middle class. Production seems not to exist. Conflictual polarization is absent. Talk of exploitation is nowhere to be heard. Tired tropes of the new economy abound, while capitalism disappears from the stage altogether.

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