May 21, 2020


Neofeudalism and its new legitimisersToday's oligarchs depend on a modern, overwhelmingly liberal clerisy for legitimacy (Joel Kotkin, 21 May, 2020, The Critic)

Half a century ago, Daniel Bell recognised an emerging "knowledge class," composed of people whose status rested on educational attainment and access to knowledge in a postindustrial society. Theoretically it represented a meritocracy, but this class has become mostly hereditary, as well-educated people, particularly from elite colleges, marry each other and aim to perpetuate their status. Between 1960 and 2005, the share of men with university degrees who married women with university degrees nearly doubled, from 25 percent to 48 percent. As Bell observed, parents of high status in a meritocracy will use their advantages to improve their children's prospects, and in this way, "after one generation a meritocracy simply becomes an enclaved class."

Michael Lind uses "professional and graduate degrees" as a way of measuring what he calls the "managerial overclass," which includes "private and public bureaucrats who run large national and global corporations" as well as directors of nonprofits and university professors. He estimates the "overclass" to be some 15 percent of the American population. Charles Murray defines a "new upper class" more narrowly, as the most successful 5 percent in managerial positions, the professions, and the media, and he estimates it at roughly 2.4 million people out of a country of over 320 million. (By comparison, the First Estate in France was around 1 percent of the population on the eve of the revolution.) In France today, Christophe Guilluy identifies a "privileged stratum" of people who gain from globalisation, or at least are not harmed by it, and who operate from an assumption of "moral superiority" that justifies their privilege.

What I designate as the clerisy is a group far larger and broader than the oligarchy. It spans a growing section of the workforce that is mostly employed outside of material production -- as teachers, consultants, lawyers, government workers, and medical providers. These professions are largely insulated from the risks of the marketplace. They also make up an increasing proportion of the workforce in the high-income countries: many of the fastest-growing occupations since 2010 have been in the arts, personal care, and health care, usually tied to nonprofits or the state. Meanwhile, those in private-sector middle-class jobs -- small-business owners, workers in basic industries and construction -- have seen their share of the job market shrink.

The picture is similar in Europe. In France, well over a million lower-skilled industry jobs have disappeared in the past quarter century, while the numbers of technical jobs have increased markedly in both the public and private realms. Those who work for state industries, universities, and other clerisy-oriented sectors enjoy far better benefits, notably pen- sions, than those working in the purely private sector.

Many of the people in these growing sectors are well positioned to exert a disproportionate influence on public attitudes, and on policy as well--that is, to act as cultural "legitimisers."

...besides peace, freedom, leisure and wealth?  Mr. Kotkin is undeniably correct about the connection between "neofeudalism" and high -income countries.  Indeed, the point of capitalism is to generate greater wealth. 

Posted by at May 21, 2020 12:00 AM