The End of the Working Class | The American Interest

The End of the Working Class; Brink Lindsey; In The American Interest; 2017-08-30.
Teaser: A terrible loss that shouldn’t be mourned.

tl;dr → it’s a book promo. The experts are wrong; manufacturing jobs were not “good jobs” anyway; labor jobs are were dull, dirty, dangerous & very low status-sweaty-laborious. Better can be done absent the fear of fear itself and-or the failure of imagination.

Brink Lindsey
  • vice president and director of the Open Society Project at the Niskanen Center.
  • Brink Lindsey, Steven Teles; The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality; Oxford University Press; 1 edition; 2017-11-01; 232 pages; ASIN:019062776X: Kindle: no, paper: $24+SHT.


  • The Distress
    • icreased income inequality
    • wage stagnation
    • skill-biased technological change
    • productivity growth slowdown
    • rising college wage premium
    • labor-market polarization
    • declining prime-age labor force participation
    • low intergenerational relative mobility
    • declining absolute mobility
  • Great Recession
  • relative stagnation is not collapse
  • social disintegration
  • “spiritual” crisis
  • death of despair
  • Rust Belt
  • Labor Unions
    • are gone
    • were defined by resistance to The Man
    • provided solidarity
  • The Meritocracy
  • The Industrial Revolution
    modern economic growth depended on large inputs of unskilled, physically demanding labor.
  • The Current RevolutionModern Era
    • because
      • automation
      • offshoring
    • <quote>our country’s most technologically dynamic industries—the ones that account for the lion’s share of innovation and productivity growth—now make little use of American manual labor.</quote>
  • Capitalism
  • Marxism
  • Conservatives and libertarians have tended to dismiss the issue of class.
  • Concept

    Agrarian work was hard, cruel, dirty-dangerous-dreary, but it was nature, and God’s Plan cannot be questioned or modified.
    Factory work is hard, cruel, dirty-dangerous-dreary, but it is defined by The Man, who could make it stop if he wanted.



<quote>The low productivity of traditional agriculture meant that mass oppression was unavoidable; the social surplus was so meager that the fruits of civilization were available only to a tiny elite, and the specter of Malthusian catastrophe was never far from view. Once the possibilities of a productivity revolution through energy-intensive mass production were glimpsed, the creation of urban proletariats in one country after another was likewise driven by historical necessity. The economic incentives for industrializing were obvious and powerful, but the political incentives were truly decisive. When military might hinged on industrial success, geopolitical competition ensured that mass mobilizations of working classes would ensue. No equivalent dynamics operate today. There is no iron law of history impelling us to treat the majority of our fellow citizens as superfluous afterthoughts. A more humane economy, and a more inclusive prosperity, is possible. For example, new technologies hold out the possibility 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, community, and polis. All that hold us back are inertia and a failure of imagination—and perhaps a fear of what we have not yet experienced. There is a land of milk and honey beyond this wilderness, if we have the vision and resolve to reach it.</quote>


  • Children of Israel
    • in the wilderness
    • Egypt
    • bondage
  • <quote>The creation of the working class was capitalism’s original sin. </quote>
  • <quote>We must remember that, even in the halcyon postwar decades, blue-collar existence was a kind of bondage.</quote>


<ahem>not in chronological order</ahem>

  • The Wagner Act of 1935
    • institutionalized mass unionization, a regime for collective bargaining on wages and working conditions.
    • 1940-1944 (during World War II), the Federal government actively promoted unionization in war production plants.
    • the legal structure
      • massed bargaining power against management
      • suppressed wage competition among workers across whole industries
    • wages were negotiated wages roughly 10 to 15 percent above market rates, as well as a whole raft of workplace protections.
    • legal advantages enjoyed by labor at the height of its powers have diminished very little since then.
  • Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, survived a veto by President Truman.
  • The concept of collective action
  • 1936–37, sit-down strike at General Motors
  • 1940-1944, strikes were “discouraged”
  • 1945, 5M workers went on strike at least once.
  • 1950 “Treaty of Detroit”
    • Charlie Wilson’s General Motors
    • Walter Reuther’s United Automobile Workers.
  • Collective action declined as the adversarial relationship with the work and mangement ceased.
    • then → <quote>Class warfare, then, was no mere metaphor or abstract possibility: it was a daily, lived reality.</quote>
    • <quote>As work softened, moving out of hot, clanging factories and into air-conditioned offices, the fellow-feeling born of shared pain and struggle inevitably dissipated.<quote>
    • Actions
      • WHEN? The “Molly Maguires” episode in the Pennsylvania coal fields
      • 1877 the Great Railroad Strike
      • Haymarket
      • Homestead
      • Cripple Creek
      • the Ludlow Massacre
  • 1952-04, Harry Truman’s nationalized the U.S. steel industry, hours before a strike, during the Korean War.
  • 1964, the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution”, a memorandum, to President Johnson, concerning mass unemployment from automation & its affluence.


  • <quote><snip/>whites in Rust Belt states made the difference in putting the incompetent demagogue Donald Trump into the White House<quote>
  • <quote>We have come to the end of the working class.</quote>
  • <quote>The dynamic sectors that propel the whole system forward, and on which hinge hopes for continued improvement in material living conditions, don’t have much need today for callused hands and strong backs—and will have less need every year going forward.</quote>
  • <quote> Their successors, by contrast, are just an aggregation of loose, unconnected individuals, defined in the mirror of everyday life by failure and exclusion. They failed to get the educational credentials needed to enter the meritocracy, from which they are therefore excluded. That failure puts them on the outside looking in, with no place of their own to give them a sense of belonging, status, and, above all, dignity.</quote>
  • <quote>In pursuing the technical efficiency of mass production regardless of its human costs, the class system created by industrial capitalism divided people along very stark lines: those who work with their brains and those who work with their bodies; those who command and those who obey; those who are treated as full-fledged human beings and those who are treated as something less.</quote>
  • <quote>If the capitalist class system wasn’t about narrowly defined exploitation or oppression, it was most certainly about domination.</quote>
  • <quote>And as mass affluence prompted a cultural turn away from mere material accumulation and toward self-expression and personal fulfillment as life’s highest desiderata, the terms of that deal only grew more excruciating.</quote>


  • Daniel Bell; writing in Some Article; (as a reporter); Fortune; 1950+?; unspecific.
  • Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist (a historian of the present day)
  • Jefferson Cowie, a historian (a sociologist of the past)
  • Benjamin Harrison, President, United States, speaking in 1889.
  • Fritz Lang, Metropolis
  • Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
  • H. G. Wells, in The Time Machine


working class
  • <quote>people without a four-year college degree, since those are the people now most likely to be stuck with society’s lowest-paying, lowest-status jobs </quote>
  • <quote>the individuals who would have taken the industrial jobs we used to have.</quote>
skill-biased technological change
innovation that increases the demand for highly skilled specialists relative to ordinary workers.
e.g. farm work → factory work is different than factory work → office work.


  • Anne Case, [Sir] Angus Deaton; Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century; prepared for Brookings Panel on Economic Activity; 2017-03-23, 2017-03-23&24; this version 2017-05-01.
  • Robert D. Putnam; Our Kids: The American Dream In Crisis; Simon & Schuster; 2015-03-10; 400 pages; ASIN:1476769893: Kindle: $13, paper: $5+SHT.
  • Charles Murray; Coming Apart: State of America 1960-2010; ASIN:0307453421
  • Jefferson Cowie; Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class; ASIN:1565848756
  • Andrew Cherlin; Labor’s Love Lost: Working Class America; ASIN:0871540304
  • Richard Feldman, Michael Belzold; End of the Line: Auto Workers and the American Dream; University of Illinois Press; 1990-10-01; 320 pages; ASIN:0252061489: Kindle: no, paper: $2+SHT.
    tl;dr → an oral history of Ford’s Michigan Truck Plant


In The American Interest

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