We need to stop obsessing about the middle-class and call things by their right name.
Last September, I argued against focusing on a middle-class that needed to be “rebuilt,” suggesting that we return instead to the discourse of the working-class.
Recent research by Jeff Kidder and Isaac Martin just confirms my view.* Their argument is that American hostility to taxes is grounded in “middle class feelings of exploitation.” Sure, tax talk is “morally charged” and about people’s “sense of the proper relations among groups” but it’s not about exploitation.
Exploitation is what happens when the members of the working-class are forced to have the freedom to sell their labor power, and when they create a surplus that is appropriated by a different class, the capitalists. Focusing on the middle-class and their feelings of tax injustice—their sense that they are “morally deserving and hard-working people, sandwiched between an economically more powerful group that manipulates the rules for its own benefit and a subordinate group that benefits from government spending but escapes taxation”—merely serves to divert attention from the fundamental injustice of class exploitation.
So, let’s call things by their correct names. The vast majority of people in the United States are not middle-class; they’re working-class. The misuses of the surplus generated by their exploitation are what created, in the run-up to 2007-08, the current crises. And the attempts to solve the crises on capitalist terms since then are leading to even more exploitation.
Anything else is just a middle-class fantasy.
*I searched for their article but it seems not to have been posted yet on the Symbolic Interaction web site.