But rude upstart that I am, I barged right in. Somebody had better call the Class Police before this slim volume gets into even more unqualified hands than mine! Seriously though, I did learn a lot of Inside Info, much of it distinctly unflattering to the "American dream-hoarders" of the top quintile. Their enrichment, by about 44 percent over the past half-century, is largely the result of the decline of trade unions, a shift away from full employment, downward pressure on wages from globalization and job outsourcing, and something Reeves calls "skill-biased technological change."
Reeves studiously avoids mention of the class war and class struggles originating from the bottom, and he never mentions the dread phrases "democratic socialism" or "income redistribution". Instead, we learn that "human capital development gaps" begin in the womb, because wealthier, more educated parents are more likely to have planned for a baby from within a distinctly Brave New World-ish framework. The following segment is apparently not parody:
"A couple I know gave a name to the task of raising their daughter successfully: Project Melissa. This began with the vitamins they both took before they even started trying to get pregnant., continued through the educational games of the early years, selection of great K-12 schools, vibrant family dinners, help with homework and college applications, through to helping Melissa land a plum internship. Project Melissa has lasted a quarter of a century (so far); but it started with the care with which she was brought into the world in the first place."Reeves' stated purpose in writing his book is not so much to champion the struggling and the destitute as it is to warn the "merely rich" that their privilege does have some built-in dangers and social costs. Consider it a friendly reminder to the haute bourgeoisie that without a little more voluntary empathy and a little less conspicuous snobbery, the rabble will only grow more boisterous. After all, enough of them voted for Donald Trump.
"Trump exuded and validated blue collar culture and was loved for it. His supporters have no problem with the rich. In fact, they admire them. The enemy is upper middle class professionals: journalists, scholars, technocrats, managers, bureaucrats, the people with letters after their names. You and me."Roughly defining the upper middle class as the top fifth of the population who earn six-figure incomes, Reeves gently admonishes his readers to at least become more "woke." Anything less than solicitous finger-wagging on his part might hurt his book sales, after all. He even mentions that a friend had begged him to hold off on publication last month until his daughter secured an unpaid internship at an organization which his charitable foundation funds.
Aspirational critic of haute bourgeoisie greediness though he may be, Reeves still can't avoid more than a little humble-bragging snobbery of his own. In case you missed the exclusivity message the first time, he keeps reminding you of it at regular intervals. Take this placatory goo for the unduly sensitive:
"As a Brookings senior fellow and a resident of an affluent neighborhood in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside of DC, I am, after all, writing about my own class. This is not one of those books about inequality that is about other people - either the super-rich or the struggling poor. This is a book about me, and likely, you, too."I think that might have been my cue to quit reading a book that is above my pay scale and social station. But I forged ahead anyway. It's a very slim volume, and about a quarter of it is footnotes from other neoliberal sources, like the New York Times and the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.
So let's get right to it.
The prelude to Reeves' seven-step recovery program for the merely rich is to simply acknowledge that they - oops, I mean you - have an addiction to advantages, and that everyone else is being left behind in the dust. So please do stop your whining, Upper Middles. Just because you're not a plutocrat doesn't mean you're a pauper. After all, $2.7 trillion of the gains since the economic crash went to the 19 percent right below the top 1 percent. You now hold more than half of America's wealth, So stop being so resentful, claiming that the oligarchs are gaining at your sole expense. Believe it or not, there are actually people worse off than you.
It is this strange resentment which the merely rich harbor for the super-rich that makes so many Upper Middles determined that their own children will one day reach the ranks of the plutocracy, if not the actual Forbes 400. Reeves describes the manufacture of a "glass floor" to both shield merely rich kids from downward mobility, and to prevent poorer children from upward mobility. This glass floor/ceiling can take the form of wealthy school districts funded by high property taxes on big houses, private lessons and activities, and the cult of unpaid internships giving richer kids an unfair head start in the job market.
Reeves views this institutionalized privilege as undesirable because after awhile, the less intelligent Upper Middles will end up running things to the ultimate detriment of the Upper Middles as a class. "We have to stop rigging the market in our children's favor," he warns.
Since Mister Meritocratic Market God will remain our Lord and Savior, we can forget about a new New Deal, when neoliberal concern-trolling of the poor can serve as a glossy substitute. Because goodness knows, the poor cannot help themselves, especially since "we" are so averse to legislation guaranteeing a living wage, a universal guaranteed income, and universal guaranteed health care. Privilege has its privileges, and human rights have little or nothing to do with it.
Flitting off into the safe space of the Extreme Center, Reeves suggests seven steps to close the "class gap."
1. Since poor women shouldn't be reproducing themselves so much, give them more contraception. Meanwhile, let the Upper Middles turn marriage into an affluent "child-rearing machine for the knowledge economy." Thus we may avoid what Nobel economist James Heckman has called "the biggest market failure of all: picking the wrong parents."
2. "Invest in" visiting the abodes of the poor in order to lecture them on proper Upper Middle parenting skills. Reeves gives a plug to programs which outfit indigent parents with language pedometers to bring their children's vocabulary up to satisfactory levels and bridge the "word gap." Besides being demeaning to poor people and an invasion of their privacy, it's been largely discredited, based as it is on a study of only six families. But maybe Project Melissa can lend a hand.
3. Pay "the best teachers" to work in poorer schools. He doesn't say where, how much, and when. Vagueness suffices; what else is a Post-Truth Society for?
4. Make college funding "more equal." Remember, though, that some animals are more equal than others. Rich people with high IQs tend to marry other rich people with high IQS and thus they tend to have high-IQ children. All the children are at least above average, and some children are more above-average than others. Although, of course, if given the right opportunity, high-IQ poor children can also succeed once given a ladder and a level playing field and an equal head start.
5. Make land use regulation more fair by doing away with "exclusionary zoning" and related tax breaks based solely upon property ownership. This doesn't actually include guaranteed housing, of course, but it is a warning to affluent zoning boards that the rabble is noticing what they're up to.
6. Abolish "legacy admissions" to expensive colleges and universities. Reeves specifically points to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who, despite his "less than stellar" grades and SAT scores, got into Harvard based mainly upon his father's generous donation to the institution.
7. Open up internships to the lower classes by subsidizing a few of the positions.
Sure, there are "price tags" to these trickle-down incremental policies, but the Upper Middles can help. "We" can afford to. The only thing standing in the way is a resistance to recognizing one's own privilege. Do we want to be selectively and minimally generous, or do we want to be downright mean, yanking up all those ladders of opportunity to keep the Lessers out? Do rich liberals really want to come off looking like a watered-down version of the Trump dynasty?
The main thing to worry about is the reputation-salvaging of the "elites" during this perilous time of Trump-inspired resentment. While the Upper Middles are easily ridiculed for such things as the Melissa Project, they should not be mocked for treating child-rearing in terms of the stock market. They are indeed superior parents. After all, they've actually succeeded in turning "parent" into a verb.
"It is easy to parody overzealous affluent 'helicopter' parents shuttling our children from after-school tennis practice to cello lessons to a Chinese tutor. But the truth is that we are doing a lot of things right. High-income parents talk with their school-age children for three hours more per week than low-income parents, according to research by Meredith Phillips of UCLA.
This investment goes well beyond numeracy and literacy. The skills required to ensure upper middle class status are not just 'book smarts' but also social skills, self-regulation, and a wide cultural vocabulary. Oh, and a strong work ethic, too. This is an important point: we are not talking about a leisure class here. Most of us in the upper middle class work very hard indeed, both at our day jobs and also at our evening and weekend job of cultivating our children's life chances."Methinks Reeves might be protesting a bit too much here, not least because he never explores in his book why poorer parents allegedly don't spend as much time with their children. He doesn't mention that too many moms and dads have to work several low-wage jobs or "gigs" simply to make ends barely meet. Many are just too dog-tired and stressed out to have sparkling dinnertime conversations with their offspring. Many are too cash-strapped to even buy, cook and serve decent, regular meals. At least a fifth of all American children are considered food-insecure, with lack of nourishment a prime cause for their failure to learn. Level playing fields are the least of their problems.
Still, Reeves plods on, alternating between pretend-scolding his cohort and defending them. Although he and his fellow Upper Middle dads absolutely adore the hit TV series Mad Men, for example,"we don't come home to drink a cocktail, we come home to help with the homework: to Mandarin, rather than to a martini."
Well, good for him.
No wonder that Reeves includes those subtle yet implicit "may not be suitable for all readers" warnings at the beginning of his book. Not only is parent now a verb, but you can only be a successful parenting unit if you're proficient enough in Mandarin to help your kid with it.
If his class really were that virtuous, of course, Reeves never would have needed to publish his book in the first place. But I'll give him credit where due: he does at one point chide the parents in his own wealthy school district for some pretty grotesque selfishness:
"Suggestions a few years ago from our local school board members that parental contributions should be pooled so that resources could be channeled to those most in need were met with a combination of incredulity and fury. And this is a liberal area."He is careful to somewhat disown Randian writer Charles "The Bell Curve" Murray, while agreeing with him that the merely rich merely should consume less conspicuously and develop better moral sermonizing skills in order to keep themselves secure in their class niche and the lower orders in theirs. But Reeves boldly brings it up one meager virtue-signalling notch:
In fact, Murray explicitly says, 'I am not suggesting that they should sacrifice their self interest'. I (Reeves) am suggesting that we should, just a little.That is also the agenda of the Democratic Party, of which the Brookings Institution is an integral, policy-making part. Rather than the "fierce urgency of now," the Upper Middles are merely advised to press the pause bottom, and reflect upon a further bare minimum of cosmetic sharing in order to keep the neoliberal idea (and the Democratic Party serving it) surviving against all odds.
Meanwhile, there's still the inconvenient bottom 80 percent of us.