VOCABULARY AND THE MIDDLE CLASS

Today, the President and Vice President launched a task force on “the middle class.”

Here is what EMR said last month in a draft of Chapter 26:

A 2009 PERSPECTIVE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF VOCABULARY

There is a larger context for understanding the importance of Vocabulary. The Shape of the Future, Chapter 1. employs statements made during the decade of the 1990s by senior elected leaders to illustrate the importance of an understanding of human settlement patterns and need for a robust Vocabulary to discuss the topic. When the book was completed in 2000, 20-20 hindsight provided a crystal clear way to compare statements of the intent of the Clinton / Gore Administration with the results over the following 8 years. Chapter 1. provides the perspectives and goals of President Clinton and Vice President Gore in their own words and then evaluates progress on those goals.

Now the US of A stands on the cusp of a new Administration. With no hindsight upon which to rely, a robust Vocabulary – a prerequisite of getting the issues “right” – becomes even more important due to the diminished resource reserves that remain after 35 years of intentional Mass OverConsumption to fuel “growth” and prosperity for a few at the top of the Ziggurat.

There is a broad range of specific problems that citizens who voted for ‘change’ hope the new administration will address. The broad topic which the obligatory Vice Presidential Task Force will address is: “Strengthen the Middle Class.”

At first blush, strengthening the Middle Class would appear to address a number of hot button issues:

1. The economy
2. Job creation
3. Energy independence
4. Affordable health care
5. among others

It might be obvious that “strengthening the Middle Class” must address the Mobility and Access Crisis, the Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis and the Helter Skelter Crisis. However, without a functional Vocabulary that reality will be missed by even those with the best of intentions.

The meaning and intent of “strengthening” should be clear to all: Improving the economic, social and physical well being of…

… of the “Middle Class,” of course. But there is the rub.

What is the Middle Class?

The Wikipedia discussion of “middle class” opens with this statement: “The term “middle Class” has a long history and has had many, sometimes contradictory, meanings.” Well put!

The bottom line is that almost no one believes that the classic Middle Class still exists. That Middle Class existed after the dust settled following World War II. It was articulated and confirmed by C Wright Mills, David Riesman, Robert and Helen Lynd and others. While Middletown’s Middle Class has changed and some say it does not exist, the term “Middle Class” is still used even though it has morphed to become a prime candidate for listing as a Core Confusing Word.

The Wikipedia discussion of “American Middle Class” focuses on three academic “class models” to summarize current scholarly classification of social class. Although there are three separate models, they divide the post 2000 social structure into four broad groupings that are remarkably similar. The four classes (with three sets of titles and percentages of the population) break down this way:

Class 1. Capitalist Class (1%) // Upper Class (1%) // The Super Rich (0.5%) and The Rich (0.5%) – percent total of the class is 1 percent in all three models.

Class 2. Upper Middle Class and Lower Middle Class (45%) // Upper Middle Class and Lower Middle Class (46%) // Middle Class (46%) – percent total varies from 45 to 46 percent in the three models.

Class 3. Working Class (30%) and Working Poor (13%) // Working Class (32%) // Working Class (40-45%) – percent total ranges from 32 to 45 percent in the three models.

Class 4. Underclass (12 %) // Lower Class (14-20%) // The Poor (12%) – percent total ranges from 12 to 20 percent in the three models.

The totals for those below “Middle Class” range from 42 to 65 percent. Note: The totals do not equal 100 percent within any single model.

In the three models selected by the Wikipedia authors the academics have remarkably similar categories and percentage distribution. The biggest variation are in the names and allocation of population of the lowest two classes.

In this ‘composite’ view of the Ziggurat, it seems there is not much room at the top. However, one percent of the population is about 3,060,000 citizens or something over 1,000,000 Households. These fortunate few would fill the largest NFL stadium about 37 times. While they compose a minuscule percentage of the population, this class provides – directly and indirectly – the majority of the funding for ideologically oriented Institutions (aka, think tanks or ‘Belief Tanks’) and support for the two major political parties. See THE ESTATES MATRIX for discussion of the impact of Institutions (especially Belief Tanks) in the New Third Estate. Also see Supercapitalism noted in Chapter 36. – Fireside Reading

It is significant that Class 1. (Upper) plus Class 2. (Middle) no longer make up a majority of the citizens of the US of A as they did in 1960 and in 1973. This raises the first question about the Vice Presidents Task Force:

Who needs “strengthening” most?

Vocabulary becomes even more important when one digs a little deeper. The core concern according to Vice President-Elect Biden’s own statement is “Working Families.”

Here is a ‘two-fer’ with respect to Vocabulary:

First, “family:” For reasons spelled out in GLOSSARY, the term “family” itself has become a candidate for Core Confusing Word status. This is due to disaggregation of the settlement pattern and to the constant changes now experienced within almost all Households / Dwelling Units.

Second, and even more important, if it is “working” citizens that are of concern from a social structure perspective, those are folks is a different place in the Ziggurat (and in a different class) than “the Middle Class.”

There is no question those individuals and Households who are productive members of society (aka, working) and who have been slipping further and further behind since the mid-70s NEED to be the focus of attention if democracy is to be preserved.

As emphasized in Chapter after Chapter of TRILO-G the widening Wealth Gap is anathema to, and incompatible with long term stability of democratic processes and to market economies.

So if Vice President-Elect Biden is to “strengthen the Middle Class,” the first thing to do is to define what it is he and the task force are talking about. There is no way to “strengthen the Middle Class” unless the Task Force understands reality and embraces a realistic Vocabulary.

There is a second point in this context with respect to “The American Dream” of working citizens and expanding home ownership. A fair allocation of location variable costs will make it very clear that from 60 to 70 percent of the population can never afford Single Household Detached Dwellings. That does not rule out “home ownership” but it does impact the settlement pattern. Further, most of the urban citizens who can not afford Single Household Detached Dwellings also cannot afford Large, Private Vehicles to secure Mobility and Access in dispersed settlement patterns.

This is not a matter of policy or preference, it is a matter of physics and economics and also requires an understanding of human settlement patterns. See THE PROBLEM WITH CARS.

EMR


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11 responses to “VOCABULARY AND THE MIDDLE CLASS”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I’ll repeat the quote posted below.

    ” The National Association of Realtors (NAR) released its latest Housing Affordability Index (HAI) today, showing that housing affordability reached an all-time record high of 158.8 in December

    A HAI of 158.8 would mean that the typical household earning the median family income of $61,058 in December would have 158.8% of the qualifying income to purchase a median-priced existing single-family house ($174,700) with a 20% down payment, which would be the highest level of housing affordability since the NAR started reporting housing affordability in 1988. Since mid-2006, the HAI has risen by almost 60 points, from 100 to 158.8

    Stated differently, the annual qualifying income required to purchase a median-price house (with a 20% down payment) is only $38448, with monthly payments based on a 5.59%, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage “

    A $40,000 income will put you in a single famly home today. Those are the current facts. it doesn’t really seem like a lot of money.

    When you say that ” A fair allocation of location variable costs will make it very clear that from 60 to 70 percent of the population can never afford Single Household Detached Dwellings.” then I assume that means by your definitions of what people “ought” to be paying, then 60 to 70% can never afford SF homes.

    Or else, as you say, it affects settlement pattern. They’d have to live farther away. (I’m not sure I get this since under your plan that would RAISE their locatioal costs even more.)

    OK, so what? People, in fact, don’t pay your vision of fair costs, yet most things still get provided. It sounds to me like all you are saying is that your plan would be a lot more expensive, if enforced, and/or people would have to make do with less (not detached dwellings).

    How do you expect to make that plan popular?

    RH

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “….showing that housing affordability reached an all-time record high of 158.8 in December”

    Yeah, well, that’s not surprising when you throw a doctor’s salary in Beverly Hills into the same data set with $10,000 houses in Detroit….something has to give and in this case it’s the HAI….it’s going through the roof!

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    RH

    You have ignored the fact that the “fair allocation of location variable costs” lowers the cost of urban housing and increases the cost of sprawl housing. Location variable mortgages would further reduce the value of sprawl housing and increase the money available for urban housing.

    In the long run the percent of population that can afford single family detached dwellings would match the percent of population that desired them. The market would move from 5000 sq ft houses on 5 acre lots to 1500 sq ft houses on quarter acre lots. The market would also be smaller as urban multi family units became more desirable.

  4. I don’t think the average buyer of a house is concerned about how many square feet it as much as whether or not they can afford the mortgage.. it’s in a relatively safe place and has decent schools and is within an hour or so of their job.

    As they say, your “mileage” will vary but I have a very hard time believing that most folks are going to say – “all things being equal.. I’m going to live cheek by jowl – for the same amount of money that I could not live cheek by jowl.

    As far as the dialog about “fair allocation of location costs” – the conversation is so bogus as to stink to high heaven.. because the folk who say this…never give specifics of those “unfair” .. they don’t enumerate them… much less talk about how to reform them.

    So.. they talk in vague terms insisting that using a “proper” vocabulary is fundamental – to fundamental transformation.

    In other words, there is no beef – just an advocacy.

    If there is an inequitable allocation of location costs, for crap-sake define what they are instead of mealy-mouthing them.

    And then explain.. how you would gain public support to change them….

    A primary one of commuting highways – looks like it will be addressed with HOT Lanes..

    And yet.. not a word from the fundamental transformation folks as to whether or not HOT Lanes is a step in the right direction (or not).. and what else would be left on the plate to address along with those transportation costs.

    EMR says he does not have time to address questions but he sure seems to have time to essentially SPAM BR with never-ending propaganda… without ever really getting to the nub of the issue IMHO.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry:

    I think the travel time is 45 minutes, not one hour, but the rest is probably correct. The problem is the location of jobs, housing, schools and the rest. When I see row houses in Fredericksburg and Manassas I have to discount your “cheek by jowl” hypothesis.

    HOT lanes is a step in the transfer of public property (we own it) to private corporations. If we were serious about charging the value of public facilities, a free market theory, we would have public corporations operate highways with demand tolling. You don’t need HOT lanes and you don/t need private money. You do increase the capacity of the highway by a third by pricing to maximize useful work per lane. When you allow highways to become congested you reduce their value for transportation.

    Jim W

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    “Yeah, well, that’s not surprising when you throw a doctor’s salary in Beverly Hills into the same data set with $10,000 houses in Detroit….something has to give and in this case it’s the HAI….it’s going through the roof!”

    The HAI is not calculate that way, on a nationallevel. It is a composit of many local scores, so it shows what is affordable loally.

    If it was done as yu suggest, then I agree it would be a meaningless statistic.

    As it is though it is one indication that EMR’s view is distorted.

    As I’ve pointed out before, I lost two long-term tenants, who were finally able to buy their own homes – because they became affordable.

    I’m happy for them and wish them the best of luck.

    RH

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    “HOT lanes is a step in the transfer of public property …”

    “You do increase the capacity of the highway by a third by pricing to maximize useful work per lane. When you allow highways to become “

    So, we are oing to increase the value of the highway by a third, and then give that value away.

    Such a deal.

    See today’s WAPO editorial about why we shhould increase the gas tax and reduce the income or other taxes in kind.

    RH

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    “You have ignored the fact that the “fair allocation of location variable costs” lowers the cost of urban housing and increases the cost of sprawl housing. “

    I haven’t ignored it: I disagree with it and have said so many times. EMR refuses to respond with facts. I have pointed out why I believe that if we actually measured a full allocation of all costs we would find that urban areas are NOT paying their full share. Under a full cost model they would become even more expensive ad more dysfunctionl than they are now.

    We are about to embark on a 20 yer experiment in Tyson’s. I probably won’t be around to collect, but I’d wager that congestion in Tysons 20 years from now will be wrose than today, and the taxes and rents will be higher.

    RH

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Ray, I think that you are likely correct on many urban versus non-urban costs. True, urban areas have density that, in some circumstances, provide savings. For example, Verizon can bury cables and serve 100 customers much more cheaply in Fairfax County than in can in rural Virginia.

    But urban areas generally require much more of everything in urban areas than in non-urban markets. For example, Fairfax County has estimated that a full build-out of Tysons Corner would require $258 million (current costs) of additions to the sanitary sewer system. That’s in part because of capacity problems, which require hauling the sewerage to multiple locations in NoVA.

    Urban areas also tend to have higher land costs and labor costs. Factor those costs into the equation and let’s see the results.

    The push for urbanization is coming from a few sources: 1) wealthy people in rural areas who want to keep the status quo; 2) lefty enviros who just believe regardless of facts; 3) developers who happen to own land in urban areas; and 4) politicians who are ready to take everyone’s money. Developers believe in whatever theory lets them develop where they are. Gerry Connolly once told me that the only reason Til Hazel hates rail is because he doesn’t own any land near the planned Dulles Rail route. On that issue, Connolly was spot on.

    Let’s see the cost studies.

    TMT

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m not even sure your Verizon example is all that great.

    A few years ao I saw a cable project in Reston. Ther must have been 500 latinos digging that trech – by hand. Why? Because there was so much stuff under there already.

    Around the same time there was a cable laying project alongside Rte 55, where I live. A giant machine dug the trench unrolled the cable and backfilled the trench. They did more than a thousand feet per day.

    I asked the contractor if this meant I was going to get high speed access and he just smiled and shook his head. I figure it was fiber optic for one of the “secret” facilities out around Front Royal.

    But yes, I suspect the complexity of getting anything done in urban areas drives the cost far more than any reasonable distance might. More than that, my definition of sustainable relies on the amount of energy used compared to the naturl energy generated. That implies that urban areas need (or will need) very large support areas – that they are not supporting fairly.

    EMR thinks we don’t need very much space for urban uses, and he claims the rest is virtually worthless. Which to me begs the question, if it is so cheap, why not use it?

    RH

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Here is a perfect example of why RH has never made a rational response to Professor Risse’s posts and why he keeps quoting others who, while they may make valid points, do not relate to the issue raised

    “EMR thinks we don’t need very much space for urban uses, and he claims the rest is virtually worthless. Which to me begs the question, if it is so cheap, why not use it?”

    Line by line:

    “EMR thinks we don’t need very much space for urban uses, … “

    That is true as I understand Risse’s work.

    “…and he claims the rest is virtually worthless.”

    Where can you find that. A lot of it is very useful for non urban uses by individuals and organizations and all of it is very useful but to the public, not to individuals — air rechange, water recharge, extensive recreation, etc.

    “Which to me begs the question, if it is so cheap, why not use it?”

    Here is the crux of the issue. It is not useless for non urban uses, and it is very expensive for urban uses because of the locational costs of dysfunctional settlement patterns.

    I am an urban citizen who does not what to subsidize land speculators or scattered urban land uses.

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