Eliminate “The Middle Class”

The concept of “the middle class” has never been well defined and has outlived its usefulness.  Because we have more precise statistical terms like ‘median,’ we should use them.  Wikipedia’s academic sources demonstrate that “the middle class” is often defined as starting above the median income.  Historically, the term has often been used to describe the bourgeoisie whose income begins well above the median and rises to the fringes of the lower aristocracy.  An Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll found that 54% of Americans define the middle class as, “having the ability to keep up with expenses and hold a steady job while not falling behind or taking on too much debt”.  By that definition, many famous movie stars have not made it into the middle class.

We medianists should eliminate “the middle class” because it is a deceptive term that breeds confusion.  The best term is the middle tertile (or tercile). This is a strangely neglected term that means the middle third of the distribution.  Its cousins, the quartilequintile, decile, and percentile are well known, but somehow the word ‘tercile, is rarely used.  This gives an easy, precise definition.  The Economist magazine wrongly claims that it is possible to have an absolute definition of middle class that uses the same material standards across time and place.  A ‘middle’ is never absolute.  A middle is always relative to something you are comparing it with.  The middle class of the US in 2015 is going to be very different from the middle class of Mozambique to say nothing of the middle class in the middle ages.

According to the Economist, a relative definition is relative to a small group of people like a nation.  But their “absolute definition” is also relative; it is relative to the entire population of the world.  The “¡¿absolute definition” that The Economist prefers is actually just relative to a large group of people.  As the global income distribution changes, the Economist magazine will certainly change its “¡¿absolute” definition of the middle class.   Regardless of what comparison group we use to define a middle class, the middle tercile gives more empirical meaning than a completely arbitrary monetary threshold.  Lets call it the midtercile class.

Most intellectuals, pundits and journalists may find the tercile definition of middle-class disturbing because it will place them in the envied and despised upper class.  But they really are elites.  Less than a third of American adults have a college degree, and having a college degree gives a high probability of being in the upper tercile.  Almost all our opinion setters are successful intellectuals, pundits, journalists, and politicians who are in the upper class even though they are loathe to admit it.  Only 2% of Americans feel like they can stand to identify with the upper class, but most opinion-setters really are elites.  A person like this should not try to charade as a midtercile (average) Joe.

One reason why most of the toptercile feel like they are part of the bottom 98% of Americans rather than part of the toptercile is that the top 2% richest Americans are SOOOOO much richer than even the rest of us.  What we really need is broader divisions within the toptercile.  We should divide the upper class into the rich (top 2%) and the bourgeois upper class which is really approximately what the term ‘bourgeois’ originally meant.  Unfortunately, the opinion setters themselves will be the ones to spread the name for themselves, and bourgeois is unflattering, so we need a term that they can take pride in if they are to adopt it.

The high-skilled class is a term which might work. This is a class that is either well-educated or has tremendous on-the-job training, but does not consider itself rich. It will be hard to convince them that they are not middle class, but they aren’t and they should accept it.  Perhaps they will be able to claim the title of “high-skilled class”.  Oddly, the elite opinion setters have divided the middle class into an upper-middle of which they are a part and a lower-middle which extends down somewhere towards the median.  Instead of dividing up the middle class into upper and lower when both classes are relatively similar and the upper middle class is really in the toptercile, we should divide up the toptercile.  It won’t be as easy to swallow as expanding the middle all the way to the top, Orwellian fashion.  But it is more accurate.  The “¡¿upper-middle” class is almost always part of the toptercile and should admit it.

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One comment on “Eliminate “The Middle Class”
  1. […] boosts economic growth too. If they really prioritized the middle class, they would want data about the middle tercile to show what has worked and what hasn’t, but that would be “class warfare”, so […]

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