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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


February 27th, 2000.

"The Rise & Fall of the Middle Class."

Arnold Bennett:

"The crowd at these places [the bookstalls around Charing Cross] is the prosperous crowd, the crowd which grumbles at income-tax and pays it. Three hundred and seventy-five thousand persons paid income-tax last year, under protest: they stand for the existence of perhaps a million souls, and this million is a handful floating more or less easily on the surface of the forty millions of the population. The great majority of my readers must be somewhere in this million. There can be few hirers of books who neither pay income-tax nor live on terms of dependent equality with those who pay it. I see at the counters people on whose foreheads it is written that they know themselves to be the salt of the earth. Their assured, curt voices, their proud carriage, their clothes, the similarity of their manners, all show that they belong to a caste and that the caste has been successful in the struggle for life. It is called the middle-class, but it ought to be called the upper-class, for nearly everything is below it. I go to the Stores, to Harrod's Stores, to Barker's, to Rumpelmeyer's, to the Royal Academy, and to a dozen clubs in Albemarle Street and Dover Street, and I see again just the same crowd, well-fed, well-dressed, completely free from the cares which beset at least five-sixths of the English race. They have worries; they take taxis because they must not indulge in motor-cars, hansoms because taxis are an extravagance, and omnibuses because they really must economize. But they never look twice at two pence. They curse the injustice of fate, but secretly they are aware of their luck. When they have nothing to do, they say, in effect: "Let's go out and spend something." And they go out. They spend their lives in spending. They deliberately gaze into shop windows in order to discover an outlet for their money. You can catch them at it any day."

The class between the upper and lower classes of society, is, of course, the middle class. The upper class, to which we all aspire, consists of those who live in affluence and independence. Those in the lower class live from hand to mouth; they have (for whatever reason) no credit in the system. Up to the 19th century, there were but few in the middle class. The social sandwich, so to speak, had a huge bottom and two thin layers on top. With industrialism and notions of government of the wisest taking hold, the middle class was to slowly build up during the 19th century, such that it pushed the upper and lower classes to mere crusts. Though undoubtedly some dropped down into the great middle class; its growth came from the lower class; an evolution which we might all applaud. The great heap in the bottom shifted to the great heap at the centre; driven, all, they were, by the repulsion of the bottom and the attraction of the top. As the 20th century wore on most all of us were better off than any of our ancestors could possibly have ever imagined.

But what is the middle class? They are the repository of the country's wealth and intelligence. As the agriculturalist, Arthur Young, was to write:

"Knowledge, intelligence, information, learning, and wisdom ought to govern nations; and these are all found to reside most in the middle classes of mankind; weakened by the habits and prejudices of the great, and stifled by the ignorance of the vulgar."

The middle class, however, has suffered greatly; suffered because of the bungling hands of government; because of taxation.

Now, an argument for government taxation, other then it is required to fund "government services," is that (provided it does not act as such a drag as to be counterproductive) it might be used to boast the unfortunate into the middle class at the expense of the upper crust. It, the taxation system, however, was to be but a convenient spigot into the middle class. As government bloated itself in an effort to do things it cannot do, the taxation system has become one of the greatest observable abuses of government. The taxation of the people is not only at extreme levels; but, it is wide in its expanse: everybody and everything is taxed. One of the effects, apropos the middle class, it that during the last quarter of the 2oth century it has, it would appear, shrunk. The rich can afford the advise necessary to avoid taxation and whistle their funds, in this electronic age, to a jurisdiction with minimal taxes. The great middle class now suffers and precious little good is it to the poor and the disadvantaged.

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Peter Landry

February, 2000 (2015)