The Threat from the Managerial Overclass
It’s fitting that a new book with a provocative title, The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite, came out the same week that the global elite had convened at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.
If by chance you, dear reader, didn’t make it to Davos, Michael Lind’s book will help explain the strategies and tactics of the globe-trotters and globalizers. And of course, every day since Davos, we can see for ourselves the actions of the Davos Men.
For instance, there’s Michael Bloomberg, who is spending hundreds of millions—and who knows, maybe soon, billions—of dollars in pursuit of the presidency. And there’s another billionaire, Tom Steyer, whose fortune, while immense, is still miniature next to that of Mayor Mike. (Sorry, Tom: You’ve been outbid.)
And then there’s Mayor Pete—Pete Buttigieg, McKinsey & Co.’s man in the Midwest. Buttigieg is not rich himself, at least not yet, but he is the preferred candidate of many rich people.
In the meantime, Lind’s book is not a play-by-play; instead, it’s a deep analysis of the powerful forces shaping and twisting our lives. So if the news-consumer wishes to get a better understanding of how the plutocracy—including plutocratic minions such as Buttigieg—are operating, The New Class War makes for an excellent guidebook.
Lind, a professor at the University of Texas, argues that the theory and practice of plutocracy these days isn’t just about the rich guarding their money—although they certainly do a good job of that—but it’s also about the rich trumpeting their values, as well as trickling them down to the rest of us. The rich do a good job of that, too.
As Lind writes, “The new class war is very real—and the managerial class is winning.” In using the phrase “managerial class,” Lind intends for his dissection of plutocracy to include more than just the actions of the planet’s billionaires—that is, the politicking of the 2,153 individuals and families worldwide who wield more wealth than 4.6 billion people on earth.
Lind also analyzes the helpers and facilitators of these billionaires and their wingmen, the mere millionaires. Lind wants to show us the actions of the politicians, corporate executives, bureaucrats, journalists, propagandists, “public interest” lawyers, and professors who run interference for the rich.
It’s this managerial class—sometimes also known as the new class, hence the sly pun in the title of Lind’s book, The New Class War—that gives our age its distinctive cultural signature. Yes, the rich are rich and want to stay that way, and yet at the same time, fat cats now lean left, even far left, on cultural issues–and they want you to do as you’re told.
This phenomenon of Woke Capitalism has been chronicled for years here at Breitbart News, but Lind weaves it into a larger discussion of national and international power. As he writes of this managerial class, “It represents a fusion of the three elites at the commanding heights of the economy, the culture and politics.” He further adds that this trio “increasingly constitutes a single conformist caste.”
Because this managerial caste or class—or overclass—has been mostly united on key issues, it has proven itself to be extraordinarily effective. These hired managerialists have reliably protected the richness of the rich, and yet, at the same time, they have propagated the new progressive values of the upper class. Thus the old stereotype of the tycoon, or corporate chieftain, as some sort of conservative stuffed shirt has been replaced by such hipper-than-thou figures like Richard Branson and Elon Musk and the various Silicon Valley masters of the universe tech billionaires.
And, of course, along the way, the hipster CEO is absolved of any responsibility to help uphold good cultural order. In other words, the rich and powerful have been unleashed to be rich and powerful without bearing responsibility for anything other than making money for themselves and being cool. It’s this de-coupling of power from responsibility that has had such a dramatic effect on corporate behavior and on social morale.
Indeed, as we see with ex-football player Colin Kaepernick, now a corporate dream-teamer, the managerial class has actually reached down and captured much of the popular culture; the biggest corporations now are frequently on the side of any progressive cause that comes along.Lind decries, for instance, corporate-sponsored “asymmetric multiculturalism,” in which person-of-color folk traditions are hailed as “authentic,” while white folk traditions are either ignored or outright disdained as “racist.”
In fact, capitalism has proven itself adroit at, well, capitalizing on every trend and meme, no matter how destructive. Thus a capitalist is now selling an anarcho-communist hoodie to the radically chic . . . for $770.
And yet as Lind argues, being progressive doesn’t mean being in favor of progressive incomes taxes or any sort of progressive wealth distribution. It means being rich, and staying rich, while preaching in favor of mostly symbolic “social change.” That is, the rich seek to replace an understanding of economic class with a new consciousness about gender and race. And yes, that works out well for the rich, since the middle class becomes the new target, accused of sexism and racism.
In the meantime, as Lind further argues, such symbolic cultural posturing provides cover for the economic interests of corporations and their owners as they engage in plunder tactics straight out of the 19th century. For instance, the whole category of “gig economy” companies, such as Uber, now argue that their employees aren’t employees at all, but, rather, “independent contractors.” And thus a century of legal protections for workers, starting with the 40-hour week, as well as rules about overtime pay–all goes out the window.
Moreover, if American workers don’t like the offer they get from their bosses, the bosses know they can simply take their factory—or even their office—overseas. Or perhaps the owners can simply bring in illegal aliens to do the same work in the U.S. for far less.
The socioeconomic results of these tactics have been entirely predictable: In this Woke-Globalized economy, corporate profits have soared, thanks to what Lind calls the “international arbitrage” of companies being able to play off workforces and tax collectors against each other around the world, finagling their way to lower costs, higher profits, and near-zero tax rates.
At the same time, wages have flattened. According to one estimate, in the U.S., after-tax incomes for the bottom 98 percent of Americans have risen about 75 percent in the last half-century, while incomes of the top one percent have risen about 350 percent, or almost five times more. And incomes for the top .1 percent have risen more than 500 percent. And incomes for the top .01 percent have risen even higher—by 650 percent. In fact, according to several studies, the rich haven’t been this rich since the 1920s.
Lind adds that in addition to their resurgent economic power, the rich have never been more culturally powerful—so powerful, in fact, that they can rearrange the social and cultural lives of the masses:
From its citadels in a few big cities, this oligarchy periodically notifies the working-class majority what values and opinions about sex, immigration and other topics it must immediately adopt without debate, on pain of being blacklisted by the private sector, prosecuted by the government or censored or erased by the media.
The perfect expression of this economic and cultural onslaught, is of course, Bloomberg. Having piled up $61 billion, give or take, on Wall Street, Bloomberg, for a time, was content to worry about banning soda pop, controlling guns, and shutting down coal mines and the jobs that go with them. And yet now, on top of all that, he wants to buy–let’s not kid ourselves by using any other verb–the White House.
Interestingly, in addition to his leftward missions of social engineering, Bloomberg has taken on a rightward mission of economic self-interest for himself and his fat-cat friends: stopping a wealth tax. So we can see, the Manhattanite wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He seeks to spend his mountain of money as he pleases, and not split more of it with the IRS. For the man who has everything, that’s everything.
In Lind’s reckoning, Bloomberg epitomizes overclass-managerial ideology. It leans to the right on economics, at least as far as the rich are concerned—low effective tax rates, free trade, no meaningful limits on campaign spending—and leans to the left on cultural issues. This mix, Lind says, is liberaltarian—that word being a hybrid of “libertarian” and “liberal.”
Of course, not everyone supports this liberal-libertarian liberaltarianism. To name just one opponent, there’s Donald Trump. Defying the liberal academic herd, Lind describes Trump’s victory—as well as Brexit and other populist-nationalist wins—as the result of the populist backlash against the dominion of the liberaltarians.
Thus the battle is joined; in Lind’s telling, the hysteria over the last four years about “Russian interference” is mostly a fable that the establishment tells itself—and tells us. That is, the liberaltarian elite would rather say that popular eruptions are the doing of the Russians, not the residue of their own unpopular policies.
And as these battle lines are drawn, we see, down deep, that the elites and the masses are, as Lind says, on opposite sides. Once again, the really rich tilt right on economics (again, as economics applies to them and their portfolios, they care little about what happens to Joe or Josie Sixpack), and tilt left on culture, average folks tilt left on economics and right on culture. And that means that whatever happens to Trump in the coming year, the larger fight will continue on for a long time.
For instance, there’s the issue of Social Security, which is the principal source of retirement income for most Americans—although, of course, not for the rich. So it’s no surprise, as Lind writes, that Main Street supports keeping that earned entitlement just the way it is, “A Pew poll in March 2019 found that 74 percent of American adults—and 68 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters—oppose any cuts to Social Security.”
Those are thumping numbers in favor of preserving Social Security, which has, after all, been the centerpiece of the social-welfare state over the last eight decades.
Yet as we have leaned by now, the rich see the world differently. From the perspective of some mountaintop at Davos, or from a high-rise in Manhattan, or an estate in Beverly Hills, Social Security is just another program for the unglamorous, politically incorrect middle class. And so there’s always some think-tank study that says that the proles wouldn’t mind if the program were trimmed, or even transformed—especially if Wall Street could benefit. Here’s Lind: “Reflecting donor-overclass priorities, President George W. Bush made cutting Social Security by means of partial privatization the centerpiece of his second-term agenda.”
Okay, that was Bush, faithful to some libertarian economic playbook. But then, proving that this fused liberaltarian mindset is bipartisan, Lind adds, “President Barack Obama, meanwhile, was the first Democratic president to propose cutting Social Security (by means of inflation adjustments).”
We can further add that Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, has said many times that he wants to see Social Security cut. Biden preached cuts mostly inside the Beltway, when he figured his audience was like-minded elitists; yet now that he faces outside-the-Beltway scrutiny on the campaign trail, he is furiously denying what he has so visibly said on camera. We’ll soon know if the voters let him get away with such fibbing.
For his part, President Trump is often on Lind’s wavelength—that is, thinking like the guy or gal on Main Street, not like Davos Man or Davos Woman. And around the world, other political leaders have noticed Trump’s maverick ideology. In the admiring words of former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, speaking on January 21, “[Trump] is the first major global leader who has figured out that lower and middle income workers are becoming more conservative while well-to-do have become more liberal.”
Abbott described Trump’s thinking as “social fabric conservatism.” That’s a good phrase; it sounds a bit, in fact, like another good phrase: Marco Rubio’s “common-good capitalism.”
Lind’s Solution: Power to the People
Speaking of conserving the social fabric and protecting the common good, Lind recalls the days when three robust institutions served as a check on the power of the plutocrats.
The first such check was organized labor. Lind recalls, with undisguised affection, the middle of the last century, when private-sector unions were strong enough to bargain for their members—that is, the days when Big Labor was the equal of Big Business. To be sure, not everyone—including some unhappily unionized workers—liked Big Labor when it was big, but now that it’s small, we see what Big Business, and Capital, can do when they have no counterweight. So in other words, Lind argues, workers need something with more heft than the “free market,” which always seems to tilt toward those with the most market-power.
The second such check was organized religion. As this author wrote on Labor Day, Pope Leo XIII’s 1890 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, provided Catholics, and those influenced by Catholicism, with a solid draft of a social contract—that is, a workable deal between business and labor.
And at around the same time, the American Walter Rauschenbusch, a Protestant cleric, championed the Social Gospel as a Christian middle ground between laissez-faire capitalism, on the one hand, and socialism or communism, on the other.
Lind sums up the impact of strong labor and strong faith: “In the 20th century, trade unions balanced the power of corporate managers in the workplace while religious institutions checked the domination of the culture by secular progressives.”
And yet in Lind’s telling, in recent decades, the overclass has been able to neutralize both of these once-powerful forces: “As a rule, conservatives do not like organized labor, and progressives do not like organized religion.” And so with the help of the rich, conservatives were mobilized to defeat organized labor, and liberals were mobilized to push down organized religion.
Unfortunately, Lind continues, “The decline of these institutions means the decline of popular power, because most citizens are employees, and the working class is more likely to be religious than the college-educated elite.”
So how to redress this long-term power imbalance? This class war that the middle class has been losing? Lind offers a populist social prescription:
Conservatives must acknowledge the legitimacy of collective bargaining, in the private sector if not in the public sector, while progressives must accept that religious diversity requires respect for fellow citizens who belong to traditional religious and moral subcultures.
Conservatives will have few, if any, objections to a larger role for religion and tradition. They might pray, for instance, that the faithful and their faith might reverse the surge in family breakdown and opioid deaths.
Yet conservatives and Republicans might well hiccup over Lind’s suggestion of a restored role for unions, even if organized labor would provide a counterweight to corporate power—including the sort of corporate power that pushed deadly opioids for decades. And in fact, since the middle of the last century—greatly accelerated by the Reagan administration in the ’80s—the industrial and craft unions have mostly disappeared.
Still, Republicans might have noticed that the voters haven’t disappeared; indeed, new groups have arisen to fill the place of the unions, at least in part. Some of these groups, such as the National Rifle Association, are on the right, but more are on the left (here’s looking at you, AOC and the Democratic Socialists of America, plus the Working Families Party, the Green Party, and Planned Parenthood, plus whatever astroturf outfits get funded by the likes of Bloomberg and Tom Steyer). And of course, the federal government itself has stepped in to handle many issues and concerns that the unions once handled.
So now, in the 21st century, should conservatives really be so certain that America is better off without Big Labor? Does the right really think that either Big Business or Big Government will adequately look out for workers and their families. For his part, Lind—who himself defies any familiar ideological appellation—obviously thinks workers need bargaining power.
Speaking of more power for working stiffs, now we come to Lind’s third check on the managerial overclass: organized voters.
Lind recalls the era when Democrats and Republicans, both, typically espoused moderate economic liberalism and moderate social conservatism. That is, to one degree or another, both donkeys and elephants insisted on economic and social protections for everyone—from the unborn, to workers, to retirees.
Indeed, it’s a safe bet that had the presidents of mid-century America—Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy—ever heard about some of the top-down social-issue exotica of today, such as mandatory transgender bathrooms, they would have simply laughed.
And yet at the same time, those four presidents, representing both parties, also would have laughed at the thought that an American corporation could simply rent a post-office box in Dublin and declare itself to be Irish, thus defeating Uncle Sam the tax man. The Can Do America of back then simply didn’t tolerate that sort of cultural or economic nonsense.
So in addition to restoring labor and respecting religion, Lind’s third and most important check on the Wokesters is stronger politics, and stronger political parties. He calls it “democratic pluralism,” America as a community of communities—naturally different and yet, at the same time, strongly united.
That is, ordinary citizens need to band together to protect their own interests, safe from both the predations of the rich and the false lure of demagogues. Only through such constructive politics, Lind argues, is it possible for people not in possession of great fortunes to still possess security and dignity:
In the political realm, ending the new class war will require strengthening national, state and local legislatures. The executive and judiciary branches tend to be staffed by the social elite and are responsive to its interests and values. Ordinary people are most likely to have influence in legislative assemblies, which to some degree reflect the actual diversity of the U.S.
Yes, that’s an interesting point: The middle class must end end the class war by not losing it.
We can add that if the managerial overclass controls the big power centers of New York (Wall Street and the media), the San Francisco Bay Area (Silicon Valley), and Los Angeles (Hollywood)—as well as the grand-globalist hub of Davos—then ordinary people had better control something. And that “something” is Washington, DC, and also the state capitals.
Such control means winning elections; that is, populists and nationalists must elect leaders who will steadfastly check the power of the globalists. (And then watch their elected tribunes to make sure they don’t sell out; otherwise, Lind warns, America risks drifting into banana republic-dom.)
If the middle class can’t get its act together, politically, uniting around a common agenda of mutuality and mutual protection, then the upper class will continue to win the class war. And soon, there won’t be a middle class—at least not in the United States.
It’s as simple as that.