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Class Cluelessness and the New Populism
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November 19, 2017
Inroads Journal
Book review

Joan C. Williams, White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2017. 192 pages.

There is a profound malaise in contemporary Western politics and you, dear reader, are likely part of the problem. Such is the claim of Joan Williams’s powerful new book, White Working Class. While the book is primarily an attempt to explain the victory of Donald Trump to a stunned liberal America, it finds resonance in other Western democracies, Canada included.

How might you be part of the problem?

If you are reading this, you are, in all likelihood, part of what Williams terms the “professional-managerial elite” (PME). She defines this class as those in the top 20 per cent of income, where at least one member of the household has a college or university degree. In this class are found doctors, dentists, lawyers, academics, consultants, managers, architects, senior government bureaucrats, media editors and so on.

You might find yourself surprised to be part of an “elite.” This is because contemporary discourse in North America has dissolved most class categories into the amorphous “middle class,” with only the destitute and the “1 per cent” sitting outside it. Indeed, you probably think of only the 1 per cent as the “elite,” conveniently masking your own social power. This tendency is so entrenched that even those in the 1 per cent often see themselves as middle-class, leading to somewhat farcical policy debates, where it is difficult to raise taxes on anyone other than the 0.1 per cent.1


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