Wealth is how much money you have, income is how much you earn, and class is how much other people think you have based on how you behave.
People often don’t realize class exists because most people only associate with people of their own class. They don’t comprehend that people from other classes behave and think in ways totally alien to them.
If people are aware of class, it’s only of the class directly below them whom they feel superior to. Yes, class has a lot to do with looking down at people, which is why it’s a topic that’s seldom talked about. It’s not politically correct to admit that you look down at people.
People don’t pay as much attention to the class above them. Perhaps because people fear sinking in class so they make sure not to behave like the class below them. Fear is a powerful motivator. Or perhaps it’s because people are unable to admit to themselves that they are inferior to people above them, so they avoid observing how the class above them is different. It’s much more psychologically comfortable to focus on how you are superior to people below you.
With the publication in the NY Times of a series of articles about class, I had hoped that bloggers might be talking about class, but instead both the NY Times series (so far) and the blogosphere are mostly focusing on income and wealth mobility. This is what the blog posts at Washington Monthly, The Stone City, The Fly Bottle, Pandagon, and Meat Eating Leftist mostly focus on.
Now, unlike some people on the right, I think that income mobility and the unfair distribution of wealth is a topic worth talking about. But the topic of class I find even more interesting because it’s so seldom discussed and because it’s so hidden and mysterious.
I suspect that liberals hate genuine discussions of class because they envision that the government can “fix” the uneven distribution of wealth by redistributing it, but the government can’t redistribute class. When a construction worker wins the lottery, he may be rich but he still has no class, and other people in his new wealth bracket aren’t going to want to hang out with him or be his friend.