|The Whatcom Excavator||
Much attention has been paid to the “disappearing middle class” and the “vanishing American Dream.” While the observations are largely accurate, they are also misleading. The traditional three-tier model of the upper, middle and lower class broadly categorizes people according to income and net worth. One significant problem with this model is that membership in any particular class is very much in the eye of the beholder. One man’s “scraping by” is another man’s “opulent living.” This subjective and arbitrary grouping and boundary assessment inevitably gives rise to the simmering class warfare that is starting to rear its ugly head in many Western countries. Such categorization is therefore meaningless at best, if not outright deceptive as it conflates a variety of economic actors.
The chief fallacy of this model rests in the fact that it focuses on how much those actors are compensated, as opposed to how and why they are compensated. A far better perspective is perhaps gained using two classes, the Political Class and the Economic Class, with a third class emerging.
The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker – The Economic Class
The Economic Class, at least in the United States, has historically been the numerically dominant group, although in recent decades its dominance has noticeably waned. The economic class would traditionally be called the Private Sector, but even that term has become misleading for reasons we will delve into later in this article.
Members of the Economic Class provide goods and services that are voluntarily sought by consumers and paid at rates that the market will bear. In an unfettered environment, the economic class would count farmers, engineers, coal miners, artists, physicians, janitorial staff, security guards, merchants and company executives among its membership. They participate freely and competitively in the market place, using the economic principles of Division of Labor and the Law of Comparative Advantage to increase the wealth of society as well as improve their personal position. Capital, entrepreneurial and human resources are brought together collaboratively to meet the needs of the market place. This is standard Economics 101 fare and hopefully generates little controversy among the readership. The important factor defining Economic Class membership is not the amount of money a person earns but rather their participation in the free and open market.
The Lazy Highwaymen – The Political Class
Like the Economic Class, members of the Political Class are not properly defined by their wealth but rather by how they exert influence in the market place. Whereas members of the Economic Class engage the market openly and voluntarily, members of the Political Class employ coercion and deceit to achieve their economic objectives. The coercion and deceit may either be exerted directly or, as is increasingly observed, through a variety of proxy agents. The most obvious members of the Political Class are, unsurprisingly, politicians. This group includes elected individuals at every level of government as well as various appointed officials.
In addition to this primary membership category, a second distinct group exists within the Political Class. It consists of various advocates including lobbyists, influence peddlers and miscellaneous other supplicants of government cheese. These creatures exist to serve as envoys for the third distinct group, which is made up of a patchwork of commercial entities that have learned that employing a politically well-connected pitch man replaces the need for an effective sales and marketing organization and in some cases even the requirement to have a desirable product.
Furthermore, it is commonly observed that members of the Political Class routinely migrate between the three aforementioned groups. An unfortunate consequence of allowing these economic actors to “cut in line” is that the rewarded event becomes the prevailing trend. Because of that, there is virtually no industry that has opted out of the rent-seeking game. From the military-industrial complex to agricultural subsidies, to the utterly corrupt banking system, the Political Class is inexorably claiming an increasing share of the world’s economic activity, a highly disturbing trend indeed.
Subsidized inefficiency, intentional destruction of productive assets and confiscation of property are but some of the effects that are observed when the Political Class employs force to serve those that are “more equal than others.” The arrangement can be summed up by saying that economic activity within the Economic Class places the bargaining power in the hands of the buyer whereas the economic activity within the Political Class places the bargaining power in the hand of the seller. This gives rise to dislocations in the free exchange of goods and services as well as widespread misallocations of capital as businesses adjust their practices based not on the normal mechanics of supply and demand but rather based on the dictates of the Political Class. Over the years, the scale of the intrusions of the Political Class into economies around the world, and very definitely here in the United States, has grown to the point where truly free markets are now the exception and not the norm.
Because the Economic Class operates in the realm of voluntary exchange whereas the Political Class employs force to achieve its objectives, many of which are anathema to the Economic Class, it follows that a significant amount of resources must be dedicated by the Political Class to the enforcement of their objectives. This role has traditionally fallen on the wide array of military and law enforcement organizations as well as numerous regulatory agencies and departments.
From the US military’s role in protecting the Political Class’s global interests and the IRS keeping the Treasury full, to the FDA serving “Big Pharma” and various law enforcement agencies maintaining a low-level chronic fear in the populace, the level of physical control that the Political Class needs to extend over productive resources is staggering. And in lockstep with the virtually unchecked growth in the Political Class, so has grown the size and scope of the enforcement branch deployed to protect its interests.
Paradoxically, for reasons I’ll touch on momentarily, the allegiance of this enforcement branch belongs to neither the Political Class whom they serve nor the Economic Class whom they “service.” In time, their level of influence grows to the point in which they become a class of their own. They are the Praetorian Class.