According to Reihan Salam at Salon:
We often hear about the political muscle of the ultrarich. Billionaires like the libertarians Charles and David Koch and Tom Steyer, the California environmentalist who’s been waging a one-man jihad against the Keystone XL pipeline, have become bogeymen for the left and right respectively. The influence of these machers is considerable, no doubt. Yet the upper middle class collectively wields far more influence. These are households with enough money to make modest political contributions, enough time to email their elected officials and to sign petitions, and enough influence to sway their neighbors. Upper-middle-class Americans vote at substantially higher rates than those less well-off, and though their turnout levels aren’t quite as high as those even richer than they are, there are far more upper-middle-class people than there are rich people. One can easily turn the Kochs or the Steyers of the world into a big fat political target. It’s harder to do the same to the lawyers, doctors, and management consultants who populate the tonier precincts of our cities and suburbs.
You might be wondering why I’m so down on the upper middle class when they’re getting in the way of the tax hikes that will make big government even bigger. Doesn’t that mean that while liberals should be bothered by the power of the upper middle class, conservatives should cheer them on? Well, part of my objection is that upper-middle-income voters only oppose tax hikes on themselves. They are generally fine with raising taxes on people richer than themselves, including taxes on the investments that rich people make in new products, services, and businesses. I find that both annoyingly self-serving and destructive. The bigger reason, however, is that upper-middle-class people don’t just use their political muscle to keep their taxes low. They also use it to make life more expensive for everyone else.
Take a seemingly small example—occupational licensing. In North Carolina, teeth-whiteners without expensive dental degrees would like to be allowed to sell their services but are opposed by the state’s dentists, as Eduardo Porter noted in a recent New York Times column. Are the good dentists of North Carolina fighting the teeth-whiteners because they fear for the dental health of North Carolinians? It doesn’t look like it. A more plausible story is that dentists don’t want to compete with cut-rate practitioners, because restricting entry into the field allows them to charge higher prices. We often hear about how awesome it is that Uber is making taxi service cheaper and more accessible for ordinary consumers but how sad it is that they are making life harder for working-class drivers who drive traditional cabs. Notice that upper-middle-class credentialed professionals like dentists, lawyers, and doctors rarely get Uber’d to the same degree. Even when innovative services try to do things like, say, offer a free alternative to expensive insurance brokers, state and local governments will often step in to say, “Oh, no you don’t.” Want to offer a low-cost, high-quality education by, say, replacing expensive professors with Filipino instructors who teach calculus over streaming video? Sorry, pal, you first have to get approved by an accreditation body controlled … by the existing schools you’re trying to out-compete, which employ upper-middle-class people who don’t take any crap.
What can we do to break the stranglehold of the upper middle class? I have no idea. Having spent so much time around upper-middle-class Americans, and having entered their ranks in my own ambivalent way, I’ve come to understand their power. The upper middle class controls the media we consume. They run our big bureaucracies, our universities, and our hospitals. Their voices drown out those of other people at almost every turn.
As a person who has moved into upper middle class from middle middle class, I strongly disagree with this.
For an example, who is funding the Keystone XL fight? Rich people? Upper middle class people? No, it’s corporations.
And corporations, which are the big bureaucracies and hospitals, are run by the ultra rich, not by upper middle class. As evidenced by CEO pay. How can anyone say with a straight face that the upper middle class controls the media? Rupert Murdoch? Mark Zuckerberg? No; the media, including social media, control the upper middle class.
This article defines the upper middle class as 12% of the population. Unless they are voting at 100% participation rates, they are not the group that is making decisions with their votes.
The Uber example is particularly interesting. This impacts not only the drivers, but those that license them, which is the really telling part of the whole professional licensing scam. Cities and other municipalities are now fighting back, not because they care about the cab drivers, but because they want their cut. It’s the political class making this distinction. How do licenses for massage therapists or flower arrangers or hair stylists help the upper middle class? They don’t. But they do help the government bureaucracy.
The ones that we need to focus on are the ultra rich in conspiracy with the political class (who are trying to get a golden ticket directly from their office into the ultra rich).