14 August 2006

Stump the Chump?

With today having been Monday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (Munich's faithfully sharpwitted, information-rich daily paper) included the 'New York Times Beilage,' an 8-page supplement of selected NYT news and editorial articles from the past week. Same typeface and whatnot, but easy to manage and free of advertisements, not to mention the ludicrous wedding announcements.

Well, I came across a tongue-in-cheek editorial by David Brooks concerning what one might call the post-modern proletariat turn: for the first time in history, the upper classes are toiling away harder and longer than the middle classes. The work ethic, so the arguement goes, is reversing itself: instead of making the Grand Tour and whatnot, the wealthy are fiendishly working themselves haggard, while more middle-aged, middle-class men are dropping out of the job market, contentedly sipping away at lattes and shrugging off the lingering remnants of Puritan-ethic based guilt.

Leaving aside the question of how accurate a picture this article paints, the situation really isn't at all funny. Not because of the moral implications, the threat to our values, blah blah blah. Simply this: if the rich are working more, they are getting richer. And if the poor or middle class are working less, they are getting poorer. You can try to cover this up, or soften its import, as Brooks does, with witty commentary about how modern America has reversed Thorstein Veblen's thesis, but the long-term implications are still grim. The rich guy may be working in an office instead of fiddling with a strong of polo ponies, but at the end of the day, no less than a century ago, he is the laugher, and his middle-to-lower-middle-class counterpart remains the laughee.