America's Nine Classes: The New Class Hierarchy

Tyler Durden's picture


Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

Eight of the nine classes are hidebound by conventions, neofeudal and neocolonial arrangements and a variety of false choices.

There are many ways to slice and dice America's power/wealth hierarchy. The conventional class structure is divided along the lines of income, i.e. the wealthy, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class and the poor.

I've suggested that a more useful scheme is to view America through the lens not just of income but of political power and state dependency, as a Three-and-a-Half Class Society(October 22, 2012):

The three-and-a-half class society is comprised of: the "entrenched incumbents" on top (the "half class"), the high-earners who pay most of the taxes (the first class), the working poor who pay Social Security payroll taxes and sales taxes (the second class), and State dependents who pay nothing (the third class).

This class structure has political ramifications. In effect, those paying most of the tax are in a pressure cooker: the lid is sealed by the "entrenched incumbents" on top, and the fire beneath is the Central State's insatiable need for more tax revenues to support the entrenched incumbents and its growing army of dependents.

A recent Foreign Policy article on China's New Class Hierarchy: A Guide inspired me to assemble America's nine classes.

1. The Deep State. Mike Lofgren offered this description of the Deep State in Anatomy of the Deep State:

The Deep State is a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the nation without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.

I describe the U.S. Deep State as the National Security State which enables a vast Imperial structure that incorporates hard and soft power--military, diplomatic, intelligence, finance, commercial, energy, media, higher education--in a system of global dominance.

The key feature of the Deep State is that it makes decisions behind closed doors that the surface government ratifies and implements.

The number of people in the Deep State class is small: senior Federal officials (NSA, Pentagon, State, Treasury, etc.), Executive Branch officials and key private-sector players.

Membership in the Deep State class is not dependent on wealth so much as on relationships and power.

2. The Oligarchs. Oligarchy is in the news--for example We're Headed for Oligarchy--and a number of descriptors are somewhat interchangeable: corporatocracy, plutocracy, etc. I have used Financial Aristocracy to invoke the neofeudal structure of our economy.

Whatever word you prefer, this small class is more or less the top .01% who owns a majority of the nation's financial wealth. They essentially own the political machinery of the nation, writing the rules of legislation that is supposedly regulating their industries, taxes, etc.

3. New Nobility. This is the super-wealthy class just below the Oligarchs. They own a singificant percentage of all assets but do not directly manage the political process like the Oligarch class. They hire lobbyists to protect their interests and constitute an influential political-financial class with global connections.

4. Upper Caste. I use this term to describe the technocrat/professional class that manages the Status Quo for the upper classes. They serve in both government and the private sector.

5. State Nomenklatura. In the Soviet Union, the Nomenklatura were the key administrators in all sectors. In the U.S., the Nomenklatura are well-paid government administrators with security and power. Collectively, they administer their own share of the swag, gaming the system to maximize their pensions, benefits, etc.

Together, the Upper Caste and the Nomenklatura comprise about 9% of the 121 million households in the U.S.: roughly 8.7 million households who earn between $145,000 and $250,000 annually. This class is the bulk of the top 7%, i.e. the top 90% to 97%.Household income in the United States.

The top level of the Upper Caste (2.8 million households) earns more than $250,000 annually. The Nomenklatura and Upper Caste number in total about 11.5 million households.

6. The Middle Class. While others attempt to define the middle class by income alone (many see a household income of around $50,000 as qualifying), I define the middle class not by income alone but by purchasing power, benefits and assets owned. What Does It Take To Be Middle Class? (December 5, 2013).

By this definition, the middle class is the cohort between 70% and 90%--households earning $80,000 or more. Even this is problematic, because in high-cost cities $80,000 is not enough to sustain middle-class conventions (owning a home, two vehicles, etc.) while it may be ample in lower-cost regions.

This 20% comprises about 24 million households.

The lower middle class--what I define as having some but not all of the attributes of full middle class membership--is the cohort between 50% and 70%--households earning more than $55,000 annually.

This class also comprises about 20% (24 million) of all households.

If you think this is too restrictive, please read my above analysis of middle class membership. It may change your view of what constitutes middle-class.

7. The Working Poor. Roughly 38 million households have earned income but it is not sufficient to secure the basics of middle class life. Many qualify for social welfare programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.
This class is about 30% of all households.

8. State Dependents. Though often labeled "poor," those with minimal legal employment may be living better than the working poor, due to generous social welfare benefits such as Section 8 (housing), Medicaid (healthcare), child care, food stamps, disability, etc., and black-market sources of cash income. This class is comprised of the bottom 20% of households.

9. Mobile Creatives. This is an emerging class that ranges across many income classifications and thus cannot be described by income alone. Some earn Upper Caste incomes, others are Working Poor. This class is self-employed, free-lance, entrepreneural, sole proprietors with adaptive skills. They may collaborate with other Creatives rather than have employees, and may have part-time jobs.

There are roughly 5.5 million incorporated self-employed people in the U.S.; these tend to be professionals such as attorneys, engineers and physicians. These self-employed are generally members of the Upper Caste.

The Mobile Creatives (which include small farmers, craftspeople, independent programmers, etc.) number around 10 million, or 8% of the workforce. I use the word mobile here not to suggest mobility between physical places (though that is one factor in this class's flexibility) but mobility between sectors and ways of earning income.

Members of this class might take a short-term paying gig if the pay and circumstance is attractive, and then return to self-employment. They tend to foster multiple income streams and in general operate by the principle trust the network, not the corporation or the state.

Some members of this class joined the cohort involuntarily, as the result of layoffs; others pursue this livelihood for its freedom, flexibility (important to parents of young children or those caring for elderly parents) and potential for self-expression.

This is the "wild card" class that falls outside all conventional class/income hierarchies. It includes those seeking outlier wealth and those who have chosen voluntary poverty.

Though this class wields little conventional financial or political power, it has a potentially large leadership role in social and technical innovations. This is the 4% Pareto Distribution that can exert outsized influence on the 64%.

The other eight classes are hidebound by conventions, neofeudal and neocolonial arrangements and a variety of false choices and illusions of choice, including democracy itself.

I will end this examination of the Nine Classes of America with this question: which class is having more fun? Your answer may say more about your aspirations and worldview than the class hierarchy itself.

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Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:38 | 4707909 fightthepower
fightthepower's picture

Fuck you Rothschilds...

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:39 | 4707915 So Close
So Close's picture

To quote Carlin..  "It's a big fucking club.. and you ain't in it."

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:57 | 4708012 dontgoforit
dontgoforit's picture

The Beat Goes On - ain't much changed in 5000 years of human history.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:02 | 4708032 max2205
max2205's picture

Fuck.  Who has time to sit around and make up this shit.


Go trim your sidewalk

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:42 | 4708285 krispkritter
krispkritter's picture

Never cared for Class labels.  Those who do I consider 'Classholes'.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 13:14 | 4708453 Herd Redirectio...
Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Our thoughtleaders are actors, and athletes.

And not by accident either.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:01 | 4708026 kaiserhoff
kaiserhoff's picture

Not one of Charles better efforts.  There are too many regional differences for this to make sense away from the eastern cities.  Also, income security is a BIG issue, and getting bigger.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:45 | 4708316 Tortfeasor
Tortfeasor's picture

There's that word It doesn't exist, not in that context. Nor is it owed to anyone.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 13:02 | 4708396 Dr. Everett V. Scott
Dr. Everett V. Scott's picture

Where do the enviro groups fit in? The ones like the WWF, Greenpeace, etc?

They are über-rich. But they also have what businesses and rich folks can only dream about: millions and millions of one-issue zombie voters, who mindlessly obey their group's directives.

With power like that, I could do some damage.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 16:02 | 4709188 Kirk2NCC1701
Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Carlin was almost right. The correct line, if you actually think about it, rather than just regurgitate, is:

"It's a SMALL club, and you ain't in it."

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:51 | 4708349 thunderchief
thunderchief's picture

How about the deserters. #10
Those that have left, are leaving or going to because its not America anymore.

Next the Dissidents, #11, don't worry Snowden, the list will grow.

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 06:37 | 4711186 Zero Debt
Zero Debt's picture

The road to serfdom is paved with good classifications of serfs.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:39 | 4707918 Ignatius
Ignatius's picture

Skip class....

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:44 | 4707948 Zirpedge
Zirpedge's picture

"Mobile Creatives" sounds scary, like people who use cash, hoard guns and precious metals and seek to exploit tax loopholes for "self-employment".

There is no such thing as self employed, YOU DIDN'T BUILD THAT!

We live in a society and are responsible for reigning in the so called mobile creatives. They need to understand the protection that is offered by a well regulated society.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:51 | 4707977 Ignatius
Ignatius's picture

Related:  sailboat

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:53 | 4707987 Caveman93
Caveman93's picture

Nomads...damned nomads!

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:57 | 4708014 elwind45
elwind45's picture

Mobile creative is a son or daughter with 50 grand in student loans and no major

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:59 | 4708019 Skateboarder
Skateboarder's picture

Or worse, a 'Communications' major.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:55 | 4708363 toady
toady's picture

Liberal arts?

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:15 | 4708108 McMolotov
McMolotov's picture

I've gotten pretty adept at the "voluntary poverty" thing. I still pay income taxes, though. Need to work on that.

Otherwise, I'm barely a blip on the consumerist radar, and I intend to stay that way.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:23 | 4708155 NOTaREALmerican
NOTaREALmerican's picture

Re: I intend to stay that way

Why do you hate Merica so much?

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:29 | 4708205 McMolotov
McMolotov's picture

Because Merica hates me.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:46 | 4707951 Spastica Rex
Spastica Rex's picture

Roughly 38 million households have earned income but it is not sufficient to secure the basics of middle class life.

What are the "basics of middle class life?"

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:52 | 4707983 Agent P
Agent P's picture

house, car, fake tits, etc.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:59 | 4708018 DaveyJones
DaveyJones's picture

now that everything else is fake, the tits are more accepted

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:02 | 4708034 Agent P
Agent P's picture

I've said this before....

You know the worst part about fake tits?

Me neither. 

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:06 | 4708051 Dr. Engali
Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:20 | 4708140 Agent P
Agent P's picture


Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:24 | 4708166 NOTaREALmerican
NOTaREALmerican's picture

Clearance sale,   buy 2 get the 3rd free.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:26 | 4708181 Dr. Engali
Dr. Engali's picture

What's the matter, you haven't seen a blonde dressed in a red wife beater shirt before? ;->

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:32 | 4708222 Agent P
Agent P's picture

I don't know if I should be disgusted or turned on...or disgusted because I'm turned on. 

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 13:00 | 4708385 Sokhmate
Sokhmate's picture

I don't know about 3-breasted women. But I personally am still fantasizing about the One-Breasted woman my high school teacher was (the breast was in the middle of the chest.) Less is more.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 16:24 | 4709265 Zerozen
Zerozen's picture

Total Recall.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 16:37 | 4709320 Matt
Matt's picture

I wonder if she is more likely to bear triplets, or if overall milk production would be higher or lower. 

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 13:56 | 4708697 RaceToTheBottom
RaceToTheBottom's picture

Boob inflation

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:07 | 4708055 elwind45
elwind45's picture


Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:09 | 4708073 DaveyJones
DaveyJones's picture

I thought you we're going to say the price

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:32 | 4708225 Zymurguy
Zymurguy's picture

I've always said... " as long as they're real on the outside, who the fuck cares?"

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 13:15 | 4708433 dearth vader
dearth vader's picture

Most people can't tell the difference.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 16:40 | 4709331 Matt
Matt's picture

15 / 20. Fake in some cases are indistinguishable from lactating. Also, the pics are too small and 10 seconds isn't enough time.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:53 | 4707990 elwind45
elwind45's picture

Believing the bullshit in an attempt to internalize your place!

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:55 | 4708001 Skateboarder
Skateboarder's picture

Sleeping, eating, going to work.

And that vacation you've been wanting to take that's been at the back of your mind for a couple of years.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:33 | 4708229 Hongcha
Hongcha's picture

I spent the last weekend in Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach (not the nice one) and it was like a foreign country to me.  I damn near asked where the moneychanger booth was.  In Ft. Lauderdale I saw a rare and extraordinary sight - vestiges of the great White Middle Class Migration of ages past, partying on a Saturday night at the marina, with pension and boat intact.  Enjoying themselves.  Saw a couple of Camporees as well.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:03 | 4708037 DaveyJones
DaveyJones's picture

beer and a credit card

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 13:43 | 4708634 cipher14
cipher14's picture

If you're able to buy food without food stamps and not worry about running out of gas before you get your next paycheck... your ass... is middle class. Those are the basics. Additionally, if you have a smartphone, cable, internet, satellite, netflix and can take a paid vacation and you're not on any type of government assistance and you don't have to ask Mom or Dad for money... your ass... is middle class. If you pay a mortage and have a car payment and have monthly bills for electricity, gas, water, garbage, insurance, and credit cards - and you've never been late paying these bills - and you never incur any overdraft fees at the bank? Your ass... is middle class.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:51 | 4707972 elwind45
elwind45's picture

The middle class is a made up term. Coined to group people in such a way to show a cosmetic difference between us and them(soviets)during the cold war. Its use anchors citizens to society by income and therefore instantly divides said society by its spending power? You are what your salary allows you to "spend"? 9 different classes and too much time on your hands waiting your turn at the MILKEN conference?

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:14 | 4708101 NOTaREALmerican
NOTaREALmerican's picture

Re:  The middle class is a made up term.  +10.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:51 | 4707975 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Blah blah blah...

that which cannot be sustained, won't be.

Nature re-defines things like "wealth" and "power" all the time.

Keeps things interesting...

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:00 | 4708021 dontgoforit
dontgoforit's picture

Everyting changes - but nothing ever changes the same.

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 11:52 | 4707981 therover
therover's picture

No class.

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