Ole-Asbjørn Friesl । The Working Class and the Highbrows

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You don’t like highbrows do you? No? I Guessed so. Most of the people, where I come from, don’t like highbrows either. There’s a lot that’s nice to say about the working class. I come from the working class in Norway. l know they don’t like academics and intellectuals. I’m quite sure that it has something to do with inferiority complexes. No one likes to feel stupid. Everyone knows the feeling of being inferior when we don’t know the stuff that we know is important. It is quite understandable.

There are some exceptions among the workers. There were these guys, who put their heads together and organized themselves. They made workers unions. They read books. – Books about history and politics. I’m proud of them! They made a difference. But there are few who remembers them anymore … That they spoke against the factory owners, demanded higher salary and better working conditions.

No! These people turn in their graves! They do! Their grandchildren think the world of today has been as it is forever, and that it will continue to be like that. I have seen many of these kids put their votes together with their rights in the pockets of the grandchildren of the old factory owners! In plain words, they are voting for political parties that don’t benefit them.

The best and worst example of this is happing in the United States of America. The common working woman and man voted for a rich populistic president who wants to minimize the benefits to the people. The old healthcare system, throw it out, he says. A radical new tax system that gives the 10% richest even more money has been put in law. There are thirty years since USA had such a radical tax system that favors the richest. Not since Ronald Reagan and Reaganomics.

The scheme

The idea or scheme behind the Reaganomics is the “trickledown effect”. They want us to believe that if we vote populistic or conservative. There will be tax cuts, and this tax cuts will give already wealthy people an opportunity to expand their companies or start new businesses and hire workers. So money will trickle down from the top.

The history has shown us otherwise. What happened in the 80’s in USA is that a lot of the workers unions were shut down by indirect force. Instead people got less paid and the lower middle class fell into poverty. The working class people have been poor since then. They must have several jobs to make the ends meet. So, all the promised new jobs did not appear! Instead money was accumulated at the top.

Many social and economic academics have spoken and written about income differences. People like Noam Chomsky; Nobel Prize winners in economics like Paul Krugman and Jean Tirole; the academic economists Thomas Piketty and Guy Standing, amongst many others. The most ground breaking research may have been done by Thomas Piketty1, who found historical relations between capital and regular working income. His, and the others above, advice for a lesser gap between rich and poor is a progressive tax system.

The seduction

In the 80’s the American people were seduced by a famous movie actor, Ronald Reagan, last year they were seduced by a billionaire reality TV star! This is populism at its worst. People get flattered by their charisma, and they often don’t listen to what they really say.

We have today just a slightly lighter version of this kind of populism in Norway. Norwegians are very influenced by American popular culture. The interest in and knowledge about politics and society have decreased among Norwegian adults. There are hopefully some signs of more engagement among the young. Which is great.

So, what shall we think about this? Are the common man and woman so sickly entertained by American mindless entertainment that they do not see what happens in front of them?

Have we really forgotten our ancestors that fought against feudal lords and industrialists? They who first fought their way out of poor conditions in the provinces ruled by the aristocracy, and later out of the misery that characterized the cities a hundred years ago.

Do you think the instincts of powerful and wealthy men are wiped out for ever after this? That they no longer exist? Do you really think that today’s men of big corporations would not have liked to see that the wage costs were lower? That bothersome people who nag about the working environment and wealth fare system should be a bit less annoying?

You may not have noticed that more and more people are working as casual workers? They work on short-term contracts. No? This class has its own name. The academics are calling them the precariat.2

If conservatism and populism still prevail then this people and many others can say goodbye to the welfare we all took for granted. So, time to get your head out of the TV. We do not live in an eternal wealth fare paradise. For whom do you think is taking back the power? – It’s certainly not the highbrows.


1. Thomas Piketty. Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014)
2. Guy Standing. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, published in 2011

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