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More of Michael O Church on social class

Michael O. Church, studied at Carleton College
Answered October 15, 2012 · Author has 1.5K answers and 15.3M answer views

Originally Answered: What are some things that middle class people believe that wealthier people do not?

There isn't one typical middle-class attitude toward wealth or the rich. As the answers above show, some middle-class people despise the rich and others feel the opposite, and some middle-class people believe life is fundamentally fair while others have figured out that it's not. There is, however, one very strong and prevalent misconception among the middle class: they think social class follows from money. In their view, a person who is rich becomes "upper class". It's actually the reverse. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, is not "upper class". He's very rich upper-middle. (His children will have a shot at lower-upper-class status.) Bill Gates is lower-upper, but that has as much, if not more, to do with his father (a named partner at a law firm) as with him. 

Sometimes you'll hear someone describe an income range as "upper class", the threshold being set anywhere from $100,000 to $5 million per year, depending on who you ask. No such thing. Social class is about access and opportunity, and the fact that upper-class people tend to be extremely wealthy follows from that access. 

Some middle-class people have figured out that "life is unfair", but very few understand how it is unfair. When they graduate out of the deluded belief that just working hard will make them rich, they progress to the equally untrue conception that economic success is "random". 

Upper-class people are (unconsciously, since most of them haven't put this much thought into it) bred to exploit peoples' social biases and get favors. They have "Game", but rather than such being a set of canned skills they learn in their college years to get laid, it's so deeply bred into them that they are able to apply these principles to most social theaters. Their "work Game" accelerates their careers, for example. 

From a middle-class social perspective, most upper-class people don't have the greatest social skills, but that's because the middle and upper class conceptions of social skills are very different. For the middle class, it's about not giving anyone a reason to dislike you: a first-order approximation strategy that holds you back if you want to hit the high notes. For the upper class, it's about getting information (who's powerful and important, and how those people like being approached) and exploiting landscape features in order to get what they want. Upper class people have no problem with being disliked by half the people they interact with, as long as (a) the people who dislike them stay out of their way, and (b) the people who actually matter like them. 

One other thing about social class: upper-class people don't lose their class status just because they lose their money (which they often do, because, unlike middle-class rich people, most of them don't have any financial sense). When they lose their fortunes, they have to "work" to get them back, but they have access to high-paying non-jobs (e.g. board positions) so it's mostly an annoyance.


Michael O. Church, studied at Carleton CollegeAnswered September 3, 2012 · Author has 1.5K answers and 15.3M answer views

It's about connections and not an income level. Upper class means that you have the social resources to get into any general (i.e. undergrad or business school) education program you want and that getting "respectable" employment at a high salary ($500,000+) just takes a phone call, although some upper-class people work for lower pay because they don't need it.


Michael O. Church, studied at Carleton CollegeAnswered September 3, 2012 · Author has 1.5K answers and 15.3M answer views

I'm not sure I agree. Not having to work would make most people considerably happier. Possessions provide little hedonic value, but freedom and autonomy that can come with money if you use it intelligently would make most peoples' lives a lot better, and they would be happier. 

A few things need to be mentioned. First, class isn't income. A neurosurgeon who makes $500,000 per year is still middle-class. Same with a divorce attorney making $3 million or a web entrepreneur who sold his startup for $200 million. That's upper income, not upper class. Middle-class peoples' salaries are dictated by the market and it's hard to get an extremely high salary on the market without making some tough sacrifices, being very good at what you do, or having a lot of luck... and preferably, all three. Sacrificing more for more money will make most people unhappy, not the reverse. The divorce attorney probably wants to blow his brains out. The entrepreneur is probably happy now but had some awful moments along the way. 

Social class, on the other hand, is pretty much inherited. People born into it haven't known anything different and therefore don't really enjoy it. If their disposition is to be unhappy, they will be. 

I don't buy that money doesn't make people happier, but I think it is phenomenally difficult to become happier just by making more money, because if you just follow the money-making path blindly, you end up in some really bad places.

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