Opinion

Middle class status mostly state of mind

 Postmedia Network 

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The middle class remains the prize for any politician who wants to be elected, as that ­strata of ­society is believed to be the largest, the broadest and the most representative of any nation's values and aspirations.

In this American presidential election campaign, as in last year's Canadian federal election, the middle class is being held up for its virtues. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are soliciting its support because most Americans consider themselves middle class.

In Canada, approximately half of citizens identify themselves as middle class. In England, it's 75 per cent. In the U.S., it's almost 90 per cent. Being a member of the middle class is almost certainly a state of mind.

In England, the phrase originated to identify people between the nobility and the peasantry. Members of that middle class almost always lived in towns or cities, were somewhat educated, held some sort of professional or trade, and held enough financial capital to secure their own enterprise or invest in someone else's.

To be a member of that class was to live an existence not threatened by either the nobility or the peasantry, and to enjoy a level of security that included economic ­independence.

In our world, the middle class is mostly defined in terms of income or wealth, although most members of the middle class probably view their position as a type of security. They may earn what the government says is a middle class income, but don't feel secure in that income. It's to these people that politicians pander.

Last year, for example, the Liberal party identified the middle class as those Canadians with taxable incomes between $44,700 and $89,401. For those people, there was the inevitable tax cut. But the Liberals aren't alone in this. It is to the middle class that all Canadian and American political parties inevitably gravitate.

In the U.S., Trump has been consistently speaking about the middle class, either in terms of income and employment, and often including issues of immigration to buttress his argument. His strategy is not that much different from Franklin Roosevelt's four freedoms (freedom of speech and worship, freedom from want and fear), which spoke to a security that's instinctively identified as being part of a middle class existence.

Ironically, the middle class is said to be disappearing in both Canada and the U.S., and by those same politicians who look to it for validation.

Peter Epp