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On the Middle Class

On The Middle Class: Philosophical and Political Perspectives

“Thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either singly; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant”

-Aristotle, Politics, IV.11

In this election year, the problems of the American middle class are evident. There is talk that the hardships of the middle class are fueling political extremism. Why is a healthy middle class necessary for a stable society?

The status of the middle class represents an issue that troubles both the United States and Mexico. Why is this the case? 

We invite you to explore the philosophical foundations of governance “from the middle,” as well as the difficulties that the middle class is facing both in Mexico and in the US, together with the Braniff Graduate School and Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM).

Please RSVP by Tuesday, Sept. 13 via email to Ms. Mary Emily Chernoff

Conference Schedule

Thursday, September 15, 2016
University of Dallas, SB Hall Multi-Function Room
(view campus map)

Part I: Philosophical & Theological Foundations of the Middle Class

Presenters will draw principally on two sources—Aristotle and the Enlightenment—which will result in an interesting comparison between ancient and modern political thought on this issue. The question of the middle class in Catholic social teaching will also be considered.

2:00 p.m. | Introductory Remarks

Joshua Parens
Dean of the Braniff Graduate School

2:15 p.m. | Foreigners to Human Nature

Carlos McCadden
Estudios Generales, ITAM

Is there a relation between wealth and human nature? Can the Delphic maxim “know thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτὸν) help us decide whether or not to be affluent and wealthy? And if so: how rich? Human beings, says Aristotle, can only use and benefit from a limited amount of goods and services. The very rich have more than they need; the poor are in need because they have the minimum required to live, or even less. Only in the “middle” do we find those who enjoy “true wealth.” Any society should search to increase the number of persons who possess enough and therefore are “truly wealthy.” Every human being should have what one needs. To achieve a truly rich middle class (Aristotle) rather than aspiring to increase its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), per capita GDP, or income equality in terms of a normal distribution a country must solve the welfare problem of its population. That means it must end the food, health, education, employment, and other such gaps. This paper argues that the hierarchical stratification of the contemporary Mexican society that favors an outrageously rich minority could renew its social order with the understanding of two Aristotelian categories: attainment of “real wealth” for a large “middle class.” This would allow Mexico to become a member of the developed world by turning into a mostly middle-class country.

3:00 p.m. | Aristotle and the Middling Class

David Moreno
Political Philosophy, ITAM/ UD 

In his Politics, Artistotle makes several references to hoi mesoi, which is commonly rendered as "the middling class." In this presentation, David Moreno explores the suitability of this translation and discusses the relevance of the concept in relation to Aristotle's definition of the best regime. A careful reading of the term mesos in the context of the Politics, Moreno argues, sheds light on Aristotle's own understanding of the city (polis), of the citizens (politai), and of their regime (politeia). The middling class constitutes not only the essential part of a city but it also provides balance and stability to its political regime. Conversely, a city with a thin or nonexistent middling class is prone to tyranny. 

3:45 p.m. | Coffee Break


4:15 p.m. | Montesquieu on Commerce, Vanity, and the Modern Middle Class

Joshua Parens
Dean, Braniff Graduate School  

The virtues that Aristotle describes and defends in his Ethics have little or nothing to do with commerce. And everyone who has read Montequieu, and a host of other modern political philosophers, knows that their virtues are precisely those of merchants (industry, frugality, etc.). Montesquieu singles out for praise commercial peoples such as the modern English, the medieval inhabitants of Marseille, and the ancient inhabitants of Phoeniciai as exemplary of the virtues he champions. In one notable respect, however, he champions his own nation, France, namely, with respect to the vanity of its women. He praises what used to be considered a vice because of the leavening it gives to commerce. That Montesquieu champions the development of commerce and of a commercial middle class is readily apparent, but how he justified this vis-á-vis Aristotle is not so obvious. This paper will explore Montesquieu's vision as a counter to that of Aristotle. 

5:00 p.m. | The Social Division of Labor: The Scottish Enlightenment on the Need for a Middle Class in a Civilized Society

Aida Ramos
Economics, UD  

While modern mainstream Neoclassical economic theory claims its antecedents in the Scotish Enlightenment, it has largely ignored the arguments of the Scottish school of the need for a middle class. The paper argues that the originators of English-language political economy see the flourishing of the middle class as a necessity for a stable and healthy economy. Through the works of David Hume and Sir James Steuart the paper discusses the sectoral division of labor, wherein the authors explain the division of society into sectors of economic classes in a developing economy, and how the independence of these sectors creates growth, employment and stability. Adam Smith also uses the concept of the sectoral division of labor to make an argument about growth, but in a different way. Using Smith's distinction between productive and unproductive labor, the paper demonstrates that Smith argues that it is the activities of the middle class only that are productive and contribute to what he considered to be the wealth of the nation: capital accumulation. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of the current economic state of the US middle class for future economic and social stability.

5:45 p.m. | Break


6:15 p.m | Solidarity, Subsidiarity, and the Middle Class

John Médaille
Theology, UD  

The modern world in general and America in particular display a somewhat schizophrenic attitude towards the notion of “class”: they want a classless society and an expanding middle class. Of course the terms are used in two senses: the first social, the second economic. The first is presumed to be bad and the second presumed to be good. However, if we examine the issue from the standpoint of both economics and Catholic social teaching, it may be that we have got it backwards: class might be a useful concept socially but a dubious one economically. This paper will examine the notions of class from the standpoint of subsidiarity, solidarity, and economics to determine in what senses the notion of “class,” middle or otherwise, can and cannot be justified.

Friday, September 16, 2016
University of Dallas, Haggerty Art Village (Art History Auditorium)
(view campus map)

Part II: The Middle Class in the Americas 

Presenters will consider the rise of middle-class politics in Latin America, the characteristics and measurement of the middle class in Mexico, and the challenges that the middle class is facing in the United States. 

2:00 p.m. | Two Difficulties for the American Middle Class

Christopher Wolfe
Political Philosophy, UD

Contemporary discussions of the middle class in the U.S. focus especially on questions of wage stagnation and inequality. This presentation will offer some observations on how much and what kind of inequality there is, some of the possible causes (especially the absence of high-paying low-skill jobs and family breakdown), important political effects of public perceptions of the issue, and how public policy might respond to these concerns. It will also note that this American problem may be the opposite side of the coin of some international questions of inequality. 

2:45 p.m. | Towards a Definition and Measurement of the Middle Class in Mexico

Miguel del Castillo
Estudios Generales, ITAM

The majority of Mexicans consider themselves as middle class. However, the analysis undertaken in this paper clearly shows that they are misled. In order to analyze whether Mexico is a middle-class society or not we need to define what we mean by “middle class.” The best way to define the term is by using Aristotle’s term “meson,” in the middle. Following this idea we can take two approaches: (1) the middle from the point of view of well-being, and (2) those in the middle between the owners of the means of production and the workers (Marx) or those who have a subordinate position (Mill). Given that the world has changed since the time of Marx and Mill, it seems that the first approach is better. With the data provided by the Encuesta Nacional de Ingreso y Gastos de los Hogares (ENIGH), i.e. the Income and Expenditure Household Survey, it we have estimated, in this paper, the number of middle-class households from the point of view of their well-being, and the conclusion is clear: Mexico is not a middle-class society. The majority of the population is poor and works in low forms of employment, without contract and without fringe benefits.

3:30 p.m. | Coffee break


3:45 p.m. | Values and Socio-Demographic Characteristics of the Middle Class in Mexico: The World Value Survey 

Marta Cebollada & Alejandro Moreno
Ciencia Política, ITAM

A phrase like "bringing the middle class back" could describe a relevant wave of studies that aim to understand this social group in Mexico. Attention to the Mexican middle class has been multidisciplinary, coming from economists (de la Calle and Rubio 2010), sociologists (Gilbert 2007), political scientists (Domínguez 2004; Klesner 2007; Moreno 2007; Moreno 2012), political analysts (Castañeda 2011), as well as philosophers and demographers (McCadden and del Castilo 2015), to mention a few. The main questions in this wave of research are as diverse as how large the middle class is, how it can be measured, what its preferences and patterns of consumption and savings are, what the middle class aspires to and dreams of, and, of course, how it votes and what political attitudes and beliefs it holds. 

In this paper, we address questions about the values and political attitudes of the Mexican middle class, but we also discuss the concept and measurement of this elusive social group. We use survey evidence from different sources, including the World Values Survey, the Latinobarometer surveys conducted in 18 Latin American countries, and national and state-level surveys conducted in Mexico over the last few years. We construct an indicator of the middle class that allows us to observe wheter its political views and values differ from those of other social groups and to see if there is a middle class "ethos" in the country, as some of the works cited seem to suggest. The collection of data that we analyze and discuss shows many distinguishing features about the Mexican middle class, but above all, it offers an opportunity to test much of what recent research about the middle class has simply assumed or taken for granted without much empirical evidence.

4:30 p.m. | Militaries, Modernities, and Mesocracia: Reflections on the Rise of Middle-Class Politics in Early-Twentieth-Century Latin America

Mark Petersen
History, UD

A quarter century has passed since David Collier and Ruth Berins Collier's Shaping the Political Arena made the case for studying labor movement incorporation into politics as a "critical juncture" in Latin American political history. In that time, as labor history flourished in Latin America, a few scholars began to shift attention to the politics and incorporation of another, more ambiguous, social group: the "middling sort." Increasing amounts of historical research into Latin America's middle class has yet to produce a work as ambitious (or audacious) as the Colliers', though the time for broader reflection is certainly ripe. This paper, while rejecting the Colliers' grand path dependence, will offer thoughts on the incorporation of the Latin American middle class into politics in the early twentieth century. It will take a hemispheric perspective by considering trends in multiple Latin American countries as well as the United States. It will suggest that middle class incorporation was a transnational process that involved military politicization, notions of modernity and the modern state, and debates over middle class power. Finally, it will explore the complicated relationship between this incorporation and democratization, a relationship that had lasting implications for politics and the state in the Americas. 

5:15 p.m. | Break


5:30 p.m. | Healthcare for the Middle Class in Mexico and the US: A Comparative Analysis

Carla Pezzia 
Human Sciences, UD

Health and class are inextricably linked. Extant literature clearly demonstrates the impact of socioeconomic status and class on health statuses and healthcare resources. Yet most studies focus on the disparity between the lower and upper extremes with little acknowledgement of the unique challenges faced by the middle class. For this paper, I conducted a systematic review of the health and healthcare research on the middle class in Mexico and the US. I present the primary health conditions affecting the middle class, reasons for why these particular conditions are an issue, and the available resources for treatment. I examine how other demographic factors such as race and gender interplay with class to shape health statuses. I also discuss the differences between healthcare systems in Mexico and the US and how these differences impact the well-being of their respective middle class populations. 

6:15 p.m. | Roundtable discussion on the middle class in contemporary America


Conference Organizers

José Espericueta, Ph.D., Joshua Parens, Ph.D., Philipp Rosemann, Ph.D.

Questions? Contact the Philosophy Department for more information. 


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