Decades ago, scholar Paul Fussell wrote a book called Class which has been recently popularized by social class expert Lion of the Blogosohere. In it, Fussell divided American society into nine social classes. I found a description of those nine classes at wesclark.com:
Top Out of Sight – Billionaires and multi-millionaires. The people so wealthy they can afford exclusive levels of privacy. We never hear about them because they don’t want us to.
Upper Class – Millionaires, inherited wealth. Those who don’t have to work. They refer to tuxes as “dinner jackets.”
Upper Middle – Wealthy surgeons and lawyers, etc. Professionals who couldn’t be described as middle class. I suspect this is the class to which I, an engineer, am supposed to aspire.
Middle Class – The great American majority, sort of.
High Proletarian (or “prole”) – Skilled workers but manual labor. Electricians, plumbers, etc. Probably not familiar with the term “proletarian.”
Middle Prole – Unskilled manual labor. Waitresses, painters. (In other words, my mom and dad!)
Low Prole – Non-skilled of a lower level than mid prole. I suspect these people ask “Would you like fries with that, sir?” as a career.
Destitute – Working and non-working poor.
Bottom Out of Sight – Street people, the most destitute in society. “Out of sight” because they have no voice, influence or voter impact. (They don’t vote.)
Fussell is quick to point out that class in America is not decided exclusively upon finances; it is also a matter of taste, what one does with one’s recreational time, what one reads, what colleges (if any) one has attended and how well one speaks.
There is a commentator at the Lion of the Blogosphere who calls himself “toos is god”. This person, as you can tell from his name, obsessively worships so-called TOOS (top-out-of-sights) and writes:
…I wonder who Natasha and Malia Soetero will marry. Will they marry ambitious Jewish guys, or will they marry what can be called the ‘black toos’? They cannot join toos for obvious reasons but they might try the next best thing.
Also, I have to say that all the intelligence debate is for nought. Being toos trumps all the intelligence in the world…
Bill Gates’ wife was known to be with people who were clearly in toos sphere, like a Wrigley heir about whom we do not hear too often. Gates might appear wealthier than the Wrigley heir, but I doubt he is more powerful.
In my humble opinion, this person is resentful of Gates and the Obamas and thus takes comfort in imagining some secret invisible social class that lords over them. But keep in mind, Fussell probably started writing his book around 1980, just a couple years before Forbes magazine began publishing their annual list of the 400 richest Americans, which made it almost impossible for the richest Americans to stay completely anonymous. Indeed some members of the Forbes 400 have actually sued to be kept off the list, but the judge ruled that the since the rich have so much influence, the public has the right to know who they are (in sharp contrast, Donald Trump sued a reporter for saying he wasn’t a billionaire).
But class is not just about money; while money, power, and class are all inter-correlated, they are (in my opinion) three different hierarchies:
MONEY: economic capital (income & wealth)
POWER: social capital, status, popularity, prestige; the sitting president is considered the most powerful man on Earth and is also virtually always tops Gallup’s most admired poll. Oprah is so worshiped she was elected the Greatest woman in American history, and is often described as the most powerful woman in the world. Reagan is so worshiped he was elected the Greatest American of all time, and was so powerful he served eight years as president, helped make America the sole super-power, had a vice president that served four years, a vice president’s son that served eight years, and forced the Democrats to become more fiscally conservative. So roughly speaking, being worshiped by Americans = power (conventionally defined)
SOCIAL CLASS: genetic & cultural capital ,if you come from a rich and powerful family, look intellectual (dark rimmed hipster glasses), sound intellectual when you speak or write, attended a prestigious college or simply display physical traits associated with progressive evolution (tall gracile physique) you will likely be embraced by the hoity-toity. Because high social class is less about extrinsic capital that can be acquired (money, power) but more about intrinsic traits and genetic pedigree.
Some people might define social class more broadly by combining all three hierarchies into one, but this seems pretty unscientific and arbitrary. I could be wrong, because I find this whole concept quite nebulous, but here’s how the Lion of the Blogosphere explained it (he seems to combine all three hierarchies, but note the emphasis on pedigree):
The key characteristic of the top-out-of-sight class is multiple generations of private school attendance. And we are talking about private schools attended by children of wealthy people, not crappy Catholic schools. Generally, in order for a person to be top-out-of-sight, he must have attended private school, and so did his parents, and so do his children.
The top-out-of-sight are not famous and do not have high-visibility jobs, because they have to be out of sight. Out-of-sight should not be taken too literally. Many of the top-out-of-sight are hiding in plain sight in places such as Manhattan.
The top-out-of-sight insulate themselves from proles. For example, if they live in New York City, then they live in a doorman building and they avoid subways and buses…
One does not have to be super-rich to be top-out-of-sight. At the bottom end of the top-out-of-sight, you just need to be able to afford private school for two children plus incidental expenses like vacations. Because the top-out-of-sight can have jobs of some sort (although never the kind where a boss yells at them and they have to punch a timecard), the amount of inherited money they need is not as high as commonly assumed. Their social capital allows them to get paid a lot more for their work than you might think given their lack of true value creation.