I have been enjoying a variety of books and movies on late 19th century life lately and it has me thinking a little bit. I was reading one of the books in the Little House on the Prairie series and came across an interesting statement. The school children in a small, isolated town are trying to get home during a blinding blizzard. The first building they encounter is a hotel. All of the children continue to their homes, except one, because they cannot afford to stay in the hotel. The one boy who could afford to stay was able to do so “because his father had a regular job.” A regular job meant regular pay. His father managed a train depot – the 19th century equivalent of a middle class job today. Later I read this statement:
Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves – they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.
That got me thinking about how we have so much talk about the importance of our large middle class today. It seems to me that the middle class is dependent on their “regular jobs” and is the most vulnerable to becoming dependent on railroads, telegraph, kerosene, and coal stoves or their modern equivalents (cell phones, cable television, internet etc.). That got me wondering, is society really better off having a sizable middle class rather than being broken mainly into the rich and the working classes?
I theoretically fall into the middle class today (minus cell phones and cable television) and I am not sure that there is much benefit being in the middle class and having a slightly higher standard of living coupled with greater expectations and demands on my wallet. To me that seems to breed greater discontent proportional to the supposed security that the middle class enjoys over the working classes.