During the Progressive Era and the New Deal era that succeeded it, idealistic professional-class reformers were only one element of a coalition they were forced to share with the representatives of farmers and blue-collar workers — groups that made up a majority of the workforce in the mid-20th century. Take away the farmer-labor wing of the center-left, and you are left with upper-middle-class do-gooders like Woodrow Wilson and Eleanor Roosevelt. A progressivism based among college-educated professionals is going to be much more elitist, and perhaps much less egalitarian and effective, than one dominated by union leaders, urban bosses and agrarian politics. True, nonwhite and low-income Americans are important in the Democratic electorate — but they are grossly underrepresented in the organized center-left.
If there were a real progressive movement in the U.S., its attitude toward the professional class would be more skeptical than celebratory. In order to fund a decent-size welfare state, genuine progressives would demand higher taxes on Americans making more than $100,000 — or maybe more than $50,000 or even $30,000. Why not? Polls show that Americans are willing to pay somewhat higher taxes as long as they get better benefits like expansions of Social Security or Medicare. The pressure to exempt professional households that make between $100,000 and $250,000 a year is not coming from Middle America.
Genuine progressives would side with producers, of all kinds, against rentiers, of all kinds — including credential-rentiers like the members of professional monopoly guilds. If software can replace pricey lawyers, if moderately paid instructors can replace highly paid professors, if skilled nurses were allowed to do some of the things that only M.D.s now do at a fraction of the salary, the working-class majority would benefit immensely.
The proletarianization of the professional class should be welcomed and encouraged by the progressive movement. Already independent physicians are being replaced by doctors who are salaried employees of hospitals. Let prole lawyers work for legal services corporations and prole professors work for educational service companies. Unable to set their own incomes by means of guilds, many downwardly mobile professionals might belatedly discover the benefits of unions and legislation protecting workers against exploitation by managers and investors.
The bad news, then, is that the self-serving minority of credentialed professionals, rather than the majority of wage earners, is increasingly important in setting the agenda of the center-left. The good news is that the contradiction between progressive reform and the self-interest of the professional elite may come to an end as technology and economic reorganization eliminate the professions altogether.
This, in part, explains why Neoliberalism is embraced by so many Democrats. It is an ideology whose purpose is to sustain the interests of elites, and elites now define the center of gravity in the Democratic Party. Nothing changes until the center of gravity in the party shifts back to labor.
I don't know if I can get up much enthusiasm for the proletarianization of anybody, but if that's what it takes to get a coherent, broad-based pushback against the way the top wealth percentiles have rigged the system in their favor, then so be it. Wage slavery is wage slavery whether your collar is blue or white.
What kind of society do I want? Might as well lay it out here in broad strokes.
In the long run, ownership of companies has to shift away from the rentier class to workers on the Mondragon model or other variations of it.
I support state ownership for a few enterprises that serve the common good, like healthcare, energy, and transportation.
There should always be room for innovative, small startups, and that requires capital, but there are ways of raising it and rewarding investors without their owning the company indefinitely.
A few thoughts about the future of education and the professoriate:
I'm fine with the public-private mix in education. K-12 public schools should get state and federal funding, but should be governed locally.
Tenure as we know it should be abolished in post-secondary education, but there should be mechanisms in place to insure due process for faculty who are fired. But class distinctions between tenured and non-tenure faculty should be abolished. The criteria for accountability should be developed in faculty senates, and it should be possible for the faculty senate to overturn unjust firings.
I don't know what's going to happen to the large state research universities regarding undergraduate education.They will not much longer be able to justify the large, impersonal lecture classes in the MOOC era. My guess is that they'll downscale and become heavily subsidized centers for graduate education for engineers, biotech, healthcare professionals, and other science/technical professions.
While they are not going away any time soon, I think Law School and MBA programs are credentialing scams. There are far less expensive and more practical ways to train lawyers and business people. Certificate programs in specialized areas make more sense, but a lot of that could be handled by MOOCs.
I would like to see a continued place for small, liberal arts colleges for undergraduates, but how that will work economically I don't know. Perhaps as an extension of the K-12 system. I suspect that the elite schools will survive because of their endowments and because there will always be an elite willing to pay the freight, but I wouldn't want anybody I care about to be just MOOC educated. Maybe people want to discuss that in comments.