America's Class Divide: Scribes v. Producers

The most comprehensive study of the ideology in the legal profession ever has just been published. It confirms what most people have already intuited: lawyers as a whole lean strongly to the left. Within the profession, a few characteristics predict that a lawyer will be even farther left than the median. Females and government attorneys are even more liberal, and no category is farther to the left than law professors. So much for diversity in legal education.

But what is most interesting about the study was its comparison of the ideology of lawyers with that of other key professions. Academics as a whole are substantially more left-wing than lawyers, and journalists in the print media are even slightly more left-wing than academics. Thus, we now know that there is a shared ideology of what we might call the scribal class – those who seek to alter the world by their use of information and rhetoric.

This scribal class wields enormous political power. Academics in the humanities and social sciences set a long-term agenda for the country by educating the young and by shaping the categories of thought. The news media shapes the shorter-term political agenda by deciding what to emphasize in its coverage and how to spin it. Lawyers, whom Tocqueville almost two centuries ago understood as the aristocrats of the United States, are experts at using the courts and the burgeoning administrative state to shift social policy. And the study leaves out the entertainment industry and government bureaucrats, groups that are also on the left.  Entertainers help set social agendas, and bureaucrats often help advance the programs of liberal politicians and obstruct those of conservatives.

Thus, the left owns the commanding heights of our democracy. Given this power, it is a surprise that the right wins as many elections as it does. To be sure, modern information technology has created a more dispersed media world and permitted conservatives a somewhat greater voice. But the imbalances remain dramatic.

The study thus helps us understand that one of the greatest class divides is not between those above the median income and those below it, or between the religious and secular, or between the North and South. None of these divisions represents as stark an ideological chasm as that between the scribal classes and those that produce material goods and non-information services for a living.  And the scribal class shares an interest in growing complex government. Lawyers get more clients from a more complicated and expensive government. Some academics gain more power from advising politicians and most gain more status as the market becomes less vibrant. The news media has a more interesting beat and readers need to more information, if big government is always shifting in its social engineering.

It is not surprising that what now unites the scribal class is campaign finance “reform.” Elections are the best opportunity for citizens outside the scribal class to disrupt agenda control, because elections provide both the motivation for some citizens to speak and others to listen. And of course campaign finance reform makes disruption more difficult, because it restricts campaign spending while not affecting the most important levers that the scribal class enjoys in shaping politics. Campaign finance reform is how today’s scribes wage class warfare.