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.

Reader Discussion

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on September 01, 2015 at 11:04:18 am

One of the problems of "the scribal class" is privation in integrity. For example, elite professors offer public forums and ignore posts that oppose their agendumb. (Is this forum excepted by omniscience?) Businesses in the media, taking advantage of their monopoly on freedom of speech, refuse letters their mind-tunnel or their view of propriety does not grasp. Opposing groups don't talk. Producers must conform to physics-based ethics or perish when they have not the integrity required. Everybody knows. Votes persevere toward integrity.

A Civic People of the United States, a Louisiana incorporation involving only about forty people, has a call to action: We inhabitants can talk to each other. We think, analogous with majority opinion at each step in the founding of the USA, that 70% of inhabitants would like that. The scribal class may catch the train before it leaves the station.

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Phil Beaver
on September 01, 2015 at 13:43:22 pm

Very thought provoking piece. One lesson is that political arrangements that increase the power and influence of lawyers, bar associations, and judges should be suspect. Given the ideological orientation of the legal academy, much legal "scholarship" must be regarded as self-serving. Populism is a legitimate response to the disproportionate influence of the scribal class. Professor, how does it feel to be "behind enemy lines"?

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Mark Pulliam
on September 01, 2015 at 15:10:48 pm

And of course campaign finance reform makes disruption more difficult, because it restricts campaign spending while not affecting the most important levers that the symbolic class enjoys in shaping politics.

Am I reading this correctly? Is this saying that most campaign finance reform centers around how campaign money is spent? That's interesting if true.

When I think of finance reform I think more in terms of limiting the corrupting effects of contributions. My concern is more the giving side, and less the spending side. When someone gives a candidate a lot of money, that candidate incurs a political debt to the contributor. That's why I agree with Christopher Demuth, who says that donations should be kept anonymous. I would add that a watchdog is necessary to prevent financial misconduct, a watchdog who is not appointed by the persons being watched (because that would be a really stupid and manipulative thing to do), probably a non-partisan officer elected directly by the public under much stricter financing rules than would be applied to the watched persons.

Wasn't that the problem with the original design of the senatorial elections? There was too much opportunity for corruption under a partied government system when the state legislators selected senators. The fix was to make the senators publicly elected instead of selected by the legislatures. The fix did not work because it did not address the two main issues with corruption which were first the lack of effective oversight and effective rules and practices to prevent corruption, and second the corrupting influence of partisan propagandizing that is the inevitable result of having a two party system which is in turn the inevitable result of first-to-the-post polling.

Because we have better technology today, we can implement more sophisticated polling techniques such as ranked-vote polling to help reduce the political polarization and increase the technical merits of the elected candidates. Likewise, technology allows wide-scale public elections of a watchdog is more practical today than it was in the 1770's and widespread communication allows such a watchdog to publish findings that everyone can read and react to.

The main thing I see holding back rational reform is the assumed difficulty in making proper changes to our form of government. Since we don't make proper changes, the only changes left are improper changes--the quick-fix kind that don't solve the problems, but only create more problems to work around.

I would like to have more discussion of specific technologic approaches that can be used to improve our political process through techniques such as computer-enabled ranked-voted polling, or having the state governors appoint supreme court justices (thereby shifting judicial bias away from favoring the central government and towards favoring federal government).

I would also like more discussion on how to simplify rational governmental reforms. For example, could a single state draft a petition for redress, ala the 1774 petition of the First Continental Congress; direct it to the other states in their Article V role and not the courts, legislature or executive; withhold associated taxes while the petition is active (which would be in keeping with the historic practice of petitions for redress); and through the petition establish a bill of rights and a platform for reform? That would be a lot simpler than the other kinds of efforts being used to-date because it would require only one state to initiate reform. And unlike the manipulative and ineffective reforms being proposed by the scribe class, these reform proposals would require broad and overwhelming public support.

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Scott Amorian
on September 04, 2015 at 06:01:35 am

[…] (John McGinnis, America’s Class Divide: Scribes v. Producers) […]

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Friday, 9/4/15 | Tipsy Teetotaler
on September 08, 2015 at 20:25:22 pm

I wanted to study law but could not locate a law school that was not too far left. I could not parrot liberal crap nor could I avoid expressing my opinions. Instead I became a school teacher and, at times, a professor. It is too late for me to study law now but, at least, people now have more options. I had a son studying law at UGA and have a son studying law at a conservative religious school.

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Scott Catledge

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