by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 5
August 2021
Seen Elsewhere
07:00

Will Biden look beyond the bobos?

The President looks genuinely interested in the non-college educated
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

At the beginning of the 21st century, David Brooks wrote a book called Bobos in Paradise — which was all about America’s changing class structure. Bobos are ‘bourgeois bohemians’, also known as the ‘creative class’ or, more broadly what we might call ‘knowledge workers’.

Urban, educated and progressive, they now dominate the commanding heights of the economy, and of culture too. For all their egalitarian pretensions, the rise of the bobos has left a lot of non-bobos feeling more excluded than ever before. That might be because of economic disadvantage or feelings of cultural alienation, but either way the bobos are resented. 

Of course, much of Brooks’ analysis will be familiar to readers of UnHerd; but in his latest essay for The Atlantic, he provides fresh insights. 

For instance, he makes the important point that President Biden is a throwback — an old-fashioned progressive who still cares about the non-bobos:

His programs—his COVID-relief law, his infrastructure bill, his family-support proposal—represent efforts to funnel resources to those who have not graduated from college and who have been left behind by the creative-class economy. As Biden boasted in an April speech to a Joint Session of Congress, ‘Nearly 90 percent of the infrastructure jobs created in the American Jobs Plan do not require a college degree…
- David Brooks, Atlantic

While Donald Trump exploited the anger of the non-bobos, Joe Biden promised help — and is now providing some.

Brooks believes this could help narrow the “class chasms” that have done so much to polarise American politics. However, he also points out that these measures do nothing to deal with the “sorting mechanism” that allocates Americans to their position in society.

This centres upon an education system that values academic achievement above all else. Though it is meant to be meritocratic, it is nevertheless overtly hierarchical — openly advertising (and monetising) gradations of prestige. Furthermore, there’s a strong hereditary component. Brooks refers to research that found that “children whose parents are in the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile.”

At great (and unsustainable) expense, Joe Biden is attempting to bind up America’s political wounds. But beneath the bandages the causes of division are still there, waiting to be ripped open again. 

While Biden may be the last of his kind of progressive, Trump is just the first of his kind of populist. 

Join the discussion


  • An education system which doesn’t value academic achievement is like a medical establishment which doesn’t value healing – both of which we have in Britain. Thanks to socialism and state control, instead of pursuing their natural aims, they set “equality” as their end, with variously disastrous and murderous results. “Our” NHS is lauded as value for money – nonsense when you consider how much money it eats; how little its output improves in consequence and how even a King’s Fund report pointed out that it is not very good at – how shall we put this? Ah, yes – saving lives. Rather than forcing schools to do everything and train everyone, we should restore selection as soon as may be, making appropriate provision for other kinds of talent at the same time. This obtains in Germany with remarkably benign results. It is only the grip of Marxists on our Left which has prevented this natural and beneficial reform from being instituted.

  • It’s called ‘buying votes’ – otherwise the Democrats are bereft of solving problems & creative thinking.

  • There you go again – the American comparison – because the euro comparison damns the NHS completely. It’s called social health insurance and is considerably more efficient. The number of beds per capita is much higher, public and private services cooperate and health outcomes are better. And you totally ignore the point that the NHS doesn’t keep people alive. In short, it kills them. I have experience of this among my own kin. And all this is “value for money”, is it? Not only is this crude Benthamite calculation heartless, it is wide of the mark in its own terms.

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