Who are the members of the professional managerial class? Neither capitalists nor workers, one strains to define them in purely economic terms. If you have ever dealt with members of the PMC, the first word that comes to mind is annoying. It might be part of a slightly larger summation of annoying and pretentious. But annoying is always going to make the cut because members of the PMC are not just managers by vocation, but also by personality. They love to regulate and micromanage: their subordinates, their children, and even themselves.
Is it due to nature or nature? Occupational hazard or innate insufferableness? No one really knows for sure. What is known is that these are the most annoying people on the planet. People who get positively aroused at the idea of telling you what to do, correcting you, and telling you that they just read an article in The New York Times about just that issue and now have something old to say in a new way. A day without them giving out a did you know factoid is like a day without sunshine. The type of people who can only have an orgasm if they see someone getting a parking ticket.
Catherine Liu lives among these people and seems rather fed up. Her new book Virtue Hoarders: The Case against the Professional Managerial Class makes it crystal clear that she is having a lot of passive-aggressive lunch meetings with other members of the University of California, Irvine faculty.
That line made me laugh.
However, Liu focuses on another way the PMC mask their will to power: moral preening. She claims the professional managerial class hoards virtue for itself as part of its war against the working class. Which is to say, Liu recognizes that the PMC and the working class are, in fact, class enemies.
Building on the work of Barbara Ehrenreich, she accepts that the PMC at one time played a positive role in society by challenging the barbarity of earlier iterations of capitalism; specifically when members of the PMC were advocates for creating professional standards in fields like medicine and social research, and were advocating for welfare state economic reforms. But as the post-World War 2 capitalist settlement soured and neoliberalism became ascendant, Liu claims “the PMC preferred to fight culture wars against the classes below while currying favor with the capitalists it once despised.”
This was not a moral awakening, but an awokening. A power play by the PMC to secure their class position within the capitalist system using the lofty language of social justice to defend basic material interest.
I also call them Hillary Clinton voters.
The main argument of the book, or so it seems to me, is that the professional managerial class of present is actively working against building socialism in the United States. That the PMC could really be considered the prime obstacle to unifying the working class as they continually divide working people along the rigid lines of identity to serve their own class interests:
[The PMC] prefers obscurantism, balkanization, and management of interest groups to a transformative reimagining of the social order. It wants to play the virtuous social hero, but as a class, it is hopelessly reactionary. The interests of the PMC are now tied more than ever to its corporate overlords than to the struggles of the majority of Americans whose suffering is merely background decor for the PMC’s elite volunteerism. Members of the PMC soften the sharpness of their guilt about collective suffering by stroking their credentials and telling themselves that they are better and more qualified to lead and guide than other people.
Looks like someone just got herself uninvited to an 80s party.
What the review, and probably the book, do not address is how so much of this is driven by what the late Dave Graeber called Bullsh%$ Jobs.
I would argue that much of the dysfunction described in this review is an artifact of what Graeber described as the, "profound psychological violence," of having a career that one knows on some level has no value.