There is something monumental happening with social class in the United States that very few people are aware of. It’s been written and talked about for decades, but the conversation is always so academic that it never reaches those who need to hear it.
Our country is in the process of being ripped into two distinct classes—The Alpha Class and the Beta Class.
I use these names on purpose because they sound elitist. They sound as if they imply superiority and inferiority. They sound judgmental. As someone born and raised in the SF Bay Area, they sound offensive. And that’s a good thing, because that’s exactly what they are. I’ve grown tired of the hand-waving euphemisms for this thing happening all around us.
The lie we’ve been told
Tens, or maybe hundreds of millions of people in this country currently believe a horrible lie that goes something like this:
You can get ahead by working hard even if you’re not exceptional. Get a high school diploma. Get a college degree. The degree doesn’t really matter—there’s work out there for you. You won’t be rich, but you’ll have a good life. You’ll be part of the “middle class”, and you’ll have a happy family, time off, sick time, vacations, and you’ll grow old and have a decent retirement.
It’s a filthy, rotten lie, and people who believe it are walking themselves (and their children) right into a wood chipper.
Alphas and Betas
The reality is that there are two classes: The Alphas and the Betas.
The Alpha Class
Members of the Alpha Class are smart, lucky, social, have rich/connected families, or are otherwise imbued with genetic or environmental gifts (another form of luck) that helped them succeed. Most went to a four-year college (at least). Most have good self-discipline.
Most come from good families that insisted on both the discipline and the college. Others are exceptionally bright or talented and succeeded due to a combination of luck and hard work. Whatever the combination of factors, Alphas command salaries of at least $120,000 per year.
Alphas live the lives that America promised. They tend to have one main, high-paying job, although they may do other jobs for fun and/or extra income. They have health insurance. They have sick time. They have some level of control over the type of work they do, and how they execute that work.
Alphas are free to consume the best in life. They enjoy the cinema. They buy electronics. They buy brand name clothing and accessories. They lease vehicles, because they only keep them for a few years anyway. They have good credit. They can get a loan whenever they want to. They have a retirement strategy.
The Beta Class
Members of the Beta Class are less intelligent, less lucky, less social, come from poor and/or uneducated families, or are otherwise lacking genetic or environmental gifts (another form of luck) that would have helped them succeed. Most did not attend a four year college, and many lack self-discipline because they did not come from good families that insisted on both of these.
Others are simply not very smart and cannot adjust to the constantly changing environment at work or in life in general. Whatever the combination of factors, Betas make less than $75,000 and often no more than $40,000 per year.
Betas live in a world of constant struggle. They either don’t work (a massive number of Americans not only don’t have a job but aren’t even looking), have a single, low-paying job, or they have many low-paying jobs because they’re extremely hard working. They tend not to have good health insurance, if they have it at all. They have very little sick time, or couldn’t afford to use it if they had it. They have very little control over the work they perform, and are frequently treated horribly by management at work, e.g., being given just enough hours to not qualify for benefits.
Betas enjoy very few luxuries. They can’t afford to spend money on restaurants, movies, and other entertainment. They can’t buy the latest and greatest gadgets on TV. They buy second-hand and off-brand clothing. They buy used vehicles because they don’t have the credit to get into a lease. Getting a loan is a nightmare, unless it’s at the local check cashing establishment. They have little or no savings or retirement.
Rejecting the lie and embracing reality
So with that brief and imperfect introduction to the two remaining classes in America, allow me to relay some difficult truth.
- If you are in high school and you don’t yet have plans for your future, you’re about to enter the Beta Class.
- If you are raising children and you haven’t prepared them with a college education, they are about to enter the Beta Class.
- If you are in high school and “just kind of hoping things will work out”, you’re about to enter the Beta Class.
Essentially, if you’re not actively defending against being part of the Beta Class, then that’s where you’re going.
TABLE 1. — Alpha numbers shrinking in coming years.
I expect the number of people in the Alpha Class to continue to shrink in coming years as the middle is completely destroyed, leaving everyone else as a Beta. Beta is the new default, in other words, and Alpha is something you hope to achieve, like escape velocity when leaving Earth’s gravity.
The technical truth is that there are many sub-categories within Alpha and Beta groups, but the practical truth is that there are only two classes, and you need to be very honest with yourself about which you—and the people you care about—are in.
Let me state this as clearly as possible:
Alphas are those who enjoy American society, and Betas are those who support them doing so.
- Alphas eat in nice restaurants. Betas serve them food and wash their dishes.
- Alphas drive expensive cars. Betas wash and service those cars.
- Alphas buy expensive merchandise online. Betas answer the phones when they need help.
- Alphas have passports and travel the world. Betas work in airports and drive them to their destinations.
I hope you’re as sickened by reading that as I was by writing it. Get mad. Feel something. Wake up. Tell everyone you care about. This is happening, right now, all around us.
Knowing the truth is empowering by itself
So, why spread the message? what can actually be done?
A lot, I think.
The biggest cause of people in the United States entering the Beta class is them not realizing it’s the default. They’ve been sold The Great Lie by their families and their education, and they have no idea what they’re in for until it hits them.
It’s quite binary, actually. Either you come from an Alpha family who has been telling you for your entire life that you must be exceptional or you’ll be a failure, or you come from a Beta family that never really talked about the subject, or even said the exact opposite, e.g., “Don’t worry, it’ll just work out somehow.”
Either way, once you know the truth, here are my recommendations for how to proceed.
- Focus on what you can do to get ready. Vote, become a protester, enter politics, whatever. But don’t confuse those actions with preparing you and your loved ones for the world that is already here and that’s quickly becoming more severe.
- Take the evil out of it. You can burn a lot of energy focusing on this group or that group that’s responsible because “they’re evil and they want to destroy America”. It’s a lot of bullshit. The number of historical, economic, and social factors leading to this reality is unbelievably massive, and it’s most definitely not because of the damn Liberals or the damn Republicans. Remove the emotion and focus on action.
- Spread this message. It’s not enough to get this yourself. Help others realize that, no, it’s not “just going to work out”. Let them know that the default state is Beta, and that it won’t be pleasant.
I truly hope this message helps someone avoid what’s coming, and I especially hope it reaches people who are young, still in high school, are confused about the value of education, or are bringing new lives into the world.
Those are the groups that need to hear it most.
- I do information security for a living, so take this for what it is—a potentially useful mental model for evaluating the world and how best to live in it. The numbers and estimates are just that—estimates—based on little more than lots of reading and thinking by a semi-intelligent, non social scientist / historian. This is not a theory, and it’s not data. It’s an idea with numbers.
- I mention America specifically because I live here and know it best, but this is actually a global phenomenon. Some countries with high social and income equality will maintain a third, middle-ish class because of this, but I haven’t any idea how long that will last.
- I obviously have no idea exactly what the exact Alpha/Beta numbers are, or the exact year that they’ll reach a particular number. It all depends on a) how you classify Alpha and Beta, and b) data from the real world that determines how many people are in each. Neither of those are easy to capture. My argument is simply that the numbers useful at the level of accuracy they have. But if you have a good argument that they should be higher or lower, I’d love to hear about it.
- Some of the books and articles I’ve read that have informed my opinion on this include: Sleeping Giant, numerous articles by Yuval Noah Harari, Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, Humans Need Not Apply, and dozens of other similar pieces.
- You’ll notice there’s a big gap between the $75,000 and $120,000 salaries I mention here. This is for a couple of reasons, but the biggest one is that I think there are about to be far fewer mid-level positions and salaries. More and more people will either go up or down, and most will go down.
- I tried to make this very clear in the text, but if you know any of my views on free will you’ll know that I place no specialness on Alphas, or judgement on Betas. I believe it’s *all* a matter of luck, including the go-to explanation from conservatives of “hard work”. Where do you think you got that work ethic from? It was either genetic or it came from your environment, and neither of those were up to you. So I see all of this as a description of reality, not a judgement of those in it.
- There are obviously some remnants of a middle class that makes little money, isn’t college educated, etc., but that still has savings and a retirement. But it’s a dying class that’s being replaced by the two above.
- There are many different types of people who make less than $75,000 per year, and some of these descriptions apply to one group and not another. In general terms, there is a working class that’s poor despite both parents working multiple jobs, there are people who are actively seeking and not finding work, there are those who were working but have now given up and live at home or with friends, and there are those who are simply taking as much as they can from the government, with no intention of working.
- Before all my conservative friends complain, yes, I am aware that there is another class that is Beta on purpose. They take as much as possible, use government benefits to their advantage, etc. It’s a welfare class and it’s well documented. While it’s definitely true and a factor to some degree, the numbers are actually rather small compared to those who are not working but not receiving benefits, or those who are working but not making much money. So yes, it’s a real topic, and a problem to be solved, but not one that affects this model.
- I’m getting the top 15% salary of $120,000 per year from here. That of course doesn’t mean it’s going to represent the Alpha Class permanently, but it’s a good start.