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Rich countries tend to have a bigger middle-class, except the USA (kyso.io)
109 points by eoinmurray92 on April 23, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 196 comments

It's worth reading the underlying OECD report: https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/social-issues-migration-healt...

Two points based on the charts on page 44, 46.

1) Looking at just "middle income" people exaggerates the situation in the U.S. because part of the reason the U.S. has a smaller middle class is because it has a bigger upper class. About 15% of the U.S. is "upper income" versus 5% in countries like Denmark, Norway, or France. At the other end, about 35% of the U.S. is "lower income" or below. That's on the high side, but Sweden, Ireland, and the U.K. are not that far off, at about 30%. Even Norway and Denmark are in the 25-26% range.

The more concerning thing (and the OECD report focuses on that) is that almost 20% of the U.S. is poor (below 50% of median income) versus say 10% in Sweden (or 5% in Denmark).

2) Being "middle income" means different things in different countries. The lower threshold for the U.S. is $23,416 PPP-adjusted 2010 dollars per year. That's right around the median income for Germany. Put differently, someone who is right at the boundary between "middle income" and "lower income" in the U.S. is right at the median income in Germany. Many of the people in the U.S. classified as "low income" in the U.S. would still qualify as "middle income" in Germany.

You obviously know this, but for those who are not familiar with America, regarding #2 above, the experience in the US is vastly different from other rich countries.

> The lower threshold for the U.S. is $23,416 PPP-adjusted 2010 dollars per year.

A person that makes this in the US usually will not receive health insurance at work. Depending on the specifics of the person's demographics/state/income, a worker at the boundary between "middle income" and "lower income" may not be eligible for ACA subsidies and may not make enough to pay premiums. The middle/lower part of the income range is where a lot of the uninsured live. Jobs that pay near this boundary also tend not to come with real health insurance. So the frequent debate about repealing the ACA means that even if they are insured today, these folks do not have any healthcare security as the nation actively debates repealing their lifeline. (IIRC the Supreme Court will decide this summer whether millions of people lose their insurance this year. It's not a sure thing either way.)

My personal take is that not until you're fairly rich (upper middle class) can you attain roughly the level of healthcare security that comes with residency in other rich countries. And even that requires you to stay employed, so it's still a lesser quality of security.

Similar factors apply to the rest of the safety net. The US might be the worst rich country to live in if you're low-income/modest income.

Wait. Hold on. You're acting like Medicaid doesn't exist. Firstly I bet that in most states if you're making $23,000 a year don't make enough for the ACA not too much so that you end up on Medicaid.

I specifically didn't go to this level of analysis because I was responding to a post that uses 2010 PPP-adjusted numbers. I have no idea how to quickly compare that to today's benefits & costs.

But there are millions of families that fall on that border between "low-income" and "middle class" who are not eligible for subsidies, get crappy insurance, and have trouble paying for even that (which they lose if the employee gets sick).

ACA subsidizes coverage from the Medicaid line up to well above the median income. For example, for an individual making $23,000, premiums are capped at 4-6% of income. (Which is, incidentally, lower than the health insurance tax in Germany, which is 15.5%, with the employer covering half.)

That is true, but that's also only one side of the story. Statistically, most people won't need to use the safety net. And while Americans have less security, they also enjoy a substantially higher level of material comfort. Americans have more/newer cars, live in bigger houses, etc. https://www.businessinsider.com/ons-english-homes-are-a-thir...

Now, I think it would be better to have more of a safety net and less in the way of material comforts. But it's not fair to ignore the fact that higher incomes come with tangible benefits for Americans. It's not all downside with no upside.

> Statistically, most people won't need to use the safety net

As a person, you'll around 100% likely to the doctor. In any Western Europe country, you don't have to think about it. In the US, you either think about it because of your copay or your don't go because you don't have money.

Most Americans have insurance through their employer, or under Medicare/Medicaid. (And that was true before ACA.) Copays are small ($20-30 typically) and similar to what they are in say Sweden or Finland: https://megaphoneoz.com/why-sweden-gets-away-with-health-co-....

I make a good six figures. I have a $20 copay. The copay in France is usually €1. I have delayed going to the doctor in the US because "do I really want to spend 20 bucks on this ?" and ended up going a week after while in a worse state. Most people I know here are like this.

Also, 12.4% of all Americans are uninsured and 28% are underinsured: http://fortune.com/2019/02/07/americans-health-care-underins... . Don't pretend the current situation in the US is anywhere near healthy.

The whole point of copays is to dissuade you from using services unnecessarily, which is why many countries, even ones with socialized medicine, have copays or similar out-of-pocket charges (Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Finland, etc.). In the typical case where you're not sick, it works out.

As to your point about the uninsured--I'm not debating the merits of various healthcare systems, I'm trying to contextualize the experience of the typical American. The typical American has health insurance (and is not underinsured), pays $25 or so for their annual checkup, and lives in a house two and a half times bigger than their counterpart in the U.K. (That American is also a job loss + health scare away from significant financial problems. Both things are true.)

Copays are pretty universally known to lead towards worse care, while making access inequality worse. (There is also no copay to go to the GP in the Netherlands)

40% of those Americans are not your “typical” American. Americans also on average take 10 days of vacation, while 24% of private industry workers don’t have any day of vacation, and have no job security because they can be fired at any time. They also have to pay for their kid’s college education or have them take r

The median wealth of the US is also 97k$, compared to 113k€ in France. That’s not counting the fact that all retirement in France is publicly managed, meaning it doesn’t count into your wealth when it does in the US (except for social security)

Yet, co-payments and the like are quite common. (France has low co-pays, but quite substantial co-insurance requirements.) Indeed, a lower percentage of American healthcare expenditures come out-of-pocket than in a number of European countries: https://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/7....

As to wealth. I don't know what source you're looking at. This report shows the U.S. compares quite well to say Germany: https://www.credit-suisse.com/corporate/en/research/research... (pages 40, 44).

28.4% of Americans have under $10,000, while 33.6% have $100,000-$1m. In Germany, 40% are under $10,000, while 34.5% are $100,000-$1m. Switzerland does better than both--just 13.7% under $10,000, and 52.1% in $100,000-$1m.

Also, American wealth is not as high as you'd expect because America's savings rate is very low (5%, versus 10% for the EU and almost 15% in France). This is a trend that long predates things like soaring healthcare expenditures, and it has more to do with American consumer culture.

> France has low co-pays, but quite substantial co-insurance requirements

Not sure what you mean here. Do you mean things like le forfait hospitalier ? Which is like 20 bucks a day you're in the hospital (if your complementary insurance doesn't reimburse you). Usually you're at 80-90% coinsurance when you go to the hospital in the US with a top-tier insurance (which is going to run you ~1000-10000$ a day). Your source is also a 2003 document, which predates a lot of the current health crisis in the US.

> This report shows the U.S. compares quite well to say Germany

You're cherry-picking here: Germany is pretty well known to have lower wealth because of a prevalence of renting.

You can't win a bad argument by just moving to an adjacent position (which is still wrong)

Wait, what?

runako: If you make $23k, you don't have a job that gives you health insurance.

rayiner: None of this is a big deal, because most Americans have health insurance through their employer.

Er, what? Yeah, most do, I guess ... the part making much more than $23k.

Even among households making less than $25,000 per year, the large majority (85%) of people have health insurance. Within that group, more people have employer-provided health insurance than lack coverage: https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/tables/hi-01/20.... (See row 200.)

Even among the groups most likely to lack health insurance (households of unrelated individuals making less than $25,000), uninsured + direct purchase (having to buy your own health insurance) only accounts for 1/3 of people in that segment. (Row 210.)

> the large majority (85%) of people have health insurance

From row 200 of that table, looks like you're reading off the "Covered by some type of health insurance during the year" (85%) column. This is ambiguous. It could mean there was at least some period during the year where you had some sort of coverage. Or it could mean that you had some coverage for the entirety of the year.

Which is it?

Yeah, they are talking about two very different groups of people.

Hard agree with most of this. There's something to the notion that the US (and possibly Canada) should be in a wealth tier beyond other rich countries.

But the security thing is a real thing that affects even people who make good money. American cars/bigger houses/etc. can be transitory because our healthcare system sucks and our education system is too expensive. I wouldn't dismiss these things because there's two generations now that are experiencing all of the insecurity in healthcare & education costs without experiencing the benefits that accrued to prior generations. Our current model may not be sustainable.

(Also & this isn't 100% germane to your argument, but most of the US population is eligible for some part of the safety net at some point. Notably, most infants are eligible for WIC because they are not born to well-off families. Obviously ditto the Social Security & Medicare. It's probably fair to say that most Americans will lean on the safety net at some point in their lives.)

That's definitely interesting, though I think your comparison isn't entirely fair either. You will live a much better life in Sweden, Ireland or the UK as a "middle income" and especially as "lower income" or "poor" person. Those people, for instance, don't have to fear going broke if they break their leg one day.

>Many of the people in the U.S. classified as "low income" in the U.S. would still qualify as "middle income" in Germany.

Why would this matter when the PPP is different for each country?

> are not that far off

Don't ignore the safety net.

My intuition about this as someone who grew up in America and has traveled internationally quite a bit is that nowhere else on earth are the middle classes so convinced that one day they will be "millionaires" than here. This causes them to act against their own best interests.

(This was observed by Engels long ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_consciousness )

They aren't completely wrong.

76% of Americans spend a year of their life in the top 20%, 56% in the top 10%.


The top 10% for individuals is 114k[0] and for a household is 178k[1]. They may eventually get to millionaire status, but there's still a long way to go. Basically, getting to 100+k at the end of a long career and plenty of saving & investing (which Americans are not great at [2]) may get you there, but I don't think those stats you provided really bear out the case.

[0] https://dqydj.com/income-percentile-calculator/

[1] https://dqydj.com/united-states-household-income-brackets-pe...

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/14/heres-how-many-americans-are...

I find it strange you're pulling out stats to refute the person you're responding to and prove an oddly specific quote that I believe misses the point entirely.

Why? A bit of context to clear up a misconception or a misleading stats isn't a bad thing.

Millionaire status has been retconned to mean $1M/yr in income, to keep it out of the realm of something you can just work for and achieve with a middle class lifetime.

That study, and the corresponding NYTimes article, present serious issues with their presentation - no effort was made to identify or refute potential non-standard sources of that income. This came up just recently on HN and it was mentioned that inheritance could offer this momentary bump - I am much more suspicious this "golden year" is the one where retirees realize the accumulated value of their real-estate in a working city - turning it into cash and a much more affordable property in a retirement area (florida, arizona etc...)

So I disagree, they're pretty completely wrong.

> 76% of Americans spend a year of their life in the top 20%,

That's not that surprising; median income for 45-54 age range is about 70th percentile overall, so do a little better than median in this age range and it's easy to hit top 20%; of courses this is still an income that is (especially on a non-sustained basis) not a sign of significant difference in economic relationships from the median—its working or lower middle class, in traditional terms, and not—contrary to AEIs spin, evidence for class mobility.

Your claim is misleadingly stated. When you say "top 20%" in this context, people would naturally think you mean top 20% by wealth, because that had been the context previously. Somebody would have to follow your link to see it's actually about income. That's a very different thing. I've seen this particular sleight of hand entirely too much lately on HN, to the extent that I'm seriously beginning to wonder if it's merely coincidence.

>> My intuition about this as someone who grew up in America and has traveled internationally quite a bit is that nowhere else on earth are the middle classes so convinced that one day they will be "millionaires" than here.

>They aren't completely wrong. 76% of Americans spend a year of their life in the top 20%, 56% in the top 10%.

Top 20% is > $79,000

Top 10% is > $114,000

That's not even in the ballpark. They are completely wrong.

Conversely, it's also what has attracted so many immigrants to America and created so much historic social mobility[0]. Note - I believe this has largely been reversed (and thus stagnated) due to a generation of "I got mine" attitudes, aka the Baby Boomers.

[0]Example - in the UK there is very much a "these are the cards I've been dealt" attitude towards social mobility.

Well certainly working up from nothing in America is still better than certain places an immigrant can come from but i do increasingly feel bad for people who do this when they're not from a war zone :/

Not that social mobility was ever as high as many people think, but you are right that it seems to have reduced significantly since the 1970s, and is now lower than some European countries. I suspect it isn't as a simple as "blame the boomers".


Not to marginalize the severity of racism in the USA, but blaming it on "plain racism" is a bit myopic. The "I got mine" attitude that I'm referring to involves mainly white American boomers who created/supported NIMBY legislation and inappropriate higher education funding that has effectively lead to the limitations for younger white American social mobility as well.

> Why else would "hardhats" have voted for Ronald Reagan over their own working class interests?

Lack of a perceived positive vision from the other side; the lack of doing something with the moment of attention after the crisis of confidence (or “malaise”, though he never said that in it) speech is particularly frequently pointed to.

how does the quote go again? "every working class person in the US thinks they are a temporary inconvinced millionare?".

One of the major differences i have found between people of working class in the US and those of other nations is their relation to their social class.

a lot of people in the US seem to be trying to get out of a "working class" strata, instead of getting a bigger piece of the pie for said strata.

In the US there's a strong belief in self reliance. Just because something is harder doesn't mean it's worse (so the thinking goes). You can't honestly say everyone that supported Regan is racist. People just don't believe in hand outs, to anyone (I know I don't). There's nothing racist about that.

You're also ignoring many other social issues that Republican's have traditionally supported that have nothing to do with race. There are probably very few people taking race into consideration at all when they vote.

>In the US there's a strong belief in self reliance.

This is mostly a self-aggrandizing myth. According to the world values survey (here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inglehart_Values_Map...) the US puts LESS emphasis on self-expression than most of the Nordics and even the Anglosphere outside of the British Isles. All countries have much stronger safety nets than we do. It's Britain and the US where Thatcherism shredded the safety net, and in both cases the conservative parties went hard on racially coded appeals to get working class support to do it.

Just from eyeballing it, I would guess traditionalism vs. secular-rationalism is the axis that determines robustness of the safety net. But that's a hard correlation to draw just because of how much variables like state capacity and literacy play a role.

> People just don't believe in hand outs, to anyone (I know I don't). There's nothing racist about that.

It's not a coincidence that all the talk about "hand outs" focused on racially coded language about who is receiving the hand outs. It's not an accident that the "welfare queen" narratives were always in the projects of urban areas and never in trailer parks.

>You're also ignoring many other social issues that Republican's have traditionally supported that have nothing to do with race. There are probably very few people taking race into consideration at all when they vote.

Plenty of other countries have socially conservative parties that still advocate for strong welfare states. Christian Democratic parties throughout Europe are like this. Christian Democrats start losing to right wing conservatives right around when a lot of immigrants or refugees show up. This too, is not a coincidence.

It's not a myth, it's how I and other people I know actually feel. Do you think I'm speaking in coded racist terms and not being honest? I'm not, I just think we're all better off with the mindset that we should help ourselves first.

When considering "I and other people" vs statistics, I'll generally acknowledge your experiences and go with the statistics. The statistics says that Americans are not more likely than residents of Nordic countries to believe as you do.


How do you know that it wasn't you that was brainwashed by media to believe that your opposition are racists even when they tell you explicitly that their opinions have nothing to do with race?

Because I actually spent time consciously deprogramming myself as I become aware of the perniciously racist elements of our culture natch.

And it’s not complete. We all harbor some of the racist conditioning, I’m just willing to be cognizant of it because I think perpetuating racist things is worse than being called out on it.

It's good that you are making the effort to "deprogram"yourself.

I also put a lot of work into identifying and correcting unhealthy subconscious "programming". I've been doing it for 7 years, and continue to work at it daily. And yes, some of that programming has included judgements of others based on identity group, class, etc.

But it's included a lot of things too, including the propensity to judge other people negatively for not having undertaken the kind of work I've done, or assuming that the same subconscious attitudes that existed in me, equally exist in others.

It's not a productive or kind way to interact with people.

The most important realisation we need to make when we start understanding our inner selves is that there's so much more that we don't understand, even within ourselves, let alone others.

Given this, it's not for us to make assumptions about what exists inside others or pronouncements about what others should think or do.

>Given this, it's not for us to make assumptions about what exists inside others or pronouncements about what others should think or do.

This is basically just solipsism. The human condition is knowable, the concept of social science couldn't exist otherwise.

There are numerous academic, clinical, epidemiological, and business disciplines that depend on doing exactly this. My personal background is in social science that I briefly applied to doing market research. But History, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, and tons of other fields also depend on being able to draw conclusions from making generalizable assumptions.

The key problem here is hidden in this statement: >including the propensity to judge other people negatively for not having undertaken the kind of work I've done, or assuming that the same subconscious attitudes that existed in me, equally exist in others.

You cannot make progress on addressing societal problems if the first reaction to even acknowledging the existence of the problem is to react negatively and to take the criticism as a personal attack. Frequently people act like being called racist is worse than actually perpetuating racism and that needs to change. There is no process to engage in that sort of growth in character without promoting some level of discomfort.

You can call it solipsism for your own reasons, but what have you done to ensure you're operating with adequate levels of humility, compassion and objectivity?

It's not a clinical setting or a formal study involving willing participants. Invoking academic concepts to make unsolicited diagnoses of people's inner thoughts and motivations is not ethical, nor a good-faith form of discussion, and doing so can only bring about more polarisation and resistance.

It's due to this propensity among activists across the political spectrum, that our standard of discourse is so low, and that hardline ideological positions keep becoming more entrenched.

For this to change, we need more people to undertake deep inner work on themselves for sincere and earnest reasons, rather than making unsolicited diagnoses of strangers on internet discussion boards and espousing simplistic explanations for the deeply complex problems in the world for the sake of ideological point-scoring.

>You can call it solipsism for your own reasons, but what have you done to ensure you're operating with adequate levels of humility, compassion and objectivity?

Nice deflection. But why does it matter? You've successfully deflected a well known and documented sociological and political science fact into a matter of MY personal virtues.

Which is precisely the problem I've been taking about. Nobody cares about your personal virtue. The fact remains that racism has been a critical element driving right wing economic policy and this is a well known and documented fact that has been attested to by the people doing it (like Lee Atwater). This isn't really up for debate, and the fact that you're not bothering to debate it and retreating to ad hominem instead kind of makes that clear.

No we don't need people to undertake "deep inner work." We need to solve the actual societal problems. You need to do the "deep inner work" it takes to address problems that impact objective reality instead of the delicate feelings of people who don't want to confront the things they feel guilty over.

> The human condition is knowable, the concept of social science couldn't exist otherwise.

The fields of social "science" are having an existential crisis. It's not science if you can't reproduce it:


> Frequently people act like being called racist is worse than actually perpetuating racism and that needs to change.

Calling someone a racist when they're not is just as bad as perpetuating racism. This is why people perceive your argument to be a personal attack, because it is.

> There is no process to engage in that sort of growth in character without promoting some level of discomfort.

If you're unwilling to question your own assumptions and experience discomfort, then you are also not growing in character.

>Calling someone a racist when they're not is just as bad as perpetuating racism.

Is this satire? Are you sincerely claiming that actually doing something bad is worse than being told you're doing something bad?

This is child logic. This is logic that privileges your feelings over actual objective reality.

Accusing people of racism when they're not racist is doing something bad. Just like racism is bad. Both are and neither help anything.

>This causes them to act against their own best interests.

That doesn't follow. You can act completely selfishly by not voting for unsustainable policies that appear to benefit you in the near term but would harm you in the long term.

Would you rather be richer and have more buying power in absolute terms, or just make sure the fellow next door doesn’t have more than you?

This graph is misleading. It talks about middle class as a percent of national median income, which means large numbers of people counted as lower-class in the US would be counted as middle-class if they lived in Europe and made the same income.

Neither: I care that the fellow next door has access to first world quality food, shelter, education, and medicine without means testing. I also see no evidence that this desire is at odds at all with my lifestyle as a quasi-middle class person living comfortably.

That has nothing at all to do with the information in this chart though.

I'd most like to have an existence where I don't worry about being bankrupted by a medical emergency or surviving on cat food once I retire[0].

[0] The cheap cat food, I mean, not the $10/meal cat food that rich Americans buy their pets.

Presumably since you're posting on this site you have a marketable skillset in a high demand field, which means you can enjoy a lucrative career and through making good decisions have significant retirement savings so you can afford to eat normally.

Maybe you meant that you want that existence for others, in which case, you might have a point, but I think a lot of the people who have your worries in the tech industry only have them because they live in stupidly high cost-of-living areas like SV.

Maybe not the retirement so much, but a medical issue can easily lead to bankruptcy, even when you have seven figures in assets.

If you have insurance—which someone with “seven figures in assets” should—then that is not a risk. Of course, insurance will only pay for so much. At some point of diminishing returns, they will cut you off. Just like any healthcare system in the world will. You can always spend more money for a tiny chance of living longer.

You have way too optimistic a point of view on insurance. Yes, you can even be bankrupted while being insured and a paper millionaire.

This causes them to act against their own best interests.

This is why enlightenment values have ultimately tilted toward capitalism. No collective can accurately define the best interests of every individual and design a policy to match. Better to let them sort it out themselves.

Better on what evidence overall, regarding the entire economy and all classes?

> This causes them to act against their own best interests.

Ah yes--when rich liberals vote against their own interests, it's noble. When lower-income conservatives vote against their interests, it's ignorant.

I sense an implication that it’s not possible to evaluate the ends either group is voting for in this example. The nobility of the action depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Also, don’t mistake me for someone who’s interested in the desires of rich liberals :)

In all my travels no one is more deluded about the middle class than in the US. Healthcare is cheaper in Europe therefore it must be worse, somehow. The government is completely dysfunctional and we are worse off for it. Rather than pay slightly more to fully fund a working city/state/federal government everyone would rather pay slightly less and have a government that can't work at all. Then, complain about the fact the government doesn't work at all. Yes, the DMV sucks, but guess what, that is the level of service voters decided they wanted and that is what the DMV can deliver based on it's funding; 1-2 hour wait times with 2 or 3 agents at the counter.

Don't even get me started. I did a year and a half of university in Tokyo and I used and paid for the health care system there a few times. Cavities filled for 20 dollars at high end central Tokyo offices. Skin doctors for zero dollars and prescribed creams for 800 yen. I knew a brain surgeon there who told me that the max price you could pay for his services was equivalent to 700 dollars. He didn't even bother going to conferences in America, and this was 10 years ago.

Oh, and people love to talk about wait and access to doctors: not only did none of my experiences have a wait they didn't even have a schedule. I simply walked in to an office and was seen immediately, and the Tokyo metro area has 35 million people living in it.

I don't have anything to prove it but I swear countries like Japan and Germany are very good at this sort of thing because the people have a culture of strict obedience to authority be it the government or whatever. They love having and following well defined rules and are nonplussed (in the original sense of the word) when people break the rules.

People in USA have the opposite attitude towards authority and rules.

Go someplace in Europe that doesn't have this culture and it breaks down. Italy's healthcare is a circus. When I was in Italy not even that long ago a doctor came in to see me with a lit cigarette in his mouth.

The USA's ethos in based in the motto of doing it their own way. Sometimes that's good: when everybody is doing the same, it breaks from the status quo and can become a leader in an industry, or just generally break ground in scientific and civil progress. That has happened many times in the past.

The flipside is that there are many things are a consensus worldwide because they _are actually better_ but that the US still refuses to adopt, generally because it would mean following others' lead, or because there are special interests in keeping the current status quo.

To me nothing is more emblematic of this problem than the country's refusal to adopt the metric system: the alternative is objectively worse, but the country is pretty much the last developed country on earth to refuse to use it.

It's more short-term pain avoidance based.

The reason we aborted the conversion to the metric system is because a generation of idiots couldn't stand the pain of switching, and the longer we delay the more painful it will be.

Italy's health care is pretty good actually.

Lived there for 15 years, on and off. My son was born there. My father in law survived a bad heart attack there.

Yes, there are areas in the south where it's not so good, but any reasonably large country probably has some areas where things don't work as well.

People live long, healthy, happy productive lives there.

> Yes, there are areas in the south where it's not so good

I was in Naples at the time and was a little disturbed by how lax the doctors (well, really everyone) seemed. I guess I shouldn't judge Italy's government/healthcare based on my experience in Naples, I have heard that northern Italy is on the ball for the most part.

Naples is a world unto itself. Much has been written on the subject, but yeah, it's kind of a mess. In some ways it's sort of the distilled essence of some of the worst - and best - of Italy.

I don't think your analogy holds unless you cherry pick a bit - neither the French nor the British are particularly known as rule followers in the sense you are suggesting. Both have good (even great, in Frances case) health care.

The line you are drawing probably has at least as much to do with economics as culture.

Oh I bet someone in Italy got visited by a doctor with a cigarette (30 minutes late, lunch) today.

And yes, the systems work in Germany and Japan because they're culturally and racially homogeneous (Japan).

The United States was founded by people who didn't like their home country and decided to leave, rather than bend the knee.

As such, we fight about everything. It's inefficient for some stuff.

> Italy's healthcare is a circus

1 - Italy was the 4th European country to introduce a smoking ban in public places.

2 - https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-19/u-s-near-...

"Spain’s health system efficiency ranked third behind Hong Kong and Singapore, followed by that of Italy, which moved up two spots from a year earlier. Italy ranked as the world’s healthiest country in a separate Bloomberg gauge."

> Italy was the 4th European country to introduce a smoking ban in public places.

Is the ban enforced? If not, it's just lip service. When I went there 3 years ago (Rome, Naples), people smoked in public EVERYWHERE, even on public transportation. Sometimes I would get on a bus and there would be some guy in the back blowing smoke out of a cracked window

> people smoked in public EVERYWHERE

There are people smoking in Italy as there are everywhere. They were probably smoking down the street and that's fine. But I have never seen anyone smoking in hospitals, restaurants, cafe, buses, etc .. it is illegal and people wouldn't tolerate that.

That being said, of course, there are always people that do not respect the laws as everywhere else in the world.

The thing about American healthcare is that the solution politicians offer is to spend more money on it when the cost is vastly higher than what it should be. Spending more money on it will only increase costs, but this is what we get. Other high income countries have semi-private health care and have much much lower costs than we do. A politician who can figure out why the COSTS are so high and make concrete proposals to do something about it will have my vote. I think there was an idea around that said that the maximum you can bill for anything is 150% of the medicare reimbursement. Sounds reasonable.

You didn't have a wait because that's the ER. Scheduling a complex plan of care would probably have a different story.

> He didn't even bother going to conferences in America

Might there be content in these professional conferences that would be relevant and beneficial for patient care? Is not going to professional development conferences a badge of honor or a mark of quality that I fail to grasp?

IMO you could find the same information at European, Canadian or Australian conferences, etc. I speculate it has to do with the idea that the focus in the US isn't on patient care and outcomes but rather on profits.

The alternative view is that most Americans have only ever known one type of government: an incompetent one. We spend more per capita on Medicare than most first world countries spend on their universal health care, but we only cover 15% of the population. We build roads, railroads, pipelines, and other basic infrastructure at 4-10x markup over the costs that other first world countries are paying. We spend more on education than other countries but get worse outcomes.

If you ask any underperforming manager why they are underperforming, they'll all say the same thing: not enough resources. Give me more staff, give me more budget. But they don't get it because they squander the budget they do have.

Other countries might be getting 30% more funding than the US gives their government, but the returns on that spending are 1000% more than what the US gets from their government. Fix that problem first and I think you'll be surprised at how willing people will be to fund their government appropriately.

This is pretty much how I feel. I've traveled all over the world and seen everything from good to bad. I generally opposed increased taxation in the US, not because I am opposed to the policies it would benefit, but because I do not believe I get my money's worth from our government. Given the services I receive, I pay a massively higher tax burden than I would in most of Europe comparatively.

The quality and quantity of services are so much higher in Europe that the minimal additional cost isn't burdensome, but our services are so few and so poor in the US that any additional cost I couldn't abide and I think we should be pushing hard for the government to do more with less.

In the end, this is what Eisenhower warned us about. It's a consequence largely of the military-industrial complex, and then similar complexes between government and other industries. These situations with the intentional incompetence to drive cost overruns is effectively a fraud committed against the American taxpayer, and it is absurd to expect us to want to pay one red cent more into what is effectively a scam.

I mean, the old adage that it's expensive to be poor applies to government spending too. If you're missing 30% of what you need in the moment, you're probably going to end up spending way more over time.

But we aren't doing that. For example, Medicare already has the budget for universal health care, if we are going by standards for cost effectiveness that are set by other first world countries. But we don't have universal health care, do we?

Imagine having a government that through intense reform gave us top tier primary education, universal health care, and 10x more infrastructure, and they did it without raising taxes. All of that is possible today.

Now imagine that that same government proposed a new program for FTTH in all major metro areas. Passing funding for such a program would be a breeze. The government could say "this will cost you $x less than you are currently paying" and people would actually believe them!

Absolutely on the money. The corruption/inefficiency in US government is staggering. I am not sure how it is in other countries, but a major problem in the United States is that government employee unions are allowed to lobby the government, strike, and run political advertisements for their own agenda, which is usually not in the public at large's best interest.

There are also significant libertarian ideals at play in the US. People don't want to pay the government to control their healthcare, why shouldn't they control that themselves? To say people are just "deluded" is oversimplifying IMO.

This was once sort of the truth for the US, when everyone in the world owed America immense amounts of money after WWII and the US was paying _heavily_ into education. That's ended. The US is now becoming stupid politically and, even worse for the populace, uncompetitive - that "American Innovation" is dead and it ain't coming back for at least thirty or forty years unless education gets a serious booster shot.

This whole "But I've got mine" ideology that's circulating as "the essential America" right now is not historically accurate and is the biggest foot-gun the country has ever had.

On a per pupil basis, the US is near the top in spending. The problem is that money does not make it into teacher salaries or even into the classrooms. Like many other parts of the US government, the money gets wasted away in administration.

This also is not a new thing. When I was in high school years ago, quite a few school buildings in the county were literally falling down trailers. With that going on, the school board decided to build a huge brand new building on some of the most expensive real estate downtown. There were some protests and the news did stories about it, but in the end the building was built. And, there are still schools with buildings that are nearly falling down.

I see it as the schools in rich neighborhoods get more attention. If HVAC broke down the school district would hear it. Because the parents are more attentive and reactive. If the same thing happened to a school in a poorer neighborhood the parents wouldn’t react. Would t take time from work to attend those district meetings and the politicians will allocate the monies for their biggest complainers. Rinse and repeat for a decade and you end with those schools being in really bad shape due to delayed and neglected maintenance.

I live downtown and have been petitioning the school district for our own school. Downtown has grown from 10K to 80k residents in a decade. The school board has submitted and withdrawn plans for downtown. Costs are a big factor in withdrawing. But each year they delay that construction on a downtown school is only going to get more expensive.

I wasn't clear in my original comment. The building built downtown was not a school, but a building for district administrators.

US education spending is somewhat tied to property taxes[1], Boston in particular has had historically terrible problems with inner city schools being underfunded while the suburbs throw around LCDs and laptops like they're candy - again due to a sort of terrible "the capitalist can do no wrong" ideal in the US a lot of money ends up being wasted by administrators on stupid technology that does nothing to help students learn.

[1] In most places AFAIK, and certainly in all the places I've ever lived

Once we tried to had a conversation about gun control, health care, and social security with an American ex-colleague.

He went from being this nice composed man, to be a GunNutz-take the government out of my health care jihadist in just seconds. It was bizarre, no one really argued with him anymore since he was so visibly upset. That is some serious indoctrination that's going down there, that is for sure.

When I lived in NY I felt the same way about the DMV. Here in Canyon County Idaho there are a good 10-15 agents and I've never waited more than a few minutes. Guess we take all the savings from our poor education system and put them into the DMV!

Off topic but what kind of jobs are there in Canyon County?

ehhhh... Simplot (major potato producer/processor). Then there is the Amalgamated Sugar Factory (turns sugar beets into sugar). Outside of that, plenty of service level work. More tech in neighboring Ada county with Micron, HP and a lot of other startups etc.

> The government is completely dysfunctional and we are worse off for it. Rather than pay slightly more to fully fund a working city/state/federal government everyone would rather pay slightly less and have a government that can't work at all.

Here's the rub. Everyone agrees the government is dysfunctional, but no one agrees on the fix. Your fix appears to be to give the dysfunctional government more money to be dysfunctional with. Others would prefer to give a dysfunctional government less money to waste.

Until we get past the give more/less money argument, we will never fix what's wrong with the US government. The problem is so much deeper than pay a little more or less.

"In all my travels no one is more deluded about the middle class than in the US. Healthcare is cheaper in Europe"

Cheaper != better. Especially when it comes to something as important as healthcare. It also depends on what you are prioritizing. Universal care is good for checkups and when you are young and healthy. But it falls apart when you need major surgery due to much longer wait times and decisions made by a committee. It also makes it almost impossible to get private care, unless you are wealthy.

"Yes, the DMV sucks, but guess what, that is the level of service voters decided they wanted and that is what the DMV can deliver based on it's funding"

I'm not sure where you are going to the DMV in the US, but it hasn't been called that in about a decade where I live.

It's also very well organized. I can get in line from my state's website and get a text message to come to the office, so I no longer have to sit for 2-3 hours. But, this does depend on the State.

I would also see the actual stats on the middle class in Europe. As taxes get higher, it squeezes out the middle class and you pretty much just have two classes: the very rich and the rest. California is starting to resemble this and most of Europe has been like this for awhile.

Not sure where you are getting that information from. This is not 2012 and all your talking points have been discredited during the ACA debates. There is no queue for major surgery there is a priority. The systems I’m familiar with are French, German, Japanese and UK. Guess what, most of the providers are private. Your doctors, pharmacies, clinics and surgeons all have a private practice. You pay the government and the government pays them. When our son was sick the doctor would drive over to check on him. She also proposed some elective procedures that we could have the state pay for or elect to pay ourselves to get it done immediately.

My DMV is called FLHSMV but everyone calls it the DMV. Because that’s what they are known as nationally. They have moved some services online (renewal, address change) but most services still require an office visit, like voter registration.

Income distribution in Western Europe is quite healthy. A lot less so on the eastern and southern sectors. The US middle class is definitely shrinking even with tax cuts. So, I hypothesize taxes have nothing or little to do with it.

A larger government is the characteristic of the poorer countries in the graph

It’s generally not a good habit of mind to consider someone with a different political view deluded. The issues you raise are subjective.

Interestingly it seems from this articles figures that the actual disposable income of the middle class and lower class of the US is much higher than in Europe [1].

"The United States’ smaller middle income group still earns more than almost all its Western European counterparts. The average disposable income among middle income Americans in 2010 was $60,884, placing it comfortably ahead of Norway, which averaged $56,960. The one exception to Western Europe’s income trends was Luxembourg."

[1] https://www.citylab.com/life/2017/04/euro-vs-american-middle...

Although the US doesn't have much higher GDP levels than Western Europe, it has substantially AIC (average individual consumption) levels.

That is the median American household doesn't produce much more than their European counterparts, but they tend to consume much more.

There's a couple of reasons for this. One is that many land is cheap and abundant, which lowers the cost of living. Two is that US multinationals make a ton of profits overseas, which get remitted to mostly American shareholders. E.g. Apple makes a $1000 iPhone in Asia, which doesn't count towards US GDP, but $500 of that revenue gets paid in dividends to American pensioners.

Third is that Americans tend to earn much more return on their investments than foreigners. This means that America manages to get by with substantially lower saving rates than other countries. This is particularly true with oil producing countries. A country like Norway has high GDP, but it has to continually reinvest a high proportion of its production back into a very capital-intensive industry. The US's economy is heavily concentrated in services, which require very little capital investment.


> Although the US doesn't have much higher GDP levels than Western Europe

GDP per capita:

US: $59k Germany: $45k UK: $40k France: $39k

30% higher than Germany isn't "much higher"?

One would hope so, given the astronomical cost of healthcare and the near-universal requirement that every household own and maintain at least one car in order to work and attend school.

What is the average healthcare costs for an American?

Aren't the majority of people in the US covered by Medicare or their employers plans?

I'm from Canada so I'm curious what the yearly costs would be like. I typically lean libertarian on most areas of gov-run organizations but, much like prisons, public health insurance makes far more sense to be completely centralized vs the US random centralization and countless layers of legislation over their pretend private market.

They are wasting money: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0a/He...

Having employer-provided health insurance in the United States does not mean it does not cost the employee as well. Many companies require the employee pay part of the premiums, especially for families, and there are many, many out-of-pocket costs that people must pay even when they have insurance.

In the US, there were about 1.4 million bankruptcies every year before Obamacare. There are around 700,000 per year now. But the majority of those are still widely considered to be related to medical costs (though exact statistics don't exist). That should give an idea of the burden most Americans face in terms of healthcare costs.

More anecdotally, my own costs this year - as a single adult having employer-provided health insurance - is already about $800 out-of-pocket for a few office visits and tests.

How much does a standard office visit cost? How long do you get?

In Canada it's in 15min increments, you have to say beforehand if you need 30min or longer, because they break up the whole day in 15min chunks and bill each the same. Almost every time they are rushing you, so they can hammer out a ton of 5min appointments and bill them all for 15min. Which is kind of annoying.

$800 is less than the 15-25% health tax you’ll pay in Europe.

That is the entire point. Europeans have less disposable income because of higher taxes, and Americans have more disposable income but have to spend it on things paid for in Europe by taxes.

Education fits this pattern too.

You forgot to factor in that he's also paying indirectly for employer-provided health insurance. How much is that in comparison?

Same goes for Europe, my national insurance contribution(which doesn't even technically cover healthcare) is £6,664 a year, my employer pays an additional £17,281.19 in NICS a year.

Do you think that you and your employer pay more than $30K a year for healthcare?

Don't get me wrong there are a lot of things wrong with US healthcare including the costs for uninsured but Europeans pay through the nose direct and indirectly for their health insurance as well.

With marginal tax of nearly of over 50% of your income when you include NI/Health Tax contributions, 20-25% VAT and much higher indirect taxes on everything from fuel to sugar you end up paying for it one way or another.

> Do you think that you and your employer pay more than $30K a year for healthcare?

If I add the costs for my grandmother, then that sounds very likely.

The important thing about universal healthcare is that workers pay for those who cannot pay themselves, so it's to be expected that a 30yo developer would pay way more than he gets back out. It's only fair, I'm gonna be old someday and I definitely want my health insurance to cover my expenses when I cannot pay premiums anymore.

Universal healthcare doesn’t have anything to do with progressive taxation.

Half of the EU doesn’t have single payer and use a public private mix, many of them allow you to not pay for the public system at all above a certain gross pay.

All health insurance schemes are based on the fact that young and healthy individuals pay more than they get, it has nothing to do with universal healthcare or a single payer system.

You overestimate how much a car costs and you overestimate how many middle-class people are paying for their own healthcare.

Need to subtract the cash you need to set aside in case if medical emergencies and higher education.

It really depends on what kind of job you have. If you’ve worked hard and have a good job (like most people on HN), your health insurance likely means that you don’t have to pay a lot out of pocket. In my case for example, I have a family of four covered with a very, very good plan for $300 a month and $5k max out of pocket. Household income is north of $200k in a low cost of living area. So my max theoretical out of pocket costs of $8600 per year means in the worst possible scenario less than 5% of my paycheck goes to healthcare. Ain’t no way in hell a socialized healthcare system in this country will take as much or less out of my ass every year. And that’s not even getting into concerns that the quality of care won’t be as good (we have the VA as an example of what we can look forward to).

That’s why there’s a lot of resistance to socialized healthcare in this country. The rich will be fine, the poor will benefit massively, and the middle class will take it in the rear, as usual.

There’s a couple costs missing from your analysis. One is the individual’s cost of being dependent on staying in the good graces of large employers. Second, the societal cost of large employers having a competitive advantage due to being able to offer taxpayer subsidized healthcare at lower prices. In the short term, your calculations are correct, for yourself. In the long term, you’re continuously losing negotiating power.

And all of that ignores the biggest cost, which is living in a society where we blatantly don’t care about other citizens and their families being destroyed by health issues. The middle class thinks they have a lot to lose, but they’ve already lost it and are hanging on by a thread.

The middle income group in the US has shrunk to around 48% of population.

The lower income group has grown a bit and this is the real problem. This group is defined as below 75% of median.

The upper income group has also grown significantly. This is defined as above 200% of median. While we complain (rightly) about the share going to the upper few percent, the percentage of population that is upper income in the US may be significant compared to other "rich" countries. But we aren't given that graph for comparison.

Wow. According to that first chart, the middle class has shrunk 10% since 1971, with the upper class getting 5% larger and the lower class getting 5% larger.

Consider the number of retirees on fixed incomes in 1971 versus 2016. The US is getting wealthier and older.

I don't really like calling 75% to 200% of median income “middle class”, both because it's not really capturing an economic class distinction and because proportional symmetry suggests 50%-200% or 75%-133% would be properly centered middle income segments.

But that doesn't change that it's interesting how much the US is an outlier in terms of the aggregate performance vs. distribution measure used.

Could you expand a bit on how its not really capturing economic class distinction ?

This reminds me of a TEDx talk titled "Where in the world is it easiest to get rich?"

Spoiler: Scandinavia, which happens to be top-right in this chart too.

That talk has been discussed on HN before: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14542391

The actual OECD report is a good read: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/689afed1-en/index.html?i...

The more complete quote is:

> There are two striking exceptions to the positive relationship between absolute median income and the size of the middle-income class:

> The United States. Although it boasts the fourth-largest median income, it has only the 31st-largest middle-income class of all OECD countries. Related statistics are that its population has the third-largest share of people in poverty and the fourth-largest in the upper-income class.

> The Central European countries of the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Poland and Slovenia. In these countries, the shares of the population in the middle-income class exceed what might be expected from their median income levels.


The graph cites the report linked above. Middle income is defined as household income between 75% and 200% of median on page 19 of the report.

I'd be interested to see how this graph looks if the USA were replaced by data points for each of the states. The USA is unusually big as countries go, and that will tend to increase the dispersion.

(Or conversely: Replace all the European countries with a single EU data point -- you'll probably see an even smaller "middle class" for the EU than for the USA.)

Note: caps are for emphasis not yelling.

Household income is a stupid metric. In America, the top 20% of households contains TWICE as many PEOPLE as the bottom 20% of households. The top 20% of households contains FOUR times as many income earners as the bottom 20% of households. The top 20% of households contains THREE times as many children and HALF as many retirees as the bottom 20% of households.

So when someone says America has too many "poor" households. Consider that those poor households EXIST because they are WEALTHY enough to afford it!

Consider Italy. More households in the middle income share than America. Is that because Italy is an economic paradise? Or because of a strong, centralized bureaucracy capable of administering income distribution schemes? Maybe. But it could be the case that the old and young can not afford to establish their own households. So they continue to live with the working members of their family and enjoy the "benefit" of being a middle class household.

I don't mean to imply that America is perfect and that Italy is not. I only want to say that this chart is an awful way to represent data and is, in my opinion, intentionally misleading.

This is misleading. Every countries in Europe would have a smaller middle class if you take the $32-33k median US income.

If you mean the whole world, then yes that is (mostly) true, but it is true for every high income nation, and therefore not really informative.

If you mean against other high income nation's, then it is only true in the most superficial sense, as once you include all benefits available to people, and social and economic mobility, the US quickly falls down the charts.

> If you mean the whole world, then yes that is (mostly) true, but it is true for every high income nation, and therefore not really informative.

Just against Europe (France, Germany, and UK). If everyone is poorer, I don't see the win. Remember Europe used to have a higher GPD per capita than the US not so long ago.

Healthcare, college, and childcare are all exceptionally expensive in America. Those are the fundamentals to having a middle-class life. You're better off as a middle class person in Western Europe than an upper-middle class person in the US. We have virtually no safety nets either. At least Europeans have a better sense of community and family and a welfare state to offer a safety net. I think being an average American is definitely more stressful than being your average Western European. I blame republicans like Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Bush Sr. and Jr., Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan for the hollowing out of the middle class and giving trillions in tax cuts to billionaires. Vote Bernie if you want this to change and vote for Medicare for all.

Yet the chart shows that the US middle class is much wealthier than the middle class of other countries.

And also smaller, that can't be forgotten.

Reading this through the lens of income inequality; I don't think having a smaller, yet richer middle class, is necessarily something to be proud of.

Eliminating people at the higher income brackets until the average has lowered enough that you have a large middle class isn't something to be proud of either.

Is it? In the scenario you say we shouldn't be necessarily proud of more people would be economically well-off (e.g. less people choosing between food and rent). Are you sure that wouldn't be something to be proud of?

The graph has nothing to say about the relative prevalence of people choosing between food and rent.

I have not read the report entirely so I can't say if it does, but I don't know for a fact either which is why I left it as a parenthetical. I am fine with my comment being interpreted without the parenthetical.

According to how the graph was constructed, you can't actually infer that the middle class in the US is smaller, because it defines the middle class as wealthier to begin with.

It seems to me the definition is fair, they define it as 75% to 200% of the median income in the respective country.

I don't think this comparison (to ones own countries' median income, PPP-adjusted) can be escaped since "middle-class" is being interpreted as intra-country. This is what I would expect since when I think myself if I qualify as middle-class, I don't compare myself to the Yemenis, I compare myself to other Americans.

It's adjusted per PPI, which makes the income consistent across countries. PPI adjusted income is essentially a measure of standard of living.

So the graph uses different definitions of middle class standard of living and conflates the results.

Bluntly, it's lying with statistics.

Thanks for your reply I am also looking to understand this report further

I think I see what you're saying: The prices are already PPP (did you mean that instead of PPI?), thus the _additional_ adjustment of middle class as varying country per country (on a USD value basis) is then misleading/lying. E.g. Someone below the threshold of middle class in the USA may still be considered middle class in Germany.

The issue I see specifically is here:

>So the graph uses different definitions of middle class standard of living and conflates the results.

They use a _consistent_ definition of 75% to 200% (a percent basis) of the median income in each country.

What you interpret as different definitions stems from the fact that these countries have different median incomes.

And that's the whole point of the category of "middle-class" isn't it? Consider the edge case of some fictional country where their currency is gold bars and diamonds. "In America you'd be rich!" you may tell a middle class member of that country. "That's great, but I'm middle of the road around here actually" Is what they would respond. The fact that a homeless person in the US, with their scant possesions, would maybe be wealthy in Yemen (ignoring the myriad other issues) has no bearing on their current condition in the US.

If we compare these countries on a worldwide median household-income basis ($9,733 [1]), almost everyone in the developed world would be "middle-class" or higher. Would that mean there are no issues there? [2]

[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/166211/worldwide-median-househo...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homelessness#Statistics_for_de...

Middle class is a meaningless term even within the US, let alone in comparison to other countries. What is "middle class"? Nowadays it seems that if you can afford to buy a house and reliably put food on the table, and have a couple of kids, while putting any money away for retirement you're considered "upper" middle class at least. To me that's just a baseline requirement for not being poor.

Top 20 congressional districts by income are Democratic. Proof : https://finance.yahoo.com/news/midterms-one-party-controls-w...

When the alternative is an "opposition" party that is suffering from "affluenza" , it's unlikely real fixes will happen anytime soon.

This is a bit misleading. It doesn't mean that the rich are predominantly rich (though this could be the case): that map is also basically a population density map which is, according to what i've seen, the only clear predictor of whether or not a county is likely to be "blue."

Four of those 10 districts are suburbs of DC. They're voting for bigger government because they're getting rich from it.

Also interesting is looking at GDP per capita vs equality (GINI coefficient)

I've posted the graph here: https://kyso.io/eoin/gdp-per-capita-vs-gini

And a discussion link here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19732909

I'm not sure how they're setting the points, exactly, but the US is certainly an outlier.

That's ok, everybody in the lower class are just temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

Is there a full dataset somewhere? I would like to see where NZ is on this.

Another way to look at it is median income x Gini index. Essentially, higher-income countries tend to have lower inequality, but the US is an exception, with significantly higher inequality than other developed countries.

I have a real, honest to goodness question. I live in the Bay Area. I make $200,000 a year. I just had a mini-exit where I netted about $300K after taxes.

I still rent for $2700/month. I don't want to buy an overpriced home in the bay in the suburbs (I wish we had for-sale condos like Toronto everywhere... still don't know why)

I do well. I'm 32. I'm on an upwards path. But I don't feel upper class. I feel middle class. Maybe upper-middle. But I don't feel like I'm killing it. Should I?

“Upper class” is defined, in most modern usages I’ve seen, as someone who does not so much work to earn money as they work to earn favor, where “favor” is the ability to access various sorts of line-of-credit drawn from wealthy people’s bank accounts because of your connection to them.

In est: the upper class are courtiers. Courtiers for investments, placements onto boards of directors, management roles of other people’s wealth, and so on. All upper-class people are inherently both grantors, and recipients, of such favor.

And once you have such favor, money becomes kind of irrelevant. You can access huge pools of other people’s money, to do whatever you want to do, so why would you need your own money? (Even if, sometimes, you do. There are such things as “starving nobles”, who have the ability to command others’ fortunes but who have no personal fortune. Usually because they’ve already put their personal fortune to work in some way.)

If you’ve ever read the Cory Doctorow book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the “whuffie” currency from that book is basically already reality for the upper class. (The only difference is that whuffie puts a legible number on aggregate total favor, which is intentionally made as illegible as possible in reality.)

>If you’ve ever read the Charlie Stross book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

That's by Cory Doctorow, not Charlie Stross.

Oops! Fixed.

I would fathom a guess that you feel middle class for 2 reasons:

1. Your life doesn't fit in line with your expectations of upper class.

2. 200k a year in the Bay Area is, in its weird, sad way, middle class.

3. The feeling of "killing it" is pretty difficult to obtain when you are an ambitious person.

But you are doing well. You are probably doing better off than most people, even in the Bay Area. I hope that you can find some peace within yourself, because the only person who can make you feel successful is yourself. It seems to me that you need to learn how to set trajectories for yourself with success outcomes that resonate with you.

Can you expand on "set trajectories for yourself with success outcomes..." ?

This was wonderful. Thank you.


I'm based in the Pacific Northwest and feel similarly as you. It also happens that we are the same age.

Most of my friends and family make far less then me. Aside from co-workers, I don't have many people in my life who I can confide in about my salary, income, and the future. I often attribute my confusion with a lack of feedback.

I've worked hard to get to where I am and treat my income as a finite resource. It's something that I know will change in the future. I'm also aware of the risk of having all my income come from a single source.

I think it's hard to know if we are really "killing it". It also doesn't help when we are surrounded by people who have a similar income as us.

At the end of the day, are you happy with what you are doing? Is the income you are earning worth the time you are spending every day?

Personally, I would like to reduce my time spent as a software engineer without jeopardizing my family's safety and future.

Maybe I'm being overly cynical, but I found it strange that rather than googling "middle class income range SF", you chose to post this rambling humble brag comment.

If the money you make is tied the hours you work, probably not. But once you figure out ways to divorce the two you'll probably feel more like you are "killing it."

Excellent point. Agreed. I want to start an Amazon business.

There are many definitions of middle class. You are using a definition that defines middle class as the desire for what our parents had. It seems like it was easier for them than it is for us...back then you could work for the post office and have a house in the suburbs, 2 kids, and take vacations to Orlando every year.

Now you need to be top 5% just to afford rent in some places (average rent in my city is $2371 and using the standard 30% of gross you need $94,840 annually, putting you in the top 5% nationwide).

My wife and I are "killing it" but we didn't feel that way until we made $300k combined here in Los Angeles.

It sounds like you need some perspective. You have more wealth than nearly everyone else on Earth. What more do you want?

> You have more wealth than nearly everyone else on Earth.

But huge swaths of the earth are in poverty and have entirely different costs of living.

A more relevant measure... they have more wealth than the vast majority of San Francisco itself - 80th percentile household income in SF is $190k according to https://statisticalatlas.com/place/California/San-Francisco/...

Yes. With little effort, assuming prior to your exit you had a $0 net worth, you could be financially independent in ~5 years, able to spend more than an average American every year for the rest of your life. You're killing it.

How... would I do that?

Your living in one of the most expensive areas in the world. If you moved somewhere cheaper you'd be considered the upper class. It's all relative.

Yes? You make several times what most families make and are well into the top 10%.

You probably have an easy time comparing yourself to a billionaire's lifestyle and saying "I'm not rich". You probably have a hard time visualizing and comparing yourself to the typical American lifestyle of a typical earner or even low-earner and saying "I'm incredibly rich compared to most". But that's on you. You could go and learn more about how most people live. Go and find all the people - tens of millions of them in the US - who, when they have a cavity, don't go to the dentist because they can't afford it. Say hi to them, ask them about their life.

It is possible to get away from $9 coffees and recalibrate your wealth evaluation system.

It depends how much you value material possessions. Is "winning" the rat race important to you?

Money, after a certain threshold, has very little incremental value.

I make a lot less than that and my rent is more than that now...

I’m also 10 years younger.

How exactly does a 22-year-old have a $3k+ rent?

I mean if you graduate college, get a finance job and live and work in lower manhattan i could see this happening. Might not be a very good idea but its still certainly possible.

There are plenty of 1-bedrooms in high-cost of living areas like NYC, so one way is for the 22-year-old to rent one of them? Now it may not be financially advisable, but if he's making 120k that would be both "a lot less" than 200k and possible to rent a 3k apt, since landlords usually want 40x rent as income.

Studio :/

I live in a place close to my work in Boston.

So far I think it’s worth it just in terms of my sanity but it tickles me to see people making more than me complain about rent.

Step 1: Major in computer science

Step 2: Graduate and get a programming job in SF.

So the marxist line is that you dont feel upper class because you're not! I mean by some older definitions you're not even really middle class. The "orthodox" explanation of this is that if you own land you're middle class, if you profit off of it (e.g.: if you rent anything like land or people) then you're upper class. (The terms here are petite bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie.) It's clear to me that you definitely should feel like you're killing it but i think the reason why we think that is because we grew up in a different place at a different time and the working classes have a prohibition on discussing these things in detail so we dont update our view of the world regularly enough.

“Capital” rather than “land”, Land defines the feudal upper class, capital the capitalist upper class.

But otherwise that's spot on.

You're right. The downvotes here are telling :)

This is very deceptive. Under this methodology, people too poor to be called “middle class” in the US would be called middle class or higher in the other countries. Note how much higher the median income in the US is than in any other very large country (UK, Germany, France). There is no doubt the US is more unequal, but absolute wealth for the vast majority is higher.

It’s unfair for many other reasons as well. In the US more of that income might go to services that are cheaper in other countries (e.g. healthcare, education).

So, what looks like a higher number (even adjusted for PPP) might still be lower in practice.

The graph isn't about absolute levels, but income distribution. The point I think they are trying to make is that higher total income countries tend to have a more equal income distribution. The US doesn't fit that trend, though also some of the lower total income countries such as the Czech Republic have more equal distribution as well.

It’s incredibly deceptive because not only is almost everyone in the US wealthier than their counterparts in the distribution in Europe, but they have much higher purchasing power due to much lower prices.

But they might also spend more of that money on things that are free in Europe.

There should be data available for distributions of income including government transfers. But I would expect that the median for US would still be faring much better than the median for France.

Based on what data would you expect that?

Do we though? I spend most of my income on rent, healthcare, and student loans. I don't buy much because at the end of the day there's not much left over.

Most expenses are housing and health care.

That's what the X axis is for.

It’s hard to make a comparison because it’s purchasing power that counts not dollar income. It’s much cheaper to eat better quality food from Waitrose in London than from Wholefoods in New York. I felt that food shopping in New York State in general was about 3 times more expensive than in the UK. But British people pay more per m² in rent because our houses are smaller than US and EU averages. In fact many new builds built in Britain would be illegal in a lot of EU countries because they are too small. So it’s more complicated than dollars.

Fair point but I think you can make the same claim if you only compare to countries of equivalent "first world" status. EDIT: It is still a potentially deceptive visualization though.

What I said holds true when comparing to all of the major European powers too. The only countries that exceed or even come close to US per capita are small, homogenous countries with niche economic specialties or resource wealth.

You can address that by using Gini index x median income. The result is the same: the US continues to be an outlier with significantly higher inequality than most developed countries.

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