The Public Interest

The Riddle of the Middle Class

James Q. Wilson

Spring 1975

WHATEVER else the United States may be, it is surely a middleclass society with a government devised, and to a large extent still operated, by rather sober middle-class persons. Tocqueville believed that the middle class-those persons “who have a competency, alike removed from opulence and from penury”-would grow in numbers and, to the extent they gained control of government, “would certainly not be lavish of taxes, because nothing is so onerous as a large impost levied upon a small income.” The government of the middle classes, he concluded, would be the most economical -he would not say the most enlightened, certainly not the most generous-of all free governments.

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