Second, there is a social consequence: the expansion of the middle class has been negatively proportional to its degradation into the condition of the former working class. The borderline between these two classes has become more and more blurred. This degradation explains why we are now witnessing across Europe the obsolescence (and end?) of traditionnal socialist and communist parties, which have remained stuck in an early-20th century conception of class struggle. As we have just seen, the main issue lies with the technically-driven nature of our economy, not with who owns the means of production, and it is not affecting the lower classes only, but all.
Finally, and perhps more importantly than the second consequence, the phenomena described above have deeply affected education. The factory worker of old did not need much of an education to perform his task. Higher learning (still understood as knowing Greek and Latin, reading Homer and Eschyles) remained the prerogative of the higher classes. As the contemporary technology-driven economy requires higher and very specific skills to operate often technologically-advanced devices, the education that the contemporary white collar needs is more akin to skill acquisition than a true education in the classical sense of paideia. It does not so much aim at teaching him beauty and right judgment as to make him able to master the tools necessary to perform his function–the computer and its softwares are tools just as much as a wrench is. We may praise ourselves for having the highest rate of graduates in our history, this education is more of a necessity to survive in the technically-organized society than a love of knowledge (“I need to get an education” is a phrase too often heard around American campuses) and this education itself is not intellectually demanding. The expansion of the economic sphere to all strata of society has resulted in the bastardization of education (and not its “democratization,” as we often hear). Hence the gradual but constant recession and disappearance of the humanities, which are seeing their program and financing cut by too many universities in favor of sciences and vocational curricula (this is just as true in the United States as it is in Europe, as this example in Germany shows (in French).
In the end, isn’t this economic system at the very heart of the meaninglessness we often encounter around us, a meaninglessness that is all too often escaped by suicide? We may be more prosperous and “educated”, yet we are more isolated than ever and reduced to a simple labor force as perhaps never before. It is just as true of the bank employee as it is of the CEO. In this way liberal democracies have indeed managed to make all their citizens equal. It is just not an equality in freedom, but an equality in the condition of the ancient slave.