Sean McHugh: The true measure of class division


We live in a society that is divided by class. That divide may be getting bigger as the 1 percent get richer and the rest lose ground, but the average person's lifestyle today would still be considered that of a king by most historical standards.

As rich as Croesus was said to be, he couldn't have a pop tart ready in under a minute.

The key to determining if you are a Have or Have Not, I believe, is not houses, cars, or servants, but rather something far more basic -- access to laundry facilities.

Hear me out here, because I know it sounds crazy that a person's standing within society can be measured in their ability to wash their clothes.

In modern American society, it is generally accepted that people need to wear clean clothes most days of the week. So you need to wash them semi-regularly.

If you own a washer and dryer, laundry is a mild inconvenience on par with keeping your bed made. It only becomes problematic when laziness or your inability to cooperate with your family interfere.

If something doesn't get dry on the first spin, you can send it around until it does. You can leave clothes in the machine without worrying that they will disappear.

If, due to a crippling lack of foresight, it's 11 p.m. and you need something washed for the next day you can just stay up until it's done without the machine locking at a certain time.

Laundry is a minor chore that you barely notice. Congratulations, you, my friend, are a Have.

On the other hand, if you do not own your own laundry devices you are at the mercy of the world when your shirts no longer pass the smell test. It becomes a task that shapes your whole day.

To begin with, you need to transport your soiled garments to your nearest laundromat. Depending on the size and number of laundry baskets you own, this can mean dedicating several trips, possibly over several days, to finishing everything.

Given that very few laundry baskets are sealed against the elements, you may need to postpone your washing due to inclement weather, thus sending a century of technology out the window.

Once you've procured a pile of quarters large enough to keep a pinball game going all week, you'll make it into the laundromat itself.

As a rule, laundromats only have two states of business -- ant farm and ghost town. For some reason they are never anything in between.

You will either walk into a hub of activity where every machine needs to be defended with your life and a single wasted minute can lead to being left waiting like a chump with an armful of wet T-shirts and nowhere to put them.

Or you will enter a building so empty that you'll start to wonder if the owners forgot to lock up when they closed and the police will show up halfway through your rinse cycle and bust you for breaking and laundering.

Most indicators between the getting-by and the getting-bypasses-named-after-them are not only measuring sticks, but also engines to further divide those classes, rewarding the rich for being rich and punishing the poor for the temerity to be poor.

For example, a person who pays off the car insurance all at once needs to be well off enough have all the money up front.

Meanwhile poor schmucks reduced to making monthly payments end up paying more in service charges -- effectively a fine for not having large amounts of ready cash.

So it is with laundry. It forces the Have Nots to plan their whole week around a task that is barely an afterthought to the Haves.

There is of course a third option, as is usually hiding behind most false dichotomies.

You could live in a building that has its own private laundry facilities shared by all the tenants. In that case, you exist in a Marxian netherworld occupied by dorms, apartment complexes, and the sort of nicer prison.

In true communist fashion, you have access to a common resource, not technically owned by one person, which should be enough for everyone on paper but in reality will expose you to endless crippling shortages.

Granted the breadlines will be replaced with waiting three days for someone to move their soggy underwear and instead of finding government listening devices in your home you'll find cigarette butts in your clothes. Altogether it will create a textbook example of the Tragedy of the Commons.

Write to Sean McHugh at


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