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(Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

Meet the new servant class Add to ...

The New York Times Style section is an indispensable guide to the manners and mores of the new urban elites. Last week, it outdid itself with a story on the parents of a five-year-old named Erela, whose nanny’s cooking skills weren’t quite up to scratch. (If you care about your kids’ nutrition, it seems that mac’n’cheese doesn’t cut it any more.)

“We want to give Erela the advantage of having a palate diversified enough to enjoy all of the delicious food from around the world,” said her mother. Fortunately, help is at hand. For only a few thousand dollars, they hired a service called marc&mark (run by professional chefs), that will teach your child’s nanny how to shop for and prepare healthful, organic meals. After all, everyone should have a nanny who knows the difference between couscous and quinoa.

If you are like most of us, this story probably makes you feel like reaching for the nearest pitchfork. But according to the experts, this is the way the world’s unfolding. As manufacturing jobs shrivel away, the greatest job growth will be in services. The future belongs to highly educated people with superior cognitive skills who can work with robots, and to an expanding service class that will cater to their every whim (and presumably employ all the rest of us.)

I don’t blame you if you have trouble with this picture. It reinforces our fears of a growing class divide. It offends our sense of equality and fairness, and it seems deeply undemocratic. But in fact, the new service class is all around us. And most of us would be hard-pressed to survive without them. These are the people who manage our fitness, cater our parties and shape our eyebrows. They organize children’s birthday parties, plan people’s weddings, fix our computers, clean our houses, landscape our gardens, walk our dogs, do our taxes, blow-dry our hair before a big night out, and take care of dear old Dad in Calgary because we’re not there and don’t have time.

The new service class bears little resemblance to the old service class, which lived below stairs in miserable conditions, bowed and curtsied to their employers, and scrubbed the cookpots for a pittance. Most of them are skilled professionals who have degrees in kinesiology, culinary management, or personal care. Even the young woman who rips out the rogue hairs in my eyebrows went to aesthetician school. Not all these people make a fabulous living – especially the ones who look after the young and old – but the best of them have good incomes and a high degree of job satisfaction and personal control.

Not long ago, only rich people had access to pedicures and dog-walkers. Such services were totally unknown to the middle-class families of my childhood. Today, they are essential to most upper-middle-class lives. (There’s even a service that will clean up the dog poop in your yard if you don’t want to.) Cooking, of course, has been almost totally taken over by microwave ovens, fast-food restaurants, Loblaw, Whole Foods, and private chefs, depending on your means, taste, and social class.

The same goes with child care and other services for children. People with lesser means rely on Grandma and the woman down the block, a.k.a. unlicensed daycare. Up the hierarchy are licensed daycare, Montessori, nannies, and nannies with cooking consultants. If your kid is struggling in math, you hire Kumon. But if you happen to be a Wall Street titan, you hire a science PhD student and pay her $100 an hour. (She told me it was the best part-time job she ever had.)

So don’t sneer at the twits who hired a nanny consultant because they wanted to diversify their five-year-old’s palate. Not if you ever made kale chips for your kid. After all, not every parent has the time for that. And if they can pay someone else to do it, then why shouldn’t they?

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