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The bourgeoisie is one of the classes into which a society is typically divided, according to certain western schools of economic thought, especially Marxism. The term is a French word derived from the Italian borghesia (from borgo, village, in turn from Greek pyrgos). A borghese, then, was the inhabitant of a village who had a house in its center, rather than in the surrounding countryside.

A bourgeois class developed in medieval Italy, where the inhabitants of the villages, as distinct from the ruling classes on one side and from the rural clases on the other (some authors add clergy), saw an increase in their power, due to their growing financial influence. The typical example is that of mill owners, who might have a great influence on the economy of a territory and in a short time also become able to put vetoes on their princes.

In the following centuries, the term was better applied to define the first bankers and the people in developing activities such as trade and finance.

The Bourgeoisie in Marxist theory

In Marxist theory, the bourgeoisie is defined as that class of society which owns the means of production. Marxism sees the proletariat and bourgeoisie as inherently opposed, since (for example) factory workers automatically wish wages to be as high as possible, while owners wish for wages (costs) to be as low as possible.

In the 20th century some sub-classes were indicated to sharpen the definition, with a "high bourgeoisie" composed of the richest classes (industrialists, major traders, etc.), a "middle bourgeoisie" (owners of solid patrimonies or incomes, but less rich than the previous ones), and a "little bourgeoisie" (petty bourgeoisie) composed of the workers (workmen or employees) depending on the other two sub-classes and with a sufficient income to be also (or "still") consumers. In this vision, the proletariat would then be the remnant lowest class (the poor). This vision, however, is not common to all economists.

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