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On Long Term Social, Economic and Cultural Effects of Job Insecurity: 2

January 1, 2018 2 comments

In the previous post of this series, I wrote about one of the many reasons why neoliberalism-fueled capitalism lacks the ability to survive past a decade or so. The main point made, in that post, was that embrace of the neoliberal ideology causes extremely low, to zero, fertility in its most devout foot-soldiers (the credentialed classes, professionals and aspiring types). In other words, those most likely to explicitly, or implicitly, support neoliberalism do not produce enough offspring to continue their parent’s ideological belief system.

But why should that matter in the first place? Isn’t neoliberalism attractive enough to gain new followers? Didn’t neoliberal political leaders such as Reagan, Thatcher, Blair, Clinton, Bush43, Obama etc once win elections in western countries? Why were people once enthusiastic about neoliberal ideas such as “efficiency”, “reform”, “innovation” and “free trade” in the 1980-2008 timespan? Well.. the simple answer to that question is that most people are willing to go along with bad ideas as long as they are not personally hurt by it and receive a few trinkets in exchange for support.

People kept on electing neoliberal politicians for a couple of decades as there was no immediate downside for doing so in that timespan. Some also did so because they thought it would hurt racial minorities and poor people. In exchange for that support, they saw their house prices go up, the “stock market” boom etc. They were also able to buy inexpensive stuff manufactured in other countries and for a time, things looked good. It should also be noted that neoliberalism did not initially “disrupt” things such as healthcare, education, housing, pensions or affect job security to anywhere near the levels seen today.

And this brings us to focus of this post, namely the issue of job and career security (or the lack thereof) under neoliberalism. One of the major, if not main, factor responsible for the extremely low fertility rates among neoliberal-ideology worshiping classes is the lack of job and career insecurity. Now some of you might find this a bit puzzling. Shouldn’t job and career insecurity cause fewer poor people to have children than the upper-middle class and aspiring types? Others might also point out to anecdotal examples of upper-middle class types having more than one or two kids.

Anecdotes and exceptions do not negate an obvious statistical trend. The simple fact is that upper-middle class (or aspirational types) under 45-50 with few exceptions have no kids, one token kid or less frequently two kids. Contrast this to the rest of the population which seems to be doing noticeably better in that regard. But why? A simplified answer is as follows: People with mediocre job or career prospects are mentally prepared for more of the same in the future, and therefore keep on living out the rest of their lives. People from the upper-middle class (or aspirational types) recognize the instability of their currently well-paying jobs and careers and are far more obsessed with maintaining what they ‘have’ than living out the rest of their lives.

But just how stable (or unstable) are the jobs and careers which provide income levels or a social standing typically associated with the upper-middle class? The answer to that question partially depends on which country you live in, but in the case of USA the vast majority of such jobs and careers are now highly unstable. But how do you define who is an upper-middle class or an aspirational type in 2017, especially since the definition of that term has changed over the decades? So let us talk about a bit about the role of class as opposed to income in determining who is upper-middle class.

Social class has far more to do with factors beyond income. For example- certain occupations such as police, prison guards or people who work in other unionized, well paid but manual jobs will never be part of the upper-middle class. On the other hand, even an associate professor at some poorly known university will always be part of the upper-middle class or at least credibly aspire to belong to that class. To put it another way, social class is about a combination of education, lifestyle, mores and aspirations rather than just income. But what does any of this have to with the long-term social, economic and cultural effects of job and career insecurity?

Part of the answer to that question lies in one of my older posts- The Upper Middle Class will be the Big Losers in Class Warfare. The main point I made in that post was that class warfare would be far more disastrous for the top 2-10% of society largely because they are the public face of rent seeking behavior, inequality, elitism, snobbery and fraud. While they might justify their behavior by saying that they were “just doing their job” or “following orders”, the rest simply don’t care for those explanations. Whichever way you look at it, the upper-middle class types are the enablers and enforcers of all abuses perpetrated by elites.

So why do they do it? Well.. there are many reasons but it mostly comes down to an expectation of reciprocity from the elites. The ‘deal’ as seen by most upper-middle class and aspirational types is as follows: they do the dirty and disgusting work of maintaining the position of elites in society for which they are rewarded with better paying and significantly more secure jobs and careers. Now, this ‘deal’ worked out pretty well in USA from the mid-1940s to somewhere between 2005-2008 (though the cracks were obvious as far back as the mid-to-late 1990s). But then it fell apart and has since shown no signs of even partial revival.

We are now in an era where a smart person with a degree or two in subjects such engineering, chemistry, or any other area of science or technology has the same job stability as a person working at Wal-Mart for a year or two. And this problem extends well beyond STEM. Consider the fact that programmers making 200-500k a year in any given corporation in Silly Valley dread turning 40 years old because of age discrimination. Or consider the fact that most law graduates from universities that are not in the ‘Top 10’ or 15 have career prospects only marginally better than paralegals.

Even a degree which require more “soft skills” and once promised decent jobs such as an MBA is no longer a guarantee of getting a decent and relatively stable job unless you graduate from one the ‘Top 8’ or 10 programs. I could write entire books on the situation of those who were planning for a career in academia or even teaching in schools. To make a long story short, most jobs which require a degree or two (or more) have become as insecure, unpleasant and unstable as poorly paid jobs which require a high school diploma.

And then there is the issue of career stability. A lot of people who fall out of one of these higher paying jobs never seem to get a better or equivalent one in their area of competence. Many have to eventually abandon the field they spent half their lives working to get inside, in the first place. Some of you might, quite justifiably, see the plight of these people as an example of ‘the chickens coming home to roost’. But we also have to consider that this state of affairs is a marked and highly destabilizing shift in the relationship between elites and upper-middle class as it has existed for most of post-WW2 era.

In the next post in this series, I will try to explore how these destabilizing changes are manifesting themselves in various corporate and industrial sectors- especially as it concerns age related differences in attitudes towards the status quo.

What do you think? Comments?