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On the Poor Career Prospects for People with Postgraduate Degrees : 2

August 21, 2019 7 comments

In the previous part of this series, I went into some detail about the careers of those who studied or worked alongside me during my MSc. To make a long story short, the majority are either no longer involved in scientific research or have menial unstable jobs with some vague connection to what they studied or used to do for a living. Some of you might say that this is to be expected since the biomedical sciences produce many times more graduates than the number of available jobs. While that may be true now, it wasn’t always the case. Indeed, until the early 1990s, those who studied or worked in that sector could either find decent to acceptable jobs or simply move into related areas with considerable ease.

Now let us now talk about another sector which, for over 50 years, provided highly stable, well compensated and intellectually engaging employment. I am talking about pharma. From the end of WW2 in 1945 to mid-1990s, pharmaceutical corporations (large and medium) provided some of the best and most interesting jobs and careers in western countries. And it worked both ways, since those who worked in them came up with the most important advances in medicine we have ever seen. There is a very good reason why this period is often referred to as the ‘golden age’ of drug discovery. And then it started going wrong and is now a mere shadow of its former self. Years ago, I linked to a spoof by somebody else about how things went to shit in pharma.

To be fair, this fall was not instantaneous and it was only after 2008 that the whole sector was irreparably damaged. But ya.. things had been on a downward slope since the mid-1990s. In retrospect, the true beginning of end started in late 1980s, when certain large corporations (Pfizer, Merck etc) decided to recruit ivy-league MBAs. The first signs of this rot manifested as gradual consolidation within that sector. While I could write multiple books on why consolidation in the pharma sector was so disastrous, here is the very brief version. Monopolization and oligopolization always results in counterproductive centralization, destruction of real innovation, greatly increased rent-seeking and is bad for everyone other than the upper management of those corporations in addition to their lawyers and bankers.

It should be noted that corporate monopolization has been much more disastrous in the West than Asian countries because corporations in the later are answerable to their governments to an extent unimaginable in the former. But why are we talking about how the pharma sector used to be about 20 years. Well.. because it is relevant to my choice of career. One of the main reasons for me taking the educational path I took was that working in pharma was an excellent career option with long-term stability and a pretty decent work environment. Sure.. nothing is perfect, but for someone with my interest and talents, it was as good a match as realistically possible.

Also, the pharma sector used to be fairly conservative in both hiring and firing people. Until early 2000s, mass layoffs and multiple site closures for the purpose of “corporate reorganization” were unknown in pharma. Many larger corporations even had defined benefit pensions until mid-2000s. Yes.. you heard that right. To make a long story short, those who stayed out of corporate politics and had generally satisfactory job performance could reasonably expect lifetime employment, and this was widely expected by employers and employees right upto early 2000s. You were not expected to work beyond normal work hours unless necessary due to nature of experiments and there was tons of autonomy at the site and group level. And in spite of all this, vast majority of pharma corporations were profitable businesses and remained so over multiple decades.

But how is any of this linked to my story? As it turns out, I ended up working in pharma for a few years and through direct experience and observing the career trajectories of acquaintances had a ringside seat to the beginning of final collapse of employment in pharma sector. Here is a post from 2011 in which they document that almost 300k jobs in that sector were lost between 2001 and 2011. And those layoffs did not stop in 2011, though they have sorta run out of people to fire- especially in past 4 years. The total is now closer to 400-450 k jobs and even if we assume that 60-70% were in sales and administration, it is fair to say that ivy-league MBAs have finally killed the goose which used to lay golden eggs. Far more problematically, it has altered the career course for many who would have otherwise gone into pharma.

In other words, their short-termism not only destroyed decades of institutional knowledge but also their ability to rebuild in future. And it shows! And before I explain you how, it is important to quickly explain the process of drug discovery and approval. It all starts with either the discovery of a new drug target (usually protein) or some effect of a chemical compound in cell-based or animal assays. From there it enters the pre-clinical development phase where chemists make hundreds and thousands of chemical cousins of the initial lead compounds and test them in a number of assays, animal models of some disease and extensive toxicity testing in multiple animal species. Only after it has cleared that phase can it be even considered for human trials. Small phase I trials are usually the first (dozens of people), followed by larger Phase II trials (hundreds) culminating in Phase III (hundreds to thousands and often) over a few years.

To make another long story short, the system was designed such that drugs which entered Phase III trials were unlikely to fail, and this was the case for most of modern history. Sure.. you did encounter situations where testing in larger populations (P III) revealed some rare but nasty side effects or the drug was not as efficacious as previously expected. But outright failures of efficacy in Phase III trials was really rare. Then something changed and nowadays the majority of drugs which enter Phase III trials fail, and they usually do so for lack of efficacy. Curiously, this often occurs when Phase I and Phase II data was either very good or pretty promising. So.. what is going on? While many industry insiders have tried to explain this deeply troubling trend by invoking all sorts of clever sounding bullshit, there is a simpler and more rational explanation.

A large percentage, likely overwhelming majority, of drug development in past two decades has been based in two types of fraud. The first involves manipulating metrics to make something look far better than it is in real life. Examples of such frauds involve cherry-picking patients, burying negative data, changing criteria for success, playing around with data and statistics and other stuff which is not technically illegal. The second type involves falsification of data, deliberately deleting data, kicking non-responders out of trials to improve responses rates etc. But what does any of this have to do with the downward career trajectory of people working in that sector?

Well.. since we have already exceeded 1200 words in this post, I will leave that discussion for the next part of this series. In it, I hope to go into some more detail about how neoliberalization and financialization of pharma destroyed its older and much more successful business model and institutional structure- all to make a handful of people on wall street and upper management far richer than they otherwise would have been. You will also see how stuff such as pushing opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics etc to doctors and constantly jacking up prices of old and new drugs replaced developing newer ones as the main source of corporate growth. And ya.. I will also go into what happened to all those middle-aged and older people who lost their jobs and, in many cases their entire, careers after decades of relative stability.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Poor Career Prospects for People with Postgraduate Degrees : 1

August 17, 2019 33 comments

A few years ago, I wrote a post about how the defined and stable career trajectory is now dead in west and west-aping countries such as Japan and South Korea. Some months after that, I wrote about how the hiring practices of corporations in west have shortened the length of semi-stable career for most people to about 15 years. Then, about a year ago, I wrote a series on the long term social, economic and cultural effects of career insecurity. While they don’t make cheerful reading, it is interesting to note that these and my other older posts (pre-2016) on this general area (link 1, link 2, link 3) anticipated the rise of pseudo-populists such as Trump, the alt-right and popularity of socialism among “Millennials”. Also, have a look at my post on why rich and well-off (even in USA) are barely having any kids.

But let us get back to the topic of this post, and talk about something which I have often hinted to in previous posts on this topic. Ever wonder about the real career prospects for those with proper postgraduate education in the sciences and other related areas such as engineering. And yes.. this is relevant to issues other than the immediate future of western countries. What I am now going to describe, based on personal observations, is going to vindicate many of your darkest suspicions but also make you feel depressed. But before we talk about my observations, you should know a couple of facts about me. Longtime readers are probably aware that I came here and started my MSc when I was 20 years old in the later half of 1990s. After finishing it, I worked a couple of jobs in my field and then started my PhD in a proper STEM subject in mid-2000s and finished at the beginning of this decade. The point is, I have seen a lot more change than many others have seen.

To be more precise, I had a ringside seat to the demise of career security for smart people with postgraduate education in western countries. And don’t worry about me, I am still doing OK and will (knock on wood) continue to do so. But back to the topic at hand- What do my personal observations about the career trajectories of others who graduated a few years before myself, or alongside me, say about the overall situation. The very short answer is that it is already very bad and getting worse- if that is possible. While there are many ways to describe what I have witnessed, a chronological account of the careers of people who graduated a few years before me provides the best (if somewhat disturbing) insight into how things have gone to to shit.

While biomedical sciences have notorious for overproduction of graduates, until the mid-1990s most of them could get some half-decent jobs or at least transition into careers where their skills were useful. Somewhere between mid-1990s and 2000, that became much harder or no longer possible. To make a long story short, only those who went into to medical or dental school now have anything approaching “normal” careers. And even for them, things are pretty dismal. For starters, most are single, divorced or unhappily married with a single child. Out of the ten or so guys I know who took that route, only one has more than 2 children- and half have none. Almost every woman who went to medical school (around my age or younger) has either zero kids or just managed to squeeze one out in their late-30s. And they all look older than they should.

But at least they have some semblance of a career trajectory, because most of the rest (aka the majority) who did not get into medical school have none. Sure.. there are a few who have done OK in either academia or industry (usually the later) but most of them just seem to disappear. Confused? Let me explain. Over the years I have followed the careers of many PhD students who were smart, liked by their supervisors and generally expected to do OK in later life. But things did not work that way and many of them after promising starts and careers lasting for a decade or so, just disappear. To be clear, I am not suggesting they are dead or have commited suicide (though the later cannot be ruled out). It is just that their career in science seem to end and they stop updating their LinkedIn profiles. In almost every case, detailed internet searches failed to reveal much more than their current addresses and some more recent photos.

While I am sure that most are still alive, it is clear that they do not have well-paid or marginally prestigious jobs. Maybe they are bagging groceries at the supermarket, driving for Uber, delivering Pizza, tutoring kids or in one of those mediocre administrative positions which have proliferated in past 15 years. My point is that most of them are now doing jobs that require nothing more than an undergraduate degree. Isn’t that a terrible and cruel waste of human potential and hope? But wait.. it gets worse. Let me talk about the fate of a few people I used to know well in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And it gets depressing real fast..

When I was just finishing my MSc, there was a new postdoc from UK in the adjacent lab who had come here with his then-GF (also a postdoc). The guy was bright and competent, because within a couple of years he got a decent academic position back in UK. So far so good. Based on mutual acquaintances and PubMed, it seemed he was doing well for a decade or so. Sure.. his GF dumped him after a few years, but he seemed set for an OK career. Somewhere in 2012, his research output just stopped. My guess is that his job loss might have something to with post-2008 austerity politics in UK. Anyway.. he reemerged a few years later as proprietor of a small businesses selling dietary supplements. So a guy with a PhD, over 30 papers in decent journals and an academic career lasting almost a decade ended up hawking supplements like one of those scummy Instagram and FakeBook influencers.

Another person who did his MSc in an adjacent lab ended up running cell-phone kiosks in malls and is now selling insurance. Yet another PhD student who was considered to be very smart ended up moving to his home-city for a postdoc. He then regressed to working as a lab tech and eventually as a freelancer, the last I heard. At least, he lives in a place where his parents own a house. Another ambitious PhD student, after a couple of stints at prestigious labs as a postdoc, seems to have ended as a part-time freelancer at some research institute in another large city. The women seemed to have done a bit better, and more than a few ended up as scientific writers or mediocre administrative positions in corporations with varying degrees of stability. But in almost every case, there had no defined career with the degree of stability expended by their parents generation. Also, many of them either have no kids or one token child squeezed out in their late-30s.

To be clear, all of this occurred to people who studied, or worked, at prestigious research groups in one of the top two universities in that state. But wait.. it get worse. In the next part, I will tell you what happened to the careers of people who worked in the pharma sector between 2001 and 2008-2009. It is really bad.. to put it mildly. In future posts, I will also go in some detail about the dismal career prospects of people with postgraduate degree from well-regarded universities in subject such as Chemistry and Physics. Also degrees in engineering (various disciplines) from well regarded universities are no longer the ticket to a stable career. I hope to show you how all of this ties with rise of neoliberalism, de-industrialization and increased financialization of economy in western countries- and the death of hope.

I have a feeling that some of you might say something the lines of these people being lucky since they are still employed in jobs which pay more than median wage. Funny thing.. that is not the way things work in countries which harbor any hope for a better future. What I have described is how things typically unfold in countries that are in a steep and likely irreversible decline.

What do you think? Comments?

On Long Term Social, Economic and Cultural Effects of Job Insecurity: 3

January 7, 2018 12 comments

In the previous part of this series, I talked about how the upper-middle class and the aspirational types (the main lay supporters of neoliberalism) are now getting screwed over by the very ideology they enthusiastically supported. Now some of you might say.. “I have not seen that yet” or “I still see people in STEM getting good jobs, marrying, having kids” etc. To which I say, enjoy that delusion while you can still afford to bask in its fake promise of maintaining the status quo.

While believers in the old status quo might wish to continue in their belief that not much has changed, the reality is far different. There are however a couple of caveats we need to address. Firstly, the effects of job and career insecurity are not obvious if you look at the 65-and-over group within the upper-middle class. Most people in this group have good pensions, fully paid-off houses (often more than one) and other investments as they were the main beneficiaries of income and asset inflation which we saw until 2008.

The second group which has still not experienced the full assault of neoliberalism are credentialed professionals in certain areas such as medicine, older upper and middle management types etc. They have so far been partially protected from income and career instability because of their cartel-type behavior or residual usefulness to super-rich. The most important words in the previous sentence are “so far”. This will almost certainly change for credentialed professionals and many older management-types within the next decade for reasons beyond their control.

Of course, as many of you realize, the upper-middle class is larger than licensed doctors and the alumni of 10-15 business and law schools. Which brings us to other previously upper-middle class or inspirational type careers. Let us start by talking about professors (of all types) who work and teach at universities or colleges. Have you ever wondered how many of those who perform the jobs of professors (research or teaching) in such institutions are permanent employees and how many are casual or contract employees? And why does that matter?

The simple answer to that question is that between 70-90 % of those who perform that tasks traditionally associated with being a professor in post-secondary educational institutions are underpaid and overworked temporary employees. In teaching, this takes the form of ‘adjuncts’ who are hired each term and paid wages typically associated with janitorial staff. In research, this takes the form of post-docs, graduate students and research associates who have a slightly more secure income stream than adjuncts but almost no real chance for the promised upward career (and income) mobility.

But the ‘work’ is getting done.. right? Well.. not quite. Academic areas which have the worst degree of such neoliberal exploitation, such as biomedical research, also have the most amount of unreproducible research. As I might have mentioned in the past, the vast majority of biomedical research produced today is either the result of extreme cherry-picking, outright fraud, pedantry or clever rewriting of the obvious. There is a very good reason that progress in the sciences, as measured by products or services that improve the quality of your life, has gone down to almost zero over the last two decades- inspite of breathless fake press releases which suggest otherwise.

Ask yourself.. which great breakthrough benefiting the lives of more than a handful has come about from all the money ‘invested’ in biomedical scientific research over the last two decades?

Do you see any radically new or better drugs for diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, pain, alzheimers, schizophrenia, depression, various types of kidney failure, coronary and cerebrovascular disease.. you know, the sort of diseases that affect and kill most people. The conventional ‘explanation’ for this state of affairs is that all the ‘low lying fruit have been picked’. But is that really so? And how did people in previous decades go about finding effective treatments for diseases when they often “knew” much less about those diseases than we do today?

For all the hype about targeted genetic engineering through zinc finger nucleases, CRISPR/Cas9, TALEN, Gene Drive etc- how many people have been successfully cured of any disease with such methods? Now some of you might say.. “it is because of excessive regulatory or ethical considerations”. Sadly, that is not the case. Most human diseases (by number of affected people) with known genetic predispositions are not single or even ‘few’ gene diseases. To make a long story short, most disease conditions with a hereditary component are basically impossible to treat without highly risky large-scale genetic tinkering.

And this brings me to the issue of income and career security in the pharmaceutical industry. As some of you might remember, many hundreds of thousands in that corporate sector have lost their jobs and often their careers over the last decade. Even the most optimistic propaganda about the fate of these people has to acknowledge that things have been pretty bad for most people laid off during those years. But why did that happen in the first place? Why were there very few large layoffs in that sector for almost 50-60 years and why did so many of them occur between 2005-2013?

How could a corporate sector legendary for providing stable and well-paying jobs and careers for many decades start to resemble the american manufacturing sector after “free trade agreements” within less than eight years? Interestingly, I tackled this particular issue in one of my earliest posts on this blog. The short version of the story is the financialization, “new” management techniques and the obsession with productivity and metrics killed the proverbial goose who laid golden eggs. Nowadays pharma makes money by yearly increases on drug prices, stopping or co-opting generics after patents run out and a whole host of other “legal” shenanigans.

Who needs to develop new drugs when you can sell old stuff at increasingly higher prices. Also selling expensive niche and often barely effective drugs (aka most newer anti-cancer drugs) is another way to pad the financial spreadsheet. But have you ever wondered what happened to the lives and mental world of the couple hundred thousand people who got have had to abandon that field or even worse, swing from one insecure job in that area to the next? Before this happened, they used to be solidly upper-middle class and often spouted distinctly neoliberal beliefs about “competition”, “meritocracy” and other assorted BS.

Nowadays, the general sentiment among that group is that they were scammed. Some are more forgiving than others, but the dominant feeling among most of them is that they were exploited and abused. Oddly enough, you never heard sentiments like these from them before 2005-2008. I wonder why.. Even the ones who are still employed in that area after going through multiple layoff cycles have become extremely cynical people who now are more focused on pretending to work as expected than do anything innovative or profitable for their employers. It will be a long time, if ever, before the pharma sector recovers its ability to develop truly revolutionary new drugs.

Did I also mention that the demographic profile of western countries is also highly unfavorable for any spontaneous recovery in that area. The point I am trying to make here is that the two areas which I am most familiar with have undergone highly damaging and essentially irreversible changes with regards to income and career security. In the next part of this series, I will talk about the deleterious effects of neoliberalism on the income and career prospects of people in the area of general areas of information technologies and computer programming.

What do you think? Comments?

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

January 1, 2018 3 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?

On Long Term Social, Economic and Cultural Effects of Job Insecurity: 1

December 26, 2017 30 comments

A couple of weeks ago, an older acquaintance casually asked me about whether I intended to “settle down” someday soon. While that question was not unusual coming from somebody of her generation, it got me thinking about what it means to be able to “settle down” in the current era. I have a feeling that many, if not all, of you have been in a similar conversation with somebody a few decades older than yourself. As some of you might also know, well-paying and stable jobs with nice pensions used to be the norm in western countries since the end of WW2 till sometime in the mid-1980s. However the old ways continued for white-collar jobs, such as the one she had, right until the late 1990s-early 2000s.

In other words, career and income stability was the default state of affairs for most of the time since 1945. Now some of you might say that things used to be bad in even earlier eras such as the 1880s-1920s etc. My counterpoint is that there is a reason why life in those eras was so unstable and uncertain for everybody and is ultimately the reason why we had two world wars, multiple bloody revolutions and civil wars in the half century before WW2 ended. That is also why people like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco etc ascended to power and why right-wing militarism was ascendant in countries such as Japan during that era. Let us just say that there is as reason why so many developed countries implement sweeping socialist reforms in the aftermath of WW2.

The point I am trying to make is that previous experiments with laissez-faire capitalism have reproducibly lead to similar results across a number of countries and cultures. To put this in a contemporary perspective, there is a reason why Trump won the presidential election in 2016, the ‘leave’ side won in the 2015 Brexit referendum and so many European countries have seen the resurgence of right-wing nationalist parties. Anybody with more than half a brain can now see that Fukuyama’s “End of History” was just another example of the delusional ivy-league fantasy of power and control. All these warning signs have, however, not had much of an impact on those who are pushing for more neoliberalism. All these visible signs of public dislike for their policies, has if anything, increased their enthusiasm for furthering them.

But how does any of this play out at the level of the individual, family, society, nation-state etc? As many of you know, I have written many posts in the past about issues related to these changes such as spread of social atomization (link 1, link 2), collapse of normal relations between the sexes (link 3), loss of the normal life cycle of people and families (link 4), widespread mercenary attitudes among people (link 5, link 6), loss of public faith in institutions (link 7) etc. Most of what I have written on this topic thus far is, however, mostly about how people react to neoliberalism as state policy and some short and medium scale social changes. What about long-term changes? What would be the potential long-term social, economic and cultural effects of income and career insecurity?

Well.. as you must have realized by now, this is a large topic which cannot be adequately addressed in two or three posts, let alone a single one. Furthermore many potential long-term effects cannot be neatly characterized into distinct categories, since there is a lot of feedback and cross-talk among various aspects of these effects. So let me start by making the most obvious observation about the future of neoliberalism. Based on what I have seen to date, it is unlikely that neoliberalism (in any of its flavors) can be reformed into something gentler and less rapacious. The biggest beneficiaries and supporters of neoliberalism will keep on pushing it till they cease to exist- and you can read that statement in more than one way.

As a corollary, neoliberalism (in any form) is not sustainable beyond the next decade (at most)- but not because of its negative effects on the environment or some similar delusional reason. The real reason behind the unsustainability of that ideology has to do with its effect on society aka the host. Neoliberalism, you see, is a lot like a parasite or cancer in that it requires a host or system which operate on very different principles than itself. However every increase in its numbers and extent of spread compromises the normal functioning of the very system and environment which make its “success” possible.

Let us start by talking about one of the most obvious effects of neoliberalism, but one that is seldom connected to it- extreme sub-replacement fertility. While there has been a consistent worldwide reduction in rates of fertility over the last few decades, even in traditionally high fertility countries, the sub-replacement and still dropping rates of fertility in “developed” countries stand apart from the rest due to a number of factors. Firstly, the rate drop in those countries is due to factors beyond elimination of excessive childhood mortality. To be more precise, financial and career costs of having children combined with negative utility of having them are, by far, the main reasons for persistently sub-replacement fertility rates seen in “developed” countries.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the most significant drops are seen in those who are actively engaged in neoliberal “competition”- either for jobs and career or money. While people with this profile were once the minority, the increase in neoliberal-style “competition” for things as basic as jobs which pay a decent wage and are fairly stable has made this particular type of childlessness very common in younger sections of the population. There is of course, the irony, that those who are most invested in furthering their career through the neoliberal paradigm (and thus its most loyal foot soldiers) often have no children or one token child conceived when they are in their 40s.

While my views on having or not having children are neutral, it is worthwhile to note that part of reason neoliberalism will fail is that its most devout foot-soldiers (credentialed classes, professionals, aspiring types) will be neither truly rich nor capable of producing enough devout new worshipers of that ideology. To put it another way- even without other factors, neoliberalism as an ideology will decline as the number and influence of its most devout followers falls with every passing year. In contrast to this, blue-collar workers and not-so-connected white-collar types have no vested interest in supporting neoliberalism- irrespective of their fertility rates. To make a long story short, neoliberalism (like parasites and other ideologies) cannot survive the demise of their vectors.

In the next part of this series, I will try to focus on a related problem- namely, the fact that all those aspiring and credentialed/professional types who worship neoliberalism will themselves never have a secure livelihood or become truly rich.

What do you think? Comments?