youth as scapegoats

I remember as a young adult thinking that the adults who held power seemed to blame young people for more than they deserved.  It was a time when the adoption of radical economic policies and rapidly increasing youth unemployment coincided.  I can’t say that all the economic change wasn’t inevitable, but it seemed to be that the poor and weak and young among us bore the greater burden of the change.  As time has gone on, the gap between the haves and have-nots has widened – I don’t think there is any argument about that.  I wonder to what degree this gap is partly responsible for the growing number of young people who only seem to live for today.

A very good article, by Umair Haque in the Harvard Business Review blog, on the recent riots in England and a link to global economics (see http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2011/08/the_great_splintering.html#.TknP69PIeui.facebook) makes a very convincing case.
Here are a few choice quotes:
“If you accept the possibility that there are many kinds of violence — not merely physical, but emotional, economic, financial, and social, to name just a few, then perhaps the social contract being offered by today’s polities goes something like this: “Some kinds of violence are more punishable than others. Blow up the financial system? Here’s a state-subsidized bonus. Steal a video game? You’re toast.”

and, “There are many kinds of looting. There’s looting your local superstore — and then there’s, as Nobel Laureates Akerlof and Romer discussed in a paper now famous among geeks, there’s looting a bank, a financial system, a corporation…or an entire economy. (Their paper might be crudely summed up in the pithy line: “The best way to rob a bank is to own one.”)”

and, “As one [looter] told the Guardian, “Why are you going to miss the opportunity to get free stuff that’s worth loads of money?” Indeed: why, given a poisonous compact tattooed into the deeper calculus of everyday culture, not? Hence, as many have pointed out, the mob hasn’t exactly been looting bookshops, but the stuff of faux-luxe, mass-designer plenitude: plasma TVs, fast fashion, video games. The vision they seemed to be pursuing, as if their long-denied birthright, is less one of sign-waving activism, fighting against deep-seated social injustice, and more one of raiding a consumerist Disneyland to which they’ve long been glumly denied a ticket.”

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of economics, but I wonder if the recent targeting of young unemployed people in the NZ Government’s latest social policy announcements is more of what Haque identifies.

In this current economic season, with a combination of lack of jobs and high youth unemployment, it seems that our young people are being blamed and scape-goated.  The stringent measures announced this week, to force young people to study or get work, assume that there is work to get and study courses available with a job at the end to help pay off the high course costs.  Yet, in the last few weeks we have also been told that it is going to be harder for young people to get into university to undertake courses that might lead to such jobs.

I wonder what being in the middle of these ‘at odds forces’ will be like for many of our young people.  I agree with the Prime Minister that it is better to have our young people educated and prepared for the day when there are jobs to walk into, but I wonder just how many of these jobs will be available for them.

What is the point of undertaking a course and accumulating significant student debt if jobs don’t materialise?  Will it mean that even more of our young people head overseas to chase the kind of wages that will be needed to service the debt they have been forced to accumulate?

I don’t think that there are easy answers here, but so far, it looks like only one group among us has been targeted to bear the burden of this, and that is the often scape-goated group – our young people.

Some might ask, so what do we do about it?  Here’s one mad idea – the Government puts the money where its mouth is – it totally funds the courses that it believes will better prepare our young people for jobs, and it bonds these young people to serve two to three years in NZ as a way of contributing to their course costs.  And if the jobs haven’t materialised by the time the young people are trained, then it releases them from the bond, and if necessary, gives them a decent benefit without asking them to prove their worth, for after-all, the young people have tried to do the right thing.

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