Ecuador has declared a state of emergency. The President was besieged and assaulted by mutinous police officers, protesting... yes, austerity measures. The White House expressed full support for the Ecuadorian President, of course.
It's a source of shame for us that so many people elsewhere are refusing to take this lying down. Why should they? "Austerity measures" basically means that the ordinary people will pay the price for the greed and myopia of greedy, rich white men. They, of course, remain greedy and rich. They also remain white, but that's beside the point.
Hundreds of thousands of Belgian, Greek, Irish and Spanish workers take to the streets to protest cuts, causing a Wall Street decline (good). The French strike over pensions. British unions vow strikes over public spending cuts. The Greeks were whipped into a literally murderous rage earlier this year.
What do we do? Nothing. Grin and bear it. Concessions and general meekness. Let me ask you this: when and if the Great Recession ends, do you think the austerity measures will end as quickly? Do you think world governments will bring their spending levels and their social programs back to pre-2008 levels in ten years? How about in twenty? How about ever?
I have been saying for some time now that higher education will be the next economic bubble. Soon after the announcement that the Feds would be cracking down on some of the more unethical practices in the for-profit education sector come lawsuits against deceptive practices at colleges. Basically, colleges and universities are enticing students in with employment figures that bear little resemblance to reality, bleeding their student loans white and then turning them out to an indifferent world.
A point mentioned in this radio broadcast was that in the 1920s, it was becoming increasingly obvious that a high-school education would be obligatory for all jobs in the future, so governments reacted by making high school compulsory and free. Makes sense. Now, it is becoming increasingly obvious that a degree will be obligatory for all jobs in the future, and the reaction so far has been that we should totally cash in on this by pushing tuition fees through the roof. It's just not fair to the current generation of students that they can expect to get the same kinds of jobs, with the same pay (median incomes having not increased for almost two generations now), but they will enter the workforce four years later than their parents did, and in considerable debt. Combined with the failure of wages to rise, upward pressure on energy prices, and the fact that humanity is bumping up against the absolute crap-absorbing limits of the planet, it seems that this generation will have a standard of living consistently lower than that of their parents. Historically, a fall in the standard of living has almost universally been the result of a natural catastrophe, a terrible war, a plague, political upheaval, and so on; this generation will manage to achieve the effects of those disasters without the disaster itself. Truly, a remarkable achievement.
It is also ironic that neo-liberalism 'defeated' the Soviet system because it was so much better at providing for people (if you believe the "Reagan won the Cold War" crowd), and yet the failing of the Soviet system was not that it was providing lower standards of living, just that it was failing to provide higher ones for the masses while a corrupt few waxed fat. Yet here we are, twenty years later, with stagnating or declining standards of living for the masses and staggering, increasing class divisions. We are actually managing to out-do the Brezhnev-era USSR in economic failure, in class divides and corruption, and in not living up to our hype.
A lot of people in the preceding generation, particularly in this region, are encouraging their children to attend university because they never did, and they want their children to escape blue-collar work and become lawyers, accountants and doctors. For one thing, society only needs so many lawyers, accountants and doctors. With the demise of North American manufacturing, most of their children will therefore end up in the white-collar proletariat, which is almost universally grossly underpaid and overworked. The irony is that those children who do not 'escape' the blue-collar workforce, and who choose a trade school instead of a university, will almost certainly have better jobs and more earning power than the majority of their university-educated cohort.
I represented Brock at the OUF fair recently, where high-school students come to browse prospective universities, and all but two prospective students told me they wanted to study Political Science because they wanted to go to law school. Unfortunately, the legal industry is shedding jobs at an incredible rate and not only are recent law school graduates unable to find employment, but even experienced lawyers are being thrown out of work and are joining the long-term unemployed. I would include links to verify this but there are so many, just Google "law school scam blog" and prepare to be horrified that the law degree, once a near-guarantee of a good job for life, is now just a $120,000 millstone. These high-school students obviously have no idea of reality and their parents are not giving them a dose of it either. Please, before you settle on a career, have some idea of the job prospects. And do not just assume you will be OK because you will work hard, because everyone in your cohort is thinking the same thing. If only 10% of graduates are getting hired - and at most law schools, it's something like that - your odds of getting a job are 1 in 10. Everything you do to 'distinguish' yourself, your peers are doing too.
The university system is in dire need of reform. If the B.A. is going to be the minimum standard of employment, then it should be universally accessible without crippling debts. Further, that being the case, the education should really develop generally applicable skills and knowledge, to make a student a well-rounded individual and member of society. Universities are doing the opposite of both: they are becoming more expensive and more focused on narrow career paths and skillsets. I think the growing media attention to this problem, the government scrutiny, and the lawsuits are signs that this might be coming to an end. Sadly, general trends in society are not in the right direction - the victims of the Great Recession have been punished for it, corporations and the rich continue to get tax cuts, and despite the massive and growing body of evidence that we are headed straight for environmental catastrophe there is next to no political will for any realistic remedy. Given all that, I would not be surprised if the cure for the university problem ends up being worse than the disease.
In the words of Tim F: "[It took Ed Miliband] 12 hours to disappoint me." That sums it up. Ed Miliband is the new Labour Party leader in Britain, and he has vowed not to "lurch to the left" or let himself become "beholden to unions." "Red Ed" is a misnomer. I believe that he will continue the Blair/Brown tradition of running the Labour Party as Tory Lite, which means not actually doing anything for the working class. I think it's quite unfortunate that there is really no socialist option for British voters anymore, particularly in the midst of the Depression Part III, particularly when there is a yawning gulf between rich and poor, jobs are being destroyed and social programs gutted.
I'm reading The Bad Samaritans right now and I heartily recommend it, particularly to anyone who thinks that free trade and free-market capitalism have ever built a successful economy, even in the so-called homes of free trade, Britain and the USA. However, even if you knew this was a fiction already, there is no party of any significance in the Anglo-Saxon democracies (not to say that there are necessarily any without the Anglo-Saxon democracies) that is willing to advocate an alternative. Essentially, the message from Western political parties is, "Capitalism. We know it's not working - we just don't care."
Photo Credit: Reuters
The problem with our newfangled enemies, the terrorists, is the mystery. When you don't hear anything from them for a while, you don't know if they've been wiped out or if they're just hiding and plotting something big. The great thing about the Soviet Union was not just the menace of their vast military machine, their nuclear missiles, and their secrecy, but also their incompetence and their boobery. The USSR was like a great, big drunk guy trying to pick a fight. He's scary because he's huge and if he actually lands a punch, it'll really hurt; on the other hand, whenever he takes a swing he overbalances and falls over, so it's also hilarious.
The Soviets were hiding behind their Iron Curtain, always up to something, doing mysterious, nefarious things, and we didn't know what they were. Secret space launches, secret super weapons, half-man half-ape super soldiers, and so on. After the cold war ended, it turned out that most of these were just fabrications and that the USSR was, to the extent it was doing anything, bungling it. We didn't know what the Soviets were doing. Turns out they didn't know what the hell they were doing either.
Submarines that broke down, sometimes in public and in full view of the Americans. Nuclear disasters. Bigger nuclear disasters. Massive nuclear disasters. Massive industrial disasters. Massive industrial disasters that killed hundreds of children. Exploding space rockets. Dead astronauts. More dead astronauts. Aircraft with powerful radars that would work great if ground crews could stop drinking the alcohol-based coolant. And so on. That combination of menace and incompetence is so hard to find.
The Crypt of Civilization is the first "time capsule," although they were not so named back then. I don't really like time capsules. Modern archaeologists seem to have more trouble interpreting and explaining the crap they dig up than they do digging up the crap. If it were up to me, I would just bury thousands of Rosetta Stones on the grounds that future civilizations may know at least one of the languages and that may help them figure out what this does, what this is for, or what a person needs this to do. Anyway, it was very thoughtful and forward-thinking of those people to leave these artefacts to posterity, although I think the thoughtfulness and forward-thinking ended sometime before the plaque above the door was written, particularly this part:
We depend upon the laws of the county of DeKalb, the State of Georgia, and the government of the United States and their heirs, assigns, and successors, and upon the sense of sportsmanship of posterity for the continued preservation of this vault until the year 8113, at which time we direct that it shall be opened by authorities representing the above governmental agencies and the administration of Oglethorpe University [emphasis added].
So, you think that in over six thousand years there will still be functioning governments of the county of DeKalb, the state of Georgia and the United States - or heirs - and that there will be an Oglethorpe University? The most successful languages and religions haven't lasted that long. I don't like the chances of your private liberal arts college.