Monday, May 6, 2013

After Progress

Government will do less for you. Companies will do less for you. Unions can do less for you. There will be fewer limits, but also fewer guarantees. Your specific contribution will define your specific benefits much more. Just showing up will not cut it.                          Thomas Friedman
The quote is from Friedman's op ed in today's Irish Times.  He thinks the solution to the developed world's worsening jobs crisis is better education to ensure a match between skills and jobs. But in the age of the Amazon Mechanical Turk that simply won't be enough.

The crisis is twofold: first we have The Great Decoupling whereby GDP appears to be getting bigger, 'thanks' in the main part to financial bubbles; but employment itself stagnates - due to innovation and automation rendering the skills of even the best qualified increasingly redundant.  The second part of the crisis is youth unemployment: never in history has the developed world (and Ireland, for that matter) had more, better qualified graduates entering the workforce and yet the number of young people out of work globally is almost equal to the population of the United States. And rising.

Here in Ireland the ratio of the adult population in work (i.e.: numbers in jobs divided by the total adult population) is back to (or below) levels last seen in the 1990s:

Meanwhile, Ireland's GDP is growing again - suggesting we have our own 'decoupling' under way.

Will a eurozone recovery reverse the trend? It might (though how you get the eurozone to recover is another issue). But I suspect we are witnessing a more profound change in our fortunes, one in which The Religion of Progress goes the way of most religions in the West - though probably with a lot more fuss. If the 'four horsemen' of progress (financialization, energy shortages, demographic winter and men opting out) don't turn back then it's hard to see how things will get better, never mind stop getting worse.

Still, I am a hopeful pessimist (to borrow Iain McGilchrist's self-description), and I think here in Ireland we will be forced to try a number of different things (from virtual currencies to 21st century monasteries) rather than wait for Brussels or Frankfurt to put their house in order. Whether an ageing cohort of political leaders have the vision, never mind the desire to really tackle the unprecedented challenges faced by our young people remains to be seen.

That's the hopeful part.

1 comment:

  1. Gerard. I think what you have put up there is really really important. - You are getting to articulating the problem to a degree that is sorely lacking in our public discourse, in general. I mean striving for the bigger picture.

    There is far too much focus on 'quick' solutions today. But what is vital is to articulate more and more our problems, and go further and further in it, and get better and better at it...

    From Plato's "Meno" - "To search for the solution of a problem is an absurdity; for either you know what you are looking for, and then there is no problem; or you do not know what you are looking for, and then you cannot expect to find anything..."

    It is articulation of the problem that is the difficult part.. Imo the whole country should engage with it as the main part of their public political duty... It really frustrates all this talk of solutions without proper appreciation or understanding of the problem(s).

    In what you have written above, it is clear that you are capable of helping articulate the problems. Admittedly, I don't subscribe (vehemently!) to your Thatcheresque ideology, and I think it taints your ideas unfavourably. But of course, that is only the stuff of debate and development of ideas and consensus etc. That conflict is needed.

    I recall many many moons ago I asked you for some career related advice, and you recommended I read Charles Handy's 'Empty Raincoat' and Eric Drexler's 'Engines of Creation'. That was a really great start for twenty years of reading, with the question in mind, what does the future hold, and how might we be well prepared to meet it... I'd say our ideas are actually not that divergent in essence...

    ... More please of the type of comment above... Right across our society. - WHERE ARE WE GOING?! ... To answer this, we need a sense of the historical, with the psychological, with the technological, with the philosophical, and then some...

    The current BENT for pale and low level statistical analysis (often not entirely honest or well purposed) in thrall to populism and business interests inhibits this imo.

    The conflation of representation of interest and the representation of opinion in our society is another huge problem. The fact they are conflated really speaks volumes in my mind.

    Let's use our own bloody intelligence, rather than leaving it up to the supposed intelligence inherent in market forces and institutional authorities that purport to be acting in our best interest, but in fact have become alienated from human sense and purpose and dignity etc...


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