Our problems are not due to a lack of innovative ideas; they are due to an excess of financial power concentrated in the hands of an elite of bankers.
For years already, the youth of Europe’s heavily indebted periphery has been facing mass unemployment. In Greece and Spain, a respective 59 and 56 percent of young people are now out of work, while youth unemployment in the EU as a whole currently stands at a troubling 24 percent, up from 22.5 percent last year. The “lucky” ones are those waiting tables with PhD degrees in their back pockets. Those who were forced to leave their families and friends behind to join the generational exodus to Germany or Angola don’t even show up in the statistics.
In recent weeks, European leaders somewhat belatedly seem to have become mightily interested in the issue. Italy’s new Prime Minister Enrico Letta called youth unemployment the most serious problem facing his country and called for an EU plan to “combat” it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, flag-bearer of the European austerity movement, similarly considers youth unemployment to be “Europe’s biggest challenge.” Meanwhile, a new campaign by Big Think somewhat naively asks “what’s causing youth unemployment and what can fix it?”
Apart from the obvious hypocrisy of these concerns — coming from the lips of the same officials whose unrelenting insistence on austerity, neoliberal reforms and full debt repayment largely caused the unemployment crisis to begin with — this newfound sympathy for our generation’s plight hinges on a dangerous assumption that serves to ideologically re-construct youth unemployment as a “problem” that can somehow be “solved” with a magic fix or a continental master plan — without addressing the underlying causes of austerity, depression, and a fundamentally unsustainable debt load, let alone the internal contradictions of the eurozone and globalized financial capitalism more generally.
It should be clear to any intelligent person by now that youth unemployment is not a problem in the ordinary sense of the word; it is a symptom of a much more deep-seated disease that’s breaking down our society from within. Other symptoms include the rise of neo-Nazism and xenophobic violence in Greece; the wave of suicides across Southern Europe; the 400.000 families that have been evicted from their homes in Spain; the thousands of starving horses that have been abandoned by their owners in Ireland; the UK students who had their tuition fees tripled and now face the prospect of either dropping out, studying abroad, or accruing massive student debts; the eurozone record levels of mortgage debt held by Dutch households, etc., etc. — not to mention the thorough discrediting of democratic institutions and the massive riots that have rocked major European capitals like London, Athens, Madrid, Lisbon and Rome.
But European leaders seem blind to the metastasis of misery that has crept into the social fabric of our continent. Wouldn’t it be great, they now seem to tell us, if we could have crippling austerity, an increasing debt load, a devastating social crisis, starving pensioners, the return of fascism, a wave of suicides and mass deprivation — but without the youth unemployment? I’m not buying this story, and I don’t think any of us should. The attempt to cast the current crisis in generational terms serves to drive a wedge between us and our unemployed, indebted and/or retired (grand)parents. It serves to co-opt the youth in the ongoing wave of neoliberal reforms, making us believe it is in our best interest to crack down on the labor rights, jobs and pensions of our parents so we ourselves can better compete for the increasingly precarious jobs of the future.
The real reason European leaders are suddenly so concerned about youth unemployment — while they remain unmoved by the plight of Greek AIDS patients, for instance, who now can’t get their anti-retroviral drugs — is simply that they are terrified by the prospect of social unrest. As the New York Times reported today, “it is clear that policy makers are seriously worried that millions of frustrated young job seekers pose as much of a threat to the euro zone as excessive government debt or weak banks.” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble literally admitted that “We will have to speed up in fighting youth unemployment, because otherwise we will lose the support, in a democratic way, in some populations of the European Union.” What they fear, in other words, is a continent-wide youth uprising. At its worst, their plans to “fix” youth unemployment serve to distract us from the obvious class dimension at play, promoting the illusion that the social crisis we face is just a series of economic problems that can be fixed without radical changes to the political status quo.
The inconvenient truth is that unemployment is an integral element of the neoliberal policy response to the crisis pursued by the European Union and the IMF. This, in itself, is nothing new. IMF austerity programs in the developing world have long involved dramatic reductions in wages and rises in unemployment. Careful quantitative analysis of the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s has shown that “the most consistent and statistically significant impact of Fund programs in Latin America … was the reduction in labor share of income.” Even official IMF studies recognize that its austerity programs “boost unemployment and lower paychecks.” Most importantly, the authors of a 2011 IMF report, Painful Medicine, conclude that austerity causes not just short-term but “particularly long-term unemployment.”
In other words, asking for austerity measures without youth unemployment is like insisting on the medieval practice of blood-letting without the blood-loss. It is not only brutal, but also practically impossible. Austerity and unemployment are like Siamese twins, conjoined at the hip, designed to strengthen and reinforce one another. As long as the EU and IMF keep imposing these highly destructive adjustment measures, unemployment will keep on rising. The only genuine “solution” to unemployment, therefore, would be to break free from the shackles of austerity and to default on the foreign debt. This is the reformist vision pursued by SYRIZA in Greece, and despite the lack of revolutionary imagination of this quasi-Keynesian approach, there is certainly something to be said for it from a humanitarian point of view.
At the same time, I have now written some 50,000 words on this question — why not default? – for my PhD thesis, showing precisely why the option of default is often so elusive. In a word, default would greatly harm the interests of foreign private creditors, who just happen to control virtually all the critical resources in the global economy, giving them a disproportionate ability to block the type of solutions that would favor the unemployed. So to get to the phase where we can even realistically start considering genuine “solutions” to the “problem” of youth unemployment, we first have to confront the financial power structures that obstruct the pursuit of such solutions to begin with. This requires much more than a continental master plan to combat youth unemployment. It requires a radical break with the status quo.
Our problems, in short, are not due to a lack of innovative ideas; they are due to an excess of financial power concentrated within the hands of a tiny elite of bankers. This means we have to dramatically reformulate our question. Rather than asking what innovative ideas can solve the problem of youth employment, we should be asking what type of strategies could upend the structural power of international creditors. This leads us away from economics and back into the realm of revolutionary theory and praxis. How could Europe’s downtrodden youth ever possibly conceive of shaking the global financial order? It is to this impossible question that I will turn in my next post.
The euro zone has registered yet another record high unemployment rate of 12.2%, European statistics agency Eurostat reports on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Italy, the third-largest economy in the currency bloc, reported a first quarter jobless rate of 12.8%, the highest in the 36 years this data has been collected, Meanwhile youth unemployment rose to a staggering 40.5%, also an all-time record high, reports Il Sole 24 Ore.
Here is a breakdown of the alarming numbers:
-More than 26 million people unemployed in the 27-member European Union.
-More than 19 million unemployed in the 17-country euro zone.
-Euro zone average: 12.2%
-European Union average: 11%
Greece: 27% in February 2013
In comparison, the United States was 7.5% down from 7.6% in the previous month and 8.1% in April 2012.
-Euro zone youth unemployment: 24.4% up from 24.2% in January 2013.
-European Union under-25 unemployment: 23.5% down from 23.6% in January 2013.
Euro area inflation expected to be on the rise:
These figures, relevant to the first three months of 2013, show that more than 165,000 people aged 15 to 24 currently claim unemployment benefits.
During the first quarter of 2012, this figure stood at 36.2 percent, but had risen to 40 percent by the end of the final quarter of last year.
Overall, unemployment in Portugal rose to 17.7 percent in the first quarter of the year from 16.9 percennt at the end of last year with over 952,000 people out of work the National Statistics Institute (INE) said.
The unemployment rate was up 0.8 percentage points from one quarter to another and 2.8 percentage points on 12 months earlier.
The figures from the first quarter of 2013 were the highest ever, with the numbers rising constantly since the second half of 2008 when 7.3 percent, equivalent to about 410,000, were jobless.
Carlos Silva, general secretary of the UGT trade union confederation appealed to the government Thursday to analyse the documents that are on the table for the social agreement to promote job creation measures.
“The documents have to be compiled to encourage ways of creating growth and jobs”, Silva said following the unemployment numbers released earlier in the day.
The opposition Socialist party said the number of job seekers was proof the government’s
policies were “destroying the economy and society”.
Here is a breakdown of the alarming numbers:
– More than 26 million people unemployed in the 27-member European Union.
– Almost 19 million unemployed in the 17-country euro zone.
– Euro zone average: 11.9% unemployment
– European Union average: 10.8% unemployment
– Highest rates:
– Lowest rates:
Germany and Luxemburg: 5.3%
– The U.S.: 7.9% unemployment in Jan. 2013.
– Australia: 5.4%
– Japan: 4.2%
Not surprisingly, youth unemployment was also up:
– Euro zone youth unemployment: 24.2%, up from 21.9 in Jan. 2012.
– European Union under-25 unemployment: 23.6%, up from 22.4% in Jan. 2012.
The worst European countries for youths:
– Greece: 59.4% youth unemployment rate.
– Spain: 55.5% youth unemployment rate.
Austerity as the latest paradigm from the neoliberals is set to last us a number of years. One thing we know about how the capitalists work is that they like a large section of the population to be searching for work at any one time as this suppresses wages and allows businesses to act flexibly in competition with one another.
Unemployment is at widely differing rates around the world and different countries measure it in different ways. Unemployment in one country might mean relying solely on government benefits until a job is found. In others it might be measured differently and result in more interventions from the state than simply receiving a hand out. At our last set of lectures we learnt that in South Africa you don’t get counted in the figures if you eat the produce from fishing or hunting. Likewise if you beg you are not considered unemployed. In the UK we have an increasing number of people on workfare schemes and others slipping in and out of informal and part-time work ans therefore slipping in and out of informal stats. Unemployment is mysterious and not simply one thing that is easily defined.
One concern we should have is the effects of austerity for school leavers and those at retirement age. It is very rare these two groups are looked at together and yet at the extremities of the labour market it seems to me that they have much in common in terms of feeling the brunt of austerity measures.
For years the establishment has been warning of a pensions black hole and the ruling class answer to this has been to raise retirement age in the hope that most people will die without having to draw any money from the state or their investments. So people will have to drive themselves into the ground. That is politically easier to put into operation than simply ditching state pensions altogether but you do wonder how many decades we are away from that policy objective.
The rules in place for working longer aren’t matched by employers being sympathetic about getting older. The older we get the more likely we are to develop disabilities and need adjustments in the workplace which might cost money. The policies on retirement age therefore produce tension and worry amongst the workforce and as markets liberalise we find that people have less choice and power over their lives. The idea that people who have contributed for decades and built up an account full of deferred wages for use later in life is becoming a quaint notion.
At the other end of the scale we have young people, educated either privately or by the state. Either way their education has been one long training course for the rest of their lives. State school leavers face the prospect of there being very few jobs available right now. At the same time their options with regards to further and higher education are being set by the ruling class on economic factors alone. I worry that this effectively means that thousands of people are going to be joining benefit queues each summer. How is that going to help increase taxation revenues and secure pensions? How will less public sector jobs help the situation? How will the mass of people at retirement age still working help the situation?
The answer of course is that they don’t want this to get better. Austerity is a doctrine being used to create a narrative to explain the crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis of the rich and by the rich but one where you pick up the bill. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, they want you to either work longer till you die or take any crummy job you can get to keep off benefits. In fact it would be best if you took poorly paid work for the rest of your life and died before retiring please. And as work is paid less and less so benefits are reduced as an incentive to get you up in the morning looking for work if you do happen to be unemployed.
Of course there is another way. Hell, there are lots of other ways! The UK is a rich nation with a flatlining economy. The UK isn’t getting poorer – you are. In other words some people are still getting a great deal richer at your expense. Board room pay is up 27% this last year. The wealth is there to fund retirement with dignity. The wealth is there to ensure nobody need feel any poorer. The wealth though has been taken from those who do the work by those who have the power.
We must have the courage to fight for it.
NEW FIGURES show no slowdown in job losses. The number of people at work in the April-June period fell by nearly 14,000, the biggest three-month fall in a year, according to the Central Statistics Office. The figures appear to dash hopes that employment growth is at hand.
They show there were 1,783,400 people employed on a seasonally adjusted basis in the second quarter, meaning there are 357,000 fewer people at work since employment peaked in 2007.
Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton last night acknowledged the continued fallout from the collapse of the “bubble economy”, but said “the sectors on which we will build the future economy are now showing signs of growth”.
The CSO’s quarterly national household survey is the most comprehensive source of data on employment across the economy. It shows the downward trajectory in job numbers remains broad-based, with most sectors continuing to shed labour.
There were 13,700 fewer people at work in the April-June period compared to three months earlier when seasonal fluctuations are stripped out. Slightly larger numbers left the labour force entirely in the second quarter. This kept the rate of unemployment stable at 14.8 per cent of the labour force.
The survey shows employment in the construction sector has fallen below 100,000 for the first time since the bursting of the property bubble. It fell by another 4,000 on three months earlier to stand at 99,300. Five years ago, 273,000 worked in the industry. The construction sector has accounted for almost half of the total job losses since 2007.
The financial, insurance and real estate sectors employed 96,100 people in the April-June period. This was a decline of almost 4,000 over the quarter is a new post-crash low.
Public debt and unemployment will remain very high for the foreseeable future stated Stefan Gerlach, deputy governor of the Central Bank.
The consequences of this are more business failures, high unemployment,emigration and social deprivation.
This is the price the citizens of Ireland must pay for its failed banking system.
Ask yourself, how right, just and fair is this?
Johnny Citizen the ball is in your court to do something
Unemployment in Limerick city is almost double the national average, and the entire city is involved in a grim daily struggle to survive the crisis
IT’S TUESDAY MORNING and a man wearing a Munster rugby shirt is walking through a door on Dominic Street in Limerick city. The motto on his Munster T-shirt is “To the brave and the faithful, nothing is impossible”, words that have a particular resonance if you are, as he is, one of 15,194 unemployed people currently registered at the Dominic Street social-welfare office.