Monday, May 19, 2014

How Neoliberalism Has Alienated Working Class Young Adults

In the most recent issue of 'Democratic LEFT', the publication of The Democratic Socialists of America, writer Beth Cozzolino examines via book review how the Neoliberal capitalist system has succeeded in crafting "privatized narratives of adulthood" for working class Millennials.  She uses as her incentive and starting point the book by Jennifer M. Silva entitled: 'Coming Up Short: Working Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty' (Oxford University Press.)   This is timely given that the working class youth, as well as middle class, are all adversely affected by Neoliberals' dominating theme of valuing "self-sufficiency over solidarity"

As we know, an overriding solidarity among Millennials is to their benefit - socially and economically - given that shared resources and support systems provide a higher probability not to fail at aspirations or objectives. An experienced cadre of older young people, exposed to the 'System', can then impart lessons and info on exactly how difficult it is to succeed in a rigged economic system which begins with unstated advantages for the scions of inherited wealth.  With this input, the working or middle class youth can then make more realistic life decisions, which redound to their benefit, as opposed to playing into the Neoliberal gamers' paws that 'anything is possible' and all is well. 

The latter is played by Neoliberalism because it makes it easier for youth to accept that their fate is entirely in their hands, and not contingent on blind luck or the mercies of the Neoliberal system. Interestingly, as Cozzolino and Silva appear to suggest, the "anything is possible"  and self-sufficiency ploy works best on working class young adults - who usually have the most to lose. Why is this? Perhaps because many or most of them will not complete college so not be exposed to the critical thinking skills needed to see through Neoliberalism in all its foul facets.


For the working class youth then, there is the lack of critical thinking skills and adequate education, combined with absence of peer-to-peer support systems. The Neoliberal preaches the sermon of self-sufficiency to attain this which later pays off dividends for the Neoliberal state. For example, if working class young adults are discouraged from sharing failed experiences and commiserating with each other, they can't know how the System has taken advantage of them in all its sordid ways. They are expected to suffer in silence and they do. Thus, we have a double whammy: absence of education and critical thinking to see through the Neoliberal fa├žade but also lack of peer support to explain multifold reasons for a person's failure in the rigged, Neolib economic system.


Do most youths even know, for example, that most good jobs advertised are already taken before their ads are even published in the papers or online? The publication is merely a pro forma compliance with existing "rules" that mandate a job's announcement to the public - but the position is already taken by a scion, a crony or his offspring.

The lack of peer to peer information sharing also discourages any coherent organization of the disaffected into powerful groups to inveigh against capitalist, corporate interests. In this way the young and disaffected are kept quiet and the inheritance class of owners needn't fret over them or what they might do. They are harmless because they don't communicate with one other, and basically blame themselves for their failures as opposed to the System.

Ms, Cozzolino also makes another salient point:

"Contemporary global capitalism has allowed firms to embark on a 'privatization of risk' - shifting the burdens of potential illness, unemployment and other unforeseen calamities onto employees. Not only are their employment situations precarious but the weight of these risks discourages working class young adults from embarking on stable relationships. 'Commitment, rather than being a hedge against external risks of the market becomes one demand too many on top of the already excessive demands of the post-industrial labor force' '

Thus, even if a working class young adult does get a job, it more likely becomes an onerous trap than an opportunity. He loads fifty crates a day onto trucks perhaps, but if he mashes his back up from lifting, he'll have to assume most of the medical costs. He can't afford to look for a better job because this is all there is and it pays the rent for a 1-room bedroom in a dump. In this light, getting married or engaged is out of the question, though doubled marital resources might help improve circumstances. Hence, the "privatization of risk" concept. 

But instead, the young adults plod on believing it's all their fault they don't have better digs, or jobs.

The classical and fundamental attribution error: Blame yourselves not the System!

Cozzolino goes on to observe:

"By demonstrating just how far Neoliberalism penetrated our psyches, Silva answers the question of why young people who would seem to benefit from social safety nets and solidarity with others cling so fiercely to Neoliberal ideals of untrammeled individualism and self-reliance."

Why? Because the media in the Neoliberal state widely extols these as assets as opposed to being weaknesses and incapacities.  This works hand in glove with the Neoliberal assertion that people are "responsible for their own economic fortunes or misfortune.". Hence, the emergence of the 401k which effectively privatizes risk of financial loss for retirement to individuals (i.e. if they make the wrong choices). The corporation is thereby spared having to dole out any defined benefits plans as in standard pensions, and doing it for decades after the person has left the work force.

Republicans are fond of blaming the working class (and much of the middle class) for drowning in credit card debt from lavish spending. The truth, as Thomas Piketty's (and Sent. Elizabeth Warren's) research shows is that this debt spending is the direct outcome of a savage economic inequality which has seen the wealthiest grab up the vast proportion of wealth. With so little remaining, as reflected in stagnant wages,  even as costs of food, utilities and rents soar- the hoi polloi are left with little choice other than credit card support. They need additional "income" and this is how they achieve it - since the decent jobs aren't there to provide income sufficiency. 

Thus the entire system has been rigged for failure of most working class families and now, many middle class as well. This is after families, unions, fraternal organizations and other mainstays of working class community have been fractured over the decades under the onslaught of Neoliberal privatization and the stress of economic duress.  Much of this stress could have been relieved if even one tenth the resources plowed into wars of choice had been diverted instead to jobs and social uplift programs. But what have we found? Even in the government jobs have been cut - as in the VA and at the IRS.  No surprise then that the VA isn't able to handle its case loads and keeps too many injured vets waiting for treatment.

Add to this the recent cuts to the Social Security Administration resulting in the shuttering of hundreds of their local offices, making it even more difficult for people to secure benefits - and you have a mounting catastrophe in the making.

Cozzolino also isn't averse to taking on higher education as being part of the problem. She notes that:

"One of the major betrayals Silva's respondents face comes from the institution of higher education. Having heard all their lives that college would help them, they took out significant loans for school but were unable to finish, too often dropping out saddled with student loans debt but no degree."


In other words, the inflated promise of future success enticed millions to take out loans, only to be saddled later by the millstone of debt.  This debt weighs most heavily on working class students - defined as being in that class (according to Silva's definition) if the father did not attend college.'

As I noted in my earlier post on Student Debt Bondage, the outcome for too many is to become indentured servants or bond debtors in the Neoliberal wage slave system. There is little chance of escape from this system unless, as Sent. Elizabeth Warren has noted, the terms and conditions for student loans are made more rational and tolerant of the possibility for economic regression. Thus, ALL loans ought to be forgiven after say ten years, if there is little chance of a student paying them off. Beyond that, we could establish free education like other advanced nations (who regard it as a right, not a privilege)  or offer to pay off all university expenses at completion of a degree if the student agrees to some form of particular service or national service. For example, one might have his Bachelors degree paid for if he or she agrees to volunteer two years in Peace Corps or 'Teach for America'.

In this way young adults, especially of the working class, might be liberated economically so they are free to make wider choices for the betterment of the society - including being able to make long term commitments to each other for marriage. In this way, a more stable long term society is assured- as opposed to one in which unit strives against every other leading to chaos and satisfaction of pure self interest.

Is there hope for escape and working class reconstruction in Neolib America? Silva is decidedly negative and "allows little room for the possibility that working class people can live meaningful lives and have fulfilling relationships."

In other words, misery and loneliness are their lot unless they can somehow break out of their addictions and the Neoliberal matrix which holds them in thrall.  But for that, they must be able to see their situation from without and that means making common cause with one another as opposed to seeing peers as opponents for diminishing resources.

It also means transcending the Neoliberal edict of self-sufficiency and radical independence, which too many have swallowed without adequate thought.

The better solution? It's for all classes to come together and coherently act to remove the yoke of Neoliberalism from our midst,. But..... that implies evicting all the politicians who adhere to the Neoliberal idiom and imperative. To accomplish that our entire 'pay to play' political system has to be replaced.


Henry Giroux's blog on 'Protesting Youth in an Age of Neoliberal Savagery'  has it exactly right:

"As the latest stage of predatory capitalism, neoliberalism is part of a broader economic and political project of restoring class power and consolidating the rapid concentration of capital, particularly financial capital (Giroux 2008; 2014). As a political project, it includes “the deregulation of finance, privatization of public services, elimination and curtailment of social welfare programs, open attacks on unions, and routine violations of labor laws” (Yates 2013). As an ideology, it casts all dimensions of life in terms of market rationality, construes profit-making as the arbiter and essence of democracy, consuming as the only operable form of citizenship, and upholds the irrational belief that the market can both solve all problems and serve as a model for structuring all social relations. As a mode of governance, it produces identities, subjects, and ways of life driven by a survival-of-the fittest ethic, grounded in the idea of the free, possessive individual, and committed to the right of ruling groups and institutions to exercise power removed from matters of ethics and social costs. As a policy and political project, it is wedded to the privatization of public services, the dismantling of the connection of private issues and public problems, the selling off of state functions, liberalization of trade in goods and capital investment, the eradication of government regulation of financial institutions and corporations, the destruction of the welfare state and unions, and the endless marketization and commodification of society.

Neoliberalism has put an enormous effort into creating a commanding cultural apparatus and public pedagogy in which individuals can only view themselves as consumers, embrace freedom as the right to participate in the market, and supplant issues of social responsibility for an unchecked embrace of individualism and the belief that all social relation be judged according to how they further one’s individual needs and self-interests. Matters of mutual caring, respect, and compassion for the other have given way to the limiting orbits of privatization and unrestrained self-interest, just as it has become increasingly difficult to translate private troubles into larger social, economic, and political considerations. As the democratic public spheres of civil society have atrophied under the onslaught of neoliberal regimes of austerity, the social contract has been either greatly weakened or replaced by savage forms of casino capitalism, a culture of fear, and the increasing use of state violence."


Young people, especially, must become aware of this blight on people and the planet, and be prepared to flight it to their last ounce of breath!


Stay tuned!

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