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IN the midst of the many uprisings of 2011 — from the Arab Spring to the week of the London Riots; the latter leaving those with left-leaning analytical orientations, stretching from Marxists’ conflict perspectives to neo-Marxists and the sociological thought that flows from them, argue were class-rage expressions of our day — several major news magazine titles hit the newsstands displaying covers discussing the world’s disgruntled, unemployed youth, who played the central figure in those disruptions.
During the Arab Spring protests and just months before the London riots, Bloomberg Business Week published “The Kids Are Not Alright” cover in which the lot of the young across the globe was given exegesis in their feature piece,”The Youth Unemployment Bomb.” And it’s no state secret that the future of the youth across the globe, especially in the undemocratic nations, is in jeopardy now; what with dwindled prospects for a good life, employment and the like, and the consequences it may wrought for the future of several nations. In ”The Youth Unemployment Bomb,” Peter Coy analyzes world youth unemployment and its influence upon the unrest seen throughout the globe.
The contentiousness of this current generation has been spurred by a broken promise: the idea that they would work hard to get educated and develop employable skills, and in kind they would be afforded passage through the gates of adulthood and experience lives of substantial contribution to the society. However, when that traditional promissory note has been turned on its ear — as a result of a global recession, poor governance, [and in the Democratic West], lack of market oversights, stagnated and narrowed economies with rigged markets and real wage diminishment over the past three decades — great disruptions occur. This longstanding issue finally reared its head this past year, and it has long been a concern in countries like Libya and Egypt for sometime. (It has also been a recent issue in much of Europe, Japan and the United States, to a degree. Though these nations are far less hampered, because of democracy’s ability to accommodate such expressions of grievance and produce change over time.)
I once linked to a 2008 New York Times’ report from well before the Arab spring – Memo from Cairo: “In the Shadow of a Long Past, Patiently Awaiting the Future” — that made mention of Egypt’s young population’s growing disaffection with the state of the economy and the anxiety it was creating internally for the government. It was but a small element in a story about how the nation was oddly, heavily reliant on tourism, as the pyramids crumbled and tourists’ interest in them waned, and how Mubarak was losing support due to years of a paralyzed economy affecting many of Egypt’s educated young.
By 2011, Mubarak’s contracting support morphed into a tidal wave of young who wanted to take the leader and his phalanx to the scrap heap. What Mubarak was ultimately experiencing in 2011 is known as “the paradox of autocracy,” * a sociological phenomena identified by a University of California at San Diego professor, which explains much of the plight of this educated youth and the challenges governments in Arab Spring states face. It’s also a phenomena that was mentioned in “The Kids Are Not Alright”:
For decades, Mubarak coped with Egypt’s youth unemployment problem by expanding college enrollments. That strategy couldn’t last forever. This past March, scholars Ragui Assaad and Samantha Constant of the Middle East Youth Initiative, a venture of Brookings Institution and the Dubai School of Government, put it bluntly: “In Egypt, educated young people who spend years searching for formal employment, mostly in the public sector, are now forgoing this prospect as the supply of government jobs dries up. Formal private sector employment—quite limited in the first place—is not growing fast enough. … Hence, young people are left with either precarious informal wage employment or expected to simply create a job for themselves in Egypt’s vast informal economy.”
Mubarak gave no sign of knowing how explosive the situation was, but his ministers did state repeatedly that Egypt needed rapid growth to soak up new job-seekers. The country started getting some things right in 2004, when Mubarak appointed a business-minded government under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. The nation lowered corporate taxes and import tariffs, privatized telecom, and expanded exports. The economy grew 7 percent annually from 2006 through 2008, dipped below 5 percent in 2009, and was on track for over 5 percent growth this past year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
That was good and bad. While growth is essential for easing social tensions in the long term, it can exacerbate them in the short term in a country such as Egypt. That’s because, former Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali told BusinessWeek several years ago, the first fruits of growth go to those who are already wealthy.
* The lack of democracy in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East—Israel being the exception—makes matters worse. Goldstone, of George Mason, says Mubarak is running afoul of the “paradox of autocracy,” a phrase coined by the late University of California at San Diego sociologist Timothy L. McDaniel. “Any authoritarian ruler who wants to modernize his country has to educate the workforce,” Goldstone says. “But when you educate the workforce you also create people who are not so willing to follow authority. Thus you create this threat of rebellion and disorder.” Democracies are “much better at managing large numbers of highly educated people,” Goldstone notes. Spain’s youth unemployment is even higher than Egypt’s, but young Spaniards aren’t trying to overthrow the government.
Even so, rich democracies ignore youth unemployment at their peril. In the 34 industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, at least 16.7 million young people are not employed, in school, or in training, and about 10 million of those aren’t even looking, the OECD said in December 2010. In the most-developed nations, the job market has split between high-paying jobs that many workers aren’t qualified for and low-paying jobs that they can’t live on, says Harry J. Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University and co-author of a new book, Where Are All the Good Jobs Going? Many of the jobs that once paid good wages to high school graduates have been automated or outsourced.
Read “The Youth Unemployment Bomb” at Bloomberg Business Week [Here]