Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ripping off the kids

When I wrote Elegant Technology in the 1980s, it was already becoming clear just how lousy a future lay in store for young people in a society that was obviously trashing its real economy in the pursuit of some short-term speculative killing in finance.  But this message was lost on young people full of energy and optimism who in spite of overwhelming evidence, want to believe their lives will be fulfilling—soon.  Especially in USA.

Anyway, I argued that when the young got tired of living the futility of economic decline, they could always go to work solving the problem caused by the end of the age of petroleum and other resource limitations—and other mega-projects.  Folks weren't buying back then.  Now that it has become completely obvious to the young that they are screwed, will we see demands for full employment economics?

Here's what I wrote in 1987.  Not much has changed—except for the fact that someone who was 10 in 1987 is now 35.  This person is approaching middle age and has NO conception of the USA that once solved big problems.  This might be the ultimate tragedy for nothing cripples the ability to solve problems as effectively as not being able to see how it is done—and that it CAN be done.

From Chapter Twelve: Building a Consensus for Action

Forging a political and social consensus for industrial-environmental mega-projects is a matter of uniting the various groups for whose self-interest industrial-environmental work. The most obvious interest group is the young. Slow-change problems are more meaningful to a person who has 60 years of normal life expectancy left than one who has 10. Threats that the world will run catastrophically run short of fossil fuels by the year 2020 are more real to a person who will just be 40 than to a person who expects to have been dead for 20 years. This is not to say that there are not environmentally concerned elderly persons. Age brings the wisdom of the concept of limits. Applied to the subject of the environment, such wisdom in the old can be quite profound, but such people are saints and the normal tendency is to be quite unconcerned about the condition of the world following one’s death. Sainthood is relatively rare and should never be confused with politics.

In truth, the future, to even the most modestly aware young person, must look very bleak. The planet is crowded, the water has been poisoned, the soil has been eroded, the economic base is shrinking, the factories and other infrastructure are worn out or closed, and the prime natural resources, from sweet crude oil to 70 percent iron ore, have been taken from the earth and turned into a large junk heap. If this were not enough, government has incurred huge liabilities in the pursuit of this stupid plunder and the young will be stuck with a huge monetary debt to go with the huge environmental debt. Only the ignorance of youth has kept this group from rioting, so insanely bad is the future they face.

The mega-projects of an industrial environmental solution will change the future dramatically. The energy and idealism of youth will be channeled in a constructive way. The youth will be building the country they will inhabit. They will feel control over their destinies. They will have useful and necessary employment. They will even feel a deserved sense of arrogance as they unbuild then rebuild the mess left them by their parents. It is likely that any or all of these advantages will be enough to get a young person solidly behind an industrial environmental program.  (Elegant Technology, pages 151-152)
Here's a pretty good list of all the ways the kids are screwed today.  To all the problems I saw in 1987, add debt peonage.
24 Facts That Show How Ridiculously Unfair Our Economy Is For Americans Under The Age Of 30

If you are an American under the age of 30, you have probably figured out by now that the entire economic system is stacked against you. The way that our economy is structured today is ridiculously unfair to younger Americans. First, we endlessly push our young people to go to our ridiculously expensive colleges and universities where the pile up enormous amounts of debt. Then they get out into the real world where they find that only a handful of really good jobs are available for the vast army of college graduates entering the workforce. Sadly, most of the jobs that our young people are working these days do not pay enough to be able to support a family or buy a decent home. Meanwhile, our politicians are busy mortgaging their future. Our young people are expected to support a Social Security system that will not be there when they get older, and every single day more than 2 billion dollars is added to a debt that will hang around the necks of younger Americans and their children for the rest of their lives. If you stop and think about all of this for too long, your head might just explode with anger. Well, not literally, but you get the point. The truth is that this is going to be the first generation in U.S. history that is going to do significantly worse than their parents, and that is a terrible shame.

Are you not convinced that things are really bad for younger Americans?

Do you think that they should just shut up and quit whining about things?

Well, keep reading. You just might change your mind by the time this article is over.

The following are 24 facts that show how ridiculously unfair our economy is for Americans under the age of 30 that will make your head explode....

#1 U.S. households led by someone 65 years of age or older are 47 times wealthier than U.S. households led by someone 35 years of age or younger.

#2 Today, only about 55 percent of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 have a job.

#3 Back in the year 2000, more than 50 percent of all Americans teens had a job. This past summer, only 29.6% of all American teens had a job.

#4 Since the year 2000, incomes for U.S. households led by someone between the ages of 25 and 34 have fallen by about 12 percent after you adjust for inflation.

#5 It is absolutely ridiculous how much it costs to get a college education in America today. After adjusting for inflation, U.S. college students are now borrowing about twice as much money as they did a decade ago.

#6 Average yearly tuition at private colleges and universities in the United States is now up to $27,293. That figure has increased by 29% in just the past five years.

#7 Back in 1952, a full year of tuition at Harvard was only $600. Today, it is$35,568.

#8 The cost of college textbooks has tripled over the past decade.

#9 In 2010, the average college graduate had accumulated approximately $25,000 in student loan debt by graduation day.

#10 At some point this year, total student loan debt in the United States will surpass the 1 trillion dollar mark for the first time ever.


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