May 16, 2008

Dig the new breed

The Guardian has an article on European middle-class 20-, 30-somethings waking up to reality - stagnating or declining living standards, and, although unspoken, the rise of other regions, primarily Asia. My main reaction on reading it was 'duh!' - that goooood thing of global competition for blue collar jobs is hitting the white collar types, and things are not as much fun any more. The bigger picture is that it can't be fixed, but the article doesn't go there, it just recites various stories of apparent woe from overeducated people who still manage to pay the rent, eat out, etc, but who worry that there's no steady path of improvement and prosperity ahead. The odd thing is, for students of the humanities - as many of them are - it oughtn't matter so much - the consolations of philosophy and all that. And why is a higher living standard than one's parents so essential, especially when those parents had it good? Extracts follow, full article here.

The kids learning to swim at the pool near Via Casilina, in a working-class suburb of Rome, could not ask for better qualified instructors. One is a literature graduate with a masters in communications from Brussels, while another, Antonio di Martino, is an aerospace engineer.
'Some of the pressure to graduate also slipped away when I saw one friend get his degree and then only earn €500 a month at an Italian space firm and another get €800 a month at the European Space Agency.'
On Friday night, Lorenzo, 35, was on a train heading to work a nightshift for a major American sales website's Berlin branch. He trained as a historian and a photographer. 'The pay is just about OK - €2,700 a month for a 40-hour week - but it is hardly the job I dreamed of doing,' he said.

With inflation soaring, property prices sky high, wages relatively static, labour markets gridlocked and sluggish or slowing economies, Nathalie, Lorenzo, Arias and Di Martino are among tens of millions of Europeans raised to expect that their degrees and diplomas will assure them a relatively high quality of life who are now realising that the world has changed. The disappointment is a shock with big political, social, cultural, even demographic consequences.
Freelance architect Emilio Tinoco Vertiz, 32, earns just €1,000 a month. 'Who needs architects when no one wants to build houses?' he said. In Spain people such as Emilio are known from their pay as the 'mileuristas' (thousand euro-ers). In France they are the 'babylosers' - a term coined by sociologist Louis Chauvel to contrast them with 'babyboomers'.
Only eight years ago, 62 per cent of Germans were in the middle-class bracket, according to a second study. Key markers of middle-class status - such as overseas holidays - are disappearing or becoming blurred. 'I haven't been away for two years,' said Aurel Thurn, 38, who works for an art gallery in Berlin and has top-level qualifications, 10 years' experience and speaks four languages fluently. 'I have enough money for my rent, my telephone and food. But that's it.' [Full article here]

Out here [Taiwan] most students still study science and engineering, with various forms of design about as flaky as things get. I'm not saying this is a good thing overall, just a good thing if you want to get a job related to your training. Not many folk studying philosophy, film or literature. In addition, engineers out here will work for less than €1,000 a month, and still be making good pay, and they'll work hard, knowing their job might be about to move to China. People live closer to the reality of things out here, there are fewer invisible or nameless forces.

Looking to the past and looking to future are both difficult and somewhat disinteresting to me - see the previous post. I used to do both far too much, and I always misremembered and / or dwelled on the past, filled the future with all kinds of nonsense. These days I can just about manage to look at what's happening now, and that's enough to fill a life.

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