It’s a scary world at times. Okay, so the world has always been scary. Back in the old, old days people were scared of cave bears, or of breaking a leg and being left behind while the tribe moved on. In more recent times, it was sort of scary to consider dying by crucifixion. (Relatively seen, 2 000 years ago IS recent) Or to be slashed to pieces at the hands of the vengeful Gauls, Huns, Vandals – well, take your pick.
Throughout most of human history, people have had valid reasons to fear starvation. It’s not even two centuries ago since Ireland suffered a massive famine in the wake of the potato blight. Even today, people starve to death. Ironic, isn’t it? In the Western Hemisphere we have major issues with obesity. Hop on a plane and fly for six to twelve hours and you’ll see children starving to death before your eyes… (But we prefer not to. We pay an annual contribution to the Red Cross and hope that will sort that little problem.)
It used to be we had somewhere to go when we wanted to better our lives. Okay, so the stone age person running for his life from a cave bear wouldn’t exactly be thinking “If only I get to the British isles I’ll be fine.” But the Christian who didn’t want to end up as lion food in the Colosseum could actually flee Rome, slip away to live among other Christian dissenters elsewhere. And for the last few centuries the starving masses of Europe – well, the world – have had the Americas as a beacon of hope, a place in which to start anew and build a good, safe life.
Not so today. These last few years of economic upheaval have sort of turned most of our preconceived notions upside down – starting with the truism that every generation will achieve an improved material standard of living. Try telling that to the +40% of unemployed young people in Spain, or to the +20% unemployed young people in Europe as a whole. The best educated, most global generation ever is having to face up to the unappetizing truth that there are no jobs – at least not in their home countries. Not in the neighbouring countries either, come to think of it. The US? Hmm – difficult. Canada? Perhaps. China? Maybe.
The really frightening aspect of all this is that for the last few years here in Europe we’ve been discussing the expected lack of available labour. Once all the baby boomers have retired, there will be HUGE gaps in the workforce. Most of the baby boomers have retired. No gaps. Why? Higher cost effectiveness? A fundamental flaw in our economical theories? I have no idea, and I’m not quite convinced this is the right question. To me, the IMPORTANT question is What do we do? After all, we can’t relegate all these young people to a life on the fringes, can we?
Ultimately, this can be seen as a luxury problem. For the mother of six in Bangladesh, the fact that the highly educated young people in Spain have to live at home until they’re thirty-five or thereabouts is totally irrelevant. Her problem is ensuring her kids achieve the age of thirty-five – or even fifteen. For the millions upon millions of children who have lived on the fringes of society since the day they were born, this is a non-issue. But for the young man or woman who sees the whole future grind to a standstill it’s a different story; they want what we’ve promised them as their birthright – an economically stable life, a job, a family. What are we willing to sacrifice to give them that?