The times they are a changing.
And they are changing at pandemic speed. Five months ago is ancient history. Now is a but a fleeting interval. From now, the future. What will our world look like six months from now? What will it look like in three years?
So much for being the ‘Greatest Nation Ever Known’. We just got rolled by a virus whilst beset with incompetent leadership, inadequate healthcare, a global warming crisis, and a failed economic model. We weren’t prepared. Could’ve been, should’ve been, but we weren’t. For now, we must learn how to live with the virus while charting a new course. Can we rise to the challenge of dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath, and of correcting those existing, pre-pandemic, problems? We really need to do both.
There will be changes. Chances are that we will see a diminishment of globalization. The offshoring of medical supplies, such as protective equipment, and critical medicines has hurt. Those will probably return onshore. Such dependence was always a risk. The production of other ‘self-sufficient’ goods should be brought back. Some of the jobs will return; return to a much-diminished economy. Education, at all levels, will probably be changed forever. We are going to hear, “We can’t afford to do —-, a lot, when, in truth, we can’t afford to not do something about the pre-existing problems of healthcare, economic disparity, global warming, and a few other small things. In these short few months, the world was changed, changed forever, before our very eyes. If we are very wise and really lucky, we will get this mostly right.
Somethings stay the same.
During the Great Depression, jobs were scarce. Asked; the old men who came of age during the era would say, “there just weren’t any jobs.” When there are no jobs; education, gender, ethnicity, and race didn’t matter much. Many of those with good jobs got them because of who they knew or were related to. Whence the expression often heard from those of a certain age at the time, “It’s not what you know but who you know.”
During WWII, lack of education, gender, ethnicity, race, and age were not barriers to gainful employment. There was lots of work, not enough workers; anyone willing to work could get a job. After the War, with fewer jobs and more people seeking work; education, gender, ethnicity, race, and who you know were again used as a way of deciding whether or not to retain, whether or not to hire. We humans, too, are subject to selection; though ours is a process of our own contrivance. In ours, those with wealth or in positions of power do the selecting. As with nature, this process can be cruel.
Of late, and for quite a long while now, we have seen more qualified applicants than openings for jobs, university slots, etc. Again, we have seen the selection process narrow. Again, education, gender, ethnicity, race, age, and who you know matter. Perhaps not overtly, but certainly, in effect. Non-discrimination laws skew selection a bit toward neutral, but selecting someone in selects another someone out. As we head into the tough times that lie ahead; we will see more and more selectivity.
We are entering these tough times at a time when workers’ wages, pushed down by globalization and automation were already low. In the coming months and years, more people competing for fewer jobs will only put more downward pressure on wages. It will be harder and harder for workers to make the cut of getting work. Odds are that we are entering a protracted period when it will be particularly hard for those without advanced degrees, those over 50, those with health issues, those a with a criminal record, those of a racial minority, those of certain cultures, women of childbearing age, … to find work that pays a living wage.
When there are far more workers than jobs, the individual worker is more expendable. An expendable worker will work for less. That’s how we got to where we are now. From a global perspective, the capitalists know that all workers are expendable. If all of America’s workers were to die within the next year, American capitalists know that they could get other workers in a heartbeat from, Mexico, Asia, Africa, …, to fill those emptied shoes. Globalization — In a Free Labor Market, labor loses.
What should be done? Individual workers can improve their own odds by getting more education and training, staying healthy, staying out of trouble, being of pleasant demeanor, …, or marrying into a wealthy family. Disadvantages of ethnicity and race can be offset to a degree by excelling in education, training, staying healthy, staying out of trouble, being of pleasant demeanor, … marrying into a wealthy family. Anti-discrimination laws can help minorities, but as noted above: selecting someone in selects another someone out. This is an already huge problem that is about to become much larger. Governmental involvement in the distribution of wealth and income will become imperative.
Culture, not the culture of the Louvre, but culture as in social customs, will no doubt play an indirect role in the selection process. Education and/or training is an obvious way to improve one’s chances of gaining well-paid employment; of gaming the selection process. Some cultures value education more than others. Young adults from these cultures are more likely to be better educated. Some cultures teach their young the value of planning and strategic thinking; values more likely to yield good decisions in regards to college, career choices, etc. Cultures that teach the value of honesty and hard work provide their young with qualities that make them more attractive to an employer. Some of our young people have not been afforded the cultural influences, or the parenting, that might teach them the value of education, planning and strategic thinking, of honesty and hard work. It is not kosher to speak about demeanor and behavior, but they play a huge role in employability. This is where the educational systems of the future must step up to the task at hand; bridge the gaps, make things more equitable. One’s zip code should not be life determinate. Let everyone start from the same line.
If we are lucky and can avoid any more of these recent bouts of regression, racism and bigotry should diminish to almost non-existent within another generation.
As we move on from now, things that haven’t been working are not going to suddenly start working. Capitalism and free markets are not going to work any better in a more severely stressed economy. They are going to be more of a failure than ever at addressing disparity. The lives of the poor, of minorities, is not going to be improving in the next few months, years. Unless significant changes are made to our economic model, they will be getting very much worse.