Sunday, 24 April 2016

Delegitimisation of low-skill work in the Enriched World

Although it is now extremely well documented, for instance by The Washington Post’s Sarah Puliam Bailey, that the US – for some time the last bastion of Christianity in an atheistic Enriched World – is going more secular by the year, George Friedman has had a look at how seismic the shift has become, putting genuine traditionalists in a position as difficult as they were under Stalinist regimes in Europe during the last century.

In Europe, the true traditionalists, even in de jure Catholic countries, have found life impossible for a very long time – to illustrate, the last Amish communities left Europe in 1937 – due to the high price of land and powerful unions jacking labour and living costs to a level where only the highly educated and skilled have hopes of living with socially-expected comforts, as Friedman notes:
“The fourth quintile, the heart of lower-middle class, earns about [US]$31,000 a year before taxes per household. I grew up in a lower-middle class household (my father was a printer, my mother a homemaker, and there were two children). We owned a house and a car and took a vacation. Today, people in the lower-middle class are bringing home, at best, [US]$2,000 a month, and they will not own a house but instead pay [US]$1,200 a month to rent an apartment, with the rest going to food and other basics. The lower-middle class can no longer afford what used to be a lower-middle class life.”
Being dependent on consistent change to maintain employment – high technology by its nature is always advancing – and isolated from family relationships, these highly skilled and educated technical workers tend to be (alongside welfare recipients) the most secular group of all. The history of Europe since its workers’ political demands created the welfare state shows how these two groups will squeeze the remainder of society out, leaving productivity centred on sectors necessarily “impermanent”. “Impemanence” (for want of a better word) is simply incompatible with opportunities for those of lesser skill, who must move to the American South or suburban Australia to possess socially-desired levels of comfort rather than cramped housing at high prices or rents. At the same time, these lesser-skilled workers either accept big government – which as noted above dooms them since requisite high taxes prevent them keeping adequate revenue to obtain the expected gadgets and comforts – or face ridicule from the welfare classes and academia, as Friedman discusses below regarding American workers:
“The white lower-middle class is divided into two parts. One part has already been shattered by economic pressures, family fragmentation, drugs, and other forces. Another part is under equal economic pressure but has not yet fragmented. It retains values such as religiosity, traditional sexual mores, intense work ethic, and so on.

“This is the class that has been deemed pathological by the media and the upper classes. Its opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, promiscuity, and the rest (which was the social norm a generation ago) is now treated as a problem that needs to be overcome, rather than the core of a decent society. The speed of the shift in the values of dominant classes has left this class in a position where those values taught at home and at church are now regarded by the broader society as despicable. Repercussions are bound to happen.

“The simultaneous economic disaster and delegitimation of their values marginalized this class. When Mitt Romney referred to the 47% who were parasites in our society, he was referring to these people. When Barack Obama was elected, this group felt that the focus had shifted to the black community and saw itself as invisible (and to the extent seen, contemptible). Economic, social, and cultural evolutions had bypassed them.

“Their perception of the political system has become intensely cynical. They see the political elite, bankers, lawyers, and lobbyists as a near criminal and entirely incompetent class. We speak of unemployment after the 2008 recession in terms of numbers. These are the people who were unemployed. They view this elite as claiming rights they haven’t earned. The lower-middle class can tolerate earned wealth, and even respect it, but cannot accept what they see as manipulated wealth and power.”
What these people believe Trump aims to do is to eliminate the extreme inequality of opportunity of highly skilled vis-à-vis unskilled workers within today’s United States. Thus runs very much counter to prevailing trends: absence of low-skill opportunity, is, of course, much worse in Europe and East Asia than the United States, and its consequences run deep at levels whose discussion is off-topic here.

“Delegitimation” (no doubt a US colloquialism) of less-skilled workers by both the highly-skilled technology sector and permanent public welfare recipients (what Friedman would call the lowest quintile) is a last stage in the Enriched World’s economic and cultural transformation that for some like Sam Harris or Gregory Paul (as here) represents an ideal, but which ought also to be considered from the observation that more migrants move to the religious American South – or as expatriates even to the anti-democratic ultra-Muslim Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qaṭar – than atheistic Sweden. They do this for the simple reason that those without advanced education can hope for nothing more than welfare in Sweden but have strong job opportunities in the American South and can gain better wages in the Gulf States than in resource-poor tropical Asia. Paul fails to consider how countries with “inferior” conditions can and do attract migrants though lower taxes, lower living costs, and fewer regulations that allow anyone – not just those with training extending to beyond a person’s prime reproductive years – an acceptable standard of living.

That this be a valuable “counterculture” for Enriched nations to consider I have no doubt – it was opportunity that grew them into powerhouses, and lack of opportunity that has already caused irreversible decline in large areas of these nations and will no doubt shift power further in the future.

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