One of the joys (and irritations) of Twitter is the receipt of unexpected alien tweets courtesy of the people you follow. (I think you can turn this feature off in most Twitter clients, if the thought of entertaining friends of friends alarms you.) Thus, thanks to Rob Hyndman (@rhh) I learn via PEI of a post on Paul Mason’s blog, Idle Scrawl, on the BBC site.
The post is “Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere,” and it lays out twenty bullet points that would provide fodder for a discussion about recent social ferment, particularly in Europe and North Africa, and how it’s not happening quite the way some of us oldies might expect. What particularly caught my eye was his point #11, which culminates a thread that starts with #9:
9. The specifics of economic failure: the rise of mass access to university-level education is a given. Maybe soon even 50% in higher education will be not enough. In most of the world this is being funded by personal indebtedess – so people are making a rational judgement to go into debt so they will be better paid later. However the prospect of ten years of fiscal retrenchment in some countries means they now know they will be poorer than their parents. And the effect has been like throwing a light switch; the prosperity story is replaced with the doom story, even if for individuals reality will be more complex, and not as bad as they expect.
10. This evaporation of a promise is compounded in the more repressive societies and emerging markets because – even where you get rapid economic growth – it cannot absorb the demographic bulge of young people fast enough to deliver rising living standards for enough of them.
11. To amplify: I can’t find the quote but one of the historians of the French Revolution of 1789 wrote that it was not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers. You can have political/economic setups that disappoint the poor for generations – but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection. [emphasis in the original]
You can see how that might be. In my time I’ve seen plenty of people come to law school with no more focused ambition than to become, if not expensive, then well-to-do; and — more important, because a plumber will likely make more in a lifetime than the average lawyer — a well-thought-of pillar of some community or other. But money’s the measure, in most cases, and a large body of unemployed and possibly articulate law grads could indeed, I suppose, turn to pulling down the pillars they didn’t get to be.