Here are some insightful perspectives — and suggestions — for the younger generations, from management strategist Umair Haque. Writing in his Harvard Business School Blog, Haque addresses the dilemma facing young people today:
Imagine a towering, sheer cliff. Imagine a deep canyon below, full of ruined cities. Now imagine, on the canyon’s other side, a bountiful plain, rippling in the breeze, stretching into the sunset. Welcome to the economy of the twenty-first century. For young people today, the economy basically feels something like the portrait above, and they’re the ones stuck at the bottom of the ravine.
After citing four conditions that young people face — a broken global economy; overwhelming debts; difficulty getting a job or career track; and the jobs available are not very good — Haque says welcome to “Generation F” — i.e. you’re getting screwed. He points out that
We are all here, in every moment, to make the most of our limitless potential—but your human potential is being squandered, wasted, thrown away.
But he then presents some positive directions that young people can take to deal productively and proactively with the reality they live in. They’re worth heeding. In his full article, “The Great Leap Generation F Needs to Make,” he writes:
Consider the following:
1. The global economy is broken. I’ve suggested for many years that we are living through a zombieconomy – where the economy seems to stagger forward in a lifelike fashion, but it’s really just a reanimated corpse. I’ve attributed this mismatch to “growthism” – the blind pursuit of growth empty of real improvements in living standards. Another way to look at it is what both Tyler Cowen and I have called a “Great Stagnation.” But don’t take my word for it. No less an august personage than Larry Summers has finally pronounced this an era of “secular stagnation.” If Larry Summers, former treasury secretary and president of Harvard, is agreeing with the puny likes of me, I think it’s safe to say the phenomenon is real.
Stagnation means, in plain English, that living standards in many rich nations are going to fall for young people. That’s a fancy way of saying that life is going to get shorter, harder, nastier, dumber, and bleaker. No, sorry, just because you can buy a gigantic 4D plasma TV on 4000% APR credit and a bag of Doritos the size of an Escalade for 99 cents doesn’t mean you will live longer, be healthier or happier, or be able to afford an education for yourself or your children.
2. Our debts are overwhelming. Young people in many nations, especially rich ones, have unprecedented economic burdens to shoulder. There’s the small matter of paying for the planet not to melt down. Not to mention the massive debts so kindly passed on to us by bailed-out bankers. Or the massive debts racked up by the public sector. And that’s before we even talk about fixing our aging healthcare, transport, energy, and education systems; that’s before we even get into investing in new stuff we need that we don’t have. Think you’re going to retire? Think again. At this rate, you’ll still be busy paying off the debts of your parents and grandparents before you’ve even paid off your own student debt.
3. We can’t get jobs—much less careers. Opportunities for young people in many nations are somewhere between LOL and nonexistent. Globally, the unemployment rate is 4.5%, according to recent data from the World Economic Forum – but for workers under 24, it’s 12.5%. Crunch the numbers a different way and you get the same maddening result: 40% of the world’s unemployed are under the age of 25. In the Middle East and North Africa, more than 1 in 4 young people can’t find work. It’s roughly one in five in Europe, and it’s getting worse, not better: youth unemployment rates reached record highs in 2013 in Greece (65%) and Spain (56.1%).
4. The jobs we can get are awful. What few opportunities there are are underwhelming—and unfair. Guess what the largest employer in the USA is? Walmart. Guess what the second largest employer in the USA is? McDonald’s. Guess what the average income at a McJob is? Around $15.5K. Guess where the poverty line is? Around $22k. Think you’re gonna save up for that palatial summer home one day? Think again. You’re probably going to be cleaning it…for an aging billionaire…who owns twenty seven of them.
Even in economies where the “talent wars” still rage, is it really such a triumph that young people in China and India can finally aspire to…spend eighteen hours a day working in call-centers and factories? Because while those jobs are a step “up” the rusty ladder of material success, the brutal truth is that they don’t pay nearly what they should. Wages (Hi, I’m the ghost of capitalism—it’s very nice to meet you! Hey—look!! It’s a Kardashian!! Now hold on while I pick your pocket!!!) haven’t kept track with productivity. Even if you want to concede the weak point that the best the world can do is creating soul-sucking McJobs for the poorest, then the problem is that even the lucky “winners” of this game that our not-quite-leaders call an “economy” are getting the bad end of a worse deal.
Forget Generation X, Y, Z. Welcome to Generation F. If you’re under the age of 35ish, you’re getting (pardon my French) screwed. We are all put here to live lives that matter—but the life you should be living is circling down the drain of history. We are all here, in every moment, to make the most of our limitless potential—but your human potential is being squandered, wasted, thrown away.
What does it feel like to be a member of Generation F? It feels like purgatory.
Like you could send out a billion CVs and never land a job. Like you could work a billion jobs and never earn a living. Like you could earn a living, but never quite reach the same level of stability your parents knew. Like if you can’t hope for stability…what shot is there at prosperity? At, security, solvency—much less fulfillment, happiness, purpose? A life of lasting prosperity becomes something like $40,000 Birkins on the arm of a billionaire’s latest trophy wife: a super-luxury that is so far out of reach, we look at it with mockery and contempt rather than aspiration or hope.
Generation F is getting a deal so raw that no one but a politician or a serial killer could offer it with a straight face. So let’s call it what it is. Not just unfair—but unconscionable. The world’s so-called leaders have more or less abandoned this generation. Think that’s unkind—maybe even unfair? Then here’s a more generous take. The world’s leaders have coolly, calmly, rationally, senselessly decided that bankers, CEOs, lobbyists, billionaires, the astrologers formerly known as economists, corporate “people”, robots, and hedge funds are worth more to society than…the young.
The world’s leaders are letting the future crash and burn.
That’s right, burn. Because the damage that’s being done is permanent and irreversible. Basic math tells us this much. A lack of opportunity, especially when one is young, puts people on lower earnings and wealth trajectories for life. They’re not unlike prison sentences in that regard.
So what should Generation F do about all the above?
Create the future. The one that we’re not being allowed to live. And to do that, we’re going to have to break a few rules—so that the rules don’t break us.
We’re going to have take great leaps. Not baby steps. We’re taking too many of the latter, and we’re barely learning to walk. We’re going to have to stop wasting our time on pleasant, meaningless trivialities like minigames, dating apps, tacocopters, reality TV, and asymmetrical haircuts (OK, I admit it. I have one too).
Great leaps. Over the rubble of failed societies and broken economies. Or else we will remain trapped in the ruins, massed against the cliffs; a generation going nowhere.
Great leaps. In every aspect of work, life, and play that you can think of—and then more. We’re going to have to create, among other things: new ways to measure progress (like the Social Progress Index); new political parties (like the Pirate Party); new methods of governance (like Holacracy); new kinds of financial institutions and financial instruments (like Square), so money can get to useful places, instead of lining the pockets of econocidal maniacs in handmade suits; ways to provide healthcare, food, education, and transport, that actually have a hope in hell of working for everyone over the long haul, instead of breaking down all the time before they work for anyone—not to mention reinventing institutions like “schools,” “jobs,” “corporations,” “economies,” “governments,” and “banks,” and “pensions” so we can actually do all the above. We are going to have to literally take the giant plate of steaming, tasteless gruel we’re being so kindly, generously offered, carefully extract magic beans from it—and build a ladder right past the clouds and into the wide blue sky.
It’s not going not be easy. And it doesn’t feel fair. But every generation has a challenge. And that challenge must be faced, with courage, with dignity, with grace—if they are to grow into the people they may become. This is ours.
And so. The “F” in Generation F doesn’t stand for probably what you think it does. It stands for fixing the world. It stands for going further. And it stands for creating the future.