|Guest Writer: Zeus Yimouyiannis|
Last October, I discovered Zeus Yiamouyiannis's compelling work about the financial system and the way in which it is rigged to turn the majority of people into permanent debtors. I knew his work would resonate with those who are part of the indentured educated class. At that point, Occupy was still young, and there was - at least on the left - widespread enthusiasm about the movement. That said, I am not suggesting that Occupy has gone away. That's far from the case. The ramifications of this mesmerizing and worldwide uprising remains unknown, as it continues to play a role in the collective consciousness. In any event, it has been a great pleasure to get to know Zeus on a personal level. I consider him a colleague, and am delighted to share a piece he wrote here at AEM.
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I have much to say about his article, but I want to keep this introduction short, and that's because I am far more interested in hearing what you think about Zeus's thoughts.
Zeus's bio:Youth of the world unite!: How younger generations can triumph over financial abuse and impoverished opportunity”by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D.Copyright 2012IntroductionOlder generations of the world have declared bankruptcy on their obligations to the young. They have turned in the keys and walked away from their social contract to make life better for succeeding generations. Conventional wisdom no longer provides credible answers to rising environmental abuse, opportunity impoverishment, or social disorder.With few elder champions, world youth are forced to respond. This article hopes to aid an effective response by laying out the current global challenges for youth, presenting effective remedies, and offering future possible directions.In crucial times of change it is for the young to lead, to transform willful ignorance, entitlement, and self-absorption into wisdom, service, and collaboration, to solve complex problems and generate a new quality of life.The current challenges: Youth, debt, and a global crisis of opportunityLying to ourselves will serve no one. The first step in organizing an effective response to the world is to provide a “myth-free zone”. Here are the common key issues and uncomfortable realities confronting young people around the world today:1) Debt servitude2) Unemployment3) Diminished opportunity for talent development, leadership, and contribution4) Silenced voices: Generational inequality and lack of representation5) Disappearing meritocracyDebt servitudeUnserviceable debt creates an endless trap. In the U.S. where student loan debt cannot be erased in bankruptcy, this can mean a lifetime of indentured servitude. Combined with unemployment, it robs the debt-afflicted of meaning, worth, and self-determination, a basic human requirement. With soaring college tuition costs and sharply contracting job markets, youth are particularly hit by this phenomenon.On the April 27th 2012 episode of “On the Edge” I talked with Max Keiser about the “debt plague” infecting youth (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imjskK78Mmo#t=6m27s):Max: “You often talk about the fraudulent nature of debt. In America, student loan debts have surpassed total outstanding credit card debt. More than 25% of that is delinquent. Is this a sign of predation, debt-plagueness?”Zeus: “It is… and indentured servitude as well. You don’t get those kinds of numbers without predatory lending, or extremely unwise lending, or both. All this was premised upon easy supply of money, which drove the cost of education sky high, way, way above the price of inflation. So you have predation and a con game that you would get these massively high paid, high skill jobs, once you got your college degree. Well, that hasn’t panned out. In fact, the economy is adding low skill, low pay jobs at a much, much higher rate.”“Students are caught in a bind. They simply cannot pay their student loans, and there is no foreseeable future in which they will get the kinds of jobs they need to pay (them)… We’re going to have to have a democratic response. It just isn’t sustainable.”I went on to call out the socially criminal nature of excluding student loans from bankruptcy. If something is found to be worthless in the market, it deserves to be marked down to zero.UnemploymentUnemployment adds to the crushing weight of debt servitude, and further invites serious social consequences. Unemployment among youth is spiking up around the globe and has reached over 50% in Spain and Greece (http://www.newgeography.com/content/002960-are-millennials-screwed-generation?source=Patrick.net).Those consequences are already severe, concrete, and present, not simply future. Chase Cryn Johansen details in her Huffington Post piece the hopelessness and impacts on suicide rates that debt servitude and unemployment can cause.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/c-cryn-johannsen/student-loan-debt-suicides_b_1638972.html#es_share_endedDiminished opportunity for talent development, leadership, and contributionRising debt and vanishing work may remain the central practical economic challenges of emerging generations, but these are far from the only challenges confronting youth. Culturally supported personal growth, civic leadership, and career advancement, have also largely been shelved in the rush to prop up the fortunes of older generations.Youthful talent is being exploited rather than developed. Youth leadership is being squandered rather than mentored. Uncorrected, these generational trends invite social rupture—discontinuity, disaffection, and alienation between generations.“(S)ome of the most talented people here in the workforce in the Philippines (and around the world) are the people in their 20’s and 30’s. They are the ones passing the civil service exams, and they are the ones able to use the technology to help (their) country advance. But (young people who are talented and should rise) are just not given the leadership or the power. Older people are holding on to the levers of power, and they are not turning them over… If you really want to turn the global economy around, and get Asian economies working, you are not simply going to honor the older generations, but you are going to open opportunities to the younger generations. I don’t see that happening really globally anywhere.” (Zeus Yiamouyiannis on Max Keiser’s “On the Edge,” April 27, 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imjskK78Mmo#t=8m16s)Silenced voices: Generational inequality and lack of representationAfter being key to Barack Obama’s electoral success in 2008, volunteering, organizing, and voting in large numbers, young Americans found themselves quickly on the outside. After being told they would be needed even more once Obama gained office, their concerns, their needs, and their emails were promptly swept into a closet and forgotten.A few token nods to reinvigorating a Franklin Delano Roosevelt style volunteer corps and paying off student loans with pro-social work, substituted for concrete actual change. Heading into an uninspiring 2012, younger generations know that the reality with Mitt Romney’s political party would be significantly worse: anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-minority bigotry mixed with a blind anti-tax ideology that requires borrowing even more from future generations to fund burgeoning entitlement payments now.Even labor unions appear to have reversed the whole notion of a “union” by negotiating lower pay and benefits for younger members to retain the higher pay and benefits for older members. (http://www.npr.org/2012/04/04/149991140/italian-law-pits-older-workers-against-younger-ones) (http://corymccray.com/2011/05/tier-systems-cripple-middle-class-dreams-for-young-workers/)This is hardly “change you can believe in.” Very few champions or mentors for younger citizens have stepped forward. Far more people have used young citizens as exploitable fodder for their own advancement and profit. Young people are beginning to recognize that they will have to embody Gandhi’s “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”Disappearing meritocracyMuch ado has been made about younger generations’ impatience with “working their way up from the bottom.” In some quarters this complaint is justified, but in just as many situations young people have a coherent response: “If I can do it better, why do I have to wait my turn?” What ought to be the higher principle, seniority or efficacy? Why are twenty-something’s only rewarded (sometimes with billions) in internet and tech start-ups?Perhaps more credence could be given the ability of younger generations to share and prove their ability in an environment of patient mentorship. Raw ability could be integrated more smoothly into institutional cultures.Capitalist markets supposedly reward greater adaptability, effectiveness and efficiency. Cultural conventions protect against change that is too rapid by elevating age and tenure. Yet most changes now are happening very quickly. The best of the past should be married with the best of the present and future.Fighting back: Creating a basis for generational supportSkyrocketing debt and unemployment among global youth bring into view a more foundational life issue: How can young people not only earn a living and develop effective service, but gain autonomy, empowerment, and quality of life? How might youth organize and re-create themselves through their own initiative and choices regardless of how much (or little) opportunity they are offered by others?Here are some suggestions I offer in a soon-to-be-published “manifesto” for the new productive class. These suggestions address the American situation but apply broadly to common challenges experienced across the globe:
- Get your money out of too-big-too-fail banks, all of it. Move savings, money markets, retirement accounts. Divest everything and both “strongly encourage” and help every family member, neighbor, and investor to do the same. If Bank of America can’t respect the laws and principles of capitalism, then maybe they will respect the laws of accounts: When you have no money, you can’t spend squat and you can’t make a profit. Welcome to what the rest of America is experiencing.
- Rebel against the consumerist “dream” that is making your life a nightmare. If there is one thing you should refuse to buy it’s the media mantra that the solution to everything is to just get consumer spending up, up, up. It’s a pyramid scheme being run against a finite planet. This is a recipe for destroying, not aiding, future generations. And spend with what? Your great job that has not returned (or even materialized). Your growing debt? Make reality your ally. Stop buying from irresponsible corporations, buy second-hand goods from friends and neighbors, and support community business with the money you save.
- Say “no” to debt servitude! If you cannot pay your debt, seek legal, political, and personal solutions. Community-organize to provide low or no cost legal bankruptcy protection. Work politically to get student loans to be dischargeable debt. Research and get competent legal advice on how to renounce or negotiate down debts to large companies you cannot reasonably pay. Parties of a loan contract exhibit “moral sanctity” by accepting the legal and financial consequences of failure. The lendee receives a bad credit rating for payment failure. The lender receives financial loss for asset failure.
- Say “yes” to strengthening, simplifying, and de-expensing your life. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Don’t eat garbage food. Exercise regularly. Take non-essential activities and luxuries (i.e. cable TV) off your plate. Attend a free book lecture. Donate or sell the things you are not using. Meditate. Contemplate. Vitalize. Organize. You are going to need every aspect of your health in peak condition to best meet and embrace the seismic world changes that will be coming much sooner than we all think.
- Pool your money, resources, and time. Even with their big infusions of taxpayer bailout money, banks aren’t lending to Main Street. Do we really need them? Why not gather momentum around crowd-funding and circle lending at all levels. Why can’t young people or young families move in together and share and trade their resources around childcare, meal preparation, elder care, professional skills and so forth. This mini “economies of scale” could free up significant space to develop an entrepreneurial business or spend more time organizing and developing the infrastructure for sustainable and fulfilling social and economic advancement.Empowering the future: Transforming challenges into creative practicesThe big secret is: you don’t have to wait for permission. When a generational social contract is broken, grievance and appeal are unlikely to yield results. So, an opportunity emerges to put your energy into developing your own resources, leadership, and networks, and recruit allies for that purpose.Yes, captured law, skewed priorities, and weak character have resulted in an unsustainable global pyramid scheme around work and resources. Yes, others have defaulted on their obligations to provide for a healthy, sustainable future. Now it is your obligation is to develop the viable alternatives.Arab Spring was driven largely by educated youth without jobs. Occupy Wall Street had a very similar profile. Both are having trouble making the transition from an effective resistance force to a cohesive proactive force. Younger generations already know that “What are your demands?” doesn’t work. They refuse to be bought off and brought back into unsustainable schemes, but what is the alternative?As described in the above sections, the first step is recognizing what is going on. The second step is exercising effective civil disobedience and severing exploitation through collective and personal choices and actions. The third step involves the more demanding and more complex task of creating a new future.What might be some of the pillars of this new generational way?1) Non-material value over material value: There is a quiet revolution in value going on. This goes far beyond the demand for free ware and open source software. Poll after poll is showing that once a living wage and basic benefits are attained at work, younger generation prefer productive, pleasant teamwork and opportunity for meaningful professional and pro-social development over salary. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/mattmiller/2012/07/03/why-you-should-be-hiring-millennials-infographic/). This trend will hopefully gain strength and speed.As I noted in a discussion group on alternative futures:
“(T)he most important things in life" (love, community, diversity, etc.) are all non-material, and we are using consumption, material resources, and products as… proxies for these most important things. Non-material "goods" have the advantage of being non-scarce, unlimited in supply (if handled correctly and not oppressed by material concerns), and increasing (rather than decreasing) in value the more they are shared. We [as a whole] simply aren't yet committed to pursuing what is most important, of highest quality. Until the exercise of spirit and creative productivity are seen as the core rather than an idle luxury we will be fighting over dwindling resources.” (https://www.yammer.com/atca/#/threads/show?threadId=189655364&messageId=190335467):It looks like younger generations will be leading the way in this effort.2) Collaborative employment: If the point of work is to simply receive a living wage and to maximize non-material benefits, then it would make sense to “spread the employment wealth” rather than to simply compete for a greater share of the pie (in personal salary, celebrity, and authority). This would create jobs and jobs with a very different function. Project-based work could increasingly become collective efforts requiring greater application of individual talent and as tools for future development.3) Renewed voice: True representation and social media: Why not have a World Youth Congress nominated and elected through social media? Members of the younger generation could be elected to represent the interests of their generation. Expertise and authority would rest in the ability of representatives to listen, organize, focus, and collaborate in such a way as to send a loud message through collective actions. This could include boycotting destructive corporations, abandoning sell-out political candidates, supporting crowd funding for needed innovations, or even creating artistic events meant to inspire, equip, and entertain.Why not create a social media news service that reflects the challenges, needs, and concerns of younger generations instead of misrepresenting and insulting those concerns?4) Networked, resource-minded leadership, creativity, and entrepreneurialism: This requires a move from “Why me?” to “Why not us?” When no one is willing to invest in you, perhaps the best solution is to find ways to co-invest with others in living arrangements, in job hiring, in crowd funding, in the way one volunteers time, focus, and intention.No terrain should go unexplored. If college is too expensive, if it is dispensing out-of-touch education, and is not producing promised job results, why not organize around creating free, high-quality, relevant higher education. There is nothing stopping youth from researching accreditation and strategically drawing upon source and online learning to develop demonstrated competencies that nail current ability measures, end-run monopolistic gatekeepers, and apply useful ideas.5) Meritocracy 2.0: Young people have the ultimate meritocratic challenge. They have to create a sustainable, fulfilling world. Fail in that, and it won’t matter how highly they have been promoted up their respected job ladders. Social problem-solving and effectiveness have to gain precedence over hype or seniority.This is already beginning in an organic, unrecognized global youth revolt, combining Eastern and Western traits: humility and conviction, attention to detail and creativity, mindfulness and achievement. The “de-Generation” in Japan, for instance, is experimenting with extremely resourceful, earth- and technologically-connected living (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y395J6W6i1E).ConclusionThe challenges and questions are clear. The possible answers and paths forward are fuzzy. Few in history are so lucky to live in an era requiring such fertile imagination, intense focus, and human effort. But this is the moment that embraced life prepares us for and provides for us. It is up to us to find a way to respond with gratitude and vigor.
Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D. is a world citizen, applied philosopher, and successful education innovator. His website, Citizen Zeus, aims to develop high quality living through transformative learning. Please visit and subscribe for ideas and actions on the cutting-edge of knowledge!"