Thursday, September 17, 2020

A slow growth economy throws a monkey wrench into the meritocracy

Another interesting interview I heard.

There is a high bar of education, credentials and merit that prevents a lot of workers from having a sense of dignity and in many cases even a livable wage. A meritocracy which could be thought of as an elitism.

One of the factors that could have caused some labor vote to break with Democrats and vote for Trump in 2016.

A point that wasn't mentioned tho, is this thought I have had for a long time.

A slow growth economy makes it harder for people rise in their career paths. I think slow growth is partially the result of environmental limits on growth. Also the problem of increasing income inequality.

When I was a child, I remember thinking that the economy was growing pretty fast and people seemed like their career paths were advancing. Then, sometime in the early 1970's, it seemed like that growth stagnated and never fully recovered. Here in Washington State, that was the time when the famous Boeing layoff hit Seattle.

Before the 1970's, as I was growing up in a college town, the college was growing. Hiring more faculty, constructing more buildings. Seemed like it wouldn't be that hard to rise in a career path.

Then everything slowed down. Budget cuts and so forth. Rising into the professional class became more difficult. More competitive. Even remaining in the middle class became harder.

Part of this relates to slow economic growth, but I think slow growth isn't necessarily all bad given the environmental effects of the types of growth we had in the past.

Without much career advance, one can still have a life of dignity; like what I think I have had, but this has been hard for a lot of people. Especially hard for people trying to raise families.

As income inequality has risen, the cost of basics, such as housing, has risen along with it. Also the cost of professional services, such as medical care as well as the cost of sending kids to college.

There's a gap between the 1% and the rest of society, but there is also a gap between the top (say) 20% professionals and the rest of working society. The higher cost of professional services is pushing up things like the cost of higher education. This ontop of the reduction in state support as a percentage of the cost of college.

As for the perception of elitism, the institution of faculty tenure comes to mind. It was invented to protect professors from the whims of politicians firing someone for unpopular views. This makes sense, but it was started at a time when universities were growing and hiring new faculty. When things stagnated, the number of tenure positions stagnated creating more of a barrier to entry. It became more of a zero sum game. That's when people notice some dead wood among those with tenure while talented people get turned away from teaching due to lack of available positions.

I don't mean to focus just on colleges, but that has been my background growing up in a college town. It's been an issue across the entire economy. An upper middle class harder to enter and upper middle class income becoming more necessary for a stable life. As a culture, we haven't adapted that well to a slow growth economy. Slow growth partially a necessity for protecting the environment.

2 comments:

Theslowlane Robert Ashworth said...

A comment I got on my Facebook wall.

One barrier to people rising in their careers is that people with more seniority don't move on - making room for others to move up. One reason to keep working is for health insurance from their employer. If we had universal health care, I could have quit sooner to pursue other interests. A different job, or maybe no job - the latter would also be a way to keep jobs open.

Many jobs only provide insurance if you're full time. I would have much rather have cut back to part time rather than retiring. Again, that means more hours for someone else to work.

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