Dispatches from the Empire

Turchin's terrifying predictions

For graduates it has become a game of ‘musical chairs’ where you pay a huge sum to buy a ticket to play the game (University costs), but the number of chairs (graduate level jobs) remain the same. As the number of players increases year on year, massively in just a few decades, supply way exceeds demand. So graduates have to up their game and pay for another even more expensive ticket to get a Masters. Even worse, those who go on to do PhDs find there are no academic jobs available, as again supply has exceeded demand for many years. Graduates in the social sciences and humanities are particularly vulnerable but Turchin’s point is that, for a rapidly increasing graduate population there is a precarious future and lots of debt. This may be exacerbated by AI, as it eats into cognitive work, so has that group as its sweet spot.

This frustrated aspirant class, for Turchin, is dangerous. Always isolated from working class people, they have little in common with the non-graduate class or ideas like collective bargaining and trade unions. They have the time and support from their propertied parents to become activists and protestors and often pick up causes on campus around cancel culture, climate change, transgender issues and social justice. Poverty is not the problem, recognition of identity is.

I find myself in this "precariat" class. Most of my friends are in this group, too. We went to college with the promise it would lead to better jobs, higher wages, more social mobility, yet most of my friends are burdened with crippling debt.

I'm an anomaly. Early investments in the market have stablilized my economic position, and while I have no debt, financially, I'm solidly lower-middle class. But I own my home and have non-essential assets I could sell in an emergency. I live on less than $25k a year, but without debt, this is not diffcult. 

I've watched identity politics take hold in my cohort. It captured me for a time, too, and I'm sure still animates me in some ways. I'm embarrassed by my participation in this push to focus so intently on identity, and I'm horrified at how so many of my contemporaries still behave. Compassion for others — those of a different class, gender, or belief — has disappeared in the face of a relentless focus on our differences. Tellingly, so many people closest to my ideological home — liberal, (ex?)Democrat, progressive — have adopted the worst habits of the political opposition. They've become closed off to new perspectives, refusing to engage with the ideas of a person on the basis of their gender, their race, their class. Worse, they still claim to be liberal, though this behavior is the antithesis of liberalism. 

What is worrying is how easily we all march lock-step into the future, even when the signs of discontent are ringing in our ears. We are like those cartoon figures who run off the edge of the cliff and hang smiling in mid-air, before the fall. We don't adjust or adapt, we simply behave according to the groupthink of the socio-economic group we find ourselves in. The trick is to sit back, look, listen and read people like Turchin. You don't have to agree with him but it is voices like his that at least provide substance to predictions, not about 10nyears [sic] from now but next year!

This is a pretty damn salient analogy. Our current system of capitalism heavily favors those with capital, i.e. shareholders. If you have money in the stock market, you're the beneficiary of capitalism. Instead of money going to the employees of a company, that money is funneled to those that own stock in said company, i.e. "maximizing shareholder value." Those at the top make more and more off the labor of the working class.

This system has to change for our culture to avoid a painful (and maybe bloody) revolution. Wealth being funneled to the upper classes needs to be given to the working class, as they rightly deserve. It is, after all, their labor. But politically, this redistribution of wealth has been branded a handout, welfare, socialism. Tellingly, Republicans have convinced their own working-class constituents to vote against their best interest by making "socialism" such a toxic word.

These days, nuance has no place in America. That has something to do with our media and something to do with our level of education. It's remarkably difficult to explain the financial system or the stock market, and attempting to explain the nuances of capitalism, socialism, and how the two are blended to form a more equal, fair, just society is near impossible. Dependent on their political affiliation, people are triggered by the mere mention of either word and conversations about the nuances of policy become impossible.


We are in real trouble.