Last week the Economist explained how youth unemployment is forming an alarming issue with 25% of the world’s 15 to 25 year olds suspended in a state of inactivity. Such is the concern for this issue that a nice new acronym has been created to describe it. NEETS, or those Neither in Education, Employment nor Training, are as much as 26 million youngsters in the developed world (according to the OECD) and 260 million in developing countries (according to the World Bank).
Unemployment is but one of the more well-known phenomenon resulting from the globalized world order. Others range from freelancers to exploitation. In the richest countries more than a third of the young population is on temporary contracts, making it hard for them to gain skills. While a fifth of the young in poorer countries are unpaid family labourers or working in the informal economy. Nearly half the world’s young people are either outside the formal economy or contributing less productively than they could.
The explosive consequences of youth unemployment were seen two years ago. Throughout North Africa dictators were toppled and a civil war ignited in Syria, fed by the frustration of a large and growing group of unemployed young people. The Arab Spring is particularily attributed to a 26 year-old, highly educated, yet vegetable selling Tunisian setting himself on fire out of frustration and humiliation. Tunisia has long enjoyed the Arab world’s best educational system, largest middle class and strongest organized labour movement. However, more than half of Tunisia’s commercial elite were personally related to Ben Ali through his three children, seven brothers and sisters, and his second wife’s siblings. In Egypt college enrolment climbed from 14 to 28 percent in the last two decades. In both countries unemployment among 15-24 year olds in 2011 averaged over 25 percent.
Up West, the democratic countries are seeing the highest unemployment figures among their young in Spain, Italy and Greece. The US and remaining European countries are similarly facing rising unemployment, yet on the flipside are also worrying about the impending aging of the ‘baby boom’ generation. In the coming years a rather small workforce is going to be carrying the burden of a much larger group of pensioners. When putting two and two together, a generation of youths and graduates missing chances to enter the workforce and receive the skills to continue in baby boomers’ footsteps will not end well.
What do the West, North Africa and indeed most of the world have in common with one another, to all be sharing in the same issue of extreme youth unemployment? Basically, being part of a time characterized by the almost irreversible globalization of exchanges (described by Hardt and Negri in their theory of ‘Empire’). Clearly globalization has led to the declining sovereignty of nation states, meaning that governments have decreasing degrees of power to regulate flows of capital and people. (All of which may be solved in some countries by ruling with the proverbial Iron Fist). What has replaced the nation state is a decentred and deterritorialized rule.
Modern institutions inherent to the nation state, all had standardized positions in society. Each person played a specific part in society and remained playing this part for most of his or her life. During past decades the fixity of standardized roles has made way for increasing mobility and flexibility. Money, technology, people and goods all need to move with increasing ease across national, regional and continental boundaries. Information technologies and capital have imposed temporal flexibility and spatial mobility, ensuring that employment can go wherever labour is cheapest and most flexible, or settle somewhere and impose labour to act towards the employer’s needs. A more specific result is the collapsing last week of the clothing factory in Bangladesh. The end result is a new world order characterized by extremely unequal people living in close proximity to one another, in a situation of permanent social danger.