Tuesday, January 3, 2012

BOOMERS AND THE GENERATIONAL CONFLICT REGARDING JOBS


There has always been a generational conflict, but as a boomer approaching the normal retirement age I am more conscious than ever that it is not healthy for anyone.

When I was just past puberty I wondered why I should have to do what my parents wanted, certainly resented any restrictions. A lot of harsh lessons were learned, but gradually I attained some independence. Like many I got a job, got married, got a house and had kids. Like my parents and grand parents going back forever my focus changed quite a bit as I took on more responsibility. I felt I needed to provide for, protect and guide my children.

In all history we boomers are the first generation to depend on those younger for advice. We recognize that young people are much quicker to pick up new technologies. We would be lost without their co-operation. Balancing that is still wisdom that comes from life experiences gained over the years.

Those in power do what they can to consolidate their power. The boomers are not all big power brokers, but some certainly are and all of us to some degree contribute to maintaining our generational control. Not to say that younger generations don't have any power, but really a lot of what affects them is decided by the boomers and traditionalists.

My focus in this post is jobs. Jean Chretien once said there is "dignity" in a job. We are denying our youngsters this dignity and that will affect everyone. A job helps provide good habits, helps to give a sense of purpose and gives the necessary security to form families. Take that away and a lot of bad things start to happen that are difficult to reverse.

A major part of the problem is the relentless pressures lessening work opportunities. One of the big ones is our increased efficiency through machines and technology. When I was in grade school this was predicted and was thought to be a good thing in that more of us would be able to enjoy life instead of feeling the drudgery of hard labour. Not quite working out that way for most of us.

Our investments seem to be better off when we shift the cost of labour to cheaper markets. Those of us who have jobs want to keep them for financial security and a sense of purpose. Those of us concerned about retiring in comfort are much more apt to vote (and we already have the numbers on our side) to maintain pensions at high levels and to start at an early age. If money is tight we might accept cuts to education and child care and other "less important" things.

Globalization is thought to be a good thing and to some degree we all enjoy the benefits. Communication with the far ends of the earth are quite easy and becoming more normal for more of us. Culture in the form of entertainment has spread and inter-mingled in all directions. Products (manufactured or agricultural) we find useful come from anywhere. For investors new markets are opened up, new resources made available. Unfortunately some have leveraged labour cost differentials to give themselves more profit and more power. Eventually there will be a leveling off of labour costs. Right now some people are grateful for the opportunity to work for a bicycle while others are finding it more difficult to work for our cars (and other symbols of previous high standards).

Credit has been abused because we don't want to give up our lifestyle while others are encouraging us in this direction. At one time it was common for one breadwinner per family, then two became normal. When we still can't afford what we have become used to we borrow.

It is time to take a long view. We are all humans wanting to enjoy life and have some sense of purpose. We can and mostly all want to add something to other people's lives. We have a different set of problems today. We also have new opportunities.

Mostly I have more questions than answers, but we need to start the dialogue. To me job sharing in different forms is a key solution. Why should some people burn out while others live in despair? One obvious place to start is the required hours of work. Henry Ford was trying to figure out the best way to work his auto plants 24 hours a day. He had 2 nine hour shifts. By cutting the hours back to 8 he was able to have 3 shifts. Not only that, but he paid a higher wage than usual, so much so that many of his workers could afford to buy one of his products. They also bought other products from other manufacturers and other service providers and boosted growth everywhere.

We over manufacture in that we can make more goods than there are people to buy and dispose of. We pollute and endanger our environment. Our natural greed is steering us to new problems. I will suggest some solutions, but they won't work without a change in attitude. To some degree all of us are concerned about accumulating big bank accounts and lots of consumer goods. I plead guilty, how about you?

What kind of disaster will it take to change our attitudes about what is important? Natural disasters threaten and have been linked to consumer behaviour.  Revolutions have recently occurred in parts of the world fueled in part by unemployed youths. On the positive side we do have resources not available even to our recent ancestors. We have technology to make work easier and we do have knowledge to change how it is distributed.

Some people would argue very strongly to let the market solve this problem. I think that is very short sighted and self-serving. The market is in some ways just a collection of individual greedy desires with some people leveraging their resources at the expense of others. Leisure (especially that of others) is frowned upon as lazy. If you worked half the time what would you do with the spare hours. You could spend them enjoying life and part of that using services provided by people that might otherwise be unemployed. This has already been happening, but has run out of steam.

To me one of the foundations of modern civilization is education. For much of our human history it has been limited to the rich or connected. Literacy has improved society for all people. A key thing is that education is most effective in small groups, sometimes that means one on one. Not everyone has the temperament or skills to be a teacher, but this is an area that can be expanded. By education I don't mean just learning the basic reading and math and productive activities, but also to understand and enjoy life more, for instance the arts, human relations skills, recreation. Leisure, instead of being a dirty word can be a goal for all of us.

Job education is still important, but a lot of it has been wasted in the past. The Minister of Labour really might be labelled Minister of Human Resources and his or her main task is to help match up needs with talents. Obviously need to work with the Minister of Education. In my observation too many people are chasing after the big money, but it is often the big money of yesterday.

The environment needs much greater care. We need to find ways to make energy more environmentally efficient and ways to stop pollution. There are jobs that can help ensure our survival.

Where is the money for all this and what about the restrictive regulations that upset some people? Taking restrictive regulations first, and admitting they are not all beneficial, they do provide jobs and they can provide security for all of us. The money is a touchy issue, but the problem boils down to it seems to accumulate in relatively few hands. Those relatively few hands will have to decide what benefits them the most. Does it make sense for them to have another lump of money in the bank and have to build a security system to protect it and watch the world deteriorate around them; or is it better to live in an enriched civilized world where people can afford to buy whatever it is they sell.

If they decide that the lump of money is more important then I believe all of us are destined to live in relative misery until violence replaces the power of money or we go the way of dinosaurs. A truly civilized world is a more pleasant place to live in (and might survive longer) for rich and poor, for young and old.

A lot of problems to sort through, but I think it is time for the dialogue to move forward a little faster. The baby boomers can cling to their status quo or they can be crusaders for a better future for their offspring.

The photo is just meant to symbolize people enjoying nature.

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