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It’s Not Easy Being Young in This World: Help the “Lost Generation” Find its Way
17 March 2014
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
It’s not easy being young in this world. And I live in Canada; what does that say? I am 26-years old, in debt, a university dropout – in “the only nation in the world where more than half its residents can proudly hang college degrees up on their walls” – according to a 2012 study by the OECD; a position Canada has held as the “most educated country” in the world since 2000. Yet, I am not among those who are officially deemed ‘educated’ and so my job prospects are glimmer, still.
In 2011, one of Canada’s leading newspapers – the Globe and Mail – reported that 78 million young people were without work around the world, “well above pre-recession levels.” The head of the International Labour Organization warned that the “world economy” was unable “to secure a future for all youth,” which “undermines families, social cohesion and the credibility of policies.” Noting that there was “already revolution in the air in some countries,” unemployment and poverty were “fuel for the fire.” The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had previously warned that youth unemployment in poor nations was “a kind of time bomb.” It is the threat of a “lost generation” of youth that is radically altering the lives of youth – and everyone else – in the world today.
Beyond the Arab Spring uprisings of the Middle East – and the counterrevolutions, coups, civil and imperial wars that have accompanied them, seeking to co-opt, control or crush them – has been the massive unrest spreading across much of Europe, notably in south, central, and eastern Europe. This great unrest has accompanied the economic, financial, and debt crises which have gripped Europe in recent years, with countries imposing ruthless economic policies that impoverish the populations and make them ripe for exploitation by multinational corporations, while keeping them under the harsh boot of militarized police and increasingly authoritarian states, where fascism is once again on the rise.
But in Canada – the world’s most “polite” nation – where more than half of the population have degrees, roughly one in three university graduates (of 25 to 29 years old) “ends up in a low-skilled job,” low paid and part-time, while 60% of these graduates leave school with an average debt of $27,000. This, noted CBC’s Doc Zone, “is a ticking time bomb with serious consequences for everyone.” Young Canadians are “overeducated and underemployed.” We “are entering an economy in the throes of a seismic shift where globalization and technology are transforming the workplace.” An added challenge is that, “for the first time in history youth are facing… competition with their parents’ generation for the small pool of jobs that do exist.”
Canada’s youth have continued to be referred to as a “lost generation” whose future is of “people without jobs and jobs without people.” But this is not merely a Canadian phenomenon. The OECD – the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an economic think tank representing the world’s 34-or-so richest nations – noted that the threat of a “lost generation” was global. Canada’s youth unemployment rate was at around 15% – for 15-24 year-olds – while in Spain and Greece it had risen above 50%, as was reflected in the increasing social unrest.
Canadian youth are unemployed at a rate double the national jobless rate of 7.2%, the “biggest gap between youth and adult unemployment rates since 1977.” Youth are – due to lack of experience – twice as likely to be laid off as older, more experienced workers. A July 2013 report by one of Canada’s largest banks – CIBC – stated that there were 420,000 youth (15-24) who were “neither employed nor enrolled in school… basically on the sidelines doing nothing.”
The CIBC report more-or-less bluntly stated – that is, blunt for bankers – that: “The current environment of part-time work, temporary jobs, corporate and government restructuring and downsizing is especially tough on young people whose lack of experience and seniority make them much more vulnerable to labour market changes.” In other words, we’re fucked. As the bankers continued to explain, while youth may be enrolling in schools more, staying in schools for longer, degrees are “no longer enough.” Schools must more and more become “training grounds” for corporate employment. Education will also have to become more expensive, require more debt, and thus, become increasingly privatized and specialized, so as to ensure that fewer people gain access to it. Instead of going to school, the bank suggested, “Do whatever it takes to make you different.”
I thought it would be a cold day in Hell before I followed advice from a banker, but here I am (cold it may be), trying to do what makes me “different.” So what the hell do I do? This is a question that has plagued many of my friends, my family, and indeed, myself.
My general cookie-cutter answer to the question of ‘what it is I do’ sounds something like this: I research and write about ideas, institutions and individuals of power, and methods and movements of resistance. That is, at least, the most succinct way that I know how to explain it. But perhaps it is time to go into a little more detail about what I do, and what I have done thus far.
I started doing research and submitting my writing to various alternative news websites back when I was about 19-years-old, still a university student in Vancouver, studying Political Economy and History. After a year or so of submitting articles, I received a job offer from one of the sites I was submitting to – Global Research – and began working as a Research Associate. I eventually moved to Montreal to be closer to my work, and when I was 22, we published a book on the economic crisis that I co-edited with my boss and in which I contributed three of my own chapters, covering issues related to central banks, think tanks and global governance.
When I was 24, I decided to move on, in part to protect the autonomy of a book I had started working on, and in part due to personality differences (and clashes). While I valued my newfound freedom, I chose a risky path. I was left as a 24-year-old unemployed non-French-speaking Anglophone in the French-speaking province of Quebec. My options were limited. At the time, it seemed that it came down to working at a call center, as a dishwasher, or going on welfare. Instead, I chose to try to chart my own way, to try to find a way to make money and survive doing what I love, and what I had developed skills for: research and writing. It was at this time that I decided to re-imagine my plan for writing my book, and I launched The People’s Book Project in the fall of 2011.
The objective was – as it remains – to crowd-fund my efforts to research and write one – and what later became a series of books undertaking an institutional analysis of power structures, to dissect and expose the ideologies, institutions and individuals that wield enormous power over the world.
From the time that I began The People’s Book Project until today, it has been a whirlwind of challenges, opportunities and growth. There were several people who, from the early days of the Project, contributed financial resources to allow me to continue with my work. It is never easy trying to live off of the kindness of strangers, from donations sent from around the globe. It’s not exactly a stable source of finances, and while one month may seem to be worry-free, the next month I could be broke. My family also stepped in to help me along my way, often subsidizing my efforts to a large degree as well. Thanks to my family, friends and strangers from around the world who have donated, The People’s Book Project is still continuing to this day, with thousands of pages of written research, rough drafts of chapters, and various edits compiled. One book became many, and with the growth of research, the analysis and understanding changes with time.
But circumstances also had a way of changing my focus. In early 2012, I decided to return to university, this time in Montreal. I enrolled and only signed up for one class (History of Haiti), since I wanted to continue devoting most of my time to my work. Within a month or so of returning to school, students from across the province of Quebec went on strike against the government’s plan to dramatically increase tuition costs (and in effect, to double the debt load most students would have to take on).
Suddenly, so much of what I had been writing about was happening right outside my window, on the streets, at my school, in the city where I lived. Hundreds of thousands of students protested, riot cops called into my school, charged by riot police for peacefully assembling, thousands of students were arrested, as police shot protesters with rubber bullets, tear-gas, ran them over with cars, vans and horses, until the government itself declared protests themselves to be illegal. The whole city rose up in response, and it was perhaps the most inspiring thing I have ever been personally witness to.
At that time, I chose to contribute to the student movement in the only way I knew how: to research and write. I was reading the English-language coverage of the student movement from within Quebec and across the rest of the country. What I was reading was about how “spoiled little brats” in Canada’s most “entitled” province were complaining and rioting about our government raising tuition when the rest of Canada had higher tuition (and debt to go with it). What I was reading was a world away from what I was seeing, hearing and experiencing. I decided that I would write about that story.
Very quickly, my writing was being picked up by multiple news sites like never before, as people hungry for more than the usual banality of the Canadian media were taking in new perspectives and seeking new sources of information. My article – “Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement” – surprised me by going viral (by my standards), especially when it was picked up by CounterPunch and the Media Co-op, and thereafter I was consumed with writing about developments during the strike, as well as giving interviews with radio and even television stations. I was being quoted by a CBC blog, as well as in mainstream newspapers in British Columbia and Manitoba. Everything had been moving so quickly, and after months of working and writing about the student uprising, as it began to wind down, so did I. Ultimately, I had a bit of a ‘crash’ from over-exhaustion, but was soon back to writing.
In terms of the evolution of The People’s Book Project, the Quebec student movement was evidence to me that I could not simply focus on studying and writing about the institutions and ideologies of repression and domination, but that I had to place an equal focus on movements and methods of resistance, understanding that one cannot exist without the other, and that together, they provided a more coherent view of reality, this began to place increased focus on the issue of resistance being included within my research for the Book Project. After all, it is through resistance, rebellion, revolt, and creativity that we are able to find hope in this world and the situation we find ourselves in. It would simply not be enough to provide an examination of the structures that dominate our world without allowing for some hope to be understood and seen in those forces that resist these institutions and circumstances.
From here, my work on the Book Project began to rapidly expand. I turned my focus to Europe, and specifically the European debt crisis, examining the causes and consequences of the debt crisis, as well as the mass unrest, protests and social movements that have emerged as a result. In the span of a few months, I compiled over 350 pages of writing and research on the European debt crisis to contribute to the Book Project, samples of which I have since published online, notably on the debt crisis in Italy, focusing on the issue of austerity, and have also written on the uses of ‘political language’ throughout the debt crisis and all economic crises as a means of obscuring reality and, as Orwell wrote, “making lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and to give a feeling of solidity to pure wind.”
Studying the debt crises in Europe pushed me to try to better understand the uses and abuses of language by power structures and ideologies, and notably, in the fields of economics and finance, where the language appears very technical and specialized, to the point where it seems incapable of being understood by anyone without a degree in those fields.
By this time, I had also decided to drop out of school. I wanted to focus exclusively on my work, and school had seemed to become more a hindrance than a help. So, for the time being, I have given up on any goals regarding degrees and diplomas, instead, I have chosen to let my work speak for itself as opposed to getting any officially-recognized ‘credentials’.
I have, however, learned a great deal from the years I spent in school, namely, on an evolving quality of research. I don’t really look (or like looking) back at things I have previously written and published, especially those from several years ago. I rarely agree with any views I then-held, I find my quality of research seriously lacking, my analysis halfway incoherent, and my own understanding to be rather superficial. I am sure I will view my current work in a similar way several years from now, but I feel that this is a good thing. It is a sign that I am continually evolving in understanding and approach, and that I have still have a great deal to learn. This has been both a strength and a weakness for my Book Project. It has been a strength in the sense that the quality of research and analysis for the book increases over time, but a weakness in the sense that it extends the time that it takes to do the research and writing. The trade-off, I hope, is a worthy one. At least, I feel that it is. For readers, they may decide in due time.
For the past two years I have also been doing almost-weekly podcast episodes for BoilingFrogsPost, founded by Sibel Edmonds. The format has been wonderful, as I have been given an incredible amount of freedom to discuss whatever issues I want for whatever length of time I want, and it has connected me with a host of researchers, writers, activists and others from across the spectrum.
The past year has also been an especially busy one. I began getting offers to do an occasional commissioned article for various websites. This, again, has been both a strength and weakness for the Book Project. While it has helped in terms of being paid work (a rarity for any writer, it seems), as well as allowing my to work on subjects which are related to those of the Book Project, it has often torn me away from working specifically on the book, as most of my time had to be turned into writing articles for other sites, as well as working on several other projects which I took on.
My writing has been increasingly picked up by TruthOut and AlterNet, writing about the major think tanks that have been used to advance corporate and elite interests around the world, massive unrest in Indonesia, the world’s largest ‘free-trade’ agreement between the EU and US, and the development of the modern propaganda system, as well continuing to write about banks and “financial markets” (and their relationship to drug money laundering). Indeed, some of these articles have resulted in me being contacted by a big bank or two inquiring as to my sources for mentioning their name in relation to laundering drug money (which I promptly provided!).
I have also been working on an ongoing project for Occupy.com, called the Global Power Project, which focuses around institutional analysis of individual organizations, examining their history and evolution, as well as compiling the CVs of all the individuals who lead the organizations in order to chart a network of influence wielded by these various groups. My focus for this series has been primarily on studying banks and financial organizations. I have done a series of exposés on JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley. I have also examined various organizations which bring together large groups of bankers with finance ministers and central bankers, such as the Institute of International Finance – the world’s largest banking lobby group – and the Group of Thirty, which resulted in me being contacted by the executive director of the G30 expressing his disappointment that I did not contact him or the group’s members for comment in my article series.
I have also authored an essay in cooperation with Occupy.com and the Transnational Institute for the TNI’s yearly ‘State of Power’ report, where I focused on analyzing the European Round Table of Industrialists – a group of Europe’s top CEOs – in shaping the evolution of the European Union. I have also been published in an academic journal published by the Spanda Foundation, where I contributed an article on environmental degradation and indigenous resistance to the social order. On top of all this, I also recently began another ongoing series for Occupy.com, the World of Resistance [WoR] Report, discussing issues related to the spread of global protests, uprisings, rebellions and revolutions.
One of my previous articles on the Trans-Pacific Partnership was also cited in Project Censored’s “Most Censored Stories” for their 2014 edition. I have also appeared on CBC Radio’s The Current to discuss evolving events in Tunisia’s revolution, as well as having had an op-ed published in a mainstream newspaper in British Columbia, The Province, where I countered an argument put forward by a regular columnist for the newspaper chain, discussing indigenous issues in Canada, a topic I have also discussed on APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network).
I am also the chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, a new U.S.-based “working class” think tank where I focus on discussing foreign policy and empire. I have written pieces for the Hampton Institute discussing the use of political language in modern imperialism, President Obama’s global drone terror campaign, the “secret wars” that America is waging in over one hundred countries around the world, U.S. support for death squads, the history of U.S. support for Arab dictatorships, notably in Egypt, where the struggle continues today, and I also wrote a large report on the American institutions and “intellectuals” that promote global empire.
So why did I go through a list of the various things I have written and am working on? Well, the answer is simple: I am asking for a ‘public subsidy’ for my writing and research, by you – the public – and so it seemed necessary to let you know a little bit more about where I’m coming from, what I’m doing, and what I’ve done, so that you can determine for yourself if my work is worth continued support.
My aim is to raise enough funds so that I can put aside a good deal of time from my various other time-consuming projects so that I can focus exclusively on the book and get the first edition done as soon as possible. But this requires actual funds, and I am far from having anything close to the amount necessary to dedicate meaningful time to this project. I hate asking for money, but I have come to terms with being an intellectual prostitute for the time being. However, I would rather prostitute my mind for the benefit of the wider public – and most especially the youth of the current “lost generation” to which I belong – as opposed to whoring my mind and efforts out to some various institution. At this point, however, I am essentially unemployable in almost every field, and so my options are rather limited. But I think that through my work, I can help others see that as a species, we do have other options, but that requires us to come to a common understanding, and to engage in common action. We cannot change the world, or steer humanity off the course of seemingly-inevitable extinction, alone. We need each other.
The People’s Book Project is the primary means through which I think I can contribute to this endeavor, to help give the “lost generation” a little bit of guidance. But just like the larger work and efforts that this world will require (and notably, require of the “lost generation”), I cannot do this alone. I require the support of readers and others. So please consider making a contribution to The People’s Book Project, and help the “lost generation” try to find its way.
Andrew Gavin Marshall