I was sat with a friend recently who had just been made redundant from his job after only 10 months in the role. Understandably he felt dejected, demotivated and began asking searching questions about himself and his performance, about what he could have done differently. In the current economic system, in which intense competition has come to define human relations, a system in which we are told there are natural winners and losers, it is little wonder that those who find themselves out of work blame themselves.
Yet what struck me most was how so many people, especially the young, are ready to blame themselves and themselves alone for their predicament. As millions struggle to get a foot on the housing ladder, with stagnating wages and a failure to secure the type of employment that they were told to expect after graduation, introspection becomes a means through which they seek to get themselves out of the dire position they find themselves in. What could I have done differently to succeed? How could I have got those pay rises? What else can I do to better my career?
Such introspection and soul searching, in which the poor and disadvantaged blame only themselves for their perceived failures can only really exist if many buy into the assumptions and beliefs that underpin the neoliberal economic system in which we at present are being consumed by. We must accept that the rules of the game are fair, that hard work alone determines how far we will get and that significant sections of the population are not at an advantage right from the beginning. We must believe that it's a level playing field.
Unfortunately, far too many young people have bought into this fallacy about the current state of affairs being the natural order of things, believing that there is some natural law that determines market forces. It would be ridiculous to assume that the economic predicament many find themselves in is solely within their own control or that the present economic system is the only alternative in which vast swathes of the population must live with job insecurity. We know that under the present economic system the rich and well off are better placed to succeed in the workforce, passing on many advantages to their children in the form of a private education and wealth to name but a few of the advantages designed to give some a head start.
Yet many of the young people I speak to regarding their frustrations barely ever mention the ideology behind much of their woes, neoliberalism. The ideology that places it's faith in the market to achieve just outcomes, that champions deregulation and the privatisation of public services, values that contributed majorly to the financial crisis of 2007-08 from which the young and disadvantaged are still struggling to recover from.
In spite of all this, in spite of the economic 'experts' failing so badly, many young people continue to believe economics is best left to the experts, for it is too complicated for them. Yet young people have more of a duty than most to get involved in economic debates and to influence economic policy making, for it is future generations that will have the highest price to pay when the 'experts' get is so wrong, and that is exactly what we are witnessing today. That is why it's so important for young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds to familiarise themselves with economic theories and their respective strengths and weaknesses to better understand how they have ended up in the situation they find themselves despite playing by the rules of the game only to find themselves up against a brick wall. The drives to get more young people into politics must go hand in hand with drives to get more young people involved in economics.