The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: quality of life

Working Without Meaning


INCREASINGLY AT THE LONDON FOOD BANK WE ARE encountering those recently without work or holding down one or two minimum wage jobs as they seek to make ends meet for their families. It’s an endlessly disillusioning process – one showing no sign of abatement.

But this is the new world, the new economy, the new reality of employment. Millions are facing it, and despite training and education they are witnessing that link between work and wealth disappear in real-time and with real fallout. We see what happens when democracy stumbles along through cycles of low voter turnout and the dysfunction that inevitably follows. Suddenly power migrates upward, with citizens cut off from it in ever-increasing ways. Well, it’s now like that with employment. Wealthy owners and shareholders move farther off into the world elite as workers watch them disappear over the horizon in an endlessly globalized world. Unless corrected, this de-linking will result in the ultimate separation between democracy and wealth.

Aristotle used to say that “pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” Well, not so much anymore. Surveys continue to point to the disillusionment and dissatisfaction experienced by workers as their direct association with wealth creation and production disappears.

As we proceed down this path, we are confronted with a developing world of ironies and opposites. Employability replaces employment. There are people without jobs and jobs without people. Part-time jobs are easily outnumbering full-time ones. Employment numbers go down as people giving up looking for work increases. A growing number of people are working with declining benefits, or none at all, as employment legislation comes under the gun. Rapidly disappearing are the pensions, occupation safety initiatives, employment insurance, and meaningful work environment so necessary to healthy productivity.

Futurists like Jeremy Rifkin talk about the likelihood of “a near workerless information society.” For all intents and purposes, he believes that employment reached its peak years ago and a steady decline is now sinking in.

Then we get those confusing declarations about how it isn’t government that creates jobs, but the free market. But with capitalism enjoying more freedoms that ever in history, we are left to wonder: where are the jobs if this declaration is true? The real answer, naturally enough, is that consumers provide the incentives for job creation. Yet what happens when consumers, or all those people on minimum wage or no wage at all, have little disposal income to utilize? If work is still the way people earn their livings, how can any future be productive if people can’t find the jobs required to sustain such a construct? If wealth can be increasingly generated by investing in more wealth, why would investors, or companies, show any real interests in making their profits in the historic fashion by hiring workers?

We’re in a bind and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the vital connection between work and meaning is imploding. Having a job used to mean holding status in a community. One provided for her or his family. Skills were important, and applying them with diligence was highly regarded.

Our political parties, and the great structure of bureaucracy around them, know all this to be true, but instead they talk about jobs as though everything is normal. Fair enough; we’ve been hearing that for decades. The real question, however, is how can they get all this new wealth and fragile employment in the same room? Or will they even try?

Can we envision a different kind of economy, where work among the elderly, education, those in need of mental health support, the sick, homeless, poor, in libraries and culture, those requiring work training, those in research, or in community and international development take on greater importance? Of course we can, but that would mean partnering with the wealth generators within capitalism to produce a healthy consumer context and better quality of life for everyone. We wait in vain for a political or a free market commitment to that kind of venture. But should it not happen, then both capitalism and democracy will continue on the parallel slide they are already experiencing, and nothing but an agitated and alarmed citizenship can save them.

On October 2, 2015, the London Poverty Research Centre at King’s University College, London, will hold a special economic conference where two economists – Mike Moffatt from the Ivey Business School and the Mowat Centre, and Armine Yalnizyan, from the Canadian Policy of Policy Alternatives – help us to consider the nature of modern employment and what must be done to put meaning back into it and into our communities.









For Millennials: Talk Meaning, Not Just Money



AUTHOR ROBERT PUTNAM NOTICED SOMETHING INTERESTING back in 1993. He discovered that between 1980 and 1993, the total number of bowlers in America increased by 10%, while those participating in league bowling declined by 40%. Putnam used that illustration as something of a symbol for the transformation that was taking place in the United States and turned it into a book titled, Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.

For two decades now research has shown that on both sides of the 49th Parallel we are becoming more individualistic and less institutional. There are pros and cons to such a development, leaving some social commentators to conclude younger generations remain more focused on their own concerns than those of society at large. The Millennials (born between 1980 and early-2000s) are largely singled out as leading this trend.

Recent global research is now telling us something quite different, however. Of the top ten concerns for Millennials across the globe, only 3 of the top 10 are economic, and only 1 of the top 5. They are concerned about unemployment (37%) and financial inequality among nations (28%). Yet they are just as concerned about how we are using up our natural resources (33%), climate change (32%), and personal safety (23%). The rise of poverty also registered in their concerns.

The report was commissioned by the global firm Deloitte, and polled more than 7,000 Millennials in 28 countries. Researchers were somewhat surprised to discover that the emphasis placed on social over economic challenges was the same from developed and developing nations. Across the board, Millennials rated the role of government as providing education, access to hospitals, meaningful work, and the safety of citizens above that of improving the financial status of citizens. And they went further, answering that the ultimate purpose of government is to advance social progress rather than just trusting everything to the financial sector. In fact, they no longer believe that economic growth alone is sufficient for providing meaningful lives and communities.

It gets even more interesting. Those Millennials taking part in the research stated clearly that social progress is not merely the responsibility of governments, but also of businesses and the corporate sector. Concern was expressed that not enough resources were placed in essentials like infrastructure and investments in communities that would allow them to live with better quality of life standards.

What is all this saying? To begin with, we can dispel the myth that Millennials are far more narcissistic than their older counterparts. It’s simply not true. They might be less institutional in personal activities, but they comprehend the importance of institutional resources for solving our greatest problems and protecting our quality of life.

I don’t know many Millennials who bowl, but I have encountered thousands who engage in citizenship, struggle for women’s equity and human rights, and who think of people as more than what’s in their bank account. Above all, they know of the need for community and social inclusion. Community equity isn’t a generational possession, but a shared human trait that transcends age and cohorts. That’s enough upon which to build a successful future.

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