Steve Kurtz has sent me an interesting article from Esquire. This revived a speculation of mine that has occurred to me many times in the last few years ever since the number of universities was multiplied 20/30 years ago in the belief that graduates — seemingly in any and every subject — will by itself transform the economy. The article, written by Matt Miller, is “Teenagers of tomorrow will hang out in abandoned department stores.”
Well . . . in the last ten years, as we all know, many, if not most graduates, are actually getting into jobs which, had they not gone to university, they could have done just as well three years earlier. Moreover they are not getting paid anywhere near as much as politicians forecasted and many of them are never going to reach the threshold that’s required if they are to pay their tuition loans back.
In addition, there are many thousands of graduates every year who are still looking for decent jobs a year later and have had to take shelf-stacking type jobs in the meantime.
Matt Miller –writing of the similar American scene — couples the above with the phenomenon of the closure of thousands of departmental stores — and even complete malls — throughout the country. There’ll be fewer jobs for graduates in the retail industry and only empty buildings where teenagers can meet and socialize.
As the internet retailing revolution proceeds and, if the world-wide economy continues to subside — with every chance of it being permanent as I suggest in other blogs — then we’ll have a great many more empty buildings and empty shops within malls indeed. And here we’ll see a different kind of ‘squatter’ than we’ve had in times past. Not the rising number of semi-alcoholic, semi-drugged individuals who are living in the street, but middle-class graduates without the decent standard of job they might have expected..
These, preferring not to take on mind-dumbing low-paid jobs and, in many cases, having to return to their parents’ home with no hope of a normal married life of their own might decide to occupy empty building in groups so that they can economise on state unemployment benefits, live quite well as regards food and clothes, raise and perhas teach their children, start businesses perhaps but are able, above all, to enjoy the social and leisure benefits that people in normal jobs are able to do.
Overall, if the community squatters look after the premises, keep to decent living standards and don’t strain the attention of the local police or social services, they would be tolerated. The owners may not like it but if they have no use for the building at that time, they’d be unlikely to get an eviction order from the courts. The local council would be favourable towards the squatters also for not pulling down the value of the neighbourhood.
Unlikely though this may seem now this may be the beginning of a much more diverse cultural change that ultimately spreads much more widely to replace the middle band of reasonably paid people who are now being hollowed out by automation. When government economists and central bankers don’t know what to do in the advanced countries by way of initiating a second industrial revolution that will give jobs galore again we might well expect all sorts of social innovations.