February 9, 2011
By Ken Krayeske • 2:45 PM EST
The revolution will have tea:A man catering to tourists (or not) carries tea for two in the Khan-el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo, November 2007. Thoughts then of a people's revolution in the land of the Nile as illusory as steam from the tea.
Surprisingly, members of Hartford’s leftist community watch the Super Bowl. At this party, a few of us managed to ignore the corporate speech between football plays and converse about issues small and large.
A friend is retiring this week, and he plans to spend some time writing a book about social movements. I told him that I had written a paper in law school on social movement theory, centered on the universal right to education.
He agreed that education merited an important role in the debate of how to shape the nation, but he countered that jobs were more important. And there aren’t enough of them to go around.
And there won’t be any for a while, at least according to a story titled “No Rush to Hire Even as Profits Soar” in the Tuesday, February 8, 2011 Wall Street Journal. The story, by John Shipman and Joe Light, stated corporate profits in America are rising, but companies aren’t hiring.
Earnings are up 28% from a year ago for 73% of the companies in Standard-and-Poor’s 500-stock index. Profits are up because companies relied on “aggressive job cuts,” the Journal said. Pleased with improved profits, they are “in no hurry to add to their payrolls.”
This, my loyal readers, is the jobless recovery. One would be foolish to think that corporations can harvest so much money from us without facing consequences for not hiring. Or would one be?
My friend at the Super Bowl party argued we are overeducated now, and social movement theory should focus on jobs.
Too many students in America have an education, but nowhere to work. Student loans create pressure not just on the graduates, but on the economy, he warned.
The student loan bubble may pop, he said. He might be right. Student loans now amount to the largest type of debt in America, outranking home mortgage debt and consumer credit debt.
Student loans represent easily obtainable credit: you can get them for cosmetology school or culinary institutes, neither of which guarantee a great income. But then again, nor does a bachelor’s degree guarantee a great income anymore.
Finally, banks may think student loans are guaranteed investments because Congress back in President Clinton’s day made student loans non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. Special thanks to corporate water-carrier Speaker of the House John Boehner on that one.
So it seems possible banks which underwrite student loans like Chase or Citigroup, which are already laden with toxic assets will suffer further issues with their bottom line when students begin defaulting on a massive basis because there are no jobs.
I graduated from law school with $40,000 in debt, which, capitalized, went to $48,000, and by the time I repay it, will be $105,000 or so. That is a $340 monthly payment.
My law school debt is on the low end, as the average student ends up with $80,000 or so in law school loans. Whoever has the average doubles my monthly payment - $700.
And since it is an average, that means because I only had $40,000, someone else has $120,000 in debt. Triple my payment to $1320 a month. Who can afford that?
Recall that the legal industry is shrinking, and there are fewer legal jobs than ever. Now lather, rinse and repeat for every field you can think of that requires a undergraduate degree – computer science, journalism, education and the core liberal arts disciplines.
None of these fields have jobs. The unemployment rate should tell us that. Thus, thousands of young Americans have super-expensive educations and attendant student loans, but no way to repay them. Many are already defaulting.
You don’t even need to convince people to purposefully default in protest in order to start a mass movement, he said. So many people can’t afford to pay them now. Go to college, study the intricacies of global finance, and the only job available is folding shirts at the mall.
The retail job doesn’t cover the monthly obligation on the loan. Almost no job short of $100,000 a year will cover that kind of a payment, and rent, and car payments, and insurance, and so on.
Not only that - It is long-term debt servitude. One wonders when people will wake up to this and organize. My friend suggested that this is a movement waiting to happen, and we just need to tap into it.
Look at Egypt, he said. The revolution in the streets resulted from overeducation. Egypt trained all these young people for jobs that don’t exist, and those youth are upset now because they have brains, but no way to use them to earn a living. They are shackled to poverty.
Some of those conditions in Egypt exist here: overeducated youth wired into the internet. Yet the fundamental desire to protest seems missing here. We have no political culture right now that encourages protest.
Having been to Egypt, I can say the poverty in that nation of 80 million is far worse than what we see here. And one wonders if the sense of national unity that exists there is here.
For example, recall the recent New Year’s Day bombing on the Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt. In the aftermath of the bombing, Muslims (Shiite and Sunni) and Christians locked arms around the church to make sure people were safe to pray.
Here in the United States, a 63-year-old lunatic from California attempted to bomb a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan. Police stopped him because he bragged about what he wanted to do in a bar, and an alert patron took down his license plate number.
But if the bomb had gone off, would Christians have used their bodies as human shields to insure that Detroit’s Islamic community is safe?
Also, in Egypt, it seems like the right to protest is more alive and well than here in the United States. Democracy Now! on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 highlighted the story of Asmaa Mahfouz, the 26-year-old female activist in Egypt.
Mahfouz posted a Youtube video three weeks ago, that, at least in Amy Goodman’s eyes, helped ignite the national protests.
Mahfouz’s moving video said: “I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor. Don’t think you can be safe anymore. None of us are. Come down with us and demand your rights, my rights, your family’s rights. I am going down on January 25th and will say no to corruption, no to this regime.”
Mahfouz didn’t get arrested when she marched to Tahrir Square to protest. Her video went viral, she went down to Tahrir Square, and hundreds of thousands of people joined her.
For those who have followed this column, loyal readers should be aware of what happened to me when posted a call to protest online. Four years later, I am still entrenched in a lawsuit over the arrest. It leaves one with a sinking feeling.
So, rather than focusing about the glory of the Super Bowl, my friend and I wondered what would it look like if the educated American youth took to the streets like in Cairo demanding jobs? And how does that fire get sparked?