Saturday, March 19, 2016

Youth are right to be angry about financial insecurity; Life after Nokia; The curious case of diminishing adulthood

1 Youth are right to be angry about financial insecurity (Joseph Stiglitz in The Guardian) Older upper-middle-class Americans and Europeans have had a good life. When they entered the labour force, well-compensated jobs were waiting for them. That generation expected to have job security, to marry young, to buy a house – perhaps a summer house too – and finally retire with reasonable security. Overall, they expected to be better off than their parents.

Today, the expectations of young people, wherever they are in the income distribution, are the opposite. They face job insecurity throughout their lives. Today’s young university graduates are burdened with debt – the poorer they are, the more they owe. So they do not ask what job they would like; they simply ask what job will enable them to pay their college loans, which often will burden them for 20 years or more. Likewise, buying a home is a distant dream.

These struggles mean that young people are not thinking much about retirement. The inequities cannot easily be explained away. It isn’t as if these young people didn’t work hard: these hardships affect those who spent long hours studying, excelled in school and did everything “right”. The sense of social injustice – that the economic game is rigged – is enhanced as they see the bankers who brought on the financial crisis, the cause of the economy’s continuing malaise, walk away with mega-bonuses, with almost no one being held accountable for their wrongdoing.

Three realities – social injustice on an unprecedented scale, massive inequities, and a loss of trust in elites – define our political moment, and rightly so. More of the same is not an answer. That is why the centre-left and centre-right parties in Europe are losing.

Were the reforms put forward by Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders adopted, the financial system’s ability to prey on those already leading a precarious life would be curbed. And both have proposals for deep reforms that would change how America finances higher education.

Most importantly, the young will not find a smooth path into the job market unless the economy is performing much better. The “official” unemployment rate in the US, at 4.9%, masks much higher levels of disguised unemployment, which, at the very least, is holding down wages. We won’t be able to fix the problem if we don’t recognise it. Our young do. They perceive the absence of intergenerational justice, and they are right to be angry.

2 Life after Nokia (Edwin Lane on BBC) In Tampere, former Nokia employees still ponder how the company went from world leader in mobile phones as recently as 2007 to the struggling takeover target for Microsoft in 2014. "I think one of the high points was when we'd shrunk the mobile phones smaller than Motorola," says Mika Grundstrom, a former senior manager at Nokia's R&D site in Tampere. "That was around 1997-1998. It was kind of an engineering dream."

For Mika the brief in the early days was simple - make the phone with the best battery life in the smallest case possible. But then all that changed with the rise of the smartphone, and in particular the launch of Apple's iPhone in 2007.

Nokia played catch-up in the smartphone market until 2014, when its mobile phone business was sold to Microsoft and the Nokia name was removed from its devices altogether. But despite its effective demise, many Finns say there is a positive legacy to appreciate.

"Giving Nokia shares to workers made it accepted that your next door neighbour could be a millionaire," says Kari Kankaala. He says Nokia's biggest impact was to revolutionise Finland's business culture. "That acceptance that someone can actually make money, combined with the new approach to entrepreneurship - that was a major change."

Two hours to the south in Helsinki there are already signs of that new business culture taking hold in the post-Nokia world. Tuomas Kytomaa is a software engineer who spent most of his career working for Nokia, including stints in the US and Germany.

For him Nokia's legacy is a wealth of talent and expertise waiting to be tapped. "The talent hasn't really gone anywhere," he says. "The sheer magnitude of Nokia in Finland means that there's a pool of tech talent that has deep specialised knowledge. Finland's buzzing with high-tech skills and start-ups." Whatever the future of Finland's tech industry, few believe that a company of Nokia's size and influence will appear again.

3 The curious case of diminishing adulthood (Sushmita Bose in Khaleej Times) The other day, I was talking, on the phone, to a friend - who's well into his 40s - and he happened to remark: "I have some of the office kids over at home." Then, he went on to name someone (on that select list of guests) - who I'd met - and this "kid" was at least 30.

My thought flow was muddied even more when my brother happened to call his 8-year-old daughter (my niece) "a baby". There's something weird happening. I know 40 is the new 30, and 50 the new 40 and all of that, but that's stretching youthfulness, being less ageist - all of which are good things.

But why on earth are seemingly grown-up (albeit young) folks being called "kids"? Isn't it a sort of downgrade, trying to smack the onus of responsibility and other such grown-up matters off young (but surely not under-age?) shoulders?

All I hear, in sociological contexts, is how everyone grows up much faster these days than they did 20 years ago. If someone grows up faster, shouldn't they be, on their own, feeling less like "kids" and more like adults?

I'm confused no end. Rahul Gandhi, who's in his mid-40s, is a "youth leader"; many times, he's referred to as the "Gandhi kid [who understands nothing]". But in a few years' time, he'll be labelled a geriatric by third millennium "kids". So, as he (along with countless others) hurtles from being a kid to an old man, he's missing out on the most critical part of his life: being an adult.

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