Wednesday, February 12, 2014

This precarious life

David Brooks is worried (“The American Precariat”) that Americans are not packing and moving as often as they did 60 years ago – when about 20 percent of the population switched residence every year. Why have Americans become as sedentary as the typical West European, or even more so? Brooks points to different explanations, but believes this unfortunate shift can be attributed mostly to a loss of self-confidence. He says there is a now “growing class of people living with short-term and part-time work with precarious living standards” – and bleak long-term prospects – which a British social scientist has dubbed the “precariat.” Apparently, the members of this group have lost some of their faith in capitalism and the “American dream,” and  have become more risk-averse than the part of the middle class they have replaced.

The concern about reduced physical mobility and risk-taking is a somewhat strange worry for someone who is the designated “conservative” columnist of the NYT. Sticking to this role, however, Brooks quotes a policy proposal originating from a “conservative” “think tank .” Strangely, this fix involves some heavy lifting from the government – it “should offer moving vouchers to the long-term unemployed so they can chase opportunity.” This handout would induce the precarians to once again “go West” (or in any other direction where economic opportunity might beckon). And how about helping the “precariat” build less precarious lives wherever they are, so they can lift their heads and regain some of their lost faith in “the Matrix” they inhabit? Apparently, this is not in the cards any longer.