Sunday, 20 November 2011

It's an Outrage!

It is a long time since I was young.

But, when I was, youth involved a vista of limitless opportunity.

When I graduated in the Law, after three years at University, then the norm, it was not a matter of whether I might get a legal apprenticeship, but rather only where.

Today however it routinely takes five years to get even to that starting point and even then this does not actually lead to a job in the law, or at least a job as a lawyer, for almost half of those appropriately qualified.

Now, there is an argument that the Universities are producing too many Law Graduates, and, particularly, far too many holders of the nominally vocational postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice. I agree with that argument but that still does not explain everything that is going on. Nor does, simply, the recession. Times have been hard (really) for a lot of legal firms, particularly those doing mainly property work, but the "Roll" of those holding practising certificates continues to rise, albeit incrementally.

No, in the legal profession, as in many other professions, there is something more cynical going on.

There is a bubble of the population who have been exceptionally fortunate in their history.

Born in the fifties and early sixties, we escaped the hardships of the immediate post-war years. We  benefited in spades however from the long post war boom built on the efforts of our own immediate elders.

In particular, we enjoyed free higher education and easy entry to professions anxious for new recruits to service the requirements of an ever expanding propertied class.

And we then planned, on the back of ever expanding economies, to take what was on offer and then to retire from our labours at the earliest opportunity. We therefore encouraged the recruitment and training of a new generation to replace us at a time of our choosing. We even avoided, as far as possible, having to finance the training of that replacement class. But we also hedged our bets in the freedom to choose the time that we ourselves would depart the stage, entrenching  security of public, then private, sector employment and, latterly, even establishing "age discrimination" in Statute.

Now, all of this would have been fine (probably) had it not been for the recession. White collar workers would all happily have gone at some point between 55 and 60, looking forward to a (very) long and contented retirement.

The recession however changed all of that. Suddenly our own pensions were some considerable way short of what we had anticipated, whether in private funds of potential public enhancements. And, in the private sector, our capital accounts not quite the nest-egg we had once hoped. So, regrettably, if we wanted to retire in comfort, we would have to work a few years longer. Poor us.

Except we were/are not the real victims here. The real victims were largely people we had never met; those whose training to succeed us we had encouraged but whose services we no longer immediately required.

There is a serious generational issue arising from this recession. Obviously, the recession does not affect all classes equally, but, similarly, it does not affect all ages equally.

One of the things that strikes you about the Occupy protests is the extent to which they are the domain of the young. Now that's not just because its a lot less traumatic to sleep in a tent at 21 than it is at 51. For one of the other things that strikes you is the lack of political focus to the protests . This is not 1968, where ideologues of an older generation sought to channel the anger of youth against the system in some defined way, and, even if rejected, were listened to with respect, while picking up a few individual disciples on the way. For the Occupiers, almost all "middle-aged" opinion is equally dismissed, whether it be the stuffed shirts suggesting they be threatened with soap and water, or the Michael Moore's of this world trying to show much they are "down with the kids".

What the protesters want is fairness, and that fairness is as much from their own elders as it is from "the system".

What the no compulsory redundancy policy in the public sector means, in practice, is that, for a period, under employment will be subsidised. More significantly however, when things do eventually pick up, the first consequence will not be fresh employment but rather the fuller utilisation of those already "on the books".

What opposition to the liberalisation of professional services means is a continued regulatory protection of those already in the fortuitous inside.

Now, I can see the arguments for such an approach. Those already employed will have commitments and obligations arising from that employment. But I can also see how things might look very different if I had never had the benefit of that secure employment in the first place.

The most striking example of all is in the question of the state retirement age. There are apparently so many of us impending retirees that the state can't afford to pay everyone a decent pension at 65. So we'll all have to work till we're 67 or 68. That's all very well, except it is no real saving at all if the price comes as a generation fifty years younger unable to enter the job market in the first place.

So maybe the baby boomers have to face up to the fact that they may have to make some personal sacrifice after all.

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