Unemployment greatest threat to stability

By Ding Gang Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-17 21:23:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

A transitional government has become operational in Egypt, but few people believe the unrest will end because of it.

No matter who becomes the next president, it is impossible for the successor to provide enough jobs to the large number of unemployed people in a short time. Egypt has seen over 1 million citizens lose their jobs since 2010, of whom 80 percent are below 30 years of age and have received high school or even university education.

Two years ago, a Tunisian vendor immolated himself in order to protect his means of livelihood. The incident triggered a storm that swept the Middle East and has lasted until today. Many problems still remain unresolved.

Street campaigns and demands for jobs are not unique to the Middle East. Angry, frustrated and hopeless faces can also be seen in the streets of the US, Europe and Latin America, and many of them are from the middle class.

The middle class is picky, and none of them wants to go back to the old days when they had to work hard for a better future.

As for members of the young generation, who are well-educated and expect admission into the middle class, they are unlikely to condescend to engage in "inferior" jobs, but at the same time, the "superior" jobs they long for are out of their reach.

They all look forward to higher incomes, more competitive benefits and promotions. They are also hoping that social wealth distribution can be conducted in a fair way. But these expectations cannot be realized without a satisfying job that gives them confidence in the future.

Francis Fukuyama, a US scholar renowned for his popular book The End of History and the Last Man, argues that when the current social systems of Egypt and Tunisia have proved their lack of productivity in developing the economy and offering more jobs for the young, their societies can only end up with political revolution.

It is easy to shift the responsibility to a defective "system," a perception that is in line with the typical logic of Western scholars. But growing unemployment is also a problem that is yet to be addressed in the West.

Globalization once brought about unprecedented opportunities for the expansion of the middle class. But the boom years are coming to an end. It is by no means certain that sufficient jobs deemed suitable by the middle class can be created for them.

Paul Krugman, a Nobel Economics laureate, published an article titled "Defining Prosperity Down" in the New York Times recently, and reached this surprising conclusion: "Someday, I suppose, something will turn up that finally gets us back to full employment. But I can't help recalling that the last time we were in this kind of situation, the thing that eventually turned up was World War II."

Things may not be as bad as Krugman suggested, but social turmoil caused by large-scale unemployment and an unpromising job market is boiling in some countries and regions.

No matter which country faces this problem, a free Egypt or a democratic Tunisia, it is unlikely that they will find the solutions in a short period of time.

Countries weighed down by unemployment usually share two weaknesses: First is their marginalized position in the global chain of industries, and second is their fading tradition of diligence.

Because of the above two "virtues," most East Asian countries have not been severely impacted by unemployment.

Scholars may have paid too much attention to innovation rather than diligence, but they should be aware that innovation and diligence are two sides of the same coin.

Without diligence, innovation has no ground in which to take root. The key problem is, while the young generation in East Asia becomes the backbone of their own countries, will the advantage that East Asia enjoys last as long as expected?

The author is a senior editor with the People's Daily. He is currently stationed in Brazil. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn

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