For Al Jazeera English, I bravely reread David Brooks’ 2000 scifi masterpiece, Bobos in Paradise, and extracted a few lessons for the modern era:
According to Brooks, baby boomers had surmounted class and ethnic barriers through the accumulation of credentials. A degree from Harvard now carried more prestige – and provided more opportunity – than the bloodlines that had propelled the Protestant elite.
But the appeal of a college degree was also its fatal flaw: Anyone could get it. The formula could only work once. The same educational system that created new elites now threatened the prospects of their heirs.
“Members of the educated class can never be secure about their children’s future,” Brooks wrote. “Compared to past elites, little is guaranteed.”
He claimed the burden of maintaining success fell on the children themselves, who would have to “work through school” just like their parents.
As it turned out, there was another way.
In the 14 years since Bobos was published, elites have done much to guarantee their children’s security. Namely, they have raised the price of the credentials needed to participate in the new meritocracy by such dramatic measures that it locks out a large part of the population while sending nearly everyone else into debt.
Since 2000, the average cost of tuition and fees has more than doubled, while student loan debt has grown at double-digit rates and well-paying jobs have all but vanished. Since 2001, employment in low-wage occupations has increased by 8.7 percent while employment in middle-wage occupations has decreased by 7.3 percent. The most popular industries pay poorly: According to the April 2014 jobs report, four of the top six industries that saw job creation were in the lowest paying fields. Meanwhile, in prestigious professions entry-level jobs have been replaced with full-time, unpaid internships.
Today’s youth are the best educated generation in US history. But opportunities are reserved only for those who can buy them. Young US citizens have inherited an entrenched meritocracy that combines the baby boomers’ emphasis on education with the class rigidity of the WASP aristocracy it allegedly undermined.
Read the full article, College is a promise the economy does not keep