What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Moving toward the/a future

So in all the here and there of trying to make decisions about schools and where to go a very definitive moment and circumstance has been illuminated for me.  Months ago I looked at some European schools and settled in on the University of Ljubljana as a good option for me, and one that I was guaranteed to get in to.  The educational merits are there for me to attend this school.  Third ranked school in Eastern Europe, Interdisciplinary program, done in four years max, 1.5 years there and then back here to do (required) coursework at foreign institutions and my research (i.e. could study at Rutgers), etc.  Just prior to hearing back from Binghamton, when the rejections were starting to rain in, I started really thoroughly examining this opportunity.  And it quickly became more about a career and life choice than a school choice.

I started constructing a rationale in my head that made, what could be seen in many ways as a defeat (if I did not get in anywhere here), into a victory.  The problem was that the rationale was in fact, way to sound. As you start to think about your future and creating a place of joy for the long term, you start thinking through things of personal and social importance.  Where you want to get old, what type of society you want to live in, if you had kids what kind of society would they grow up in, does your country embody your beliefs both at home and abroad, and perhaps most importantly what are does a country and its socio-economic prospects for the future hold?

For me these questions made me want to move.  Getting a PhD in America means setting ones self up within the American system, and best positioning oneself for a job here in America.  Going abroad does the opposite.  If I went to Slovenia (a small country of 2 million people, formerly part of Yugoslavia, that is nestled within Italy, the Austrian Alps, and the islands of Croatia on the Adriatic sea and carries a rich history of egalitarian economics and slavic language and culture) I would stand a very good chance of creating career opportunities there.  If I spent four years there I would both ingrain myself within the European academy and Slovenia.  I would speak Slovenian and maybe Serbo-Croatian to some extent, to go with my Czech and the German I studied in college.  If I studied Occupy and the US's suppression of the movement, I would have a strong American studies resume that would make me very marketable on the teaching market throughout Europe, nevermind the areas of Central Europe that I feel at home in.  If I go to school here, the degree could still open some of those doors if I do it right, but not the same social and linguistic ones.  More readily though, it sets me up for a life here in the United States, as part of the Academic and socio-economic system I so readily struggle with.

More importantly though with this logic is that it is a bet on America moving forward.  This right now is not a bet that I feel very comfortable taking.  America is in decline, and the only people (sadly a majority living here) that don't believe this are people blinded by nationalistic rhetoric, our sensationalist media, and/or are just plain ignorant of the signs showing this.  Forget about China's assent and the shear numbers of people in Asia, and the rest of the trajectories of the outside world and lets just focus on America.  We are a disaster.  We are incredibly in debt, of which more than half of that is owned to foreign creditors who now carry US dollars to buy our goods with, except we are not producing as many goods for sale.  That money we borrowed, rather than spend it on investing in our own production (infrastructure, economic production and investment in manufacturing and services for sale to the world) we spent it on wars and tax breaks which are not being spent here at home as much as in larger investments in places cheaper to invest and with higher rates of return (i.e. Asia, Africa, South America, etc.).  This is basic capitalism 101, the capital will flow to areas of lower costs and higher returns.  The US does not fit in to this model at all as it carries high wages and regulations that require companies to do humane things like limit work weeks to 40 hours, provide safe, sanitary conditions for workers, and not lock factory doors so all the people die if there is a fire.  The problem is though that with all this regulation and investment, we are not doing it right.  Our political establishment is deliberately incapacitated and disastrous.  Tomorrow we are about to have this mandatory sequestration that cuts government spending across most all boards by up to 10%.  The politicians are intractable ideologs beholden to a system owned by corporate and private interests that carry soooo much more weight than individual people that would love to think they have democratic control over the country.  While economically speaking we should be increasing public and governmental spending to stimulate the economy we are giving tax/regulation breaks to people and companies so they will stimulate our economy.  But - again - they are all following the basic rules of capitalism and for the most part not investing locally, nevermind in infrastructure and the foundational elements of an economy that expand the economic multipliers for every business (roads, bridges, research, etc), not just those in their supply chain.  Technological advancements, and cheaper labor options abroad are taking higher level jobs away from the American workforce, while the advertisers emphasis on debt fueled consumerism only creates low wage retail and service type jobs fueled mostly by the growth of population and perceived "needs" for new gadgets, widgits, and elves on shelves.  Real wages (meaning adjusting for inflation) have been dropping since the seventies, and since 2008 50% of the jobs we've lost were at a middle class wage level, while on two percent of those that we've regained since the start of the crisis are middle income.

It now takes two incomes to provide what one wage earner used to for a family.  So we go further into debt with credit cards, home equity, medical bills, and soon to become the worst bubble of them all: student loans.  Given the crunch on jobs, and more aptly decent paying career type positions, as these jobs are shipped abroad, our workers become "redundant" and un/underemployment rises.  Education is of course shown as the ticket to a better paying job.  Thus we all have to roll the dice and try to be the one in 500 to get that job, but we have to have the degrees or you don't even get considered.  So we take the loans, go to school, and then nearly 50% of us end up in jobs that don't require degrees or pay for them.  So we struggle to or can't pay back our loans as we don't have enough income, meaning we will forever be financial behind (with no possibility of bankruptcy on federal student loans).  This stagnated struggle of course limits the capacity for the "american dream" of home ownership.  This of course then hurts the housing market, leading to lower values and less jobs.

It seems the only market to get into would then be education, as it is fueled by government subsidized loans that you can't default on, and which financial companies churn and burn through a system of hedges, safety measures, and insurance/derivative options to allow companies to still make money even while consumers fail.  Schools though keep raising tuition, 5-10% every year to upgrade facilities to try to bring in the best students, but this is all based on debt as well and will eventually prove unsustainable.

Most importantly though the education market is predominantly fueled by governmental spending - either through loans, grants, or subsidized tuition - and most importantly to this condemnation of the American system moving forward - is the ideological pathway we are headed down.  In the 50's and 60's when America was  in the midst of its "greatest generation's" heyday, we had as high as 90% tax rates on the rich which progressively went down from there, that tax bracket was down to 35% and below last year.  Capital gains, inheritance, back then the government still made money and spent money - and lest you think this is about entitlement programs, it's not - its about investing in our country's ability to make its way forward economically, and to provide for its citizens and its business endeavors.  I no longer believe that this is what we are doing.  We are cutting everything.  40% of our bridges are in desperate disrepair, not to mention roads, we are destroying our environment with every second we don't act, we sped money on weapons that destroy economic capacity and lives rather than build upon them, all the while "leaving education to the states" while we both cut and "cherry pick" their funding.  We have created an ideological and populist fear of taxes, that is and will slowly strangle us into a privatized, capitalist, profit driven noose that will not invest in common interest projects for the betterment of our economy and society, but rather in short-term individualized profit.  This is not an investment in the future that I think will really create a wonderfully sustainable place to live.

Look at New York City alone.  Go anywhere in the world it seems and most subway systems in major cities are beautiful shining examples of care and functionality.  They look like places meant for people.  The NYC subway system is grossly infested with disrepair and just as much dysfunction as the rest of the city.  Our politicians are grossly corrupt, and we have a draconian policing strategy that has spread throughout the country and infects all of our communities with stiffing repression of minorities and economically disadvantaged people.  And it's only getting worse.  I go into these buildings that I deliver to and see palaces that cover entire floors, two floors even.  Tens of millions of dollars for home after home in a city with a median income below the national average and a cost of living almost double the next closest city.

Fact of the matter is that NYC, like America is going down and ideological pathway that is untenable for the economic and social future of the country and planet.  So how do I, with an eye on my future, make a choice to be a part of that?  Yes, things are easier for me here in many ways as my family and friends are here, day to day things make sense, I know how it works and am rarely surprised functionalities, but still, I am left tremendously wanting.

And the most troubling things is that as I have been reading a People's History of the United States, it is eiry how little things have changed.  New technological faces on the same old systemic problems.  But of most importance in thinking bout this book and life here, I have found myself seeing things through the eyes of the settler to America, the European outcast, the immigrant that picked up there things and family and said I'm going to bet my future on something else than my current existence.  They looked at their lives in Europe, China, wherever, and left.  They didn't know what they were going to, but just knew they didn't want to be where they were.  I don't believe that short term unsettlement is as bad as the decades of the decline that my surroundings are likely to go through.

But is Europe any better?  I mean, the same neoliberal pathways are being followed there as well these days.  But at least they are starting from a place of strength.  Universal healthcare, lives not based solely on work, vacations, safety nets, etc.  I was always happy with the way the systems around me worked when I was there, even if I struggled at places within it.  I came back to the US with the goal of getting a PhD so I could have the qualifications to go live anywhere I wanted and to be able to get a legitimate job and support myself while I was there.

I have no idea where that place is, but I do know that right now what I see out of America makes me feel like those that emigrated from their own countries and came to America.  I feel a lack of hope, a desperation in my surroundings, that makes me think that there are other places to look to for better future prospects.  But where do you go in today's world to escape capitalism?  I don't know that there is any escape.  It's a global epidemic.

So I guess there is no answer.  But I tell you, when I allowed myself to look at a life in another place, less assuming, less aggressive, less competitive and ambitious, with a quieter pleasanter life, I found myself idolizing it.  Shorter time in school, solid job prospects, and a clear transition strategy.  Sigh, now I still have other schools to hear from and Boston (northeastern) and Hawaii are a different place than Binghamton for sure, as is York in Canada, so we will have to see.  But I tell you, Ljubljana - with its juxtaposition to this American future - feels like a nice alternative to spending seven years preparing to spend the next several decades competing in a job market and economy that I've already spent more time losing in than I've even been in.  Plus, we have military bases and kill people without trial or impunity all over the world to satisfy our aggressive global imperialist/unethical agenda.  I don't like saying that I am a part of that, do that, or represent that.  Maybe I am not proud to be an American, or of what America is.  I don't know.  Maybe its time to look elsewhere.