The people of Egypt may have used Facebook to start a revolution – which may or may not actually topple the government. There has been much written about that – see Newsweek with Inside Egypt’s Facebook Revolt for example. But this was inevitable. In a police state of sorts, where the press and the broadcast news media are careful to toe the line and not say the wrong thing, and organizing a discussion group, much less holding a rally, will get you thrown in jail, Facebook and Twitter and various text messaging service are all you’ve got. For thirty years under Mubarak there had been no agora – no open marketplace of ideas – and then there was. Suddenly, developing over the last several years, there was an unmonitored and wide-open ongoing discussion group, of millions and millions of people, with no way for the government to follow what was being said, or by whom – the sheer volume of all the back-and-forth made that impossible, even if the government had realized what was actually going on.
They didn’t. It seems folks had been online telling each other, regarding their nation, well, this stinks. And then it was let’s meet up down on the corner – and bring your friends. And then this seems to have mushroomed – you got flash mobs, and then an uprising that shook the world.
The Mubarak government quickly moved to shut down the nation’s four ISPs – internet service providers – but it was too late. They’d already been blindsided, essentially by social networking. They hadn’t realized what a social network implies. People will talk, and to each other, and because there no way to monitor it all, much less police it all, they’ll say just what they think – damn it. It gets harder and harder to rule with an iron fist these days. The massive flow of Facebook postings and tweets and text messages – that you do not even see, much less track – is filled with people mutually agreeing that you’re a pathetic joke. It hardly seems fair.
Nixon famously inquired into having the journalist Jack Anderson assassinated – the CIA does do Wet Work – and Putin, pulling the strings behind the scenes in the new Russia, has seemingly ordered the mysterious attacks on more than a few Russian journalists, who are all now quite dead. But Facebook and Twitter are another matter entirely. There are eighteen million people in Cairo alone, and a big chunk of them are online one way or another. You can hardly send in a covert team to see that they all have unfortunate accidents. There are too many of them. So Mubarak had an ongoing problem that he didn’t realize and that he couldn’t fix even if he wanted to, and it got way out of hand. Welcome to the new world.
But we don’t have that problem. No doubt there are Tea Party folks right now thinking of Egypt as a model – use Facebook to start a popular uprising and toss out Obama, as everyone hates him and no one voted for him – at least Real Americans didn’t vote for him – and he’s a tyrant and so on and so forth.
But the model is wrong. Those on the right have Fox News, and particularly Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh and his local imitators – and they have the Tea Party Express, massively funded by the Koch brothers and major corporations. They’re already organized six ways from Sunday. And that leaves Facebook as a toy of sorts – it’s for the trivial. If you’re white and in your fifties or sixties, and you’re so angry you could spit and want your country back, and you hate all those parasites getting unemployment checks, and all those parasites who think Medicare and Social Security, and now Obamacare, are good things, when people should take personal responsibility and not depend on the government to fix their sorry lives – well, Beck will tell you when to meet up with him in Washington and Fox News will provide wall-to-wall coverage. Everything is organized for you. And that means Facebook is for catching up with your old high school friends – perhaps the Class of 1965 or something. The revolution won’t start there. It’s just a place for chit-chat with folks you vaguely remember.
But of course politics creeps in. No matter how cute and perky Sally was in high school, or how wild and happy Biff was, they’re now old and grumpy. It happens. You’ve seen the film Up – we’re all Ed Asner now. And on Facebook you get the standard litany –there’s a reason the unemployed are unemployed. They’re likely all drug addicts (Orin Hatch) or just spoiled (Sharron Angle) or just unpleasant people who don’t know how to do a day’s work, basically people with poor work habits and poor personalities (Ben Stein). The idea is that when you say you want to help people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own you’re looking at the wrong thing. There’s no such thing as losing your job through no fault of your own – personal responsibility and all that. Young folks don’t use Facebook like that. But the Tea Party crowd isn’t young, and they vent – even if they are on Social Security and Medicare themselves. They deserve it.
So it’s just venting. There’s no revolution possible here. And also consider the patron saint of that view, Ayn Rand:
An interview with Eva Pryor, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand’s law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick, verified that on Miss Rand’s behalf she secured Rand’s Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor).
As Pryor said, “Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out” without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bailout even though Ayn “despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently… She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”
She took government help and said it was wrong for everyone else to do that, ever. Oh well.
And there’s the Republican policy wonk, their new budget guru, who has a plan to end Medicare and Social Security and balance the budget, the amazing Paul Ryan:
With his father’s passing, young Paul collected Social Security benefits until age 18, which he put away for college. To make ends meet, Paul’s mother returned to school to study interior design. His siblings were off at college. Ryan remembers this difficult time bringing him and his mother closer.
Maybe he was a special case. But given such stories one senses that the angry old-white-folks short rants on Facebook will not start the revolution. It’s not exactly white hot fury at obvious injustice, just grumpiness. It’s a variant of the Howard Beale thing from the movie Network – “I’m oddly grumpy and a bit confused, about something I haven’t thought through, and I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE – whatever it is.” It’s hard to start a revolution that way.
But these are serious matters. Cristina Silva wrote an interesting Associated Press backgrounder – and if you want to see the seeds of a revolution, try this:
The portraits of his dead father are among the few mementoes Bud Meyers is certain he will take with him when he is forced from his home of five years next month because he cannot pay the rent.
His prized collection of mystery novels, the bedroom set he was once proud to purchase new and anything else that can’t fit into the trunk of a car must be left behind.
More than two years after Meyers lost his job as a Las Vegas Strip bartender and nearly eight months after he exhausted his unemployment benefits, it has come to this: a careful inventory of a life’s possessions and the hopeless embrace of a future as a middle-aged homeless man.
“I can’t believe this is happening to my life,” Meyers, 55, said on a recent afternoon, as he surveyed the one-bedroom apartment he must soon abandon. “It’s a social holocaust.”
But Meyers, who is single and childless and soon to be living in the streets, is one growing number of men and women who no longer qualify for unemployment benefits – because they’ve they have been out of work for so long. These are the 99ers – thirty thousand Nevadans have exhausted their benefits and hundreds more join them, each day. They’re on the streets soon enough. And things as especially tough in Nevada, but they’re tough all over. And there are no jobs for guys like Meyers:
He all but emptied his checking account this month to make rent. With the remaining $56, he bought groceries – a pie, some bread, milk, coffee – and penned a notice to his friends on Facebook:
“I’m tired of being made to feel like dirt because I lost my job,” he wrote. “Only three more weeks, and I won’t be tired any longer.”
It was not so much a suicide note, he said days later, but a cry for help.
His friends have unsuccessfully urged him to seek counseling.
And how is he going to pay for that? Facebook is useless in a lot of ways.
And Pew Research has a new and quite sobering report on long-term unemployment:
Thirty percent of those who are jobless have been unemployed a year or more (long-term unemployment) as of December 2010. Equaling 4.2 million people – roughly the population of Kentucky – this is 25 percent more people affected by long-term unemployment than a year prior (December 2009, 3.4 million)…
Using the CPS data, Pew calculated that the persistent problem of long-term unemployment is occurring across education and age groups but those who are older than 55 are most likely to remain jobless for a year or more. Additionally, a high level of education only provides limited protection against long-term unemployment — the rates are similar across degree attainment: 31 percent of unemployed workers with a bachelor’s degree have been out of work for a year or more, compared to 36 percent of high school graduates and 33 percent of high school drop-outs.
This is the sort of thing that in a previous age – say, 1789, Paris, before Facebook – would have given rise to a revolution, guillotines and all. But now it’s trivia.
And Ezra Klein comments:
The interplay between age and unemployment really worries me. On some level, we have a rosy view of “structural unemployment”: It’s a guy in Reno, Nev., who has skills better suited to the job market in Boulder, Colo. That’s not an easy problem to fix – our Reno resident doesn’t scan Boulder’s “help wanted” ads – but it at least points toward a way the problem can be fixed. But a lot of older workers have found that employers just don’t want to hire them. They are, in the words of one job-seeker in Warren County, N.J., “too young not to work, but too old to work.”
Or, more to the point, too old to get a job. When they apply for jobs much below their previous position, they’re rejected as overqualified. When they try to hold the line, employers default to younger workers. And in both cases, there’s a quiet assumption that young workers will be better at learning new skills than older workers will be.
And Klein cites Annie Lowrey:
The unemployment rate for over-55s is at the highest level since 1948. Since the recession started, both the number of older people seeking work and the rate of unemployment for over-55s have increased more sharply than for all other demographic groups. And older workers comprise a high share of the long-term unemployed. In May, the average duration of unemployment for older job-seekers climbed to 44.2 weeks, 11 more weeks than the national average. Nearly six in ten older job-seekers have been out of work for more than six months.
There are structural reasons that the unemployment crisis is hitting older Americans so hard. Older workers are more likely to be underwater homeowners, unable to sell their house and move away. They often have highly specific marketable skills, and seek positions more selectively. They also often have skills rendered obsolete by the recession, in outdated trades. But too often, employers illegally presume that older workers will be harder to train, more likely to leave for other positions, less productive, less technologically able or less willing to move – and do not hire them for those reasons.
The rest is all depressing anecdote, and Klein adds this:
Eventually, the unemployment rate in this country will come down. But it’s very likely that there’ll still be a core of a couple of million hardcore unemployed – people who’re a bit older, who’re underwater on their houses in an area with a weak labor market, and who are becoming less employable as both their age and their time out of work come to seem more and more glaring on their resumes. What are we going to do for them?
And Digby adds this:
That doesn’t count the underemployed, which afflicts even more people my age. They lost good paying jobs and are now toiling at part time work or contracting that pays substantially less than what they made before. Strangely, it turns out that nobody is eager to hire 50 year olds at the wages they spent 25 years working their way up to, and they aren’t very excited about having a bunch of old duffers around the office or the factory when they can get young people to do it for much less and lower health care costs.
Here’s the political problem with this scenario. This is the baby boom and there are a huge number of them. You can ignore them and pretend that it doesn’t matter that this huge group is rapidly going through their meager retirement savings, but unless you are prepared to kill them, they’re going to be around for quite a while. And they are getting poorer rather than richer, what with the real estate and stock market crashes at the worst possible time in their lives – they’re still putting kids through college and taking care of aging parents. It’s a real squeeze.
But she doesn’t see a revolution:
I know it’s fashionable for Democrats these days to write the baby boom off as a lost cause – apparently, it’s assumed they’re all going to vote for Republicans forever because the oldsters are all voting for them today. But it’s really not a good idea to let that happen – there are simply way too many of them and they will vote far more reliably than under-30s do. Older people are just more interested in politics – especially when they are financially screwed and have no time to make the money back.
We can thank Joe Lieberman for one thing: he shot down the Medicare buy-in for 55-year-olds, which would have been a huge, huge benefit for all these people and cemented their loyalty to the Democratic Party for the rest of their lives. But that would have made the hippies happy and Holy Joe was having none of it.
But she does think this is a political time bomb.
And Ezra Klein simply reprints an email:
Some of my work is as a primary doctor at a VA primary care clinic in Southeast Michigan. We are totally overwhelmed right now with people who lost their insurance from auto-related layoffs and are using VA eligibility for the first time. It is totally awful. Think about the job prospects for a high-school educated 50-year-old with 32 years experience with one employer welding a single auto part near Detroit.
These are good people who lived and taught their kids with a perspective on life – work hard and stay out of trouble to earn a middle class life – that is now totally wrong. They’re essentially unemployable here but sure aren’t going to leave friends and family for a job at a Panera in Arizona. I suppose that’s the nature of technology and change, but it’s pretty brutal in this neighborhood.
And Matthew Yglesias suggests that’s the trouble with change:
This is the central problem with dynamic, growth-oriented market economies. It’s really not just something that is “now totally wrong,” though the recession is making it a particularly intense problem in Michigan. My mother went to college, worked for years as a graphic designer, and attained middle age in possession of a valuable set of skills related to a period in which “cut and paste” was not a metaphor. Then, quite suddenly, the economic value of those skills was wiped out and her labor market possibilities took a huge negative hit through no fault of her own notwithstanding the fact that she “did everything right.”
It’s clear if you look at the past three hundred years of human history that allowing this process of change to move forward leads to huge increases in average living standards. But the notion that it makes everyone better off or that market outcomes are “fair” is a lie.
And what do you do about lies?
Well, sometimes you have a revolution. But that’s for Egyptians, not us. Yes, we have Facebook too – not that it matters. We can turn everything into trivial grumpiness.