17 June 2013

Prestige economy

An incredible interview with Sarah Kendzior in which she lays out a critique of what she calls “the Prestige Economy”.

It's worth it to start with her series of tweets which inspired the interview.

Thomas Friedman writes on the internship scam. He benefits from the scam, so he doesn’t call it a scam.

Here is how the internship scam works. It’s not about a “skills” gap. It’s about a morality gap.
  1. Make higher education worthless by redefining “skill” as a specific corporate contribution. Tell young people they have no skills.
  2. With “skill” irrelevant, require experience. Make internship sole path to experience. Make internships unpaid, locking out all but rich.
  3. End on the job training for entry level jobs. Educated told skills are irrelevant. Uneducated told they have no way to obtain skills.
  4. As wealthy progress on professional career path, middle and lower class youth take service jobs to pay off massive educational debt.
  5. Make these part-time jobs not “count” on resume. Hire on prestige, not skill or education. Punish those who need to work to survive.
  6. Punish young people who never found any kind of work the hardest. Make them untouchables — unhireable.
  7. Tell wealthy people they are “privileged” to be working 40 hrs/week for free. Don’t tell them what kind of “privileged” it is.
  8. Make status quo commentary written by unpaid interns or people hiring unpaid interns. They will tell you it’s your fault.
  9. Young people, it is not your fault. Speak out. Fight back. Bankrupt the prestige economy.

In the interview, she further breaks down how it works.

In one generation, working for free for people who can pay you went from something laughable, to something wealthy people were doing in a few fields, to something everyone was recommended to do, to something almost everyone has to do. Entry-level jobs were replaced with unpaid internships. That same monopoly on opportunity reshaped lower-skill labor. Jobs that once offered on-site training now require college degrees. In response, universities ramp up tuition, knowing that students have little choice but to pay to compete. Instead of options, there is one path to professional success — one exorbitantly expensive path.

The values of the wealthy elite became the rules that everyone had to live by.

At the same time, the rising cost of living made it “normal” to pay a lot of money for basic things. Ordinary life has been redefined as a luxury good. Health care and home ownership are unaffordable for most young people. This makes them feel desperate, particularly when they begin adult life saddled with stratospheric debt. They feel they have no options but to play along, even if that means being party to their own exploitation.

What they have discovered is that even playing by the rules will destroy you in a prestige economy. Institutional affiliation is promoted as a way to advance professionally by building personal prestige, which is why people are paying to intern at prestigious companies or going into debt for prestigious schools. But these are hollow victories, designed to suck you dry and leave you even more desperate. Prestige decreed by institution means nothing when institutions are rotting.

This is the machinery of neo-feudalism. Read the whole thing.

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