Law in Contemporary Society
This weekend I found two articles that are relevant to our on and off-line discussions about employment security and fear, and perhaps tangentially related to our discussions about creative and unconventional careers. The first article is here and discusses the plight of the working poor in Europe, focusing specifically on the plight of workers, both young and old, who are living in campgrounds in and around Paris. The thesis of the article is that because of the current economic crisis, more and more people are falling through the safety net in Europe, even in wealthy European countries like France and Germany (not to mention the even-worse situation in Greece and and Spain). Economists predict that the situation is going to get worse as more countries implement "austerity budgets." For me, the most poignant part of the article was the final quotation, from a construction worker, who is one of a group of people living in the forest of a chateau outside Paris. The construction worker says that people abroad have a high opinion of France, but "it’s not like Anglo-Saxon countries....There, you arrive, you know how to do something — you can climb. That’s the American dream. Never anywhere in the world do you hear anyone talking about the French dream....There is no such dream in France.”

That quotation is even sadder, for me, when it is juxtaposed with (somewhat long) article from this month's Esquire. The thesis of this article is that the American economy is currently set up to protect the security of the old and the cost of opportunities for the young. The article trots out some disheartening statistics: In 1984, the average net worth of people 65 and over was just over $120K, while the average net worth of people age 35 and younger was under $12K. In 2009, the average the average net worth of people 65 and over was just over $170K, while the average net worth of people age 35 and younger was under $4K. Even more jarringly, " The federal government spends $480 billion on Medicare and $68 billion on education. Prescription drugs: $62 billion. Head Start: $8 billion." The article also discusses attempt by Republicans to enact voter ID laws (an excellent example of Donald Black's theory that with increasing stratification comes an increasing amount of laws), which would disproportionately disenfranchise younger voters, and the high costs and uncertain benefits of attending college and graduate school. The article paints a very bleak picture of what is to come for our generation.

These articles show that whatever truth there was the concept of an American dream or a European dream has disappeared. What I mean by American dream is self-explanatory. As for European dream, I think certain American liberals have often held up European countries as ideals to which America should aspire across a wide-range of issues: drug policy, health care, education, income equality (and economic policy in general), and social welfare systems. European workers are scared too, they are falling through the safety net, and their governments can't or won't do anything about it. While American intellectuals look to Europe, and European workers look to American, both sides are missing the fact the solution does not seem to lie in either continent.

I think the Esquire article provides some insight as to why CLS students are risk averse and why we are reluctant (or scared) to follow Eben's path. I think that reluctance has two parts: the first part is financial anxiety and the second part is hopelessness. The financial figures in the article speak for themselves. Students have a lot of debt, there is high unemployment and a lack of job security, and social security is going to run out in 2036. All of those factors make it an eminently reasonable decision for someone in the position of a CLS student to take the safe and well-paying job. The article also discusses the fact that our generation does not feel hopeful about the future. I can't speak for everyone, but when I think about the future of our country I mostly feel sad. I didn't drink the Obama Kool-aid to the same degree as some other people, but he did make me feel like progress was possible. Now that it seems like Obamacare is about to be declared unconstitutional, I wonder who could actually make a big change in our country if Obama can't even do it.

What I want to suggest (and what I think Eben is trying to get us to see) is that both our financial anxiety and hopelessness actually make it equally reasonable for us to NOT follow conventional paths. As for the financial side, it's clear that the legal job market is not as secure as it used to be, and this, coupled with high unemployment, and an overall lack of job security, might actually mean that it is more important for us than it was before to be entrepreneurial and to work for ourselves. As for the hopelessness side, maybe the forces that seem arrayed against progress should motivate us to do more, rather than to do less. There is need and there is opportunity, so someone needs to step up. I haven't managed to convince myself to do both of these things yet, but I do think they are a better response (and no less logical) than the responses I described above.

-- KatherineMackey - 04 Apr 2012


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r3 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:05:21 - IanSullivan
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