(Please read the article below and see if you agree with my remarks.)
Is that where we are headed? Is that what we want? Or do we matter any more?
For thirty years now, the middle class has been diminishing in its proportion of the population.
It’s not the inevitable result of globalization or automation or any other outside force. The destruction of the middle class is a policy decision involving tax rates and governmental allocation of resources. It was made deliberately and with intent. The philosophy dictating these policies is called Neo-Liberalism.
But there are other philosophies, some emphasize the importance of people over economic elites and downward wage pressure. Policies can be changed and there is time but not much.
Will there be action? I’m watching.
Daily Kos: Red Lobster Blues
This excellent article on “the eroding Middle Class” by Nelson Schwartz featured in the business pages of the New York Times yesterday.
Schwartz wasted no time painting a bleak picture. After describing middle-class department stores and restaurants closing up and down the East Coast only to be replaced by high-end clothiers and upscale eateries, he delivered this hard-hitting fact about our recent ‘economic recovery’: “about 90 percent of the overall increase in inflation-adjusted consumption between 2009 and 2012 was generated by the top 20 percent of households in terms of income.”
Whew. You read that right. Ninety percent of the growth from just the richest 20 percent of households. (What on earth could that statistic mean for the rest of us?)
Schwartz’s article is based on an equally excellent paper by Barry Cynamon and Steven Fazzari entitled “Inequality, the Great Recession and Slow Recovery” which is very much worth your attention, as well.
Thing is, of course, as Cynamon and Fazzari’s research points out, the middle class has been eroding for years…since the mid-1980’s in fact…
From around the web.
From the web site, The Feral Librarian.
So what I really want to talk about is my belief that Neoliberalism is toxic for higher education, but research libraries can & should be sites of resistance.
To do that, it would probably be good to define neoliberalism. What is neoliberalism?
There are plenty of definitions – but I like this one from Daniel Saunders, who defines neoliberalism as “a varied collection of ideas, practices, policies and discursive representations … united by three broad beliefs: the benevolence of the free market, minimal state intervention and regulation of the economy, and the individual as a rational economic actor.”
Neoliberal thinking emphasizes individual competition, and places primary value on “employability” and therefore on an individual’s accumulation of human capital and marketable skills.
A key feature of neoliberalism is the extension of market logic into previously non-economic realms – in particular into key social, political and cultural institutions.
We can see this when political candidates promote their experience running a successful business as a reason to vote for them, and in the way market language and metaphors have seeped into so many social and cultural realms.
For example, Neoliberalism is what leads us to talk about things like “the knowledge economy”, where we start to think of knowledge not as a process but as a kind of capital that an individual can acquire so that she then can sell that value to the market.
This is where I pause to ask if you have heard the joke about the Marxist and the Neoliberal? The Marxist laments that all a worker has to sell is his labor power. The Neoliberal offers courses on marketing your labor power.
So OK, Neoliberalism is a thing, a pervasive thing, and it includes the extension of market language, metaphors, and logic into non-economic realms – of special concern to us is the extension of neoliberal market frameworks into higher education and into libraries.
And it is really important to remember that one of the really insidious things about ideologies as pervasive as neoliberalism is that we barely notice them – they become taken for granted the way a fish doesn’t know it is in water, or the way many of us Dukies assume an obsession with college basketball is normal.
Obviously, I think this is a bad thing – not the obsession w/ college basketball, of course — but the neoliberal encroachment on education.
I am one of those hopeless idealists who still believes that education is – or should be – a social and public good rather than a private one, and that the goal of higher education should be to promote a healthy democracy and an informed citizenry. And I believe libraries play a critical role in contributing to that public good of an informed citizenry.
So the fact that the neoliberal turn in education over the last several decades has led to a de-emphasis on education as a public good and an emphasis on education as a private good, to be acquired by individuals to further their own goals is of particular concern to me.
In the neoliberal university, students are individual customers, looking to acquire marketable skills. Universities (and teachers and libraries) are evaluated on clearly defined outcomes, and on how efficiently they achieve those outcomes. Sound familiar?
We can find evidence of this neoliberal approach in plenty of recent trends in higher education – which are almost shocking in how blatantly they rely on a market model of education. The penetration of neoliberal thinking in higher education is so pervasive that it is no longer just market metaphors – colleges recruit students with blatant appeals to their economic self-interest and the mainstream argument for a strong education system is that it is an economic imperative – that we, as a nation, must invest in education in order to compete as a nation in the global economy.
As an example – This very recent article on fastcompany.com – Does Ikea hold the secret to the future of college? – reads almost like a parody of an unabashed, uncritical, unselfconscious neoliberal approach to higher education.
In discussing his enthusiasm for bringing his special brand of for-profit eduction to Africa, one educational entrepreneur explains, “There are a lot of young people in Africa who could be Steve Jobs”. It is no mistake that the justification for bringing “higher education” to Africa rests on the image of one of the richest & whitest men in America — someone who also happens to be a college drop-out, by the way.