Generation Why? (Part 3)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this story, I talk about my journey from post-secondary education to getting started with trying to make a career. This is Part 3.

As I talked about earlier this week, I am a huge believer in the concept of basic income. This is the idea that everybody in a given political system (city, county, province, country, etc.) would get a government cheque with an amount that would keep the poorest among us above the poverty line.

If you’re asking how a government could possibly afford this, it wouldn’t happen all at once. The program would obviously be a little bit more complicated than just giving everybody free money. Personal taxes would probably go up a little bit if you make more than the basic income amount. Businesses would have the opportunity to restructure their salaries so their employees would make about the same amount of money overall as they did before, and the corporate tax rate would also be raised since these businesses would now have some former salary that is no longer going to employees. Parents with children under 18 would receive additional benefits to keep their families above the poverty line, so that we could get a real chance at making sure no crimes are committed simply because somebody is poor. The economic stimulation from this system would undoubtedly be unbelievable, as suddenly the resources needed to run homeless shelters, hospitals, police forces, payday loan centres, etc., would suddenly drop precipitously.

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about the fact that automation in first world countries and factories around the world mean that human workers will come to be relied upon less and less. However, profits from companies that turn to automation won’t slow down, if anything they will become more efficient and make even more money. All of this could mean that we will have millions of people with no work to do, and corporations making incredible amounts of money (something that you will note is already happening in the US, and almost certainly in other places). Executives are making hundreds or thousands of times as much as their lowest employees, at a pace that is completely unsustainable in the long term. Increasing corporate tax rates for corporations that are innovative and forward-thinking enough to stay ahead of the curve on automation will still make more money, but they will pay a higher percentage of tax when their revenue gets into the hundreds of billions of dollars. This tax revenue can then be redistributed to former workers and those unable or unwilling to work to keep them from burdening society, but also keep them injecting money back into the economy.

Humans need not apply.

At a certain point in the future, not everybody will have to work. The concept of the 40-hour work week is something that was made up by Henry Ford (it actually used to be higher than 40 hours on assembly lines, before child labour laws were a thing) when he decided to give people more time off work without a cut in pay so that people would be able to go out and actually have time to spend the money they were earning. If we took this even further, some people could go down to something like 15-25 hours a week, and still earn enough money during that time to make a comfortable living. Money itself is a human construct, and it’s becoming an increasingly virtual one. Estimates put the amount of cash in circulation at only about 10% of the world’s wealth. Saying that there isn’t enough money to give everybody enough to avoid malnutrition or starvation or disease or homelessness just isn’t realistic. In North America we throw away about half of the food that is produced because it goes bad or people will not eat it or it can’t be sold. Grocery stores do this, throwing away food after rendering it inedible while the homeless peddle for change.

What are we doing to our brothers and sisters?

Now, back to my generation. I talked yesterday for a bit about the concept of giving new graduates a stipend for (about) 6 months of salary to get them started on the right foot. If new post-secondary graduates didn’t have to worry about money fresh out of school, don’t you think there is SO much they could accomplish. If I had had 6 months paid for me out of school with the freedom to job hunt without fear of not getting a return on investment (over $60000 for 5 years of school), there would have been much less pressure to find a job fast, and I could think about what I really wanted to do with my life, and pursue that passion.

At this point, all things considered, my pre-career has been pretty great. I have been working a lot of fairly short, term contracts, with the theory being that I’ll eventually work my way into something permanent where I actually have a smidge of job security. University, though I enjoyed it greatly, did very little to prepare me for the concept of going out into the world and making myself known. I gained a modicum of notoriety at my school in my department, but that would only be useful if I had wanted to continue down the academic path. My options were severely limited after that point, and I had effectively no contacts in industries, because I was doing fundamental research with basically no real-world usefulness just yet (which I was fine with, but it didn’t help me out in any way career-wise).

It would be really great if the public service remembered the humble beginnings from whence it came. I have a lot to say about the nature of the government hiring process and the stress it puts on new hires trying to figure their lives out, but I think I’m going to save that for another time. All I have to say is that when you prioritize cheap labour with the bare minimum qualifications, you get what you pay for. Outsourcing your workforce to temp agencies might save you money in the short term, but when young people see how much easier life is in the private sector, you’re going to have a lot of difficulty attracting fresh faces who’ve already seen the brighter light.

University taught me a lot, but one thing it failed to prepare me for was the size you feel when you doff the ivory towers of your post-secondary institution and proceed on your own into the world. I know I have a lot of offer the world, and I’m going to get there one way or another. I’ll just take it 6 months at a time for now.

This concludes my thought-splosion on the state of affairs for students after university entering the workforce. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 from earlier this week as well.

Generation Why? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this story, I give a little bit of history of how I got to where I am today with a contracted job in the public service, knowing what I want out of university, and what I learned about finding an adult job.

Yesterday, I spent some time reflecting on how I got to where I am in my adult life. I went through some of the difficult choices I had to make, and the hardships associated with leaving university not really knowing where I was going to end up. My intent today is not to place blame on the education system for that indecision, but rather to suggest ways to improve the transition from adolescence to adulthood for people entering the workforce who might not have had the opportunity to find work that they truly love in university.

It’s true that most colleges and universities offer work-training programs or coops, but a student getting placed somewhere they can see themselves spending the rest of their lives is understandably pretty rare. It’s very hard to tell what’s going to happen 2-3 years in the future, let alone trying to decide how to spend 30 years of your working life while simultaneously developing friendships, new skills, and a social identity not shaped by your parents. Add that to the fact that cheap transportation and changing attitudes about university mean that more and more teens are moving out of their homes, or out of their cities, for post-secondary education.

For some social groups, it is assumed that if you are raising a family, you will give your child room and board throughout their education, you will subsidize their education (aided or not by scholarships) or pay for it entirely. In general, you should attempt to do everything in your power to remove as many barriers as possible to your child getting the best education. This is a great tactic, but from a generational perspective, with new families hitting the same uncertainties I described in Part 1, starting a family can seem absolutely daunting from the perspective of needing to save tens of thousands of dollars right from the outset.

I have been living for the last three years with no more than 6 months of certainty about whether I would be hitting the streets looking for a new job. Though I have only spent about 2 months out of the last 2 years unemployed, at no point did I have a job that felt like it was remotely permanent, which is a very disparaging feeling. I know I have skills that I can offer to almost any organization, and getting hired on short term contracts with fairly rigid, fixed end dates isn’t something that any 20-something wants to do. It also means that once out of school, it is difficult or impossible to develop yourself professionally, for a couple of reasons. First off, you can try to sell yourself while you already have a job, but that comes off as not being appreciative of the work you have. You can try to talk about what you do in your spare time, but what business people who would potentially hire you want to know is, “What do you get paid to do?”.

It all feels like a race nobody is winning.

All of the above leads me to the basic fact that time is money. Nobody wants to waste their lives away doing something they don’t care about. As an employer, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify taking a risk in hiring somebody without being able to prove by some measurement that the decision is justified and backed up by some kind of hard evidence. I know a lot of young people who are working away today without a real connection to the work they’re doing, simply because it is a means to a life. And if that is all you want, putting your time in, going home and doing whatever you want, more power to you. But I think that as a society, we can do better.

I’ve talked before about basic income, the idea that each person would be given a basic amount of money each year to keep them above the poverty line, thus enabling people who have a lot of difficulty affording a place to live and food to eat a little bit of help. It would certainly help ease the burden of homeless shelters, soup kitchens, government welfare programs, clinics and health care facilities, and many other institutions. There is a lot of debate about an idea like this, but I given what we know about the experiments where it has been tried, a lot of good can come from it.

On the same vein, another social welfare program that I think would be extremely beneficial would be a program to give university graduates a push out the door financially. There will be some students who will fall out of university directly into a job, and those people will still be in great financial shape, so this will only benefit them a little bit. However, people like me, who are unsure where they want to go, and what they want to do, would benefit HUGELY from 6 months or so of minimum wage salary up front in the form of a stipend. Since most students fresh out of university will be faced with increasing student debt which generally starts requiring payment at the 6 month mark, this small windfall would be a huge help in staying on their feet and entering the adult world in that much better shape.

Burdens on parents and families would be reduced, as new adults would be less inclined to move back in to their parents homes, and parents would have the freedom to move if they chose, rather than holding on to family dwellings in case their children failed to launch or had difficulty finding a job. There are several European countries who don’t pay for university at all, which would also be a huge financial help to students, but I think this kind of monetary reward for finishing school would be extremely beneficial.

This story will continue with Part 3 tomorrow, where I will talk about how rearranging our current post-secondary financial system could have far-reaching implications in everything from family planning, real estate, and even retirement planning. Check out Part 1 from yesterday as well.

10 Things You Should Try Right Now (In 50 Words or Less)

1. Listen to a podcast

Everybody has quiet times during the day when you might listen to music. Do yourself a favour and have a look through the catalogues at There are so many great podcasts to enjoy, and they don’t have to take you away from driving, cooking, or your favourite online activities.

2. Drink a glass of water

Honestly, no beverage holds a candle to simple, clean water. In addition to keeping your joints and blood vessels properly hydrated, drinking water regularly reduces feelings of hunger, goes a long way towards preventing kidney stones, and even though it doesn’t have sugar or caffeine, it tastes amazing!

3. Get and use Twitter

Listen, I know you’ve heard Twitter‘s elevator pitch. But what I’m trying to tell you now is that even if you think you won’t use it, you should make an account and at least see what it’s like. You can follow celebrities, sports icons, news outlets, friends, acquaintances, there is never any shortage of reasons to try it.

4. Go for a walk

Seriously, walks are the easiest physical activity you can do, and they’ve been scientifically proven to increase creativity, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and give you the chance to get some much needed Vitamin D. You’ll thank me.

5. Share something

Humans are very community oriented by nature, something that we tend to forget when we are online a lot of the time. Take some time during your day to share something you’ve enjoyed online. It’s also been shown that giving somebody something makes you feel better than getting something you want from them, or for yourself.

6. Allow people to follow you on Facebook

I don’t think I’ve ever written about something as much as I’ve written about allowing people to follow your public updates on Facebook. Going to this link and letting “Everybody” follow you won’t make anything you do on Facebook more public, it just gives you more social clout. And that’s all anybody wants…

7. Have sex

You seriously want me to explain this one? Sex has been shown to boost your immune system, floods your body with painkilling endorphins, and has been Earth’s most popular leisure activity for billions of years. Go have sex right now and then come back and tell me it wasn’t awesome…I rest my case.

8. Talk to somebody

I spend a lot of my day working at a computer alone, speaking to nobody. Humans are social creatures who were not made to do that, so go and strike up a conversation with that friendly looking fellow/lady you see every day, you probably have something in common and didn’t even realize it.

9. Cry it out

There is very little that can make me feel better when I’m down than having a good cry. Aside from the fact that it’s not seen as the manliest of activities, it’s a great way to let out a lot of stress we all build up in our increasingly complicated lives. You did your best, now go have a cry.

10. Dance

I don’t care if you dance like nobody is watching, or if you are very conservative and shy about it. Dancing is great exercise and it’s so easy to find good music these days, it’s usually only a click or button press away. The best thing you can do on any given day is sing and/or dance!