"The lower strata of the middle class" says Rick "sink gradually into the proletariat." Actually, that's not Rick. It's some 19th century beardy guy. But Rick says much the same when he says that "being middle-class just ain’t what it used to be." He's right. As I've said myself, we are seeing the degradation of a lot of hitherto middle class jobs.
This poses the question: what sort of career advice should we give young people? If getting a degree and a "posh job" is no guarantee of decent money or satisfying work, the standard advice must change. But to what? Here's my theory: young people should try to make as much money as they can as soon as they can - which will often mean going into banking.
I say this for four reasons:
- If you can't be sure of getting a job in which you'll be happy, at least go for the money.
- Job satisfaction doesn't increase with age. Yes, if you're lucky you'll be doing more enjoyable work than you did as a graduate trainee and you should eventually find a match between your interests and your work. But on the other hand, as you get older you'll become more aware that time is running out and so the opportunity cost of working will rise. If you make money early on, you'll at least have the option of retiring or downshifting.
- It's usually easier to move from a well-paid job to a less well-paid one than vice versa. Leaving Goldman Sachs to work for charity or in teaching is perfectly feasible. Moving in the opposite direction is far harder.
- We simply cannot predict how sociotechnical change will affect careers over one's working lifetime. It's quite possible that decent jobs will be lost to offshoring, nearshoring or robotization. It's a perfectly reasonable response to uncertainty to become short-termist, to go for the immediate reward.
Now, there are of course counter-arguments to this. Going into banking isn't very enjoyable work and it might well leave you burnt out and exhausted after a few years. And there's a danger that you'll acquire expensive tastes, wives and children and so be trapped into the job. For many people, though, I think my advice is sound.
But here's the problem. What's rational for an individual is not necessarily socially optimal. Encouraging people into finance means diverting our most talented people into "socially useless" activities and away from more useful work. Insofar as other "middle class" jobs become insecure, poorly-paid drudge work, however, this problem will merely intensify.