Thursday, 30 January 2014

unpaid internships and my life, an update

About a year and a half ago now, I wrote a cheerfully optimistic post about unpaid work and my future. What I seemed to be getting at in that entry was that proper volunteering (ie, you do it voluntarily, no set hours, not replacing a paid person) is a good thing yet I seem to gloss over the exploitation of unpaid workpeople (I won't call them volunteers) that is rampant in this country. I tried to ignore it at the time, but it is a real problem. I too applied for unpaid internships and went to interviews for them, but now I've grown up a bit, the thought of working for the entitled Baby Boomer generation for free just makes me feel a bit sick.

Let's not kid ourselves. The reason why unpaid internships are so proliferate is that in today's world of automation and efficiency, there simply are not enough jobs to go around. Having a few months of unpaid experience under your belt makes it easier for firms to discriminate between equally qualified individuals to fill a limited number of jobs. So that's what makes Brendan O'Neill's article "Why Interns Don't Deserve Pay" all the more ridiculous; Resilient working-class kids have for years topped up their internships with Saturday jobs or evening work, while kipping on a friend’s couch to cut outgoings he writes. Okay so let's imagine for a second that we all have friends with sofas in London we can stay on (not likely, most landlords seem to have converted living rooms into an extra bedroom but I said just imagine it) and we've all managed to find bar jobs that fit perfectly with unpaid internships. All of us, every single graduate. So then what? We're in exactly the same position as we were before, equally qualified graduates which are impossible to discriminate from. Maybe then young people will do more unpaid work; maybe more senior levels in companies will become unpaid. First we had academic inflation, now we have "experience inflation". It's not sustainable and it's frankly ridiculous.

So what am I doing now? I quit my job with an MEP and moved to London without a job after saving a fuck load of money to try and fulfil the romantic dream of "making it" in the city. I could have done an unpaid internship to tart up my CV I suppose, but I think I would have died inside a bit. To end on a slightly sombre note, I have ended up working in a pub despite being here for 6 months. I have been to interviews for jobs which pay what I would consider fair remuneration, but to no avail - however I shall see what the future holds. Perhaps I should add that I no longer care about having a degree-relevant career and I certainly don't want to work for an MP anymore - yuck!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

my letter to rushanara ali MP

I decided to write to my MP (first time I have ever done so) about something currently on my mind and I'd like to share it here.

Hi Rushanara Ali,

I'm writing to enquire about what you or any of your colleagues are doing about the current housing crisis.

Just to give you some background as to my own situation; I live in a 2-bed former council mould encrusted flat with dodgy plumbing, which I share with my boyfriend, another couple and a single man (the living room was converted into a third bedroom). If you think that sounds awfully crowded, you'd be right. For the privilege of this, each room is rented out at in between £600-£650 a month. My case is not unique, but rather fairly typical of young people living in London. Now, if you are a heartless neo-liberal you will consider our landlord/estate agent wonderfully enterprising, but if you are more like the rest of the population you will consider them both parasitic, intercepting an existing resource and extracting rents from it in a way that they would not have been able to do so were the market not distorted from right-to-buy, buy-to-let loans, planning permission & all-round lax laws on property maintenance. All of which have resulted in a widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Since you are an adult and a politician with a proper job, I'm going to presume you know your stuff when it comes to the housing market and don't want to patronise you by explaining how all of those have created a choke-hold on not just the poor, but many of the middle class and certainly most young people today ("generation rent") and caused our limited housing stock to be concentrated in the hands of a few, especially wealthy foreigners.

You may point to the fact it is more expensive to live in London because of all the wonderful tourist attractions, public services, and be tempted to suggest that I just move out if I don't like giving so much to the landlords. If that is the case I would like to remind you that it is not the landlord who builds museums, hospitals, schools etc which add the value to his property, but the taxpayer; as Adam Smith said "The landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed".

So how do you/the Labour party plan to fix this mess?

Yours sincerely,

Emma Davids, unemployed 25 year old

Of course, I don't really expect the Labour Party to fix the mess, in my opinion they are wholly unelectable. I am more interested in opening up a dialogue to see how she defends such policies which have exacerbated the housing crisis.

Monday, 6 January 2014

i hate newspapers but i will read them anyway

What's up with journalism these days? In my unemployment, I read a wide variety of articles from newspapers (both left and right) and I barely feel more productive than if I'd wasted the whole morning playing video games or watching Jeremy Kyle. Why is this?

One factor could be that newspapers all seem to cover the same non-stories. Like when Jamie Oliver insulted the priorities of poor people, who really cares what a TV chef with no political sway thinks? Do we really need several articles all manufacturing some outrage (whilst giving him some nice free exposure)? Is it because there's a lot of peer pressure in newspaper circles and journalists are afraid people will think they didn't get the memo if they don't all do the same story to death?

And what about those "Click-baiting" articles that used to be confined to the likes of The Daily Mail that are now commonplace in The Telegraph, The Guardian etc with drivel we love to hate? Rich/posh people complaining that they are denigrated in society, articles implying that vicious murderers aren't completely to blame for what they have done... I could go on but I think my brain will explode if I do. Why are journalists so controversial and just plain mean; I mean, they can't actually believe it...right? My own opinion is it is because they know their own career will soon be over, what with everyone and their dog writing a blog, many of which are higher quality and vastly more interesting than any of the journalists that write for the Grauniad could ever hope to achieve. They aren't worried about long-term credibility because they know there isn't going to be a long-term, best to get the clicks in now.

Perhaps one of the reasons these news outlets still survive is because of the discussion they produce, with the most insight coming from the comments section of an article. Given my short attention span I often read the first paragraph and skip straight to reading the discussion, which I know has the possibility to teach me a lot more than what comes out of the filtered, narrow middle-class pool of journos we're expected to listen to. Commenters actually respond to each other and justify their opinions too (sometimes), they don't just write an article then run off into the internet wilderness (like journalists do).

So there we have it, a bored rant about how I hate the newspapers of today but will continue to read them. I'd like to close with some websites I like which offer a range of viewpoints and I'd consider to be quite well written.

RT News
Stumbling and Mumbling
Left Foot Forward
Adam Smith Institute
New Economics Foundation

consumers, irrationality, high salaries, over confidence

In general, we often expect consumers to be rational, especially if they are of average intelligence and not currently suffering any delusions. For example, if we cut the price of something, we might expect that consumers are more likely to buy it. However, this is not always the case; diamonds, say, are desired by people because they are so eye-wateringly expensive rather than any actual use (other than being used in drills and whatnot, and Marilyn Monroe didn't look like the sort of gal who engaged in DIY), as a sort of status symbol. This is a very long and detailed article which explains the lengthy history of diamond price fixing and why they are essentially worthless, but I digress....

Another example of consumer irrationality is gift vouchers, which are just like cash, but much less useful. One case of irrational consumer behaviour I find particularly baffling is the purchase of CDs/books/DVDs of bands like One Direction/tv personalities like Kerry Katona and Katie Hopkins**, people with no apparent skills and are certainly not unique, yet have managed to make money due to freak occurrences in the market.

So if people are not always rational with their money, can we expect businesses (which are still run by humans at the moment) to make irrational decisions every now and then too? We might call into question super high CEO pay, which we have formerly been told is necessary to attract the best talent. It may be patronising for a jobless 25 year old to imply that HR departments with 20 odd years experience or whatever are subject to cognitive biases when it comes to financial remuneration, but the New Economics Foundation offers some convincing data which show us that the global market place for executives does not exist. The article also argues that CEOs are not uniquely talented as we are often led to believe. How or why do people rise to the top then? Of course there is some ability, but grounded in my own experience of the job market, there is a lot to be said about overconfidence. Have you ever walked away from screwing up a job interview from being so nervous even though you were perfectly qualified (if not overqualified) for the job?

Confidence is highly prized these days, but are the people who can shout the loudest always right? In his New Yorker article, "The Talent Myth" Malcolm Gladwell blames this misplaced confidence-in-confidence on the demise of the now defunct energy company Enron, where employees were promoted/given enormous bonuses/laid off according to performance reviews, resulting in inexperienced workers rising to the top in positions they were not ready for. This, Gladwell says, was due to their "narcissistic personality types" which make them more likely to take more credit for achievements and quickly disassociate themselves with any blame for failure. Similarly in this heartfelt TED talk, Susan Cain argues that the overconfident are more likely to take risks to the detriment of everyone else.

There are lessons to take from this, Enron isn't the first business to fail and won't be the last. So do businesses/banks/whatever hire the wrong people and pay them too much just because they're a bit stupid? Well, these individuals who reach the top are more than likely still highly qualified and hard-working, but we must stop thinking they have magical abilities just because they say they do whilst overlooking everyone else.

**In this instance I am defining rational behaviour as something that enhances our utility. I'm sure some 13 year olds would be willing to challenge me on One Direction, but at least there is widespread agreement that Katie Hopkins is somewhat of a waste of space.