According to a bunch of CEOs and business owners, millennials have entered a new, exciting phase of capitalism. Gone are the days of scraping by on welfare and working part time on less than the award to make ends meet: we’ve entered an era when the world is “literally” at our fingertips and everyone with a smartphone is a budding entrepreneur.
In an interview with the Age, the chief executive of Girl Geek Academy declared there’s an “exciting new world of work” to jump into. “Millennials have grown up knowing that stability comes from being able to make their own jobs, rather than relying on someone else to give it to them”, she said.
In the same article, Ken Phillips, executive director of Independent Contractors of Australia, described the new world as “individuals making individual choices about how they want to earn their income, how they control their working lives”. Entrepreneurism is “a major social movement”, he said.
Out are “linear career paths”, said “innovation expert” Peter Bradd. In is short term project-based work and “portfolio careers”.
“There’s all these platforms out there that allow you to make money from your hobby”, he said. “It’s never been easier to make a change or to live the life you want to live, and you don’t even need to know where you’re going to get started.”
All of this is a ridiculous lie. It’s repeated by the elite to paper over the bleak reality of everyday life for most people. Rather than the future holding the promise of a capitalist economy that works for all of us, the opposite is true.
A report by the Foundation for Young Australians in 2015 found that, on average, the gap between leaving full time education and finding full time work is nearly five years. Just 20 years ago, the gap was about one year. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of US Federal Reserve statistics, the number of US residents under 30 who own a business has fallen by 65 percent since the 1980s.
Wealth is rapidly centralising in the hands of a few people, and the vast majority of us see far less of it. Two-thirds of Australian students live below the poverty line, barely getting by on Centrelink payments that are under constant attack from the government. Politicians and vice-chancellors are on a mission to drive up university fees and make us pay off HECS debt earlier, ensuring that upon graduating we are pushed into working any job we can find to make ends meet.
The idea that young people are being transformed into a new class of CEOs is laughable when you consider what it takes to pay for rent and food. Young people in Australia face some of the most insecure and exploitative working conditions of any group. We are sold the myth of “flexibility” – perfect working hours that will fit around our studies and hobbies.
In reality, flexibility means being laid off for days or weeks at a time, having no guarantee of an income. It means constantly worrying that you won’t get enough shifts next week to afford your rent, biting your nails at the prospect of asking for loans.
Rather than being a comfortable add-on to entrepreneurship or another notch for our Linkedin profiles, casual, short term work pushes young people into uncertainty and potential poverty.
So where do the real entrepreneurs (as opposed to the millions of fictional ones) fit into this? The entrepreneurs and business owners who tell us that we’re all destined for a shining future that matches theirs, who tell us to work hard at school and upskill on our iPhones – these are the people who exploit us.
Entrepreneurs with pop-up bars, start-up tech companies or ride-share services are the people who drive down our wages to bolster profits. Entrepreneurs are the ones who push our parents out of work when their bodies tire out, who tell us to take cash in hand and that permanent work is outdated. They will sack us at the drop of a hat if we take too much sick leave or ask for penalty rates.
The real entrepreneurs are the people we are going to have to fight to get anything better out of society for ourselves.