MARIA GIL ULLDEMOLINS is a smart, confident young woman. She has one degree from Britain and is about to conclude another in her native Spain. And she feels that she has no future.
Ms Ulldemolins belongs to a generation of young Spaniards who feel that the implicit contract they accepted with their country—work hard, and you can have a better life than your parents—has been broken. Before the financial crisis Spanish unemployment, a perennial problem, was pushed down by credit-fuelled growth and a prolonged construction boom: in 2007 it was just 8%. Today it is 21.2%, and among the young a staggering 46.2%. “I trained for a world that doesn’t exist,” says Ms Ulldemolins.
The subjectivity is packed into that first paragraph like a fat person in skinny jeans. She’s “smart, confident” and “she feels that she has no future”.
The article starts with this paragraph for no other reason than to bias the reader We are supposed to feel like Ms. Ulldemolins is precisely the kind of European who should encounter little resistance on her way to the elites of European society. She’s well-traveled and well-pedigreed, on her way to completing two degrees. She has two degrees from two schools in two countries. Semiotically, that decodes as “She’s was born into the upper class.” The article is not about youth unemployment. It’s about the unemployability of the children on the upper classes of European society.
Feeling sympathetic yet?
What if her name was Aisha Hussein? Then undoubtedly, the European reader would find her less entitled to enter the implied contract that Ms. Ulldemolins has entered. Then Aisha codes as a social climber, an immigrant taking jobs away from the likes of Ms. Ulldemolins. Reading about Aisha, you’d be less sympathetic to the Euro-doom narrative the article is pushing.
Let’s get to the facts. The only fact present in that introduction is that her two degrees are worthless. I mean that quite literally, the market has chosen to place no value on someone with those two degrees. And how do I know this? Because the article doesn’t tell us what degrees she has.
How much do you want to bet that her two degrees aren’t in Materials Science and Genetic Engineering? By not telling us what she studied, the article inoculates itself (and her) against the completely understandable response of “Maybe she should have studied something marketable.” Tell me, after reading the article, do you know what job was Ms. Ulldemolins looking for? The Economist is read by influential people throughout industry, maybe if they gave us more information, a reader would offer to hire her. But just as with her degree, you don’t know, because they don’t tell you. But I’ll tell you: finance, NGO, or government. “I trained for a world that doesn’t exist.” You got that right. But thanks anyway for confirming that you didn’t study science.
There is something decidedly broken about a culture that is appalled by 40% youth unemployment, but wasn’t appalled by 20% youth unemployment in 2005 at the height of the world’s collective financial drinking binge, about a culture that believes that two degrees, regardless of what they are, are enough to grant entry into the elites of society, regardless of the job. Where did they think the money was coming from? At least in the U.S., a massive entertainment industry affords humanities majors with ample job opportunities crafting detergent pitches and scripting vampire romances. But second-tier Europe?
Repeat after me, Ms. Ulldemolins, “Bienvenido a McDonald’s. Le puedo tomar su orden?”
Update: I did some investigating. The Economist has really outdone itself. The woman quoted at the start of the article, Maria Gil Ulldemolins? The one we are supposed to feel sorry for? Yeah, she’s an art student. With a blog.
Shame on you, Economist.