Look back at the decade: Youth unrest

What explains the restlessness that marked the second decade of the new Millenium.

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 27 December 2019

The world was never so young, and also restless. More than 41 per cent of global population is below the age of 24 years.

It is a generation that has grown up in the post-1990s tumultuous phase. They have grown up with one model of economic growth — the globalised free market. They are better off than their predecessors, economically and politically.

But from Hong Kong to Chile to Lebanon to Barcelona to India, from rising food inflation to train tickets to curbing of freedom to climate change, from rich to poor, protests sweeping across the world have one common factor: The youth leading the charge. This decade the young world became angrier.

here's our take from May 2018:

Scarred generation 

The blight on the promise of youth today is probably far more pernicious. To get a sense of the scale of the betrayal, chew on this disturbing statistics: According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Economic Survey of India, over 30 per cent of India’s youth (about 120 million) is neither employed nor in school or in any kind of apprenticeship.

Add to this a crumbling welfare state, rising inequality, a rapidly changing economy that constantly needs new skills, a consumer culture that feeds on ever-new material fantasies, a never-ceasing carousal of violence, and, not to mention, a traditional society struggling with what novelist VS Naipaul described as a million mutinies, and you have a potential tinderbox. 

Well, blame it on corrupt and myopic politics, an outdated and financially strained education system, an economic system skewed in favour of the rich, and, arguably, disruptive technologies — the usual suspects. But there is a fifth factor that’s making life even more difficult and precarious for this century’s young.

Demographers call it the “youth bulge”, a phrase first coined by the German social scientist Gunnar Heinsohn in the 1990s to describe a phase in a country’s demographic transition when even as fewer kids die at birth, women continue to be as fertile as before. Over the next two to three decades, this translates into a youth bulge in the population curve. 

India is not the sole witness to this phenomenon. In fact, the world as a whole has never been younger. According to the Population Action International, a Washington-based private advocacy group, at least 62 countries, mostly from West Asia, South Asia and Africa, have a “very young” populace, which means every two out of three people are under the age of thirty.

As Africa’s population mushrooms, it is set to become the youngest continent in another 30 years. Many social scientists, economists and politicians theorise the youth bulge as a double-edged sword. Harness its potential, and you enjoy higher growth and peace—a double dividend. Squander it, and you incur diminishing growth and social strife — a double jeopardy. 

The Great Recession that gripped the world in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis shows no signs of letting up. If anything, automation is making it worse. But what’s clear is that young are bearing the brunt of it. About 74 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24 were unemployed in 2013. Although that figure has come down by 3 million since then, it is still about 35 per cent of the total unemployed. 

As prolonged joblessness renders the young cynical and angry, the International Labour Organization has warned of a “scarred generation” that may become easy fodder for fascist, religious or political groups like the ISIS in West Asia, the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the Bajrang Dal in India. Or it may take to a life of crime, like leaking question papers, peddling narcotics, rioting, stealing credit cards, or joining the ranks of the lynch mobs. 

Extracting capital out of youth is part of the neoliberal project that views each individual decision or choice as a rational calculus of costs and benefits. As American political theorist Wendy Brown argues, “The rationally calculating individual bears full responsibility for the consequences of his or her action no matter how severe the constraints on this action, for example, lack of skills, education and childcare in a period of high unemployment and limited welfare benefits.” 

The trouble is that with the neoliberal experiment is on the brink, its Frankensteins now have to deal with the fury and frustration of millions of young men and women left to their own devices (including, ironically, the smartphone, the ultimate icon of liberalisation). 

It hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice, least of all politicians, that the kettled youth, to borrow the title of a book on violence among British youth, is the future currency of power. The rise of Trump, Modi, and Erdogan, the Brexit campaign and growing traction of right-wing politics in Europe are all portents of what the future game of thrones might look like. Militant outfits like ISIS and spiritual ones like Dera Sacha Sauda too have milked this bottled-up anguish. 

Perhaps it is high time the world junked the discredited neoliberal project and tried something more radical than capitalism in pastel shades. As economist Joseph Stiglitz contends, “If socialism means creating a society where shared concerns are not given short shrift—where people care about other people and the environment in which they live — so be it. Yes, there may have been failed experiments under that rubric a quarter or half-century ago; but today’s experiments bear no resemblance to those of the past.” 

Radical words for a former chief economist of the World Bank, but the question is how many such voices will it take to bell the comatose cat.

Also in the decade


Given the inefficiency of the governance system, India’s democracy is asserting itself. The Supreme Court has stepped in to give Indian citizens the right to lodge complaints against the despoilers of the environment.


The impact of protests by the youth all around the world to demand greater climate action could be clearly seen at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in June held in Bonn, Germany. With many young people in attendance, Patricia Espinosa, the United Nations Climate Change executive secretary, praised the call to action by saying it’s an “unmistakable message”. She promised that their voices will be heard in the UNFCCC process.

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