There’s a film starring Matt Damon called Elysium from 2013 in which the wealthy live on a man-made space station in luxury, while the rest of the population live on a ruined Earth. With the latest announcement about a new huge oilfield being opened in the North Sea, the obscene desire for global elites to put profit before planet is clear for all to see.
As we hurtle towards this scenario, many have realised that there is no longer any link between meaningful work, a decent salary, and a fulfilling life.
James, a 31-year-old in Glasgow, had always worked hard, from striving for a first at university to working until 8pm or 9pm at the office in the civil service in the hopes of getting noticed.
But during lockdown in 2020, James had an epiphany about what he valued in life when reading the book Bullshit Jobs by the anthropologist David Graeber. “He talks a lot about how jobs that provide social utility are generally pay-poor while the inverse are paid more,” James says.
James felt he was working doggedly – but not necessarily either generating public good or building a stable financial life. “It felt futile … You can work really hard and you’re still not going to get ahead,” he says.
“Salaries and housing costs are so mismatched at this point that you would really need to jump ahead in your career to be able to buy in parts of the country. Not that [owning property] is the be-all and end-all, but it’s kind of a foundation to having financial stability.”
He now focuses on his life, putting his phone on aeroplane mode while doing activities such as hiking, reading and watching films. “I still value work, I’m very committed to my position. But I’ve just realised that this myth a lot of millennials were told – graft, graft, graft and you’ll always get what you want – isn’t necessarily true,” James says. “It’s a reprioritisation.”
Social mobility in the UK is at its worst in more than 50 years, a recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found, with children from poor households finding it harder than 40 years ago to move into higher income brackets. The IFS said gifts and inheritances from older generations were becoming more important to household incomes.