Friday, January 9, 2009

Here comes the Prussian Officer Corps

Following World War I, among other challenges Weimar Germany faced was a large cohort of disciplined, well-trained aristocrats mired in a military tradition, left defeated, disillusioned and unemployed following the war. They were, to put it mildly, a source of social instability, and the Junkers famously thought they could use an Austrian corporal to manage the country, with catastrophic consequences not just for Germany.

We are about to see a similar deluge of talent coming off Wall Street. Ivy League graduates with inflated expectations, impossible salary requirements, and utterly no skills useful in the brave new world following the collapse of the financial services sector. These people are, not to put too fine a point on it, a potential cadre of explosive discontent.

In the United States, structural unemployment has generally afflicted those without voice, less well educated workforces dispersed far from media centers and major metropolitan areas. The Good and the Great could smugly counsel retooling and retraining, oblivious to what is involved for a 45-year-old head of a household trying to reorient his job skill set to an entry level position for which he or she is likely to be a less preferred candidate. This time, the crowd getting the sack will be more vociferous, more visible, and (incidentally) more hated. Nobody hated a laid off autoworker the way people are going to hate former Masters of the Universe held responsible for destroying the American Way of Life.