For background: The Eurozone crisis has moved on to the next chapter and we hear a lot of bad news this time from Cyprus. While I empathize with the people of Cyprus, I have little doubt that also theirs is a quite solvable economic problem. And for Europe as a whole perhaps: if you try to exit from or decelerate what is arguably a giant Ponzi pyramid, you are going to feel some serious pressure from those who started it in the first place. What troubles me more is the high unemployment rate in esp. Spain, which is said to exceed 50% among young people including many from the middle class and/or with college educations. This is a scenario that has led to revolutions (and it has been argued that the middle classes who lead revolutions) in the past.

The question: Are there examples from history where such high lasting unemployment among the educated youth has not led to revolution or war, but to some other relieve or solution instead. I am for instance thinking of 19th-century emigration to North America or the fact that some of the main cultural epochs in human history (e.g. during the lifetime of Michelangelo, or the Chinese Hundred Schools of Thought period, or even for members of the past-WW I lost generation such as the young Hemingway writing in Paris) coincided with periods of major economic (then usually war-induced) trouble. What evidence do we have?

Update: I came across another quote here; it also seems relevant to this question:

I look at the most unstable force in China as college students. Ten years ago they had a total of six million people in universities, now there is six-and-a-half million graduating every year [...] They say there is going to be two hundred million college graduates in China over the next twenty years, larger than the entire workforce of the United States, and they are already having trouble getting jobs, and a college graduate average wage in China today is [...] 2,000 RNB, the same as a migrant worker.

  • 1
    You have little doubt that the Cyprus problem is solveable? I'm not sure that anyone else perceives it as solveable. I think all the proposed solutions are just alternatives of who gets hurt.
    – MCW
    Mar 25, 2013 at 12:35
  • 1
    @Mark C. Wallace Sure, somebody will get hurt, but even if they would have to enforce a, say, 6.5% deduction from all saving accounts this would have the same effect on people as an extra tax burden or 6.5% inflation, and the country is tiny compared to embedding economies: people have lived through this sort of thing before. Cyprus may loose its status as a financial site of sorts, but this has also happened to Island, and may not be a bad thing in the long run. But let's see what happens ...
    – Drux
    Mar 25, 2013 at 12:49
  • 4
    I find here unspoken suggestion that there were times when there were masses of unemployed educated young people big enough to at least inspire an uprising... Mar 30, 2013 at 23:29
  • 2
    @Drux - Nothing so advanced. Just a sysadmin (of VAXen, to boot) employed (at least in 1998) by one of MIT's centers. stuff.mit.edu/people/fjk/fjk.html who happens to be a committed Marxist. Too bad he's practicing his Marxist fancies in USA and not Cuba or Venesuela or North Korea, the filthy hypocrit.
    – DVK
    Mar 31, 2013 at 1:53
  • 1
    @DarekWędrychowski +1 good point. I am also referring to the frequent assumption that it is the middle classes who drive lasting revolutions (e.g.the French Revolution). Members of the middle classes usually aspire for their kids to become educated in the professions, etc. I've added a sentence to emphasize the link. Please feel free to suggest further changes.
    – Drux
    Mar 31, 2013 at 12:16

3 Answers 3


Australia 1975-2014 (ongoing). Wendy Lowensteins' Weevils at Work is good on this. The protest movement of the 1970s and 1980s was effectively controlled by the early 1990s and massive youth non-waged employment1 has been controlled through the Universities, TAFE and unemployment systems.

1: This seems to me to be the key indicator of actual unemployment, particularly given the way the ABS has been instructed to declare the unemployed statistic as excluding non-labour force participants, and excluding people with as little as a single hour a fourtnight of training or employment.


The examples from history we have are revolutions against autocratic regimes, monarchies. This is the reason why there should be concern about China. In China very little protest is allowed and the people have little control over who is in power. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded by college students when education was reformed in that nation, as well. It is now very influential in the region, which has seen some peaceful and some violent revolutions. I don't think there is an example of a violent revolution led by college students against a liberal democracy in Europe. There have been peaceful "revolutions" such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, although that is not the only example. Iceland might also be considered a peaceful "revolution." In other words, protest is often a useful outlet for unemployed youth in liberal democracies, rather than violent revolution, because they can effectively change their government through this means.

  • I must put some thought into student groups outside Europe and will add it if I can think of anything. Also I'm hoping the answer is politically objective enough.
    – Razie Mah
    Feb 22, 2014 at 22:28
  • 1
    the muslim brotherhood is formed by clerics and politicians, not students. They're also far from peaceful. All their "peaceful" actions are fronts for murder campaigns.
    – jwenting
    Feb 25, 2014 at 7:38
  • It was formed by six Suez canal workers and a school teacher who built a school and mosque and created a social movement of Islamic renewal that became very popular with college students early in its inception. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… My argument here is that the form of government is a factor that molds the revolutionaries to be more or less fanatical. So, indeed, they aren't peaceful, but they did try the electoral process for a few decades which seems notable for pretty much a terrorist group.
    – Razie Mah
    Feb 25, 2014 at 10:28

Looking at China, we can see several "revolutions" (or attempts at them) by students.
First of course and foremost the "Cultural Revolution" in which Mao's government used the student population brilliantly to execute their own plans, at the same time diverting the restlessness of that student body which could easily have ended up toppling them instead.
Then there's the attempted revolution/uprising that led to the PLA sending tanks against protestors in Beijing in the 1980s, which was also largely driven by educated, disgruntled, people.
Now of course the government just ships them off to the "free economic zones" where they're effectively exiled and can do no harm while they run companies that are for all purposes government owned, so once again makes good use of them while keeping them under control and away from places they can cause trouble.

  • The Cultural Revolution is not a student movement, which broadly means a grassroots movement from college or possibly high school age young adults. It was instead a propaganda campaign that targeted children, like the Hitler Youth. Mao was not going to be toppled by students. He had just starved to death millions of people. He was going to be toppled by members of the Party. And what does this have to do with Cyprus? I usually don't downvote but I find the answer very flawed. -1
    – Razie Mah
    Feb 24, 2014 at 23:15
  • @Guest READ, the government turned it into a student movement, mobilising students to carry out its agenda. But you might be too much influenced by propaganda to see the difference.
    – jwenting
    Feb 25, 2014 at 7:36
  • @jwenting This is what a student movement is: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_activism
    – Razie Mah
    Feb 25, 2014 at 10:43
  • @jwenting The Cultural Revolution is a "top down mass mobilization." I can't find a great source to explain what that is to you, but this explains a little why it falls into that social movement category instead of student movement. I hope that helps. It's not the propaganda ;) chinastudygroup.net/2007/05/…
    – Razie Mah
    Feb 25, 2014 at 11:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.