I've just read The Pinstriped Prison by Lisa Pryor. It has a refreshingly clear style and is a much easier read than many works on "lifestyle". It provoked this response from fellow Perth blogger Sunili. It was seeing this post which inclined me to read it.
Pryor's work is an interesting attempt to describe and explain the way in which a small group of professions have managed to acquire elite status in the minds of aspiring students. They now lure the cream of the intellectual crop of graduates from high schools into preparatory degrees and also, subsequently, from other degree courses with no apparent relationship to the professions in question. The most impressive point that Pryor makes is that these three "glamorous" professions; management consultancy, law and banking are absorbing those who have particular talents which suit them to other professions which are subsequently impoverished for talent as a consequence. The graduates are attracted by the money and the verbose and deceptive promises of "dynamic" and exhilarating endeavours. The truth turns out to be that grunt work in glamorous professions is still grunt work. It's just intellectually harder. Wracking your brains over a client's tax position or corporate structure is really no more fun than laying cement. And none of it really breaks ground in advancing civilisation.
I found particularly resonant the description of how expenditure expands to absorb available income. I've experienced and observed this myself. I once held a middle-range position in an organisation in which the CEO didn't seem to have much more disposable income than I did. He was spending it at the same rate as he received it by keeping up the appropriate lifestyle.
On the other hand, things can be worse. I've also read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in Working Class America. The author went "undercover" as a seeker of employment as an unskilled labourer. (She discovered inter alia that no job is truly "unskilled".) The cruelty of the plight of those who are trapped in this stratum of society is very thoroughly demonstrated. The two issues are brought neatly together in Lewis Lapham's documentary The American Ruling Class which has featured on SBS in Australia.
What it comes down to, I believe, is that the "system" industries of capitalism are providing massive earnings to those who control the corporations that grease the wheels for short-term profit to be made. They need wage-slaves for their mills and this provides the impetus for the intense recruitment drive to the consulting, legal and banking industries.
The long-term effect is the devaluing of those who would make the constructive changes in technology and provide high-quality social services. Thus industrial design, architecture, teaching, nursing, etc. are driven down towards the base of the status pyramid. Those who might have once aspired to these professions see that they don't get no respect and that they're shortchanged on pay whenever those paying can manage to do it. It's a vicious circle in which the recipient of the service is treated to the efforts of a progressively dumbed-down workforce. In teamwork situations, the poorly-trained, unmotivated operators also wear out the patience and morale of their colleagues who want to do better. Guess which ones drop out in disgust.