As jubilant young Egyptians danced in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, celebrating the departure of their 82 year old former president, American television commentators immediately began discussing two issues that seemed to them to be of greatest importance: who were the leaders of the uprising and how did they use social media to bring down the reign of a 30-year dictatorship? In doing so, they revealed the same type of inter-generational misunderstandings that cost Hosni Mubarak his presidency.
The revolution was successful because it had no leaders, only coordinators of bottom up energy. Its use of social media was brilliantly conceived to meld online organizing with offline action, not supplant it. The inability of older generations to understand the power of this new form of leadership among Egypt's, and ultimately the world's, young people suggests there will be many more such surprises in the future, both at home and abroad.
One of the first celebrities to emerge from the uprising, Wael Ghonim, made this point as emphatically as he could to CNN in the midst of the celebrations. "I am not a leader. The leaders are in Tahrir Square." Not to be dissuaded, the interviewer then asked him if he was planning on entering politics. Ghonim wisely responded that all he wanted to do was go back to work for Google and some day meet Mark Zuckerberg, whose creation had enabled the activists to gain support for their revolution. That answer of course set off another media frenzy, especially on Twitter, about how this was only the first of many Facebook revolutions to come. It may be, but only if other young people read Ghonim's promised new book, Revolution 2.0, and learn the organizational lessons it promises to teach.
This group of Egyptian under-30 organizers learned an important lesson from the failure of their fellow generation's protest in Iran. That uprising was shut down by Iran's secret police, who used the protesters' tweets and Facebook messages as a primary source of information on who should be arrested and imprisoned. In Egypt, the roughly one dozen technologically sophisticated middle class young organizers assumed the police were monitoring their communications anddeliberately sent them scurrying to false protest locations, announced on their Facebook sites, even as selected members of their group were sent quietly into poorer neighborhoods to organize the groups who were ultimately successful in taking over Tahrir Square.
All of these plans for offline action were hatched in secretive, in person meetings, many in the homes of their loving parents. In the same way that the 2008 Obama campaign used a social media site to provide a way for millions of its American millennial generation supporters to organize the on-the-ground voter interactions that propelled it to victory, these young Egyptians knew both the value and the limitations of social networking technology to effect huge social change.
Since 2008, these organizational lessons have been available to older leaders willing to see beyond their own generation's perceptions of what it takes to lead change, but few have absorbed them. Malcom Gladwell continues to belittle the power of social media to create tipping points, as if demonstrating in the streets like it was still the 1960s is the only tactic to bring about change with any value. His fellow Boomer, Tom Friedman, who had previously mislabeled American Millennials as "Generation Q[uiet]," was hobnobbing with other clueless elites in Davos when the Egyptian revolution broke out and was completely surprised by events in the region of the world where he first developed his reputation as an astute observer. And of course the most obviously out-of-touch older leaders were President Mubarak and his sidekick, Vice President Omar Suleiman, who continued, right up to the day they lost power, to underestimate the ability of the youth of their country to channel the pent up desire of the Egyptian people for freedom and a new way of life.
It's not surprising that the facility of young people in using new technology is the first thing older generations notice and comment upon when talking about "kids today." Many older people, however, fail to look beyond those surface behaviors to the deeper values that now animate young people around the world. The belief of the emerging generation in democratic values, in the ability of people to govern themselves, free from dictation from above, and in the power of individual initiative to inspire collective action on behalf of the community's greater good, determine the way young people use technology, not the other way around. All of those attitudes and values were in clear evidence in Egypt over the last few weeks, reminding those clinging to power and outdated perceptions of how to hold onto it, that a new generation has arrived. Like their civic-oriented counterparts in America eight decades ago, this century's emerging generation has a "rendezvous with destiny" and will lead the world in entirely new ways into a new era.
Arcadia, Calif. - American politics is consumed by a bitter, at times violent, debate about the overall role of government and specific governmental programs.
Pundits often frame this divide in terms of geography (red states versus blue states), ethnicity (Hispanics and blacks versus whites), class (rich versus poor), or age and gender. Those factors matter, but seeing polarization only in terms of group versus group misses an important paradox about Americans: Most of us have both deep conservative instincts and liberal instincts.
This personal inner conflict need not calcify our national divide. Instead, it could form the basis for a new and unifying consensus or civic ethos. To do this, though, our political leaders must build on the quintessentially American politics of today's Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2003), who prize individual initiative at the local level to achieve national goals.
Why we look left and right at the same time
American political opinion looks in two directions - both left and right, or liberal and conservative - at the same time. Social scientists Lloyd A. Free and Hadley Cantril were the first to use survey research to describe and analyze this paradox of public opinion that has always shaped US politics.
In their book, "The Political Beliefs of Americans" (1967), they maintained that Americans consistently demonstrate a conflict between their general attitudes toward "the proper role and sphere of government," (which drove the big GOP gains last November) and their attitudes toward specific governmental programs (which helps explain broad American support for "big government" programs like Medicare).
According to Mr. Free and Mr. Cantril, most Americans have conservative attitudes concerning the size of government, and liberal beliefs in support of programs to protect themselves economically. This leads majorities to favor smaller government, individual initiative, and local control while endorsing major governmental programs ranging from Social Security to student grants and loans.
Tensions go back to our founding
This tension has always been a part of American politics. The US Constitution was itself the product of fierce debate in the wake of the failed Articles of Confederation. The ingenious solution the Founders gave us was both a strong central government and equally powerful guarantees of individual liberty embodied in the Bill of Rights. Notably, that solution was largely the product of that era's young adults, the so-called Republican Generation.
Still, the Constitution didn't settle the question of the government's role in the economy and personal welfare. That wasn't resolved, at least temporarily, until the Great Depression, when Americans gave their strong support to FDR's New Deal programs. Again, it was that period's young adults - the "greatest generation" - that led the new consensus.
Small government, big programs
Such consensus, of course, doesn't erase our conflicting convictions. Even in the depths of the Great Depression, Gallup revealed this conflict between the public's programmatic liberalism and conservative ideology. On the one hand, large majorities believed that the government should provide free medical care to the poor (76 percent), extend long-term, low-interest loans to farmers (73 percent), and implement the newly created Social Security program (64 percent). By contrast, only a minority wanted the government to take over railroads (29 percent) and banks (42 percent), or limit private fortunes (42 percent).
In 1964, as President Johnson was announcing his Great Society initiatives, Free and Cantril, using the results of commissioned Gallup polls, determined that within the electorate, ideological conservatives outnumbered liberals by more than 3 to 1 (50 percent to 16 percent). But in those very same surveys, support for liberal government programs exceeded conservative opposition by a ratio of 4.6 to 1 (65 percent to 14 percent).
Using data from four of the Political Values and Core Attitudes surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center over the past two decades, we confirmed their research. Across four Pew surveys, from 1987 to 2009, ideological conservatives outnumbered liberals by a ratio of 3.5 to 1, but liberal supporters of specific programs outnumbered conservative opponents by a 2.2 to 1 margin.
In every Pew survey, there were always more conservatives than liberals regarding the overall role of government and a greater number of liberals than conservatives in support of programs designed to promote equality and economic well-being. In effect, the United States is neither a center-right nor a center-left nation; it is, and always has been, both at the same time.
Not surprisingly, voters who identify as Republicans have tended toward the conservative side of these two tendencies. And Democratic identifiers have leaned toward the liberal side. Although the gap between the identifiers of the two parties has widened recently, during most of the time since Free and Cantril first published their findings, the greatest number of both Democratic and Republican identifiers, as well as independents, has been ideologically conservative and programmatically liberal.
Moderates Driven Out
Today, driven by more liberal attitudes among the Democrats' young Millennial Generation and minority supporters, and the more conservative beliefs of the Republicans' older, white base, the leadership of the two parties is more polarized than at any time since the Great Depression.
For the first time ever, among Democrats in the House of Representatives, the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus contains more members than the moderate New Democrats and conservative Blue Dogs combined.
Across the aisle, few congressional Republicans are willing to call themselves moderates, and liberals, once a meaningful bloc in the GOP, have entirely disappeared.
Despite these divisions, the leaders of each party must find a way to work together to synthesize both strands of America's political DNA - a belief in the importance of a strong national community and equality of opportunity as well as a strong desire to limit government's encroachment on individual liberty - into a new civic ethos that is broadly acceptable to most Americans.
Millennials can foster a new consensus
The belief of America's youngest adult generation, Millennials, in the efficacy of individual initiative at the local level to achieve national goals provides a basis for just such a solution. To once again bind the wounds of internal discord, our political leaders should adopt this approach and successfully appeal to the ideological conservatism and programmatic liberalism of the American people.
President Barack Obama's State of the Union must convey his confidence in America's future. By doing so, he will align his own combination of idealism and pragmatism with that of his most ardent supporters, members of the millennial generation (born 1982-2003). This will clearly distinguish his beliefs from the sense of gloom and doom that pervades the baby boom generation.
Much of the overwhelming dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, of course, is driven by economic concerns, and the president must present a convincing plan for continuing the current recovery. But a recent Pew survey showed that those most likely to believe this country's best economic years lie before it are millennials, only one-third of whom believe "it will be a long time before the economy recovers."
By contrast, that pessimistic belief is embraced by 52 percent of baby boomers, only 30 percent of whom believe "the economy is not yet recovering, but will recover soon." Three-fourths of millennials, the generation hardest hit by the Great Recession, believe their financial situation will improve somewhat or a lot in the next year, whereas only half of boomers think they will be better off in 2011.
The president needs to continue his political comeback by building on this foundation of generational support and making it clear to a nation tired of boomers' cultural wars and partisan divisions that his economic program is putting the nation on the right track to recovery. As we point out in our forthcoming book, one out of three American voters will be millennials by the end of this decade, making that generation the rising power in American politics, not the defeatist, distrustful boomers -- a generation whose time has come and gone.
The nation's capital is abuzz with talk about deficits. The Republican co-chairman of the President's Deficit Reduction Commission, Alan Simpson, a member of the aging Silent Generation (born 1925-1945), began the debate by lecturing his younger Baby Boomer (1946-1964) colleagues about the need for their generation, labeled by Simpson the "greediest generation," to finally face up to their lifelong avoidance of responsibility and agree to painful reductions in their future retirement benefits and current tax preferences. The generation gap that has separated Boomers from their elders for decades appeared to be almost as wide today as it was in the 1960s.
The Commission's confrontational conversation was all about money, devoid of any discussion about what kind of country America should become. By contrast, at the NDN headquarters in Washington, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a think tank run by and for Millennials, was releasing an equally important document, a Blueprint for the Millennial America. In stark contrast with the zero sum proposals being tossed around by older generations, the Blueprint's focus was on America's civic deficit-- the imbalance between what we need to do as a nation and the investments we are willing to make to retain our global leadership. The group launched its Think 2040 project, this past March, in order to "leverage our unique generational characteristics, transform our communities nationwide, and redefine the American dream," in the words of its national director, Hilary Doe. Their vision, generated in a year-long discussion with over two thousand Millennials, focused on what type of country America's youngest generation (born 1982-2003) wanted to inherit when it takes over the reins of power in 2040.
The participants envisioned an America "that continues to be a model for the world in terms of innovation, productivity, and strength... [and] a moral leader as well." They wanted America to live by three core values: "a deeply held concern for equity, respect for the individual and society, and a belief in community empowerment and self-determination." Together, these values, and the group's vision, paint a picture that "uniquely represents the world Millennials aspire to create: more accessible, more equitable, more community-driven, more entrepreneurial, more inclusive, and better prepared to tackle the long-term challenges our country faces."
Participants were appalled at the inequities of the country's current educational system, "the foundation of our economy and democracy," and placed its reform at the top of their list of priorities. They committed to changing the system's unequal outcomes, but didn't want American schools to "lose their essential creativity and civic function in an effort to meet federally mandated standards." Rather, as part of their generation's focus on acting locally to implement national goals, they favored "an eclectic mix of federal incentives and local power and creativity to revitalize American education."
The Millennials who participated in Think 2040 approached America's environmental problems with the same values that informed their broader vision. Because they believed that "environmental challenges fundamentally alter the texture of communities," they proposed solutions that respected "the needs of America's communities," so that no one would be asked to "make sacrifices without fully considering the cost to communities across the United States." To accomplish this goal, which clearly reflects the unique sensibilities of Millennials, the report prioritized the development and usage of renewable sources of energy above all other environmental solutions.The participants argued that "creating a thriving domestic market for renewable sources of energy, fostering a strong green-jobs sector, and achieving energy independence....was essential for the long-term health of the country's environment and its economy," as well as "maintaining national and global security and preserving biodiversity."
Just as, after World War II, the previous civic generation, Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation, created "a system of global cooperation to promote human rights, poverty reduction, and conflict resolution," these globally minded Millennials shared "an overwhelming belief that it is the moral duty of the United States to reduce global conflict by reinvigorating international institutions." They pointed out that "the rise of genocide in the 20th century has led to a fundamentally different conception of America's international responsibility," to guide the country's foreign policy. In their Millennial America, the United States would work "with its allies across the globe to promote sustainable development, capacity building, and community ownership, instead of invading and occupying enemy territory," and use "defense, diplomacy, and development as equal pillars of U.S. foreign policy."
At home, Think 2040 participants wanted "to build an American economy that supports and rewards creativity, ingenuity, and personal determination to succeed," leading them to endorse banking reform, infrastructure investment, and turning the nation's social safety net into a "trampoline." Their government social safety trampoline would "lower barriers to entrepreneurship, enable workers to rebound in times of need, and combat intergenerational poverty by allowing children the opportunity to succeed regardless of their family challenges," in order to produce an economy with greater upward mobility.
Exemplifying their generation's penchant for combining high ideals with pragmatic solutions, the Blueprint's action plan suggested Millennials "demand change, but act locally. Work to combat challenges, but do so from within the system. Create change, but not just through protest....What allows us, as communities, to overcome obstacles ... is collaborative action." The report emphasized the need not only for high levels of civic engagement by the generation, but the need for reforms in the political system to reduce the role of money in elections creating "a more open, accountable, and democratic electoral system."
Doe is confident of her generation's ability to effect the changes the Blueprint advocates because "our shared experiences have made us socially empathetic, tolerant, informed, collaborative, engaged, innovative, entrepreneurial, effective problem solvers both capable and willing to work together to overcome the challenges that we face." Unlike older generations that are ready to engage in pitch fork battles to protect their own perquisites and power, Millennials consistently look for win-win solutions to the challenges the country confronts. Perhaps, if more decision-makers in Washington listen to the voices of this generation so eloquently captured in the Blueprint, they will find a vision for the future that can point to a way out of the partisan gridlock that continues to poison U.S. politics as it has for decades.
Rather than judging the value of deficit reduction and other policy proposals based on the number of oxen they gore, we should judge each one by how much it contributes to building the kind of America we want our children and our children's children to inherit. Based on that criterion, the Blueprint for the Millennial America sets a high bar for the rest of the country to jump over.
With two weeks to go in the unpredictable 2010 elections, many pundits have been left scratching their heads and admitting that they really have no idea how this election is going to turn out. Nate Silver, today's most careful analyst of election statistics and forecasting, examined a variety of indicators and concluded that there were more closely contested and hard-to-predict congressional races this election than ever before. The biggest reason for this uncertainty is that America's electorate is changing as fast as the country's demographic and generational characteristics are, challenging old assumptions about how politics works in America.
In 1965 the nation was 89% white and 11% black, about the same as it had been during the previous century. Since then, high levels of Asian and Latin immigration have produced an America today which is 66% white and 33% "people of color," a tripling of the minority population in only four decades. Remarkably, 10% of Americans are of Mexican descent and about 5% of the electorate speaks primarily Spanish. For the first time in US history a president of mixed race, who considers himself to be African-American, resides in the White House.
The second big demographic change is the emergence of the largest, most diverse generation in American history, one which will dominate the political and cultural life of 21st century America as much as the Boomers did in the late 20th century. The Millennial Generation, born from 1982-2003, is sometimes condescendingly referred to as the "youth vote," but it should be more accurately recognized as the biggest and most important new voting cohort in America. There are about 95 million Millennials, about half of whom are now of voting age. One out of four eligible voters in 2012 will come from this generation and more than one out of three voters will be Millennials in 2020.
Every two years the percentage of non-whites, along with Millennials, in the American electorate is increasing. Non-whites will grow from 33% of the population today to 50% by 2042. As these populations grow, a new political reality will take hold in areas altered by their increased participation, especially in the Southwest and coastal areas of the country. The power of these population shifts to upend conventional political wisdom was demonstrated by Barack Obama's victories over heavily favored establishment candidates in both the Democratic primary and the general election in 2008.
These demographic transformations are changing the political loyalties and beliefs of the American electorate. Democrats now have their largest lead in national party identification since the early 1960s. In the most recent Pew survey, only 15% of Americans claimed to be completely unaffiliated independent voters, while about half (48%) identify with the Democratic Party and 37% with the Republican Party. By contrast, in 1994, the last time in which a newly elected Democratic president faced a midterm election against an aroused GOP, the two parties were tied in party identification at 44% each. This Democratic advantage is due in large part to Millennials and Hispanics who identify as Democrats by a 2:1 margin over Republicans.
Survey data also shows that most Americans continue to favor using government to address their economic concerns and societal challenges. This summer, in a survey conducted for NDN, a clear majority (54% vs. 31%) of Americans favored a government that actively tries to solve societal and economic problems rather than one that takes a hands-off approach--numbers virtually unchanged since Barack Obama's inauguration. More recently, only 29% of those surveyed this fall told Pew they wanted all of the Bush-era tax cuts to remain in place, while a majority (57%) preferred either that those on the wealthy should be allowed to expire or that all of the Bush tax cuts should end. Forty percent of adults told an Associated Press survey they didn't think the new health care law went far enough, while only 20% felt the federal government shouldn't be involved in healthcare at all. These pro-government attitudes are likely to grow as more and more Millennials enter the electorate. By a 60% to 36% margin the generation favors a bigger government providing more services over a smaller government providing fewer services.
Rather than being surprised every two years by the changing politics of a nation altered by a rapidly changing demography, pundits would be wiser to anticipate that American politics is going to keep changing and evolving every two years, and will never again look like the politics of the 20th century. In the shorter run, the operative question in this year's midterm elections is the extent to which the major components of the 21st century American electorate make their presence felt at the polls in November. President Obama, who is concentrating his final campaigning efforts on college campuses and minority neighborhoods, clearly recognizes the challenge-but also the rare opportunity-presented by the 21st century electorate. His success in energizing these newest members of the Democratic Party's base will determine the still uncertain outcome of the midterm elections. But the longer term direction of American politics will clearly continue to be driven by the demographic and generational changes now sweeping the country.
This week three top Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives-- Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan-- will release their new book, Young Guns, outlining a vision for America's future that reflects their Generation X philosophy of individual autonomy and hostility to community or collective action. Originally, Young Guns was the name of a popular movie back in 1988 when Generation X's political idol, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, but the philosophy espoused by Cantor, McCarthy, and Ryan hardly reflects the beliefs and values of today's youngest and largest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Millennials believe in trusting one another and sharing ideas in order to come up with the best results for the entire group. That's why the country is more likely to find economic ideas that call for community action and local initiative more attractive than those being pushed by House Republicans.
On Wednesday, September 15, NDN fellow Dan Carol, will host a roundtable discussion on how to use government to catalyze bottom-up innovation and economic growth at the local level. Joining him will be U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Fernandez to discuss his agency's "Jobs and Innovation Partnership" initiative to help build regional economic ecosystems where the private sector can flourish. These ideas, to be detailed in a paper scheduled for release the same day, offer Democrats the opportunity to seize both the generational and the policy initiative in the 2010 midterm election's economic debate.
The proposal's focus on nurturing local economic networks captures the insights of a new economic paradigm, based on complexity science, which suggests economies grow in the same way ecosystems do. Innovation is the key to this process as the system moves through constant cycles of experimentation and reconfiguration, or what economist Joseph Schumpeter called waves of "creative destruction." Complex ecosystems and modern economies continuously adapt and grow through a process of rewarding what works and discarding what doesn't. More trials, including more errors, produce better results and more innovative ideas. Unlike classical economics, which equates wealth with money, this new paradigm states that wealth is maximized when the largest number of people are generating ideas in a competitive, evolutionary environment.
Perhaps the most Millennial of all the insights generated by this new paradigm is the importance it places on establishing a new sense of trust in the way individuals deal with each other. In complex economies, such as that of the United States , the expectations and interpretations each person has about what all the other players want and expect creates an invisible web of human expectations that can only be managed in a Millennial atmosphere of trust and cooperation, not in the Gen X mode of everyone looking out only for themselves. Complexity economics argues that the classical economic paradigm enunciated in the 18th century by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, was wrong in suggesting, "wealth is created by the pursuit of narrow self-interest." Instead, Eric Beinhocker, whose book The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the Radical Remaking of Economics, is intentionally titled and written as an answer to Smith, argues, "Norms of unchecked selfishness kill the one thing that determines whether a society can generate (let alone fairly allocate) wealth and opportunity: trust. High-trust networks thrive; low-trust ones fail." While the Generation X Republican prescriptions for returning to the discredited laissez faire doctrines of the past rest on the argument that you can't trust government, Millennials know that the only answer to the question "Who do you trust?" is "each other."
Trust is built over time when people have a chance to work together toward a common goal. That is what the Jobs and Innovation Partnership initiative from EDA is designed to do at the regional level. Dan Carol's research paper will present several innovative ideas on how to use government's resources to develop and nurture these networks so that working together becomes easier and more effective. (He hinted about some of the things that will be discussed in the paper in an NDN blog post back in May for those who can't wait until Wednesday to hear more.) But the key to all of these proposals is the emphasis they place on sharing ideas and using a more bottom-up approach to the challenge of restructuring America's economy.
Millennials, suffering the highest levels of unemployment of any generation, will welcome this approach. It reflects their values and beliefs and represents how they will lead the nation in the future. It's time for the rest of the country to embrace these ideas as well rather than returning to the Wild West economics of Generation X's childhood. Counter to the message of another popular 1980s movie, greed isn't good; trusting each other is the best way to breathe new life into the nation's economy.
The news that the growth of America's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slowed in the second quarter to an anemic 2.7 percent, from its barely adequate first quarter performance of 3.7 percent, helps make the case for building what President Obama terms a "New Foundation" for the country's economy. The president should use NDN's analysis of the root causes of our current economic difficulties to explain to the American people why this restructuring is needed and how all of his legislative accomplishments-not just the auto company interventions he rightly touted in Detroit last Friday-- are putting in place a New Foundation for a 21st century economy, built on much more solid ground than the flawed and failed economics of the era America has just left.
The continuing high unemployment rate this far into the Great Recession should demonstrate to all but the most stubborn partisans that expecting the contours of our economy to suddenly snap back into the shape that they were in before the financial meltdown of September, 2008 is wishful thinking of the worst kind. It ignores the fundamental weaknesses of the consumer-driven economy of the last decade and leads to policy prescriptions that fail to deal with the root causes of our economic malaise. Besides, that economy, built on the sands of using the value of one's home as a personal ATM, led to a lost decade in real income growth for middle class Americans, so no one should be hoping it comes back anytime soon.
The last time the country experienced the prolonged economic pain it is experiencing now was during the Great Depression. Thanks to the decisive interventions of President Obama's economic team and the Federal Reserve the country is fortunately not experiencing anything quite that painful this time around. But the economic downturns of the 1930s and of this decade have more than just the ironic adjective "Great" in common.
Both occurred as a new, civic-oriented generation was coming of age. In the 1930s it was the GI Generation, what many now call America's Greatest Generation. Today it is the Millennial Generation, a cohort many expect to be our next great generation. The unity and size of both generations gave first President Franklin Roosevelt and then President Obama the margin of electoral victory and mandate for change that underpinned political support for long-term, structural changes in the economy. In both cases, the dire circumstances in which ordinary Americans found themselves provided the impetus for the creation of major new social programs-Social Security in Roosevelt's first term and health care reform in Obama's.
But many current observers fail to realize how similar the controversies surrounding these changes also are. Just as Republicans today, and some moderate Democrats, seek to impose a new round of austerity on the nation's economy by attempting to stop the funding for such basic programs as extended unemployment insurance, FDR, during his first term, dodged and ducked an onslaught of advice to scale back the New Deal from both the opposition and from many within his own party. The debate continued right through the 1936 election, when his Republican opponent, Alf Landon, campaigned on a platform of repealing Social Security, arguing, as those seeking to repeal health care reform do today, that it represented an unwarranted "socialist" intrusion into individual paychecks by an out-of-control federal government.
But during the entire debate, Roosevelt stuck to his guns and insisted on the need to fundamentally overturn the laissez faire economic policies of the Roaring Twenties. As Pulitzer Prize winning historian, David M. Kennedy wrote in his book Freedom from Fear:
The New Deal's premier objective, at least until 1938, and in Roosevelt's mind probably for a long time thereafter, was not the economic recovery tout court but structural reform for the long run. In the last analysis, reform, not simply recovery, was the New Deal's highest ambition and lasting legacy.
And just as President Obama's health care and financial regulatory reform efforts are not the second coming of socialism that opponents tried to make them out to be, Roosevelt's structural solutions avoided the heavy-handed notion of government control that so many in his party favored and so many Republicans accused them of being. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) created a feeling of security among depositors, not a government bank. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) gave stockholders new information upon which to base their investment decisions, but didn't restrict their investment opportunities. The FHA (Federal Housing Administration) provided more safety to lenders and new mortgage terms for home buyers, but didn't attempt to have government build the houses people needed. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Fair Labor Standards Act set new, fairer rules for both employers and workers to follow, but didn't impose the kind of price controls and work rules that were part of the earlier, ill-fated National Industrial Recovery Act. As Kennedy correctly observes:
To be sure, Roosevelt sought to enlarge the national state as the instrument of the security and stability that he hoped to impart to American life. But legend to the contrary, much of the security that the New Deal threaded into the fabric of American society was often stitched with a remarkably delicate hand, not simply imposed by the fist of the imperious state.
It's also important to remember that, with the exception of the FDIC, none of these long-lasting, deep changes in the rules and structures by which the American economy operated were enacted in the initial year of Roosevelt's first term. Social Security, for example, didn't pass until 1935, after the 1934 midterm elections. By that chronological measurement, President Obama's New Foundation is actually being built ahead of schedule.
Nor did any of Roosevelt's structural reforms restore the country to full employment immediately. When FDR uttered his famous line "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished" in his 1937 inaugural speech, he was speaking about the progress the country had made in his first term and warning his audience not to become complacent with what had been accomplished to that point. Just as President Obama must walk a fine line between noting the positive impact his initial efforts to stop the economic bleeding have had without suggesting there is nothing more that can or should be done, so too did FDR want the country to understand that, as he put it in the same address, "Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster!"
To avoid that result this time, President Obama needs to make it clear that much more needs to be done to restructure the economy, and that a stock market recovery without a recovery in middle class incomes is not the goal of his administration. Among other things, the president must emphasize that until all American schools have won the "Race to the Top," until our economy is built on a lower carbon infrastructure, until every American worker has the skills they need to compete in the global economy for jobs with good wages and good benefits, and until America's tax structure rewards work and innovation and not financial manipulation, the New Foundation for the nation's economy will not be complete.
The restructuring of our economy is and will be painful. America's tolerance for change will be as sorely tested as it was during the Great Depression. President Obama's leadership skills will be put to the same stern test that FDR had to pass.
But Democrats should welcome the opportunity that the 2010 midterm elections present to argue for the need to undertake a fundamental restructuring of the nation's economy and to brag about the steps they have already taken to produce that transformation. Rather than ducking or attempting to explain away the economic difficulties the nation faces, it's time to build a strong foundation of political support for the economic New Foundation the President seeks to put in place. As NDN's recent survey research shows, a majority coalition already exists for just such an economic and political program. It's time to make sure the voices of America's 21st century constituencies are heard in November.
In NDN's most recent survey, 37 percent of Millennials rated the cost of a college education as a critical issue facing America. It ranked behind only the economy and education, in a virtual tie with the national debt and federal spending, on the list of issues about which Millennials are concerned. While the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" initiative has ignited a firestorm of K-12 educational reforms in states across the country, no comparable program exists to deal with the increasing costs and stagnant graduation rates of the nation's colleges and universities. To his credit, President Barack Obama led this year's successful efforts by Democrats to federalize the student loan program and expand the size and availability of Pell Grants in order to lower the burden of paying for college. But, that is only a short-term fix to the challenge of doubling the number of students who graduate from college by 2020--a pledge leaders of community colleges made at the administration's urging. To achieve that goal, America needs to develop a new, Millennial Era consensus that every young American should complete his or her postsecondary education and graduate debt free. One community, Kalamazoo, Michigan has already made that promise a reality.
Kalamazoo recognized that, along with inadequate preparation in high school for the academic requirements of college, the burden of paying for college through the current patchwork system of student loans, grants and scholarships, and state and federal government subsidies is a major reason why U.S. college graduation rates have been stagnant for the last thirty years. Currently, more than a quarter of the freshmen in America's four year colleges fail to return for their second year and the percentage is twice that for those enrolled in two-year colleges. For every ten students who start high school, only five enroll in a postsecondary educational institution, and fewer than three earn a bachelor's degree, even after ten years. Less than one-quarter of Hispanics who start college leave with a bachelor's degree and almost two-thirds receive no credential at all. Even though a record 70 percent of all Millennials who graduated from high school enrolled in college in 2009, the need for postsecondary education reforms to ensure that more of them graduate is clear.
College tuition rates have grown at 3.3 times the consumer price index since 1980.The increased cost is having a direct impact on which colleges students are able to attend. Forty-three percent of incoming freshmen in the first year of the Great Recession cited the ability to get financial aid as very important or essential in their choice of a college, the highest level ever recorded. In 2009, 70 percent of high schools reported an increase in the number of students who abandoned their "dream school" in favor of a college they could afford. Eighty-five percent of those who applied for aid said they wouldn't be able to pay for college without receiving it. As a result, for the 2008-09 school year, the federal government guaranteed or made $65.2 billion in student loans, an increase of 18.6 percent from the year before.
The unwillingness of today's older generations to subsidize the higher education of younger generations has had a particularly pernicious impact on young Americans who see college education as a way of improving their future economic circumstances. In 2007-08, just about every student from a low income family attending a community college was in debt, with an average of $7,147 in unmet expenses, even after taking into account any grants or scholarships they received. As a result, three-fourths of those seeking an associate degree or certificate were forced to work, leaving less time for study. In 2009, only 38 percent of community college students earned a degree within six years of enrolling. The country and its economy cannot afford to let this situation continue.One experiment in how to address the problem started in 2005, in Kalamazoo. There, a small group of donors (who remain anonymous to this day) created the Kalamazoo Promise, which offered any graduate of the city's public schools a four year scholarship covering 100 percent of tuition and mandatory fees at any of Michigan's public colleges or universities, provided those students maintained a 2.0 grade point average in their college courses and made regular progress toward a degree. Scholarship levels varied based only on the number of grades or years in Kalamazoo schools the student had attended, not on a determination of need or merit.
The idea began as an economic development strategy. The city manager suggested the imposition of an income tax on those who worked within the city to balance Kalamazoo's books. In an attempt to increase the city's tax base without raising its taxes, community leaders, asked residents of the area surrounding the city what would persuade them to move back inside the city's boundaries. Not surprisingly, the parents of Millennials expressed the greatest interest in living in a place that would provide a good public education for their children--all the way through college. Local philanthropists translated that desire into a simple program that offered full, four-year college scholarships to the city's high school graduates, with no requirement to repay the money or reside in Kalamazoo after graduating from college. They bet the bargain would be enough to attract families back to the city and halt the annual ten-percent decline in the schools' population. Five years and $12 million later, the bet has paid off handsomely.
Since the program was announced in November 2005, Kalamazoo has experienced a 17.6 percent increase in student enrollment and the construction of three new schools for the first time in 37 years. Dropout rates have been cut in half. Ninety percent of female African-American high school graduates have gone onto college. The school district's success was noticed by President Obama, who chose to deliver the first high school commencement speech of his presidency at Kalamazoo Central High. Calling the school a model for success in the 21st century, Obama told the senior class he was there "because I think America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo Central about what makes a successful school in this new century." He's right.
Money to pay for four years of college is available to each recipient for up to ten years after graduation, so it will take more time before the full effect of the Kalamazoo Promise on college graduation rates can be determined, but the program's initial success has led communities across the country to search for sources of philanthropic revenue in order to make their own educational bargain with their residents. The Kalamazoo Promise created an expectation that every public school student in the city would have an opportunity to receive a postsecondary education. More than 80 percent of those who chose to enroll in a university are still attending college. The cultural shift created by the community's commitment to the Kalamazoo Promise has also created a mini-Race to the Top with surrounding school districts, which are passing bond issues and improving their schools to compete more effectively with Kalamazoo's schools.
Now it is time for the nation as a whole to make the same promise that Kalamazoo did to all young Americans. The country should completely reform the current system of federal and state subsidies of higher education with one goal in mind. In the 21st century, every Millennial-and their children--should complete their postsecondary education and graduate debt free. Kalamazoo's promise needs to become America's promise.
This may be one of the few times in recent memory that a significant energy bill will pass Congress in an election year, but that doesn't mean that politics won't exact a price on the major outcomes voters say they want -- freedom from oil addiction, clean energy alternatives and measurable progress on climate that doesn't disadvantage the U.S. against key economic competitors.
Any fee or tax on liquid fuels that the GOP attack machine can call a "gas tax" is dead unless the president chooses to stake his presidency on it. This seems unlikely, and a carbon tax or cap on fuels will be a far harder political sell than the president's courageous stance in 2008 against a federal gas tax holiday.
An oil price floor below the current trading price for oil could pass -- as it would not cost consumers a dime at the pump and it would serve as effective "national security insurance" against oil prices dropping in a double-dip recession and killing off alternative fuel markets as happened in the early 1980s. The last long-shot is a utility-only cap which might slip through because enough utilities like purple-state utilities like Duke Power and Energy are demanding a long-term set of rules. Doing so could start the ball rolling on pricing carbon. On that, the big question is whether the GOP wants to risk being seen as blocking progress on building petroleum-free, "Made in USA" electric vehicles which will be stalled without a utility cap.
The political bottom line for this long-shot outcome: A utility cap is inside Beltway baseball and isn't scary to voters like a gas tax. People won't see increases in their electric bill for a utility-only cap by November anyway. "This seems like a battle line to which enough Democrats and Republicans might chose to retreat, rather than face the worse wrath of being "do nothing" energy incumbents at the polls this fall.
Next week, a number of these ideas will be discussed here.
Even as the nation conducts its critically important decennial census, a demographic picture of the rapidly changing population of the United States is emerging. It underlines how suburban living has become the dominant experience for all key groups in America's 21st century electorate.
While suburban living was once seen as the almost exclusive preserve of the white upper-middle class, a majority of all major American racial and ethnic groups now live in suburbia, according to the newest report on the state of metropolitan America from the Brookings Institute. Slightly more than half of African-Americans now live in large metropolitan suburbs, as do 59% of Hispanics, almost 62% of Asian-Americans, and 78% of whites. As a result the country is closer than ever to achieving a goal that many thought would never be achieved-city/suburban racial/ethnic integration. This is particularly so in the faster growing metropolitan areas of the South and West.
The trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. A majority of Millennials live in the suburbs and 43% of them, a portion higher than for any other generation, describe suburbs as their "ideal place to live."
The nation's one hundred largest metropolitan areas have grown twice as fast as the rest of the country in the last decade. That growth was heavily concentrated in lower density suburbs, which grew at three times the rate of cities or inner ring suburbs. At the same time, one third of the nation's overall population growth was due to immigration. As a result about one-quarter of all children in the United States have at least one immigrant parent. In 2008, non-whites became a majority of Americans under 18, a demographic milestone that underlines just how fast and how dramatically the country is changing. Any political party that wants to build a lasting electoral majority must align its policy prescriptions with these new demographic realities to attract the votes of a younger, more ethnically diverse population, most of which now lives in the suburbs.
Economic opportunity continues to be the major driver in determining where people want to live and work. Five of the six fastest growing metropolitan areas in the last decade were also among the top six in job growth according to data from the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzed by the Praxis Strategy Group. (pdf) The same five metropolitan areas--Phoenix, Riverside (CA), Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C-- also ranked high in the diversity of their population, differing only in the degree of educational attainment their residents have achieved. With America experiencing the first decade since the 1930s in which inflation adjusted median income declined and job creation slowed to levels not seen in decades, this movement to where the jobs are is hardly surprising. Yet this crucial factor is often overlooked by urban planners who argue that cultural amenities and sport complexes are the key to attracting new residents. In fact, metropolitan areas that focus on job creation for Millennials (young Americans born 1982-2003) and minorities have the best chance of gaining population in the next decade.
Clearly providing higher-quality public education experiences is a key part of any such economic strategy. The arrival of stealth fighter parents at local school district meetings across the country only underlines how passionate young families are about the quality of education their children receive and their unwillingness to let Boomer ideological debates delay the changes needed to properly prepare their children for a higher educational experience that increases the odds of economic success. The traditional separation between municipal partisan politics and non-partisan school policy making is increasingly outdated when so much of a city's economic success depends on the quality of the education its residents receive. In this environment, the educational policies of the Obama administration that focus on results and outcomes and not on process or previous practices should serve as a template for elected officials at every level to follow.
Safe neighborhoods of single family dwellings with a surrounding patch of land continue to attract families of every background to the nation's suburbs. Metropolitan areas that provide such an environment to all of their residents are the furthest along in achieving a more integrated society. Los Angeles, for instance, which is often decried by non-residents as simply an aggregation of suburbs with no central core, has a suburban population whose demographic profile almost exactly matches the city's population. The fact that most of its housing reflects the tract developments of the 50s and 60s, and that former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton used his COMPSTAT crime fighting techniques to bring the city's crime rates down to levels not seen in five decades, are two key reasons for this polyglot profile.
Rather than fighting this desire on the part of America's 21st century electorate to live comfortably in the suburbs, politicians of all stripes should find ways to embrace it and advocate policies that reflect our new economic realities. For instance, rather than insisting on higher density housing and light rail systems as the only answer to the nation's appetite for foreign oil, the federal government should adopt tax incentives that encourage telecommuting. If all Americans worked from home, as many Millennials prefer to do, just two days a week, it would cut that portion of our nation's gas consumption by more than a third. The FCC's recently announced broadband policy will help put in place the infrastructure required to make such a lifestyle possible and even more productive.
Three out of four commuting trips involve a single individual driving their car to work and this isn't likely to change with the increased growth in suburban living. But putting as much emphasis on making our nation's highways "smart" as in creating a smart electrical grid would make it possible for the existing highway system to shorten commuting time and reduce the quantity of fuel used in such trips. Recent developments in mobile technology makes this a practical, near term solution if state and local governments are prepared to invest in upgrading an infrastructure that is already designed and deployed to connect people's homes to their workplace.
Aligning the message at the heart of a party's programs with the values and behaviors of America's 21st century electorate is the best way to guarantee victory this year and for years to come. As Simon Rosenberg has stated, Democrats need to "embrace the coalition" based on the country's new demographic realities that Barack Obama used so effectively in 2008. That embrace requires not only focusing the party's efforts on the growing demographic groups that now make up a majority of Americans, but also rethinking many of the policies it advocates to make them more friendly to the suburban lifestyle that so many members of the coalition desire. As he points out, "crossing the chasm" from the old coalition to the new will "be hard, but it is in the best interests of the country and the best interests of the Democratic Party."