Friday, November 11, 2011

Captains of the New Economy, Leaders of the New United States

Captains of the New Economy, Leaders of the “New” United States: How Will Young People Shape the Post-Great Recession Economy

Michael Partis
Young Movement, Chief Research and Policy Officer
November 11, 2011

In a recent article for New York Magazine, writer Frank Rich notes how the outpouring of praise for the business acumen and success of Steve Jobs, and the populist dissent against Wall Street exhibited by both the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements, are actually paradoxical to the direction of economic sensibilities seen throughout the country writ-large in recent history.  “Finance long ago supplanted visionary entrepreneurial careers like Jobs’s as the most desired calling among America’s top-tier university students.“  The cord Rich struck with his incisive analysis is one that stands at the dividing line between the United States’ pre-Fall 2007, and since: what is the economic vision of the country post-“the Great Recession”?  Indeed, what becomes more compelling about the tension is considering several of the global events that have taken place over the past year and a half.

Economically, there has been contestation and dissent over austerity measures and bailout proposals in the countries of Greece and Italy; and as the “too big to fail” philosophy that was used in defense of bailing out the U.S. financial and banking institutions has been mapped onto these southern European countries, nations like Germany have shown great hesitation towards adopting such an approach.  Politically, the now infamous “Arab Spring” of late 2010-early 2011 raised hope that the power of social movement and protest politics still have efficacy, even in the face of the most rigid and time-tested socio-political orders.  Students from Puerto Rico to London have protested the terms, conditions, and direction of colleges and universities in their homes, providing hope to those on the Left’s for a substantive student movement.  However, the lines between political expression and state repression remain tenuous.  This summer, several days of riots throughout the United Kingdom left commentators there searching for explanations for the social unrest and rebellion expressed by the country’s young people.

  (source: The Atlantic August 9, 2011)

All these events coincided with a long-term phenomenon confronting our current social realities: the United States is coming to terms with the impact economic hardship, limited employment options, and vast income and wealth disparities among fellow citizens have had on young people dubbed the “Lost Generation.”   While the losses in human capital cannot be fully measured until long from now, the costs we’re are paying in human suffering are deep.  Perhaps the most pressing question is what impact will this have on the socio-economic fabric of the country today; and moreover, how might these ramifications influence the course of electoral politics and policy-making moving forward.

(Source EPI)

This larger framework is where the important questions arise.  The ascent of the Tea Party and the surging energy of the “occupying” movements across the country, have already (and will continue too) elevate the political consciousness of this land and its people.  The scale of the potential political reorganization is vast: we can have a Federalist approach to government which provides a socio-economic safety-net for those with the least economically, uses legality to protect citizens, and legitimizes legislation to incorporate fair decision-making; or we could move to a system where public officials are loosely tied together, exercise extremely limited decision making authority, and form a country with little uniformity in political practice or framework—essentially having 50 states that are uniform only under name, not by any organizational framework.   In a country that is custom to its political reality being no more unpredictable than the swing of the pendulum, the poles of these extremes stretch the vision of what many can see for our country moving forward.

Perhaps the most interesting place to see the division over the vision of this country, how we differ greatly in what we see the future as, is in the economic realm. Like the political poles, our economic ones have great distance between models: from neoliberal privatization and free-markets, to classical economic conservatism which emphasizes nationalistic interests.  What is stark though is who are the people that we see as the leaders of whichever, whatever, of our economic direction will be.  If not Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich, Christina Romer, Paul Krugman and the economists of the left; if not Summers, Geithner, Orszag and the “elite” policy makers; if not Jamie Diamond and the leaders of the banking and finance industry that the country’s populists on both sides of the political spectrum have trouble with; if not any of these groups, then who?

(source Forbes Jan 17, 2011 )

It is in this context where Rich’s observation about the tendency of our young people with college degrees rings loudest.  What is the likelihood that the next Steve Jobs will lead our economic vision?  How likely is it that a great entrepreneur will stand at the leadership of where growth, job-creation, and income equity arises?  Would the person capability of creating this possibility chose it, over the immediate wealth and opportunity presented at the doors of major banks and financial firms?  Does anyone believe in the captain of industry anymore?

The political and economic matters of today require: attentive observation to what is happening currently; continuous reflection of what has happened over the course of an immediate period of time and recent events; and a deep awareness of the long history of both domestic and world events.  We cannot over-simplify the present; we should not over-look history; and we are in no position to cast aside the events that carry us from point to point.  Leadership and vision-setting requires not being limited by the magnetism of poles, and not settling for centrality or moderation.    In order to set a collective action-plan, vision, and course that will move the country past this post-recession malaise, there must be a collaborative effort to listen, exchange, and plan.  Partnership must be formed; experiences must be paid attention to; learning and teaching have to support each other.
There are a vast number of young people waiting to be tapped; and an equal number already actively engaged in creating the Post-Great Recession society and economy.  Their political will is being expressed in platforms across images, words, and actions.  The process of best utilizing that, gathering it, and empowering it to reach heights, is work to be done now.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Towards an Economic Vision of Empowerment and Collective Action

Towards an Economic Vision of Empowerment and Collective Action
Chief Research and Policy Officer, Young Movement
The following remarks are from Young Movement Research and Policy Director Michael Partis, made at the organization’s “End of Welfare” Panel June 2011. The statement reflects Young Movement’s guiding premise: that young people must empower themselves and those around them by understanding the world past and present, in order to thoughtfully craft a vision for the world we need moving forward.  Comments and thoughts can be sent to

The intention of our panel tonight is two-fold. First, we are striving to provide a platform for innovative thinking and fresh ideas.  Second, we are attempting to create a space where sharing and exchange occurs—a space where strategic approaches and best-practices come together in the spirit of communal, collective success.  The goal of tonight’s panel, and a fundamental component of Young Movement’s organizational vision, is building a new framework for how young people in this country view our economic and financial landscape.  Indeed, what we are striving for is a paradigm shift; a shift away from the determinism of maximum utility, from the limits of profit margins, or the narrow generalization of terms such as “too big to fail,” “corporate greed,” or “disaster capitalism.”  Tonight’s discussion will focus on exploring alternatives to traditional employment paths, and creating a movement towards entrepreneurship.  Our goal is to begin a long-term commitment to developing: new business models, new approaches to financial planning, and new economic thinking.  Cumulatively, we believe this approach will allow young people to utilize their ingenuity, creativity, and skill-set to create a sustainable socio-economic future not only for themselves, but for the country at large. This is a future where economics and finance are tools which build the capacity and material well-being of not only individuals, but also of communities, neighborhoods, and families.

Hence, when we talk about “welfare” tonight, we are not specifically referring to those government entitlement programs which are typically intended for those who face financial hardship: programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), or AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children).  Nor are we in agreement with the view of welfare which: stigmatizes the poor as pathological; that advocates for “deficit-model” approach to understanding poverty; or that characterizes low-income populations as an “underclass” whose hardship is based on cultural and individualistic failures.  Rather than these historic, yet still presently important, debates, the purpose of tonight’s event is to question a) the efficacy and pragmatism of relying on government services given our current economic context; and b) the validity of a “trickle-down” economic model which makes a large number of people financially dependent on a small number of people.  In plain English—does it make sense to depend on our government, or large corporations, to maintain our personal economic and financial well-being?

From 1980 to 2005, the top one percent of income earners received eighty percent of the country’s increased income.  Today this rich one percent accounts for 24 percent of our overall income (Noah 2010).  And if we consider wealth instead of income, the same top one percent controls 40 percent of that as well (Stiglitz 2011).  University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez is noted for his extensive research on U.S. income inequality.  He writes that “we need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable and, if not, what mix of institutional reforms should be developed to counter it” (Saez 2010).

The solution to this socio-economic inequality is often coupled into one response with two points: more education, and better job-training.  However, this year marks the first time ever that college debt has surpassed credit card debt.  College is often the first place most people receive their first legitimate job-training: through internships.  Increasingly though, these internships have become problematic.  According to the April 25 edition of The Economist, American organizations save $2 billion a year by not paying interns minimum wage, and researcher Ross Perlin explains that this free supplemental workforce effectively subsidizes labor for Fortune 500 companies.   This point becomes even more critical as today’s New York Times (June 2, 2011) cover story on the country’s unemployment rate cite economic forecasters who predict only modest job growth until November 2012, and anticipate an increase in unemployment in tomorrow’s monthly employment report.
In a recent Vanity Fair essay, Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz argues “that a modern economy requires ‘collective action’,” and that the United States must return to working towards the common welfare of its people (2011).   Indeed this is a sentiment Young Movement shares, and it is in that spirit that we hope to have an exciting, challenging, and progressive panel discussion here tonight.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Legacy of March 9th

The Legacy of March 9th: How Hip-Hop Can Build a "Brave Community"
Michael Partis

Hip-Hop has two axioms:

1. "the greatest rapper of all-time died on March 9th"

2. "Where Brooklyn At?"

Ok...maybe they're not quite axioms.

What's indisputable though is the special place March 9th and Brooklyn holds in the consciousness and ethos of Hip-Hop. And in turn, why so many Rap junkies, Hip-Hop heads, and admirers of the culture feel such a deep connection to the person that intrinsically links art, event, and place: The Notorious B.I.G.

March 9th has become one of those days that shows you how dope Hip-Hop really is. The date commemorates the passing of our icon; but we spend the day going so hard celebrating and enjoying his life, accomplishments, and overall genius.

And accordingly, March 9th becomes a day where we get all types of goodies. Some are perpetual, like Mister Cee goes in on Hot 97. New traditions arise, like #biggieday becomes a trending topic. New jewels are dropped, like where the inspiration for the "Detroit players" line in Hypnotize comes from (Side note: dream hampton puts us ON this year...and did it from a very intimate part of herself...we all should be grateful).

It truly has become a beautiful thing. March 9th exemplifies the prophetic power within the phrase Life After Death.

But the most moving (and celebrated) aspect of the day's commemorations is the music. The endless recitation of Biggie lines forces every listener to reflect on the power of his words. Actor Will Smith once said that Big's 1st album, Ready To Die, was comparable to Richard Wright's Native Son in that both "should be studied in psychology classes to understand the plight of the black male in the inner city." Indeed the only voice that could merge rap and Bigger Thomas together was named by NPR as one of the 50 greatest of all time. In fact the totality of Big's artistry still inspires current MCs: Jay Electronica recently said that the Ghost of Christopher Wallace is "more than just the rhyme and the skill," but that it allows you to tap into the "spirit of the person."

Who's more the spirit of Brooklyn than B.I.G.? The Notorious B.I.G. is so Brooklyn. But how does today's Brooklyn compare to his?

Of course when it comes to Hip-Hop, BK still goes hard. Jay Decoded much of the complexity and confusion held by the public about Brooklyn and the low-income urban Black neighborhoods there and throughout the U.S. Musically, artists like Fabolous, Maino, Joell Ortiz and many others still let us know where Brooklyn at.

But in so many ways Brooklyn has become a very different place. Different from Mike Tyson's Brooklyn. Different than Sal's Pizza or the Huxtable's Brooklyn.

Borough President Marty Markowitz calls it the New Brooklyn:

"Brooklyn is changing and it's for the better! Change has come in the form of new stores, revamped neighborhoods and the fastest job growth in New York City. Today's Brooklyn is not your parents Brooklyn."

This "New Brooklyn" is one where the distinction between "DUMBO" and Fort Greene slowly erodes. Where Park Slope and Williamsburg are ever expanding. Where "Black Brooklyn" and Medgar Evers College are in deep struggle and contestation over how (and why) public higher education should serve a place and its residents. And where Atlantic Yards and Coney Island see a sports arena and a hotel as economically beneficial for the community.

Indeed you could call much of this revamped; or you could call it gentrified. But honestly, I'm the last person who should depict the details and essence between the "old" and "new" Brooklyn. However, they unequivocally speak to a more salient event: the making of a "new" New York City. But more troubling, is what is happening to the people of the "old" New York City. How do they fit? Where do they go? What is the color, the quality, the conditions, of their lives? What is the texture of the social fabric that makes the image and lived experience of New York City so unique?

It is a tension felt throughout the boroughs, communities, and neighborhoods. We see its passion and courage when residents pressure the City Council to seriously examine legislating a living wage, or to protect and to stand up for the purpose and function of ethnic studies at CUNY schools. Its vision is illuminated when people fight for a community-based model of planning and development. And its astute acumen is exhibited when it opposes large-chain retailers like Wal-Mart, arguing that these businesses are detrimental to their neighborhoods.

We also see the gloom of the "new" New York City. Where the richest man in the city can tyrannically decide to stay in power.

The changing New York City is emblematic of a changing urban America, and a changing country. But who's telling this story?

The sentiment; the essence; the spirit; the struggle; the emotion; the brilliance; the joy; the depth---how can we capture this? How does today's young Black male process Bigger Thomas' historical narrative, now living in the "Age of Obama"? Does the reality of a Black President impact their plight? What are the emerging communities and who are the people in it?

Who's willing to say I Got A Story To Tell?

The legacy of March 9th is that it demonstrates the power of storytelling. The Notorious B.I.G. compels a generation past and present to dive into his nuance and his specter. And every year on March 9th, we commemorate his life through the tradition of story-telling: pictures, remixes, drawings, mixtapes, tribute songs, and so much more---some essay form, some auditory, some in 140 characters or less.

March 9th reminds us of Hip-Hop's third axiom: the tradition of storytelling.

There are many lessons to learn from this tradition, and Biggie. We've certainly recognized the danger that weapons, violence, and "gangsterism" have both in ideas and in bodily action---and no doubt the sadness and lost we suffer when they all come together and manifest themselves in senseless murder and tragedy. The sexism; the violence against women (and any person); the most persistent challenge to mainstream Hip-Hop is breaking its objectifying and hierarchical expressions of gender relations. And the materialism (and frankly, borderline idolatry) we have of high end designer fashion certainly complicates the pursuit of a robust spirituality that emphasizes the principles of sacrifice, selflessness, and justice. Most definitely, the Hip-Hop tradition of storytelling includes the sharp critique of our missteps and misgivings; our faults and failures; our demons and indulgences; and a unrelenting call to become better.

But the lesson we can draw from what happens every March 9th, is another power the third axiom holds: it calls us to action. Our hyper-activity on this day should be seen as a ringing reminder that we must be actively engaged in creating the next stories that will be told, just as much as we are engaged in telling our history. Brave New Voices, writers, artists, scholars, academics, and others must move past the beloved community. We must form a brave community, one equipped with enough skill, and that is daring enough, to fearlessly confront this "new" New York City and all the other stories being made--from unions to education; from AmeriCorps to public housing. In the words of our Poet Laureate:

"Stay far from timid/only makes moves if your hearts in it/and live the phrase Sky's the Limit."

Rest in Peace, The Notorious B.I.G.

Michael Partis