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.

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