We Need Millennial Optimism and Innovation to Revitalize Our Economy

Mar 13, 2012Erika Solanki

money-question-200To create a real recovery, we need to move beyond tired, rehashed economic doctrine and draw on the best ideas of the next generation.

Even after our recent economic downturn, the United States is the world's largest national economy, with a nominal GDP estimated to exceed over $15 trillion in 2011, comprising almost a quarter of the nominal global GDP. In the fourth quarter of 2011, the real GDP increased an aggregate 2.8 percent, up from the 1.8 percent increase in the third quarter. But despite the acceleration in growth at the end of 2011, the real GDP of the domestic economy increased in aggregate only 1.7 percent in 2011, compared with an increase of 3 percent in 2010.

In order to achieve and maintain a positive growth trajectory, Americans are faced with two rigid options: follow a path to mediocrity that is vulnerable to pervasive global market competition, or discover unconventional strategies and innovative industries that will give the American economy a facelift. Our current generation of leaders have failed our economy. They attempted to promulgate economic growth and American prosperity, but their efforts became entangled in the politics and context of world economic integration. In the 21st century, the economic structures of developed and developing nations are hard pressed to deal with the many socio-political complications they face.

We cannot afford another generation of leaders that are merely competent managers fixated on historical circumstances. We need innovative change-makers. The breadth and depth of the issues facing our globalized economy are too time sensitive and structurally fragile. Today's policymakers seek an economic panacea in free market ideology, a notion notoriously linked to concentrated wealth, corporate power, economic inequality, and declining social mobility. Recognizing that these issues demand a response, progressives must foster democratization, inspire citizen participation, and reform government to be more responsive and accountable to the citizens. A progressive vision can rekindle a sense of empowerment, possibility, and urgency among citizens who feel discouraged when faced with gargantuan market forces and failures.

For these progressive, solution-oriented reforms, we should turn to the Millennial generation. At the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, we believe that public innovation will foster overall economic growth and shared prosperity for all. I've witnessed Millennials across the network creatively address problems, considering current circumstances and future obstacles while maintaining core progressive values and principles. If we succeed, our efforts will last long beyond the next presidential election -- these improvements will prove to be lasting changes that build the solid foundation for future economic reforms.

Toward that end, the policy initiatives published in this year's installment of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's 10 Ideas for Economic Development, "Public Innovation for Shared Prosperity," represent some of the most brilliant ideas being put forth by Millennials across the nation.

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Blake Falk, a student from the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill, is encouraging municipalities to employ one-stop websites that combine the functions of multiple city agencies and lower the barriers of entry to business. His plan is inspired by NYC Business Express, an e-government project launched in 2005 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that has successfully reduced the costs of starting and running a small business. Since its inception, Boston, San Francisco, and Newark have contacted New York City to assist in the creation of similar local web tools.

Emily Chakunkal, Tom O'Melia, Adam Watkins, and Seth Wescott, students from the University of Michigan, want the Michigan state government to implement a student debt forgiveness program in exchange for students to commit to residing in Michigan post-graduation. Although there are over 300,000 students in Michigan public universities, only 50 percent of these students remain in the state after college. Absolving student debt will encourage students to remain in Michigan, bringing their advanced skill sets and innovative mindsets to an economic landscape in need of rejuvenation.

Ben Mabie, a student from the University of California Santa Barbara, is insisting that the Federal Reserve should initiate QE3, a new round of quantitative easing targeted at the consumers themselves in order to combat the economic burden of household debt. In June of 2010, the United States Federal Reserve purchased $2.1 trillion worth of bank debt, but the banks were hardly the only ones burdened by debt. From 1999 to 2008, total household debt balance nearly tripled from $4.6 trillion to $12.5 trillion.

Although these are brief introductions to a few of many Millennial initiatives, it should be emphasized that writing policy is not our end, but our means to communicate the bold action our country needs to embrace. We are also undertaking more hands-on projects. Last year, the Economic Development policy center constructed a financial literacy curriculum and workshops that were disseminated among inner-city residents. This year, we've partnered with Financial Access at Birth (FAB). Sponsored by the Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION, FAB seeks to provide a $100 savings account for every child born in the world, assign a unique biometric ID to every birth registered, and provide access to mobile and electronic branchless banking. FAB will utilize the power of incentives, technology, and scale to target and reform informal economies, and ultimately create financial and social inclusion for all. Roosevelt members have been integrated into this project in order to facilitate a more open dialogue between older generations and the Millennial generation, especially through the use of social media.

Campus Network members believe that Milennials need to create assurance, inspire resilience, and replace the skeptical conservatives driving our economic policy with progressive, exploratory thinkers. We hope this fundamental shift can begin with the proposals published in the 10 ideas series, but the momentum will be maintained by the thoughtful, action-oriented projects our members are pursuing in communities across the nation.

Erika Solanki is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Economic Development and a graduating senior at UCLA.

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