What Do 21 Federal Government Shut Downs Mean For the Next Generation?

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We are suffering through the 21st federal government shut down since the administration of Gerald Ford.*  Key agencies of our federal government are shut down for any but essential services. Need a passport? Sorry. Need a permit? Sorry. Need some information? Sorry. Need the trash picked up at a national park? Sorry. And, for essential services, federal workers are being forced to work without pay. How is that not involuntary servitude?

Are there some lessons from these test of wills between presidents and Congress? Commentators focus on short term issues: Who gets the blame? What compromise will reopen these agencies? Will President Trump get something he can call wall funding? Will his supporters be satisfied? If he does, what will the Democrats get in return?

How would these questions change if we focused on the next generation, especially those old enough to follow the news? We might ask: Does shutting down the government over a policy argument strengthen or weaken the institutions we will be passing on to the next generation? Does it strengthen or weaken the next generation’s faith in democracy? Does it discourage them from choosing a career in public service?

Many kids follow in the footsteps of their parents—I doubt the children of furloughed park rangers are hearing what a great career they could make in the park system.

Taking a next generation view changes the issues and the questions in any political discussion. Could it help settle stubborn disputes before they escalate to a crisis? Maybe. Most of our political leaders are parents and grandparents. Some may tone down their demands and rhetoric if we remind them the kids are listening and taking this all in. Second, when parties seem irreconcilable, a well-known negotiation tactic is to bring additional issues to the table. Bringing the interests of the next generation into the discussion automatically does that. Suddenly, there are more things to bargain about and trade off.

The next time we are headed for a shut down, let’s ask everyone, “Have you thought about the next generation?”

 

*All 21 Government Shutdowns in U.S. History

 

Conditional Optimism

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The old saying goes: A pessimist says that glass is half empty. An optimist says the glass is half full.* But what do you call the person who picks up the glass and fills it? How about a “conditional optimist,” one who believes they can create the future by taking action? This is an idea that was recently discussed on the NPR show Marketplace by Nobel honored economist Paul Romer.

It’s easy to be pessimistic about the future, thinking that our children will never have the same opportunities we had, or optimistic, thinking that we have faced many crises before and overcome them, so we will again. Prospective democracy requires thinking deeply about the future and then taking action to create the future we want for our children and grandchildren–the next generation of voters. Romer’s ideas about the attitude of conditional optimism seems like a fit.

I recommend his interview if you want to feel positive about the future. You can listen here.

Be hopeful, be active

Tom

*And one for fun: An industrial engineer looks at the glass and says, That’s twice as much glass as we need for the job!

What If We Had a Secretary of the Future?

Corporations employ people to imagine and prepare for the future. Why shouldn't the federal government? 

One of my favorite shows on National Public Radio is Marketplace for their wide-ranging and eye-opening reports and opinions. Take a listen to an idea about a Secretary of the Future to make government more forward-looking. It sounds a bit off the wall, except that similar roles are being developed in the private sector.

Thanks to Dr. Douglas Harris from Loyola College and Johns Hopkins University for passing this along.