Millennials and Public Policy

If you've any questions for Mike or Morley, go ahead and ask them in the comments, and I'll folow up with their answers in the comments, over the whole series, in a post later this week.

This is the third of three parts in review of Millennial Makeover:  MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics

Part I: About Political Makeovers

Part II: Millennials and the 2008 Election

Part III: Millennials and Public Policy

Millennials and Public Policy

You've written that Millennials respond more positively to a message emphasizing a multilateral rather than unilateral foreign policy. This seems to be reflected in a subtle way when Obama ends his speeches by saying "let's go change the world" rather than "God bless you" or "God bless America." What brought about this shift?

This shift has occurred for several reasons. First, "civic" generations such as the Millennial Generation, have historically favored multilateral rather than unilateral or nationalistic approaches in foreign policy. This was certainly the case with the GI Generation. Once that generation determined that an interventionist and activist, rather than an isolationist, foreign policy was in America's interest, the GI Generation endorsed World War II and postwar efforts that emphasized alliances such as NATO and international organizations such as the United Nations. Millennials, like their GI Generation grandparents, are not an isolationist or a pacifist generation. While they oppose the Iraq war, they do so because they believe it has diverted the country's attention from and weakened the overall struggle against terrorism and Islamic extremism. They also believe that United States efforts in these arenas should emphasize multinational alliances rather than unilateral military actions.  

Another reason that Millennials may be more comfortable with multilateralism and globalism is the diverse ethnicity of the generation. The Millennial Generation is the most diverse in U.S. history. About four in ten Millennials are African-American, Latino, Asian-American, or of mixed ethnicity. About 20-percent have at least one immigrant parent. Millennials seem especially comfortable with the world because, in their demographic composition, they are the world.

Finally, Millennials are constantly in communication with "friends" from around the world through their social networks. They have been raised to believe in the importance of including everyone in the group and finding "win-win" solutions to problems. They will take this attitude into the international arena, based on the friendships they have already established there.  As a result, we expect Millennials to look for policies that include everyone in the decision-making process and are likely to produce results that are acceptable to everyone in their expanded group, even if that group extends well beyond the borders of the United States.  

In regards to policy, you write that Millennials "are up to their eyeballs in debt" (p. 251) which will no doubt become even more of an issue as they come out of college with that debt. The previous generation had to deal with this to an extent, but nothing like the current generation, which is also going to have to deal with other issues of national debt. How does this play out with the Millennial generation when it comes to the polarized debate over taxes?

We believe Millennials will favor policies that relieve their debt burden even if it means higher taxes. Remember, civic eras reduce economic inequality, often through redistributive taxation policies, but also through other economic programs designed to provide relief from financial obligations, even at the expense of the financial sector.  Having set the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2010 in order to avoid the budget scoring rules of the Congress, Republicans have, in effect, made it easy for the Democratically controlled Congress that will be elected in 2008 to simply let those tax cuts, that primarily benefit  the wealthiest Americans, expire. Even in the event McCain is elected president , he will not be able to force the Democrats to pass extensions of tax breaks for the wealthy while the middle class is being so tightly squeezed. And, of course, should a Democrat become president, there won't even be a debate about the wisdom of doing so.  

However, the problems of the debt that George Bush has passed on to future generations by refusing, for the first time in the nation's history, to at least partially finance a war out of current tax receipts, will create an interest among Millennials and politicians of all types in a civic era to take additional measures to relieve this debt burden. Making all income subject to the payroll tax, as Senator Obama has suggested, is one such step that seems likely to be included in the mix of solutions to assuring the future viability of Social Security.  Mandating health care for all individuals and providing government subsidies to those who can't afford the premiums, is another way in which Millennials will seek to lower the cost of health care that is preventing many Americans from having enough money for other necessities.  And creating not just an optional, as Obama has suggested, but a mandatory program of "national citizen service" in exchange for the federal government paying for the first two years of post-secondary education will also become national policy in the civic era we are now entering.  

Tags: 2008 election, Millennials (all tags)



Re: Millennials and Public Policy

We already have a national service program--it's called Americorps.  We also already have programs that reward people with money for college if they use their postgraduate education to serve in underserved communities.  Still, I like the idea of requiring service, because I think we should all give back.

From Americorps' website:

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act, which established the Corporation for National and Community Service and brought the full range of domestic community service programs under the umbrella of one central organization.

This legislation built on the first National Service Act signed by President H.W. Bush in 1990. It also formally launched AmeriCorps, a network of national service programs that engage Americans in intensive service to meet the nation's critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.

The newly created AmeriCorps incorporated two existing national service programs: the longstanding VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program, created by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

by TinaH1963 2008-05-05 05:34AM | 0 recs

I've enjoyed reading this series from the interview and look forward to reading Millenial Makeover when I can get through the current backlog of must-reads.  

by hz 2008-05-05 06:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Millennials and Public Policy

Jerome, thank you for this series.  It is extremely illuminating and also confirms a lot of what I already assumed about my generation.  I am especially thankful for this section of this series, b/c I think a lot of people who have seen the rise of this generation in American politics thinks that we are bereft of policy interests.  

From the commentary on blogs and in the MSM, I think many see us drawn more by youtube videos of Obama Girl or branding by Democratic candidates.  And I've always seen our increased participation into American politics as entirely policy-based.  My generation is uniquely placed in American history: on the brink of several crises at once all which could destroy our country or the world.  And as the authors described when they were discussing multilateralism, the one true legacy of the Democratic alignment in the 1960's was the Education policy designed to improve group dynamics.  IOW, when schools began requiring assemblies to discuss positive relationship-forming and how to peacefully deal with conflicts as well requiring community service to gradaute, it had a major impact on the political consciousness of our generation.  I think we as a generation are more willing to reach out to solve problems.  And this initial instruction was reinforced by online social networks.  And from that perspective we have flocked to the Democratic party b/c we see the willingness to use government action as an element of the positive group dynamics that we were taught in school.

I don't mean to hijack this thread with talk of primary wars, but I really saw something in the authors response that is so perfectly descriptive of me that I want to echo it with my own experience.  The authors in discussing Millenials foreign policy perspective said:

While they oppose the Iraq war, they do so because they believe it has diverted the country's attention from and weakened the overall struggle against terrorism and Islamic extremism. They also believe that United States efforts in these arenas should emphasize multinational alliances rather than unilateral military actions.  

This is absolutely correct in my circumstances.  I have no problem with a just war (while we never wish for it, it can be good public policy).  I was in Washington, D.C. (a freshman at George Washington University) on 9/11.  And the calls for retribution in dorm on that night were as passionate as I'm sure they were after December 7, 1941.  I just was upset that we weren't going to continue to attack the people who killed our citizens and threatened my family.  And thus when I heard that Senator Obama was against the war from the beginning I was happy to see another opponent of what I thought was a foolish exercise.  But I was not sure if his position came from where I stood on the issue or if he was just a pacifist.  There are close to 120 brave members of Congress and 23 Senators who would not yield to an unjust war.  Yet, many, like Kucinich, opposed this war, b/c they oppose all wars for truly esteemable reasons.  Thus when I saw Obama's 2002 speech and I heard him say:

I don't oppose all wars. I just oppose dumb wars.

I stood up clapping and I was watching this speech on a computer alone.  I thought to myself that somehow my brain had been magically tranported into his head, b/c he was so mirroring what I believed with that statement and the entire speech.  And this is why I think Millenials are such a decisive advantage for Obama.  I think maybe due to his age and him becoming politically aware so much later than Clinton or McCain, he has a political approach that is more congruent with what we want from a politician.  Not a panacea of positive rhetoric of hope and change (although we are interested in a dramatic revolution in political leadership and political machinery), but a message that emphasizes as the "civic" responsibility of individuals and the nation.  And policy proposals that follow from that perspective.

by nklein 2008-05-05 06:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Millennials and Public Policy


Great post.  Something like "national citizen service" would a solid idea.  Two years to improve america.

I wonder how the GOP would vote on something like this?


by giusd 2008-05-05 07:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Millennials and Public Policy

I will certainly oppose it if it's mandatory. But if people want to volunteer it would be great.

by Kobi 2008-05-05 07:44AM | 0 recs
by Kobi 2008-05-05 07:42AM | 0 recs
Medium Theory

Thanks for this continued series Jerome. I'm partly through the book now, after receiving it a few days ago, and I have a thought that I want to share.

I'm involved in the Media Ecology field and wonder why there's no mention of Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Neil Postman or any of the people rooted in the tradition of medium theory cited in your work. It's a very good read and a very interesting piece of research, but it's missing the perspective on how Millenials are cognitively different beings than their Gen X and Baby Boomer predecessors.

They've been socialized less as literates and more as a kind of post-literate class of electronic learners. Baby boomers were still primarily a literate orientation, while Gen Xers shifted to an image-based cognition thanks to television as a primary communication environment. The Millenials are socialized in a digital/web-based environment on an increasing basis and cognitively resemble a tribal version of their literate American ancestors.

Curious about what consideration you gave to ideas like this in putting your book together...

by mikeplugh 2008-05-05 07:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Millennials and Public Policy

Thanks Jerome for your continued work on generational theory. Generational theory is one of my main interests and I am about 2/3rds of the way through Millennial Makeover. I have a few questions I would like to ask the authors. I hope these questions will be of interest to other readers.

1) One of the dangers Strauss and Howe refer to in their work The Fourth Turning is the tendency late in an Unraveling for the older generations to cling to institutional and political power for too the point where it can disrupt the transition into the subsequent turning (Crisis). Due to the peculiarities of our electoral college system, swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Arizona--which have significant senior-aged populations--are likely to play a pivotal role in the 2008 election. Do you see any potential for swing states with large Silent-aged populations to delay the coming realignment? What specific dangers do you associate with such a scenario?

2) Although the historic immigration rallies in the spring of 2005 involved participants of all ages and generations, it is my understanding that these rallies were largely organized by young Millennial-aged Latinos via their online social networks, email, texting, and by word-of-mouth. Latino Millennials then recruited their siblings, parents, grandparents, and extended families to join the cause. Do you see this as an early example of Millennial organizing abilities?

3) Related to question #2, is it possible that we could see similar mass-organizing by the Millennial generation in defense of their preferred presidential candidate during the Democratic Convention in Denver this summer? It seems highly unlikely that Millennials would be content to sit back and do nothing if Hillary Clinton were to use underhanded tactics to try to steal the nomination from Barack Obama. Are we looking at a replay of the 1968 convention, but on an even bigger scale?

4) Tensions between the generations often erupt during realignments. During the late 60's and early 70's, those tensions became very personal. Boomer teenagers and twenty-somethings rebelled quite openly against their own GI parents. The dinner table became a place of heated political confrontation, often to the point of mutual distrust and in some cases disrespect. Yet we don't see that kind of highly personalized intergenerational hostility AT ALL as the realignment of this decade approaches. Millennials get along famously with their Boomer parents, seeing their parents as inalienable friends and vital to their support system, even when they and their parents are supporting different candidates. In this realignment, we can see the generational tensions in our politics, but not so much in our personal lives. How do you explain this difference?

5) One of the big changes that I have noticed in late Xers and Millennials is they are far more attracted to urban living than their parents, who prefer big houses on big plots in big suburbs. Today's youth, influenced by shows like The Real World, Sex and the City, Will and Grace, and Seinfeld seem far more attracted to urban lofts, condos, and high rises. They have also been influenced by a pop culture that demonizes and/or ridicules suburbia: American Beauty, Desperate Housewises, the Stepford Wives, Disturbia, etc. With the collapse of the housing market, many are forecasting the end of suburbia as we know it, predicting that suburbs are going to become the ethnic and working class slums of the 21st Century. Even if these predictions are overstating the case, this still strikes me as a major shift in our culture and demography. Does this kind of shift have any precedent in previous realignments or turnings? What, if any, are the political implications?


by astrodem 2008-05-05 11:28AM | 0 recs


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