Have you tried speaking to a group of bright high school students wondering about what the current state of the world means for them and what they should do about it? I am grateful to have done so last week: I ended up gaining insights into how some of tomorrow’s leaders are thinking about the world they will inherit.
My presentation was divided into three parts. The conversations that ensued, both at the talk and thereafter, were broader in scope and, yes, much more interesting.
We first tried to construct a framework that finds common links among headlines that many teenagers find troubling, and understandably so. Unfortunately it is a rather long list, including indicators of too few jobs, too much debt, growing social tensions, squabbling and ineffective politicians and, more generally, a sense that America is losing vibrancy at a time when some other parts of the world are getting stronger and less predictable.
To identify these links we spoke about why and how confidence is eroding in America’s ability to deliver on its long-standing promises of prosperity, opportunity and social fairness. We then traced this to damaging institutional failures in the private and public sectors, insufficient investment in America’s future, multiyear debt dynamics and the realities of fundamental global realignments.
Our second challenge was to ask whether this state of affairs is reversible. The answer is clearly yes, but it will take a major, comprehensive, sustained effort to change some things and to do others much better. This will only occur if, first, there is a better sense of shared responsibility and, second, our elected representatives overcome their inclination to bicker and instead converge on a common vision and purpose.