Being young people who are interested in public policy is weird. There’s a persistent assumption that we don’t know what we’re talking about, or that we somehow don’t understand enough about the world to have an informed opinion. Further, though, there is a belief that our basic assumptions of how the world should work—that people working full-time should not live in poverty, that people deserve available and affordable health care—are a product of the naivety of youth. This is, needless to say, deeply condescending.
While it is true that your average twenty-year-old doesn’t have much experience with the complexities of the American economy or the intricacies of the health care system, the assumption that youth leaves us unable to understand policy is almost laughably wrong. In fact, our youth is often an asset. A lot of policy is deeply screwed up, and there is a certain degree of fatalism and rationalization that creeps into the reasoning of older people. Instead of seeing the fundamental flaws in the system, they often focus on the symptoms of those flaws. This is not to say that perspective is invalid or unwelcome. Instead, it simply presents an incomplete picture of the challenges facing our society.
We ran into this tendency as we researched Michigan State’s investment into interest rate swaps. Without going into too much detail, the University was attempting to lower its borrowing cost by betting that interest rates would rise above a certain level. These swaps were supposed to be a “hedge,” making the overall investment safer and minimizing risk from high interest rates. Instead, these swaps did the opposite, costing the University more than a hundred million dollars. Despite this, no one involved seemed to have stopped to consider the perversity of a public university having to bet on interest rates in the first place. This baseline assumption about the role financial institutions should play in the financing of public institutions deserved to be questioned. After all, questioning the wisdom of the rules that govern us and changing them to better suit our needs is the bedrock of democracy.
At Roosevelt @ MSU, we believe that young people should have a fundamental role in developing the rules of our society. Too often young people are called on to work for a campaign and ignored after it is won. Too often the rules that shape our lives are created by people who have little regard for our struggles or the circumstances that shape our lives. We deserve to have a voice in policy as well as politics, in thought as well as action. In doing original research like our work on financialization, in communicating our ideas through this blog and the 10 Ideas journals, in lobbying public officials on behalf of legislation we care about, we believe we can make a powerful difference and give voice to issues that would be otherwise neglected.
We are Roosevelt @ MSU. We are the next generation of progressive leaders and thinkers. We are activists and writers, dreamers and doers. We are committed to rewriting the rules and transforming the world from our campus on up.