State Of the Union 2013: Why Every Millennial Needs to Watch


Why should millenials, or anyone for that matter, watch Obama's State of the Union? The economy, stupid!

Listen to Obama, analyze his thoughts, his tones, gestures, and policy proposals. But above all, inquire of him: Are your actions investing in the future of ideas? Ideas are creating tomorrow’s jobs. If our president is not working toward addressing the future prospects of young people, he commits two errors. First, failing to address young people on a broader scale informs us that either a) young people do not fall under the domain of “Union”, or b) the term “State of the Union Address” is a misnomer, or just misleading. Secondly, he violates his own conviction that too frequently we sacrifice long term values for short-term gains.

Producing tomorrow’s thinkers is necessary for the future of the U.S. economy; a goal which collectively cannot be forgotten.   

For clarification purposes, the millenial generation properly defined includes individuals currently aged 18-29; the generation that will define the future of this “experiment in democracy,” as the author of our Declaration of Independence elegantly posed. Economic circumstances here make national numbers look like a sunny, tropical island as you trudge through a foot of snow: the unemployment rate for millenails currently hovers around 13.1%, representing a whopping 40% higher rate than the national average of 7.9%. 

Perhaps one of Obama’s most astute phrases of his 2009 State of the Union that is particularly relevant to Tuesday’s national address goes like this: “We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity.”

The root of the economic problem that Obama needs to address may be illustrated as such: an “economy” is a dynamic interaction of markets or industries that transform resources like labor, human capital, technology, into some type of product or service people are willing to pay for. Let’s call those resources “inputs.” If there are enough people willing to pay for product X, and there are enough firms willing to supply good X, you have yourself a market. The more resources that become available, the better off everyone is, assuming those resources can be put to productive use. 

Every moment we fail to invest in human capital is a moment that we fall behind on an international scale. One of the single most profound concepts fueling the rise of the great American economy is one you are constantly using, even as you read this sentence: ideas. The best part about ideas: they are the inputs that have the ability to reproduce themselves. 

Twenty years ago there was hardly a market for cell phones, let alone iPhones. A share of Apple common stock today costs $479.93. Look at the internet boom of the 1990s (we ran government surpluses!). Instant communication? Touch screen? World wide web? Desktop computer? Lap-top? Microsoft? These products have been instrumental in the development of the U.S. economy over the past 20 years. How did they get there?

Economic growth is spurred by ideas. Ideas give birth to markets. Markets provide benefit: the consumer to get something he values, the supplier gets some moolah. Win-Win. But is it not the case that economic growth is best attained when we use our most plentiful resource of all, our ideas?

A lot of industries make the U.S. economy go; agriculture, technology, construction, finance and banking, oil, etc.  But the true heroes of the economic world are the opportunity providers, more popularly known as “job-creators.” Think Bill Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet; the titans of their time. The real conclusion millenials should be searching for in Obama’s speech is this: what policies will be conducive to more minds like these in the future?

Mr. President, I trust you to be a man of your word. However the short-sightedness you claimed to have plagued us seems to have cast its veil over your own eyes. Mr. President, when you invest in us as thinkers, you invest in us as the job-creators of the future. Millenials all around might do well to give this president an opportunity to prove himself: Does he believe in us young people enough to make our cause a policy priority of his own?

Follow Grant's LIVE coverage of the State of the Union here.