This essay was one of four finalists in a student essay contest on the New Deal and today sponsored by the Roosevelt Institution and The Nation. Visit StudentNation to read the winning essays and the other finalists.
The world from which FDR’s New Deal was borne is no more. No longer can individuals expect that American industry will bequeath them steady employment and a gateway to the consumer middle class. The positions open for those without a college education, once a bastion of America’s industrial prowess, are rapidly depleting.
As global warming remains unaddressed and evermore dire, our prison population increases to frightening levels, and our educational system lags farther and farther behind our competitors, new challenges confront us all. And thus, as all Americans must adapt to these new international circumstances with all of their abounding uncertainties, dangers, and possibilities, it is imperative that the United States puts forth a new social contract; one predicated on the same New Deal responsibility of the government to protect its citizenry not only from foreign foe, but also from the inevitable evils of our society’s faceless turbulence.
Today’s challenges, however, mandate that the government guarantees a security net composed of education and training initiatives. A new educational system, one that fosters creative innovation, prioritizes achievement in the math and sciences, and opens the doors of our nation’s universities and colleges to all who are willing, must be at the foundation of this new system. The most potent resource of the 21st century is a nation’s intellectual capital. There is no policy that can shield the American worker from the vital importance of attaining an education. Likewise, there is no protectionist agenda that can halt the movement of certain middle class jobs abroad. The politics of the New Deal have the potential to inspire a new generation of politicians and activists to establish a system whereby the American people will come to expect advanced education and training from their government, and will demand it if is eliminated.
The politics of the New Deal were transformative because they were smart and pragmatic. The consensus was reached that there is both a moral and pragmatic imperative for the government to protect its citizens from the pitfalls of a free market economy. Today, that same line of thought must be employed to institute a dramatic expansion of green corps jobs initiatives. These jobs are profound in their capacity to holistically address many dire challenges facing us today, most notably global warming, public safety, gross societal inequities, and the consequences of our globalizing economy.
The 21st century social compact must call on the government to move beyond petty political diatribes, and acknowledge that the “inescapable network of mutuality” propounded by Martin Luther King Jr. from his Birmingham City jail cell 45 years ago rings truer every day. Our communities, cities, states, and world will become safer and more bountiful with every individual that enters our university’s doors rather than our penitentiaries, and our Earth will become healthier with every individual that moves from the unemployment line to the green jobs training center. Especially with Social Security, the New Deal set the precedent for acknowledging this deep interconnectedness. We must build upon this notion, and embrace the universal benefits of a modern government that is dedicated to preparing and training all of its citizens for a world more competitive, unpredictable, and impermanent than ever before.