Tag Archives: Economics

Making the Millennial Dream

I just finished reading a fascinating article on CNN this morning, about the jobs market as it relates to millennials. The writer, Ruben Navarrette, Jr., suggests that millennials like myself simply aren’t cut out for the rigors of modern work, at least not as most of us are now. He writes that, “In a competitive global economy, which is not interested in catering to anyone’s sense of self-worth, these young people may learn the hard way that their needs and expectations don’t match reality and that jobs are hard to come by.” Tough outlook, isn’t it?

Some may be unfamiliar with the term “millennial” as it’s used here. Millennials are, broadly speaking, a group of people from about age 18 to age 30, the sons and daughters of baby boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials have been raised during an incredible technological boom, a time during which the internet, cell phones, social networking, and an endless supply of other technical marvels have redefined the way life is lived, in first- and third-world countries alike. They tend to be very well-educated, and have an incredible sense of self-esteem and self-worth. They’re also the age group I’m a part of.

Navarrette is blunt and unapologetic in his assessment of millennials. But what he seems to see as negative traits in this up-and-coming generation might be seen instead as assets in building a brighter future.

RN (Ruben Navarrette; one can only type “Navarrette” so many times before one’s fingers fall off) cites millennials’ self-confidence as a drawback in terms of their future success. His argument is that this confidence leads young people to be too optimistic about their job prospects, and ultimately causes them to turn down “perfectly good” opportunities when they come along. Millennials, he says, expect too much and are unwilling to accept too little when job-hunting. There’s some truth to this: Many people around my age have pretty lofty goals and expectations for their lives, especially when it comes to work, which often makes them/us less eager to take less-than-desirable jobs if they’re not connected to those goals. RN puts it this way: “Many millennials have been known to hold out for the perfect job at the perfect company with the perfect salary and a clear path to the vice presidency, even if it means crashing with mom and dad well into their 20s.”

But is this self-confidence really a bad thing? Sure, it can lead young people to be unrealistic about employment. But at the same time, the many huge problems we face in the modern world aren’t going to be solved by timidity. Many millennials (myself among them) bring this confidence into their vision for the future, and aren’t afraid to have big dreams that match their admittedly large opinions of their own abilities. But this should hardly be called a disadvantage! We’re now in a day and age in which great ideas and innovations can go far, no longer restricted by borders, distance, or language, so it follows that as many people as possible should be creating and voicing great new ideas. Facebook wasn’t started by a baby boomer, after all!

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Blending the Line Between Business and Charity

The original (and very basic) $300 house design, showing the necessities that must be included in a valid entry into the competition. (Source: theglobeandmail.com)

I was recently listening to the Economist’s All Audio podcast (which, by the way, I would highly recommend), a fantastic source for news and analysis. In a (fairly) recent report, published on April 28, I heard about a wonderfully simple yet novel idea: A $300 house for the poor.

Living quarters are often given secondary importance in the fight against poverty by many. Things like the provision of food and medicine usually take the front seat, leaving living space as a kind of secondary concern when stacked up against what may seem like more important goals. But when one stops to think about it, living space has a direct effect on nearly every other aspect of life.

What’s safer, a mansion or a broken-down shack? Which has more reliable clean water? Which offers more protection from bug-born and other diseases? The places we live in are integral to our health. But an alarmingly large part of the world’s population isn’t afforded these “luxuries” by the places in which they live. A decent house, apartment, or other living space can act as a stepping stone to a better life for individuals and families in devastating poverty. But, according to a 2010 report by the UN, there were about 827 million people living in slums around the world in this year.

Here’s where the $300 house comes into play. A professor of international business at Dartmouth named Vijay Govindarajan issued a challenge of sorts to the business minds of the world: Turn your talents to housing the poor. Who better to find an economical solution to a global problem? Govindarajan and a consultant started an online competition to create a house that is sturdy and secure, and also provides basic necessities for its inhabitants, such as electricity and clean water. The winning design will then be discussed and improved, and ideally, will be invested in by global companies. In this way, the world’s poor can be aided without draining other parts of the world economy; businesses can reach a new kind of customer, and those customers can receive the support and shelter they need for day-to-day life at a price they can afford. As Govindarajan’s consultant, Christian Sarkar, put it, “We’re trying to encourage companies to look at the bottom of the pyramid, at the poor, as customers. What you’ve got to do is make it a business and make it to scale.”

Normally, I tend to draw a line in the sand between business and philanthropy. It’s an easy dichotomy to make: We think of business as the pursuit of personal gain, and philanthropy as the pursuit of others’ wellbeing. I have to admit that I tend to separate the two as well; in fact, I always used to tell myself that I could never go into business, because it would be too self-serving. But this idea, among many others, has proven me utterly wrong about this.

It’s true that in many cases, businesses do tend to be self-serving. The purpose of a business is to make money, so it can be very easy for those in the business world to become so focused on money-making that they lose sight of the great potential the business world has for helping the poor in a cost-effective way, something many charities couldn’t say. The $300 house idea is a great one, not only for its provision of safe and secure housing for the poor, but for its fusion of care for the poor and economic thinking. Many great ideas to help the poor have been held back by monetary shortcomings and lack of funding. But if the business world can continue to get involved in this kind of low-cost business to and for the poor, for everything from water filters to houses, then perhaps cost-effective charity could be much easier than we think.

I used two major information sources for this post: The Economist audio story I mentioned above, and a great article I found here, on The Globe and Mail.

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The Dragon’s Breath

Most people would agree that the future of the environment, and the way we treat it, are some of the most important issues we face today. How we handle today’s environmental issues will affect how tomorrow’s world will operate.

Many Americans are (thankfully) pretty conscious about environmental risks and the consequences of a failure to care for the Earth. But part of this awareness arises from the mistakes that our nation has made in the past. During the Industrial Revolution, America and other Western nations were blazing new trails of industry and commerce, coming up with incredible new technologies like the steam engine, or the use of electricity for energy. This came at a high cost to the environment though, dealing a blow to American soil, water, and air.

Now, China’s obviously made it past Industrial Revolution standards – at least technologically and industrially. But at the same time, their impact on the environment is colossal, not just for their own country, but for the world in general. As a rising nation in the world, China has an obligation not to burden the environment as they ascend in global power. And they’re doing a pretty bad job at holding to that obligation.

I won’t absolve America from guilt for this either. The average American contributes vastly more to global warming than the average Chinese. Really, this is part of the problem! America isn’t in much of a position to insist that China be more environmentally conscious, especially in light of the somewhat tense relationship between the two countries. As was put in another article (a review of a book on this subject, and my inspiration for this post), “A seventy-a-day smoker riddled with lung cancer isn’t really in a position to lecture a younger man to stop smoking, especially if he’s trying to steal his nicotine patches.” America really has little authority to tell China to clean up.

On the other side though, American pollution doesn’t claim the lives of 700,000 people every year, at least not directly. China can’t say the same. And while America still has a lot to learn, China has the benefits of experience from other nations making mistakes during their periods of industrialization. Now that countries like Germany, France, the US, and Britain have all had their screw-ups during industrial development, China has a lot more to look back on and avoid.

The real problem here is that China is unlikely to cut back on pollution, out of a deeply rooted philosophy of pragmatism. As China has risen to power in the world, keeping up with other nations like the US economically has been of primary importance. When weighted against things like water pollution or the difficulties of the peasantry, economic strength and vitality has always come out on top. That’s the side of China that most of the West sees: a rising power that has seemingly conjured economic and military might out of nowhere. What many people don’t see is the heavy toll this mindset has taken on the Chinese people.

I’m planning to write more on this later, so stay tuned! If you didn’t before, you should definitely check out that article I mentioned earlier. For now, 再见!

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Filed under Environment & Nature, International Focus