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Fixing Public Policy for the Millennial Generation

By: Nick Zaiac - @NickZaiac - Apr 1, 2016, 11:09 am
The DC Leviathan must change public policy, from the War on Drugs to healthcare reform.
The DC Leviathan must change its approach to everything from the War on Drugs to healthcare reform. (Wikimedia)

It’s time to take a cold, hard look at the failures of the 20th century’s public policy decisions.

The War on Drugs has failed. Public education, especially in cities, is a mess. The welfare bureaucracy has grown out of control and the debt pile it fuels shows no sign of shrinking. We need an immigration system that lets the world’s best and brightest stay here after getting their college degrees. These are not radical statements in Washington anymore. The damage from outdated laws and the political economy that produced them compounds every year.

Faced with a mountain of debt, cities, states and the federal government will seek new ways to generate the growth and prosperity they need to keep the lights on. This means free-market reform that improves the business climate and better provides existing services.

A new book, A Future For Millennials: Policies that can Restore Prosperity from Young Voices — an organization that provides news and opinion for millennials — lays out what regulation for the 21st century will look like. The book, to which I served as both a contributor and editor, includes 13 chapters with recommendations on what kinds of laws need changed and what reforms could help restore prosperity.

The book focuses on encouraging entrepreneurship and growth as a means for reforming disparate aspects of public life. Changes to criminal law and ending the War on Drugs could bring thousands of entrepreneurs out of the shadows and make hiring the best talent easier for companies.

The social benefit of decreasing the number of broken homes in poor neighborhoods itself could cut dependency on government transfers. New, healthier norms that develop when drugs are decriminalized and legalized would decrease the negative spillovers from illicit drug markets. Over-policing has real costs beyond the price of police salaries, and it accrues in the form of innovation that never happens.

While criminal justice reforms would do much to bring more people into the above-ground economy, reforms to regulation would help even more. The DC Leviathan has long argued that zoning laws and burdensome land-use regulations zapped the dynamism from the economy. Reforming the student visa process increases the pool of potential entrepreneurs.

In banking, crowdfunding is all the rage, but small-scale investors are left on the outside looking in. Companies like Fundrise could democratize real estate investment and allow people to buy shares in projects in their neighborhoods, but are stymied by rules that limit access to institutional investors.

Healthcare is in a similar boat. Rules limit the availability of telemedicine, concierge medicine, and other innovations that the digital age has made viable. Innovation in the technology sector itself is weakened by attempts to micromanage the way innovation plays out.

The need for education reform has also long been clear. Thankfully, model policies that can be emulated already exist and simply need to propagate into more states. The move to a future where real estate decisions and education decisions are no longer one and the same is already underway.

[adrotate group=”8″]Finally, the areas of life where government plays the largest role will see change as dollars grow more scarce over time. Cutting the number of welfare programs into a handful of larger programs makes sense. Selling off government assets, from public lands to the postal service to Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals could put a dent in the debt while cutting long-term spending.

The 20th century was an age where the nation spent beyond its means and regulated economic protectionism it could not afford. Today, economic growth is slow and the debt we have accrued to pay for this era is looming. The only way to address the problems we face will be a return to rapid economic growth fueled by making hard decisions that make some people worse off. Protections must be repealed. Programs must be terminated.

The nation must allow its citizens to take risks, knowing full well that a bailout won’t be forthcoming when things sometimes go poorly. A Future for Millennials lays out those hard choices that we have waited too long to make.

Nick Zaiac Nick Zaiac

Nick Zaiac is a public-policy researcher in Washington, DC. He also serves as a policy analyst at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. His column, The DC Leviathan focuses on the often-ignored bureaucratic agencies, from the Department of the Interior to the General Services Administration. He has been published in the Baltimore Sun, City AM, CapX, and other outlets. Follow @NickZaiac.