A New York Times article on young people and their attitudes towards government got plenty of play this week (on radio and TV, on the blogs, etc.) The headline tells the story well enough: “A Growing Trend: Young, Liberal, and Open to Big Government.”
But you already knew that. So, what’s (sort of) new here?
First, consider this quote regarding attitudes about what government should and should not do:
“Young people absolutely believe that there’s a role for government,” said Matt Singer, a founder of Forward Montana, a left-leaning though officially nonpartisan group that seeks to engage young people in politics. “At the same time, this is not a generation of socialists. They are highly entrepreneurial, and know that some of what it takes to create an environment where they can do their own exciting, creative things is having basic systems that work.”
In other words, despite seeing a big role for government in providing education, healthcare, and various other services, many young people also are entrepreneurial or aspire to be. The number of young people who want to spend a career working for the government is not on the rise. Instead, it is cool to start a business or work for a start-up.
Then there’s this point about how ideas about government evolve:
Studies show that voters are heavily influenced by the president with whom they came of age; the Franklin D. Roosevelt generation, for instance, stayed Democratic for decades, while many in the Reagan generation remained Republican.
But views can evolve; baby boomers, who supported big government in their 20s and 30s, have become more conservative over time, the Pew center has found. While today’s young voters are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans or independents, their ideas and philosophies are not quite fixed yet, said John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
Yes, views can evolve. What people think about the proper role of government can change. It’s a point that Ed and I stress in Madmen, on this blog, and pretty much every time we give a speech about politics and reform.
How those views evolve has a lot to do with the actions of what we call “Intellectuals” — those who select and transform and sell to the rest of us what they think are the most important ideas for society. They are reporters and news editors and talk show hosts. They are novelists and movie directors. They are preachers and teachers. And they are influential.
If we want to understand how the views of young people — or voters in general — are evolving, we need to understand how the views of these “Intellectuals” are changing.