Last Friday (September 18), the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center sponsored a forum examining Minnesota’s history of relative prosperity and prospects for the future. Experts from the university and state government offered a somewhat bleak assessment of current trends – especially for poorer people and people of color.
One message was that Minnesota is becoming more like the rest of the nation – that is, a state once known for its relatively high investment in public education and social services is now not so different from most other states, and some indicators like dismal high school graduation rates for minority young people and high unemployment rates may be a result. At the same time, panelists offered a slew of promising solutions – for example Prof. John Adams called for significant increases in funding of postsecondary technical education; Chuck Johnson of the Minnesota Department of Human Services pointed to innovative programs led by Native American reservations.
Yet, one question continued to gnaw at me after the session, because ultimately panelists and audiences alike argued that a lack of enlightened "political will" seemed to be the real culprit in undercutting Minnesota’s prosperity, broadly defined. The implication was that academic experts and policy advocates often have a lot of good ideas and evidence about the benefits and costs of enacting or cutting back public investments, but elected officials don’t get the message from their constituents that they should be watching out for the common good.
What do you, the visitors to this blog, think? Is the real culprit a lack of communal concern among the citizenry, is it failure of academics and advocates to effectively alert lawmakers to the likely consequences of their decisions and nondecisions? Or is it something else? And depending on your answer, what is the best way to combat the problem?