What if Congress' super committee was run by a bunch of 20-somethings instead of 12 seasoned politicians?
Of course that would never happen, but it might be kind of refreshing. Last week in a CNN editorial, Laura Sessions Stepp lamented that the current debt crisis might have been solved with a lot less bickering if Generation Y had been in charge of the negotiations.
It's tough to make generalizations about any generation, but there might be something to Stepp's argument. Research from Pew indicates that Millennials are more diverse than previous cohorts, which may make them more tolerant of differing opinions. And survey data from the Center for American Progress found that Millennials are the most pro-government generation. But whether this will translate into more cooperative or innovative decision-making remains to be seen.
Ask any older government employee, and they'll tell you that good ideas aren't dependent on a person's age. Says Susan Thomas, an employee at the Treasury Department:
I am a baby boomer and I am open to anyone's opinions. I don't think anyone's ideas are better or worse because of age. What matters is if the idea is good and worthwhile.
Bill Brantley, a human resource specialist at a federal agency, was also wary of generational stereotypes:
Just because a few folks who happen to be Tea Party members and Baby Boomers act in a certain way does not mean that every Baby Boomer should be stereotyped as unwilling to compromise. Neither should we assume that all Millennials are imbued with amazing reasoning powers due to their youth.
Take one look at our popular culture and it's immediately clear that America worships the young. But youth doesn't translate into wisdom: young people make mistakes all the time due to inexperience. However, Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka argues that there are certain generational traits that have important implications for the future of government:
Our experience at Code for America suggests that a certain type of Millennial (and our fellows are Millennials and older, up to late thirties) is fantastic at ignoring the politics and jumping in with fixes, hacks, improvements, solutions.
Another interesting trait about Gen Y is that they are respectful of their elders yet maintain very egalitarian attitudes about the workplace. Millennials want to listen to those who have gone before them, but they're also chomping at the bit to contribute themselves. Elliot Volkman, a community manager at GovWin, explains,
I'm [a Millennial] so my opinion may be slightly biased, but I would love to see my generation to be taken serious. If there is one thing I have seen for certain, it is that ideas can come from anywhere within or outside of a group, and position should not simply be a reason to ignore them.
But will Baby Boomers want to listen? John Sim, a senior analyst at the Department of Homeland Security suggested that a reverse mentoring system might be a great way for government employees of all ages to teach each other a thing or two.
While a baby boomer may not be willing to let a Gen Xer or Gen Yer call the shots directly, reverse mentoring would allow the baby boomer to learn some things from the Xers and Yers through a mentoring relationship. The end result - the baby boomer decision maker has the benefit of having acquired additional Xer/Yer tools in his or her toolkit. Diversity of thought = strategic and smart.
If Gen Y is more willing to put aside politics in favor of practical solutions, then maybe there is some hope for the future of government. However, it will still be a while before today's 20-somethings will be calling the shots in the halls of Congress. In the meantime, government workers and lawmakers of all ages need to keep an open mind if we ever hope to solve some of the monumental challenges facing this country. As Susan notes, "What we need are people who will bring ideas to the table that are best for all and not a political party."