Tom Brokaw's best-selling book, "The Greatest Generation" profiles stories of men and woman of the Depression and WWII veterans that went on to create successful lives. As the Greatest Generation they were part of a post-war boom that built a thriving consumer economy with two cars in every garage and new institutions like NASA that took us to the moon.
But this 'Greatest Generation', while growing up through the stress of the Depression and slogging their way through a horrific war was also the recipient of a peacetime event that was as much a part of their success as the internal fortitude that got them through the war and Depression. And that was the GI Bill.
Just prior to the end of WWII, the powers in Washington were aware that 16 million men and women would be returning from the war. This massive influx, unless prepared for in advance, would likely result in the chaos that had occurred after WWIs' five million veterans returned and were left to fend for themselves. Repeating this was unconscionable and the result was a hastily drafted "Servicemen's Readjustment Act" more commonly known as the GI Bill.
The GI Bill was by far, the largest government investment in its citizens ever and it primarily benefited working class white men and a much lesser amount of women, African-Americans and other minorities. This $15 billion investment (about $140 billion in today's dollars) was the most successful economic stimulus package ever. For every $1 invested, there was a $7 return. Not only was it a financial success, but the social dividends were enormous. Out of the GI Bill, came 14 Nobel Prize winners, 3 Supreme Court justices, 3 presidents, a dozen senators, two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 17,000 journalists, 22,000 dentists as well as lawyers, businessmen,, artists, actors, etc. (from "Over Here" by Edward Humes) The United States was transformed by the GI Bill.
Now, here we are again-we don't have 16 million coming back from war, but we have millions of citizens who are finding an economy they once were a part of has changed dramatically and they no longer have a place in it. With 6 million currently unemployed and more to come, we must recognize that our consumer economy is not going to return to its former status and we must prepare for the resulting unemployment and transition needs of our country. These challenges demand us to consider the creation of a 21st century "GI Bill". But instead of calling it a GI Bill---let's call it the Full Spectrum Economy bill.
Our citizens are the backbone of this country and as the consumer economy's businesses retract, a potential 32 million people could be out of the workforce. The 'readjustment' into a new Full Spectrum Economy will take an investment of time, money, education and creativity. But a Citizen/Full Spectrum Economy Readjustment Act and the building of a Full Spectrum Economy would provide the key needs for the transition.
A Full Spectrum economy will bring into economic measurement all the activities necessary for us to live life. Instead of the 3 sectors of Markets, Government and Illegal that are now measured through the GDP-we'll build a six sector Full Spectrum Economy to include markets, government, illegal as well as the missing household enterprise, volunteer service and natural environment. In doing this, we build an economy capable of meeting the needs of the 21st century.
A Citizen/Full Spectrum Economy Readjustment act would enable us to focus on the key necessities of the next economy: human capacity building. A Full Spectrum economy requires all children to have the opportunity for optimal human development. This will require increased education for all parent providers so the human capacity development can be realized since this is the foundation for a Full Spectrum Economy. As the original GI Bill did for 8 million returning GIs, we would set in motion a similar positive outcome for our country. In the 1950s colleges flourished-and an education that was once reserved only for the elites became a staple for many who would never otherwise have been able to afford it. Over the next 30 years, this increased education will support a huge rise in conscious involvement by more and more citizens and the result is the building of this new, Full Spectrum economy.
Today too many of our young adults cannot afford college-or they come out with such huge debt loads that they spend years paying them off. Imagine if every one of our high school students were provided with this option for on-going education without concern for cost only a concern for learning with a requirement that human capacity building was a part of this education. The choice of major would come from a wider variety of disciplines-and the new sector of 'household enterprise' would now be recognized as a viable career path too. As we've seen over the last 20 years-because college was so costly-many chose majors/professions simply based on future pay scales-in order to pay off the debt. This is why far too many headed into the 'get rich quick' finance world instead of other directions. And can you blame them? Look at a medical degree-if you're coming out with $150,000 in debt-it would be hard to justify becoming a doctor in a rural town in Utah-you could never pay off your debt. But imagine being able to complete your degree with no debt-then wherever you work has viable economic possibilities.
As part of this Citizen/Full Spectrum Economy Readjustment Act-volunteer service would be required-but a "National Service Registry' would also be instituted at the same time. Thus, all citizens would be committed to 'caring for their community' but this service would be registered and valued. Just as we save for our future retirement through Social Security throughout our lives, through the National Service Registry, we could build 'a community caring savings account'. Through our own actions we would build a social safety network and encourage everyone who is capable to participate. Thus, the next generation learns early on to be an involved citizen and see how it benefits his or her life as well as the community at large.
The original GI Bill literally transformed the United States-in ways that no one predicted. Had this generation not received this investment, it was likely that the Depression that had been temporarily interrupted due to the war economy would have returned. But instead, politicians and business leaders of the day took a bold step and not only prevented the Depression from returning, they watched a new economy emerge. Today, we are in Depression-as serious as the 1929 Depression-with 6 million unemployed and a reality of many more to join these ranks. We are confronted with global warming, resource depletion and population numbers putting strains on the natural environment systems in ways that are threatening our very existence. The consumer economy needs to transform to a Full Spectrum Economy.
Had the GI Bill not been enacted, millions of men and women's lives would have been severely limited as they came back to a country ill-prepared to employ 16 million people. Today as well, millions of people's lives are being limited as homeless populations increase, children's education is being interrupted as teachers are laid off and school systems struggle to stay afloat. Families are suffering and the impact on human development will reverberate on our country for generations to come. As the GI Bill has proved, we do not have to stand idly by and let this destruction occur-we can enact powerful legislation the takes these challenges and creates solutions.
In the case of the first GI Bill no one could foresee the final outcome. Today we can use the increased knowledge and technology that resulted from this generation's success to map out a conscious strategy and see where this new investment can lead us. A Citizen/Full Spectrum Economy Readjustment act would enable a 'regeneration' of the United States for the 21st century. It would show the world that when confronted with overwhelming unemployment and citizen need, our leaders can be bold and step up to the plate to once again enact solutions. In doing so*, we can produce the next "Greatest Generation".
(*funding for the Citizen/Full Spectrum Economy Readjustment act is discussed in a previous article)