When my son asked me how young people could avoid being dejected, I told him about the recent history of national service. If you look at the birth years of the extraordinary community service programs that deploy tens of thousands of young people around the country you’ll notice something interesting:
Teach for America – founded in 1989
City Year – 1988
YouthBuild Network – 1988
Equal Justice Works – 1986
Campus Compact – 1985
These transformative programs were all created during the Reagan Administration. Most of the social entrepreneurs who launched these and other programs became convinced that the federal government wasn’t going to do much to solve the nation’s problems so they took matters into their own hands.
These folks are not libertarian. This is not a case for replacing government with private action. Indeed, most of these programs have been able to dramatically expand their impact by becoming a part of AmeriCorps when it was created under Clinton. But it is proof that periods of government retrenchment or incompetence can spawn tremendous citizen action, creativity, and productivity.