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The Business of Giving: Dear Mr. President-Elect


Some ideas on how to rebuild for a better future.

We Need to Address Our Crumbling Social Infrastructure

After 20 long months of campaigning, we finally have a new president. So much has changed since Barack Obama first declared his intent to run for president. Back in 2007, the Dow was comfortably in the 5-digit range. The subprime mortgage crisis hadn't yet exploded. In fact, the America Obama signed up to lead is very different from the one he will command come January 20th.

You're going to have a much tighter budget to work with, President-Elect Obama, and an economy that it will be your job to rebuild. And here is how I suggest you do it: Create a stimulus plan that focuses on the future of our children. Spend more on our "social" infrastructure; by that, I mean the bridges and roads that better educate and lead people out of poverty and into productivity.

I know what you're thinking: How can we talk about spending when we have already spent so much on bail outs for banks and insurance companies? Won't that just grow the deficit? Yes, but that's not as bad as it sounds.

As Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times last month, "It's politically fashionable to rant against government spending and demand fiscal responsibility. But right now, increased government spending is just what the doctor ordered, and concerns about the budget deficit should be put on hold."

FDR did just that in 1936, when he created the Works Progress Administration. Unemployment hovered around 25%, and people needed jobs. From 1936 to 1939, $7 billion was spent ($104 billion in today's dollars) to hire laborers to build schools, hospitals, roads and lay sewer and water lines across the country. New York City's LaGuardia Airport was built thanks to the WPA, as was the presidential retreat Camp David and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

It's essential that a similar investment be made in the fabric of our society. What if we had a plan that pledged to focus on the future of our children? What if we invested in training and hiring teachers? What if we made community college free for anyone, just like K-12 education? What if, instead of incarcerating children for their crimes and sending them to juvenile detention facilities where all they learn is how to become better criminals, we coached and mentored them into believing there's another way out of poverty?

I believe the America we would wind up with would, just as happened in the 1950s, be a better one that we had before. Times are tough, and they will be tougher on some than others. But we can find a way to build the economy while investing in our future.

Better educated children today will be the profit-earning leaders of tomorrow. Better preventive medical care now will reduce health care costs later. If we spend money on programs that make this happen, I believe it will be a fundamental factor in our future economic success.

Mr. President-Elect, your new position will come with it extraordinary power. I hope you take FDR's lead and invest in programs that will stand the test of time. In 1933, FDR ordered that 500,000 men be hired to work in forestry and conservation. Because of their hard work, 3 billion trees were planted, many of which are still likely standing today. I believe by investing in the education and health care of our children and those in need, we'll reap rewards that not only will last a lifetime, but will also change the course of a family's history for many generations.

From my perch as the head of the Children's Aid Society, a nonprofit organization that strives to improve the lives of children and their families, I truly believe these solutions will work. If you're reading this and have a different opinion, I invite you to voice it. What we need more than anything is a discussion about our kids, because I believe once we begin talking about the problems they face, that's when we'll find real solutions.
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