Published April 26, 2019

From the CEO

In his 1931 book The Epic of America, historian James Truslow Adams popularized the term “American dream,” defining it as the quest for “a better, richer and happier life for all our citizens of every rank.”

Adams believed that the dream’s promise of shared prosperity gave the nation a unique sense of optimism and purpose. Unfortunately, a growing number of Americans now doubt Adams’s vision. And with reason.

Young people can no longer realistically assume that they will have a higher standard of living than their parents. More than 90 percent of Americans born in 1940 earned more than their parents by age 30. Yet, according to Harvard’s Opportunity Insights research group, only about half of those born in 1984 managed the feat.

The skepticism of younger Americans contrasts with the economic optimism of their counterparts in Vietnam and China. In both countries, poverty has declined and income growth for the bottom 40 percent of the population has actually surpassed the overall rate. It’s thus no wonder that, according to recent surveys, 76 percent of Chinese and 95 percent of Vietnamese support capitalism.

The contrast raises serious questions. In an era of uncertainty, how can we restore Americans’ confidence in our economic system? More to the point, how can the system earn their renewed trust by ensuring that all share in the benefits of growth? The search for answers to these questions goes to the heart of what we do at the Milken Institute.

The theme of the 22nd Milken Institute Global Conference is, by no coincidence, “Driving Shared Prosperity.” We look forward to the insights of leading figures from business, government and academia.

But leadership gatherings are only one of the ways the Institute is working to renew the confidence of Americans in the economic system. Consider, for example, the Institute’s role in implementing the federal Opportunity Zones program, a part of the 2017 tax changes that provides new incentives to those who invest in economically distressed areas. We are working with regulators to create a framework for the program that will target the communities and people who can most benefit.

The challenges of extending prosperity in the face of obstacles ranging from global economic integration to climate change to the relentless march of labor-saving artificial intelligence are daunting. But this isn’t the first time America’s commitment to shared prosperity has been tested. With closer cooperation and greater determination among businesses, government and community leaders, we can once again turn skepticism into the reality of a better future.

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Michael Klowden, CEO