Boston’s Remarkable Experiment with Youth Engagement through Participatory Budgeting

Peter Levine reports:

On Friday, I had the opportunity to observe about 50 Boston young people at work on the city’s youth Participatory Budgeting initiative. I will write the whole story for GOOD Magazine, so this is just a teaser. In essence, volunteer young people (ages 12-25) have brainstormed more than 400 projects that the city could support out of its capital budget. I watched committees of youth come together to study, refine, and screen these proposals. In June, as many youth as possible will be recruited to vote for their favorite proposals at meetings across the city. The city will then allocate $1 million of its capital budget to fund the top-scoring projects.

This is an example of Participatory Budgeting, a process that began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has since spread to 1,500 locations in many countries, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project. It bears some resemblance to other processes, including the New England town meetings that began in the 1600s and still survive in some towns in our region, not to mention the 265,000 village councils of India and other participatory government mechanisms around the world. It is nevertheless an innovation. . . . (Keep Reading)

When / Why do People Choose to Contribute to Public Goods?

Are people mostly self-interested egoists who are unlikely to help achieve common goals unless somehow forced or induced to do so by government or other powerful agencies?  Although a lot of people (and the assumptions of traditional economics) suggest the answer is yes, there is reason to doubt this is so. Or, to be more precise, there is good reason to doubt it is true of all or even most people. For example, why does anyone voluntarily vote when there is essentially zero chance that doing so will promote the individual voter’s narrow self-interest? And why do people voluntarily recycle or work with others to help out a neighbor in need? At least some people seem to be motivated by a sense of social obligation or some motive(s) other than narrow egoistic self-interest.

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Post-Racial Politics? (Not yet, but wait a generation or two)

There has been much debate over the extent to which Obama’s presidency signals that we have entered a “post-racial” era in American politics. Does the fact that we (twice) elected a black president mean our politics is no longer shaped by negative racial stereotypes? In recent days, the Monkey Cage has discussed research providing empirical evidence that (1) “racial resentment” played a role in the government shutdown, but (2) Obama’s Presidency may have led young people to have attitudes “more favorable to blacks than every previous generation.” This research suggests that, while “post-racial” is not an apt description of our present politics, there is reason to suspect there may be a post-racial politics on the horizon.