We're at the height of graduation season, with the usual assortment of wise men and women advising high school and college graduates to get out there and follow their dreams, try new things, not be afraid to fail and so on.
In a polished example of the genre, Gov. Martin O'Malley Thursday went to the Comcast Center to tell thousands of graduates of the University of Maryland, College Park, that "humanity is at a portal in history - another kind of commencement. A threshold of time requiring a fundamental transformation. A transformation in understanding our relationship to the world around us, our relationship to the living systems of nature, and to the way we live and work with each other."
Isn't it remarkable how these historical doorways have reached every May and June for as long as we can remember? And that these doors and gates are always swinging open, never shut?
Of course, the young people - who mainly wanted to get through the ceremony, get their hands on their diplomas and go through the portal leading to their post-graduation parties - heard the governor out politely. One of the most lovable things about our high school and college graduates is the cheerfulness with which they humor the conceit of older folks who think that after youths have had 12 years of primary and secondary schooling, and in some cases four years of college, another speech is going to make a big difference.
But virtually every commencement address blithely assumes that our young people are going to be adding their talents to an open and dynamic society. Of course this is generally the case, but there are reasons for worry. One such reason was released this month by two scholars at the Brookings Institution, a think tank.
"Declining Business Dynamism in the United States" marshaled the evidence showing a sweeping decline in "firm entry rate" - firms less than one year old as a percent of all firms - and in job reallocation, a measure of the churning of the labor market. Both of these have been going down for decades, and the trend is national - we're not talking about a difference between stagnant and fast-growing areas of the country. Since new firms are disproportionately the engines of innovation, and the bringers of new jobs and productivity gains, the trend is disturbing.
We don't know why this is happening. Perhaps the aging of the baby boom generation and of the country as a whole plays a part. The authors of the Brookings study suggest expanding the number of immigrant entrepreneurs granted permanent work visas. "Immigrants are twice as likely to launch businesses as native-born Americans," they point out.
In any case, politicians and government officials need to make sure an open, dynamic society really awaits our graduates. Then they can talk to their heart's content about how they expect the graduates to revitalize that society.