Miller Center

Media Contact: Howard Witt, 434-924-6051

About the Milstein Symposium

In September 2013, the Miller Center will launch The Howard P. Milstein Symposium: Ideas for a New American Century.  This five-year initiative will convene distinguished stakeholders and eminent scholars to advance innovative, non-partisan, action-oriented ideas, grounded in history, to help rebuild the American Dream.  The Miller Center will organize three Milstein commissions each year.

The Challenge: Rebuilding the American Dream in a Rapidly-Changing World


The development of a broad and thriving middle class was a signature achievement of post-WWII America.  In a July 2013 speech at Knox College, President Obama said that after the war, America offered its citizens “a basic bargain—a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and, above all, to hand down a better life for your kids.”  For many, the American Dream became a reality for the first time.  However, during the 1970s, “the bargain began to fray,” and today—coming on the heels of “the lost decade”—some alarming long-term trends have become visible.  Wages have stagnated, wealth has plummeted, debt continues to mount, the cost of key middle class items—health care, housing, and education—have risen faster than wages, and optimism is near an all-time low.  By almost any measure, the future of the American Dream is in peril.  Policymakers are only now beginning to recognize the political, economic, and social dynamics that have been evolving for decades.  Unfortunately, for many the Dream has already been lost.

Much of the focus in Washington is on the state of things as they are, and not in anticipation of things as they are likely to be.  In May 2013, the McKinsey Global Institute released a comprehensive report, entitled Disruptive Technologies, which identified twelve emerging technologies, including advanced robotics, automation of knowledge work, cloud technology, autonomous vehicles, and advanced energy exploration and recovery, that will “transform life, business, and the global economy.”  As they have throughout history, new technologies hold great promise for productivity gains, consumer surplus, and new profit pools.  They also, according to the Economist, have the potential to “widen inequality, increase social exclusion, and provoke a backlash” from those not among the small percentage of so-called winners. 

As the world evolves at Internet speed, what can we do to ensure that the working and middle class are assured a secure spot in the future? 

Over the next five years, the Miller Center’s Milstein Symposium will generate ideas to restore the bargain and rebuild the American Dream for the 21st Century.  Each year, the Miller Center will convene three commissions made up of leaders from across the political spectrum committed to finding nonpartisan, innovative, action-oriented—yet practical and attainable—ideas to rebuild the American Dream.  The commissions will be inclusive by design, bringing together policymakers, government officials, business and industry leaders, scholars, advocates, social entrepreneurs, media representatives, and other stakeholders necessary to achieve broad support.  And they will be built on world-class scholarship, meeting the standard expected from one of the nation’s leading universities.

With over 14% of Americans currently unemployed or underemployed, the project will focus its first year on “Creating the Jobs of the Future.”  Subsequent years will address other priorities for rebuilding the American Dream: developing a 21st Century workforce, educating citizens to ascend to or remain in the middle class, building a secure retirement, and responding to the ever-changing demographics of America’s middle class. 

The Topics: Milstein Symposium 2013-14—“Creating the Jobs of the Future”

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Employment security is a core component of the American Dream.  “We cannot support our families unless there are jobs,” said Ronald Reagan, who called work and family “the foundation of our dignity as a free people.”  The American people, more today than ever before, view employment as fundamental to a middle-class lifestyle.  An August 2013 Pew poll found that 86% of Americans feel that having a secure job is essential to being in the middle class.  This stands in stark contrast to a similar Pew poll conducted in 1991 which found that homeownership was the most important attribute in being considered part of the middle class, followed by owning two or more cars, having a college education, and holding an investment portfolio.  

As the labor market shifts in response to emerging technologies, it is vital that we develop innovative ideas and new strategies for stable, good-paying jobs.  Throughout the 20th century, manufacturing, infrastructure, and small business provided the vast majority of middle-class jobs, and they will continue to be critical drivers of middle-class jobs—albeit in different ways—in the 21st century. 

In its first year, the Milstein Symposium will convene commissions on the following three topics.  Together, these three commissions will produce innovative, bipartisan ideas to spur employment and get more Americans back to work:

  1. New Manufacturing
    Over the next decade, advanced technologies, major shifts in global demand, and greater emphasis on customization will fundamentally redefine manufacturing and create significant growth potential for small- and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises (SMEs).  As we enter this new era of manufacturing, what can be done to facilitate the growth of an American “mittelstand”—and the middle-class jobs created by SMEs?


  2. Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment 
    (In partnership with the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UVa’s Darden School of Business)
    At no time in American history have prospective entrepreneurs had better tools and resources for starting new businesses than they do today, yet the number of startups and their employment contribution rate has declined steadily over the past thirty years.  How can we ensure that the latest innovations in information technology, collaborative networking, and advanced manufacturing are more widely available to help reverse this great “startup slowdown” and generate new jobs for the middle class?


  3. A 21st Century Infrastructure Funding Model
    New and emerging technologies hold the promise of a better-connected, more efficient, and “smarter” national infrastructure system, which directly benefits the middle class through job creation.  How can we leverage these same technologies to create a sufficient and sustainable infrastructure funding model so that our nation can make the investments necessary to compete in the 21st Century global economy?

The Model: Connecting Scholarship and Public Affairs

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Each Milstein commission will consist of twelve members.  Among the commissioners will be two “Co-Chairs”—distinguished public officials at the Cabinet-level or its equivalent representing both sides of the spectrum; and a “Lead Scholar”—a respected academic on the commission topic.  The remaining commissioners will be drawn from the key stakeholder groups of each commission topic—policymakers, government officials, scholars, advocates, business and industry leaders, journalists, and others.

Like all Miller Center initiatives, each commission will be built upon an original scholarly foundation.  This work, directed by the Lead Scholar, will draw upon the expertise of Miller Center faculty and the broader University of Virginia intellectual community.  It will cast historical light, clarify the nature of the problem, and identify the critical issues of these contemporary policy challenges.  These historical insights will put these challenges in perspective, and aid our commissioners in developing practical, lasting solutions.

Next, the commissioners will convene for a series of meetings to share ideas, scrutinize proposals, and, over time, build consensus around a set of draft policy recommendations.   None of the discussions will be attributable in order to encourage the free flow of conversation and a frank exchange of ideas. 

Following the final commission meeting, a preliminary report will be drafted and distributed to a select group of 60 individuals with expertise in the policy area.  These individuals will be asked to review and offer recommendations to the preliminary report.  The Miller Center will present these comments to the commissioners for review and revise the preliminary report accordingly.  A final report will then be drafted and distributed among key constituencies.  Commission members will advocate for the conclusions in the way most effective from their respective positions.  Over the long run, Milstein Symposium reports will become a respected and trusted source of bipartisan policy ideas, backed by the imprimatur of leading minds on each topic.  

Each commission will conclude with a public presentation of the commission's work by the co-chairs before the Miller Center’s acclaimed Forum Program.  The Forum Program, hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas Blackmon and broadcast nationally on roughly 100 public television stations each week, will generate awareness for each proposal among policymakers, the press, and the public.  Each event will also be broadcast live on the Miller Center website and archived for on-demand viewing.     

Contributing Scholars and Staff

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Brian Balogh is the Compton Professor at the Miller Center and the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. Balogh chairs the Miller Center’s National Fellowship Program and serves as the co-host of Backstory with the American History Guys, a nationally syndicated radio show that appears on Public Broadcasting Stations across the country. His most recent book is A Government out of Sight: The Mystery of National Authority in Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Balogh received his B.A. from Harvard and his Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins.  

Douglas Blackmon is Chair of the Miller Center’s Forum Program, a public affairs program aired on more than 100 PBS affiliates across the U.S. Blackmon is also a contributing editor at The Washington Post  and a Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II and co-executive producer of the acclaimed PBS documentary based of the same name. Blackmon previously served as longtime chief of The Wall Street Journal’s Atlanta bureau and the paper’s Senior National Correspondent.

Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao is the Research Director for Public Programs.  She teaches a course on Cuban politics and her research focuses on enablers of democratization and opposition politics, with particular interest in Latin American transitions. Prior to joining the Miller Center, Lopez-Gottardi Chao held positions at Emory University’s Institute for Comparative and International Studies and the North South Center of the University of Miami. She received her B.A. in Political Science and Spanish from Middlebury College and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Miami’s School of International Studies. 

Jeff Chidester

Jeff Chidester is Director of Policy Programs at the Miller Center. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Grove City College (Pa.), an M.A. in International History from the London School of Economics, an M.A. in Politics from the University of Virginia, and an M.B.A. from University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He is the co-author of The Reagan Years (2005) and At Reagan’s Side (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), and has published articles on the American presidency and U.S. foreign policy.

Tony Lucadamo is Lead Policy Analyst at the Miller Center. He received a B.A. in International Affairs and Economics from the University of Georgia and an M.P.P. at the University of Virginia's Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Lucadamo previously served as a Campaign Fellow with Obama for America and as a National Defense Fellow in the U.S. Senate.

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