Deanna Zandt I can’t help but bring in how powerless the Internet really was in the wake of Sandy. When I went out canvassing the first weekend after the storm, the number of people that we met who didn’t know there was an Occupy or other community relief center within walking distance of their houses was stunning (due to lack of power in general, let alone connectivity). . . and then I’d come home and find a bunch of my nerdfolk online setting up websites where people could “help” one another. It was incredibly frustrating.

I’d made fun of things like low-power FM for a lot of years, until that weekend. CB radios and more “old” tech could be employed in incredibly powerful ways.

Coverage of class and social mobility

Farai Chideya According to a study published in The Economist, “Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful. Different groups of Americans have different levels of opportunity. Those born to the middle class have about an equal chance of moving up or down the income ladder, according to the Economic Mobility Project. But those born to black middle-class families are much more likely than their white counterparts to fall in rank. The children of the rich and poor, meanwhile, are less mobile than the middle class’s. More than 40 percent of those Americans born in the bottom quintile remain stuck there as adults.”

Vivek Wadhwa Sadly, social mobility is an issue in America and most places in the world. But for all of America’s flaws, it is the most open and inclusive society on this planet.

Groups that help each other can rise. It starts with Mom and Dad encouraging and motivating children, and with communities coming together—people who have achieved success helping others behind them.

Farai Chideya There is a collapsing of the American middle class—not across the board, and not unfixable, but hysteresis (long-term unemployment) changes families and communities, [and] has public-health effects, too.

Vivek Wadhwa Wait till you learn what lies ahead—in this decade. We’ve watched the emergence of exponential companies like Facebook and Google. Billions were impacted, but only a few became wealthy. Now multiply this by 1,000 and look beyond social media—in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, computing, synthetic biology, 3D printing, medicine, and nanomaterials. We are going to transform entire industries, such as manufacturing. And we have the chance to solve humanity’s grand challenges and eliminate poverty and hunger and create unlimited energy, improve health, and so on. We can figure out how to share this new prosperity, or we can create more Zuckerbergs. It is up to us. I am optimistic we will share.

Farai Chideya Where we put research dollars to solve medical and public-health problems will have a big impact on that. Cancer-research dollars have been flat in the public sector for years, despite some big advances in genomics and treatment. I still believe, with all the private innovators around, that government plays a key role in research.

Vivek Wadhwa Government funding for basic research is important and needed. But in this exponential era, entrepreneurs can do what only governments and big research labs could before—solve big problems.

Farai Chideya I’m a huge fan of public-private partnerships. Part of the reason for the sharp decline in African-American employment was our reliance on public-sector jobs. They need to create alliances with industry.

Until the civil rights movement, black communities were far more income-mixed. Segregation caused clusterings of black families who created some amazing communities, like two my family come from—Westmoreland County, VA (farmers), and Turner Station, MD (urban mixed-income black community, with both wealthy and poor).

Vivek Wadhwa Farai, as long as the black community looks to others to help it—in whatever form—it won’t get ahead. It has to unite and help itself.

Why does every discussion of uplifting the African-American community have to begin with government jobs or industry partnerships? Why not begin with new entrepreneurial ventures and mentorship?

Farai Chideya Black folks, in my experience, are very entrepreneurial. At one point in the past decade, black women had the highest rate of starting new businesses. But many don’t scale easily (say, daycare operator), or fail, in part due to lack of experience and/or undercapitalization.

There are businesses that feed people, and then there are businesses that build wealth for employees and investors. The barriers to access certain private jobs and private capital will require new solutions. But we should not abandon the public sector. I am no fan of the way government works. I have said to several congresspeople, “I can’t imagine going to a job every day where half of people want you to fail.”

Farai Chideya is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute