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June 02, 2005

Matthew Yglesias on Infopolitics

He has moved into the Josh Micah Marshall Empire:

TPMCafe || Politics, Ideas & Lots Of Caffeine: Infopolitics as Metaphor and Reality: Back in my TPM guest-blogging days, I concluded by asking my now-colleague here at the cafe what it was, exactly, that New Democrats and New Labour had in common, given that the policy status quo in the U.K. is so far to the left of the status quo here in the U.S.A. He replied that 'the main dividing line between New Labour and New Democrats and the more recalcitrant portions of their respective parties is a realization that the industrial age has come and gone' and that certain things follow from that.

And, indeed, I see on page 258 of Kenny's book that this is Al From's official account, too. Indeed, you see this idea popping up all over the place. It's in a bunch of really bad Joe Klein columns about Social Security, and also in his rather better book about the Clinton administration. Andrei Cherney's book, The Next Deal, which I've just been reading is positively dripping with it. It even says 'The Future of Public Life in the Information Age' right there on the cover.I think it's notable that in all these contexts, 'the information age' almost always serves as a kind of metaphor for the notion that the public sector ought to become more flexible, more consumer-oriented, and so forth. Which is to say that when Andrei writes about charter schools, he doesn't literally mean that we should move to a program of universal public school choice because people nowadays have cell phones. What he means is that in an environment increasingly driven by choice in the consumer world, a hierarchical system of segmented school monopolies sticks out like a sore thumb and rubs against peoples' sensibilities.

All that's fine as far as it goes (except when, as in the case of Klein's enthusiasm for privatization it's not fine), but it leaves what I think is a pretty noteworthy blank spot -- the literal politics and policy of the information age. There's a broad set of issues related to intellectual property law, telecommunications policy, the dispensation of the radio spectrum, and so forth that are actually about the information age where the policies we have nowadays are unsatisfactory and where mainstream liberal figures have tended not to show much leadership. I've got an article forthcoming in the Prospect about one corner of this -- broadband competition -- and hope to do more work on the subject in the future. In addition, we've got Reed Hundt, a bona fide expert on a lot of this stuff, as part of the Coffee House team.

For now I'll just note that even though it doesn't seem to me that Washington's New Dem institutions do a notably better job on this front than the Old Dem ones do, the problem here does fit very well with a lot of the New Dem critique of the party and progressive politics more generally. Which is to say that Democrats have gotten very bad at addressing issues in a systematic and consistent way unless there's some organized liberal constituency group making the issue a top priority. But better digital policy isn't a labor issue, it isn't a black issue, it isn't a feminist issue, it isn't an environmental issue, etc. But it's still an important issue, and while a political party that claims not to believe in the necessity for a public sector role in the economy can afford to simply ignore it, the party that claims to believe in the vitality of such a role really can't.

Posted by DeLong at June 2, 2005 11:52 AM