Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Catching the Drift: Jonathan Tasini and the Emerging Technoprogressive Mainstream

The New Year has provided the occasion for the usual spate of to-do lists, wish-lists, and so on for the upcoming Congress. I for one am quite pleased to note how many of these lists have testified to what I have been calling here at Amor Mundi the politics of an emerging technoprogressive mainstream.

Many of these pundit recommendations call special attention, for example, to the value of stem-cell research and other medical research, to the need for substantial public investment in renewable energy, for providing women access to contraception and abortion to avoid or end unwanted pregnancies and access to ARTs to facilitate wanted pregnancies, supporting science education and defending the policy value of scientific consensus on issues of climate change, evolution, safer sex education, recreational drug use and rehabilitation, and so on.

Jonathan Tasini has published an article outlining what he calls a “10-Step Program For Democrats in 2007,” that provides the most recent example of this encouragingly widespread genre. I might not prioritize all of the things Tasini recommends in quite the way that he does himself, but his emphasis on repudiating endlessly failed so-called “free market” mantras, on supporting Unions, and on the need to reintroduce progressive taxation to consolidate the democratizing middle class while restraining the emergence of anti-democratizing Royalists are all obviously exactly what the doctor ordered.

There are, mercifully, quite a few people talking sense in this vein these days, now that the Killer Clowns have pulled the curtain back on the real-world impacts of religious and market fundamentalisms so clumsily and catastrophically that few but zealots remain who fail to sense that something is amiss here.

But what makes Tasini’s article especially worthy of note here on Amor Mundi is just how sensible and mainstream it is (for the dem-left press, that is; be assured that the wingnut right is still screaming death is life, war is freedom, fairness is fascism, and so on, as usual, to the embarrassment of us all), and that for all its mainstream appeal it begins its recommendations with three conscpicuously technoprgressive ones that Tasini describes as the “three things to do, pronto.”

I’ll begin with his third suggestion. Under the heading “High-Tech And Progressive,” he proposes that the Democratic-lead Congress “Spend $5 billion to set up a free wireless Internet network across the country for every American.”

He offers a brief bit of support for his recommendation (technoprogressives like to provide a sense of the evidence and arguments that compel us, even in our laundry lists. It’s something to do with being, as they say, “Reality Based”): “Sociologist Joel Rogers calculates that wireless for a typical city of 150 square miles costs about $20 million to set up and, if you figure 200 such cities cover about 30,000 square miles, you cover 80 percent of the population at a total cost of $4 billion. Throw in another billion for the less populous areas and, presto, you've just lowered peoples' cost of living by hundreds of dollars a year (a whole lot more than the majority of people got from the Bush tax cuts). Now, do you think that might endear a whole lot of young people to the Democratic Party for a very long time (‘Like Your Free Wireless? Thank The Democrats!’)?”

Had he put in a word here as well for Net Neutrality, copyfight, and endorsed the public subsidization of p2p (peer-to-peer) and a2k (access to knowledge), Tasini would really be onto something here! But his is a good and palpably technoprogressive idea on its own merits.

This recommendation follows close on the heels of the second recommendation in Tasini’s piece. Under the heading, “Energy Is Where Our Money Is Best Spent,” he proposes that Congress work to “[l]ower energy costs.” And he recommends that they do so by supporting “the Apollo Alliance's plan” -- which I have often had occasion to champion here on Amor Mundi as well (although I've sometimes felt a bit impatient at their patience.

About the Plan, Tasini maintains that “for a 10-year national investment of a bit more than $313 billion, we would generate $1.43 trillion in economic activity, $953.87 billion in personal income and over 3.3 million new good-paying jobs. That investment is maybe a fifth or less of what the Iraq war is likely to cost. Which would be a better return? Pass a bill now.” Interestingly enough, Tasini is framing support of Apollo primarily as a matter of economic good sense here, with a subtle supplemental nudge at an argument about the foreign policy good sense of “energy independence.”

Readers hereabouts know already that the Apollo Alliance plan is in fact a clean and renewable energy plan above all, to implement “A clean energy future [that] means greater prosperity, security and health.” A sketch of that plan involves, among other things (and all of this is available at the Apollo Alliance website):
“Retooling abandoned factories to create new energy technology like windmills, solar panels, and hydrogen fuel cells; helping existing plants stay open by encouraging new investments in high performance capital equipment and worker training; …leading the world in developing the next generation of advanced technology hybrid and hydrogen cars; [p]utting hundreds of thousands of men and women to work installing and maintaining solar panels on every new home, office and government building; [e]mploying hundreds of thousands more Americans retrofitting old buildings to become more energy efficient; [b]uilding a new generation of public infrastructure from mass transit and high speed rail, to hydrogen distribution, to a modernized electrical grid; [and c]onserving billions of dollars of taxpayer and ratepayer money through increased efficiency, protecting consumers, workers, and the environment.”

And to end where Tasini begins, under the heading “Health Care: A Universal Right,” he warns, very rightly, that “[w]ith Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., leading the way, we can expect all sorts of half-measured, warmed-over Clinton-lite national health care plans, all of which will fail to solve the long-term moral and economic health care crisis.”

He goes on to point out that “[m]ost Americans who support a national health program favor a single-payer system, which keeps the private delivery of health care in the hands of physicians and hospitals, but takes away the moving of money from the insurance industry and places it under a single public agency…. Only a single-payer system will wring out the administrative savings -- as much as $300 billion per year -- that we can use to cover the current uninsured and make up the cost to provide full benefits to every American. Single-payer will increase our individual personal wealth far more than a minimum wage increase.”

Quite apart from the fact that universal health care is an urgent and incomprehensibly overdue demand for a nation with the kind of prosperity America boasts about, it is also true that the will to implement some kind of plan is finally at hand, even inside the Beltway, as big business groans under ballooning healthcare costs and the ranks of the uninsured swell and medical costs rise beyond sense or decency.

I would suggest that Tasini’s own foregrounding of the need for progressive Democrats to take the lead in implementing real, workable (that is to say single-payer) universal health care should be read together with the emerging ownership by progressives of the politics of the public support of medical research in the service of general welfare.

Battles over stem cell research shaped some election outcomes, as progressive harm-reduction politics around informed consensual drug use, safer safe practices, neglected diseases in the developing world, and so on will continue to do, and there is likely to be much more where that came from: as witness, the not yet quite on the radar-screen research programs and campaigns recommended by bioethicist S. Jay Olshansky (and others) in his article In Pursuit of the Longevity Dividend.

Just as Tasini makes a case for clean energy that emphasizes its implications for security and economic prosperity, similar implications can be emphasized in technoprogressive programs for dem-left support of medical research to enable all people to live unprecedentedly longer and healthy lives. There is, of course, much for technoprogressives to fear and to fight in an emerging medical-industrial complex, but I for one will not weep to witness the eclipse of the military-industrial complex as social investment turns its attention from bombs and bullets to renewables and medicines.

1 comment:

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