Magazine article The American Prospect

Revolution amid Recession

Magazine article The American Prospect

Revolution amid Recession

Article excerpt

UNTIL RECENTLY, THE OPTIMISTIC ASSUMPTIONS OF an era of prosperity dominated ideas about the information revolution. Although many observers recognized that new technology would bring "creative destruction"--making old industries obsolete, while opening up new ones--the emphasis has been on the "creative" part, not on the "destruction."

Amid an economic crisis, however, the costs of change become more conspicuous, though the prospect of future payoffs is, if anything, more urgent. Some industries are now facing a double whammy from the recession and long-term structural change eroding their businesses. Newspapers and other media are in this position. So are many workers whose jobs have moved overseas thanks to global telecommunications. Yet there's no going backward; new technology has to be part of the solution for both threatened institutions and Americans out of work.

That assumption underlies the stimulus package adopted by Congress as well as other policies pursued by the administration. The stimulus includes $19 billion to promote health information technology and $7.2 billion to support broadband connections in underserved of unserved areas. The legislation also gives the Federal Communications Commission a year to come up with a plan for universal broadband service. The purpose of investing in both health information technology and broadband is not just to provide an immediate boost to employment but to further long-term growth and the ideal of a more inclusive society--universal coverage in both health care and communications.

America's problems in health care and communications bear a resemblance to each other. In both spheres, there are sharp inequalities in access to a vital service. In both, the United States has performed relatively worse than other advanced societies in recent decades. And in both, progressive reforms confront entrenched corporate interests.

In health care, the problems aren't new. The United States has long been the one mayor rich democracy without universal coverage. Information technology isn't going to address the core problems, but it can improve the quality of care, perhaps help control costs, and thereby facilitate reform.

In communications, the United States has historically played a leading role. The early American republic created a postal system that, unlike any other at the time, reached into every village and supported the free circulation of news and political opinion. …

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