Record numbers of Americans describe themselves as "independents" and reject the conventional agendas of Left and Right. In this widely acclaimed book, Ted Halstead and Michael Lind explain why today's ideologies and institutions are so ill-suited to the Information Age, and offer a groundbreaking blueprint for updating all sectors of America society. Taking on partisans and experts on both sides of the political divide, they propose far-reaching reforms for the way we provide health and retirement security, collect taxes, organize elections, enforce civil rights, and educate our children.Twice before the United States has dramatically reconfigured itself, shifting from an agrarian to an industrial society after the Civil War and successfully adapting to the massive technological and demographic changes of the early twentieth century during the New Deal era. Uniting a sweeping historical vision with bold policy proposals, The Radical Center shows us how to reinvent our nation once again so that all Americans can reap the benefits of the Information Age.
The U.S. is in crisis, contend Halstead and Lind (Vietnam: The Necessary War; etc.). While revolutions in information technology and biotechnology are fundamentally reshaping the American economy and society, the two major political parties remain stuck within old ideas and policies. More and more Americans have become alienated from the political status quo and yearn for change, say Halstead and Lind (director and senior fellow, respectively, of the think-tank New America Foundation). In this subtle, clear, and provocative work, they offer a comprehensive blueprint for such change. America has succeeded by adapting to new circumstances while maintaining, albeit imperfectly, a balance among its three constituent parts: the market, government and community. All of the authors' wide-ranging reforms aim at strengthening these spheres. If the new economy is typified by high turnover of employees, employer-based health insurance makes little sense. Better would be mandatory individually funded health insurance, with government provision for the truly needy. So, too, should Social Security be replaced by individual retirement accounts, as the graying of America makes the current generational transfer of funds more and more tenuous and contentious. To confront growing inequality in the U.S., the authors believe, all Americans should be given $6,000 at birth as a means of assuring true equal opportunity and a stake in the system; k-12 education should be funded equally on a per pupil basis by the federal government rather than relying on highly unequal property taxes or regressive state and local sales taxes. Politically, new electoral processes should open up the system to new parties and candidates. There is something here for everyone to cheer or jeer, but in carefully tying together their myriad reforms, the authors present a remarkably coherent vision for the renewal of America. Agent, Kris Dahl, ICM. (Sept. 18) Forecast: The authors will promote this book in N.Y. and D.C., and thanks to Lind's reputation as someone who defies the usual right-left split, it should get attention on the news talk shows and from the pundits. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2000
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Excerpt from The Radical Center by Ted Halstead
The First Three Americas
Consider the contrast between three countries. One is a preindustrial, agrarian nation with a population the size of Eritrea's. Nine out of ten people live on farms. The cities--scarcely more than villages by our standards--have arisen chiefly along the coasts and rivers. Roads and other forms of overland transportation are primitive. The distribution of wealth is highly unequal. A small number of land-owning families and a few urban merchant families are extremely rich. The majority of the population consists of small farmers and farmworkers laboring on the estates of the rich landlords. The central government is weak and dependent on customs duties for its limited revenues. National politics is constantly agitated by talk of rebellions, and rival politicians--mostly members of the tiny upper class--accuse one another of plotting to dismember the country and planning military coups d'etat.
Now consider a second country. This one is much larger, with a population the size of today's Philippines. Its economy is that of a newly industrializing nation. Much of its population is still rural, but the number of urban factory workers and city dwellers is growing rapidly. Primitive, polluting "smokestack industries" are ravaging the landscape while enriching a new elite of millionaires who display their wealth by building palaces and importing fine art from abroad. The national politics of this country is agitated by both sectoral and class struggle. Leaders of the impoverished farming sector denounce those of the booming industrial sector. The government has to send troops to quell violence between striking workers and thugs hired by the corporations. The ruling class, fearing insurrection by those who work in the urban sweatshops and live in filthy, crowded tenements, is building arsenals in the big cities. The standard of living in this country is higher than in the first, and it is steadily rising, but the society is deeply fissured.
The third nation is one of the most populous in the world, with more than a quarter of a billion people. The nation's farming and manufacturing have been almost completely mechanized. Four out of five workers are employed in the service economy. A majority live in single-family homes in spacious suburbs, and the mass possession of automobiles, refrigerators, televisions, and computers has become so commonplace that many families own multiples of each. This country has an enormous, centralized national government that takes in approximately one quarter of the national income, using the largest share to finance public pensions and health care for the retired. The biggest political problem is the alienation of the citizenry, manifest in low rates of voter turnout. This high-tech superpower is also a military superpower, with a ring of worldwide bases coordinated by orbiting satellites.