Politics of the Bottom Up

Microfinance for Microbrews

This post combines two of my favorite things: job creation and beer. Even though there are signs of life for the economy overall, we still have a long way to go regarding job creation.
Frustrated by inaction, some very prominent American brands have undertaken new and interesting campaigns to create jobs.
You've probably heard of the job creation effort undertaken by Starbucks and the Opportunity Finance Network. But the Starbucks effort isn't alone.
Samuel Adams, the venerable Boston-based brewery, started their own small business microfinance effort in 2011.
Called Brewing the American Dream, the program provides low-interest loans of up to $25,000 to food and beverage based small business owners.
In an environment where banks have tightened lending significantly, $25,000 can be the difference between expanding a business and going out of business.
To date, the program has created 728 jobs. Cheers to finding new solutions to create jobs!

New Policy Institute is Surdna Foundation's Spotlight Grantee for December

The headline of this post says it all.

NPI is extraordinarily proud to work with the Surdna Foundation and we are honored to be Surdna's Spotlight Grantee for December 2012.

Please go here for more on NPI and the Surdna Foundation.

NDN Event on Growing the Next Economy

You’re invited to a special event marking the public debut of an exciting new program at NDN and the New Policy Institute. 

In these divided times, there is one clear idea that currently unites everyday Americans, business leaders and elected officials: America needs a plan to accelerate job creation, get gas prices under control and raise our game in the more competitive 21st Century energy economy. But how can we create the Next Economy when skeptical Americans have lost faith in top-down mandates and empty promises from Washington? 

Enter NDN/NPI’s new program - the Next Economy Partnership Project, a program devoted to advancing an economy based on bottom-up development and low-carbon outcomes. 

Please join us on Wednesday, December 7th for a lunchtime discussion about bottom up economic growth – how states, the federal government and the private sector can work together to accelerate the ideas that work to create the Next Economy. 

We will be joined by: 

Dan Carol, Director of Multi-State Initiatives, Office of Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregon, Senior Fellow NPI (on leave) 

Karl Agne, Partner, GBA Strategies 

Please RSVP directly to me at jgrant AT NDN dot org 

For more on NPI visit here, and be sure to read Dan Carol’s foundational set of recommendations around bottom up growth, The Acceleration Agenda, here

Lunch will be served at noon, and the program will begin at 12:15pm, and all will take place here at the NDN/NPI offices at 729 15th, Street, 1st Floor. RSVP here. And check back at ndn.org for information about how to watch the webcast live. 

Hope to see you next week! 

PS. Don’t forget NDN’s upcoming event on electric vehicles on December 6th!

The Future of Liberalism: Thoughts From Across the Pond

Over in Great Britain, the Conservative Party has recently retaken power after 13 years of being in opposition. Prime Minister David Cameron's "Big Society" program is making waves among Tories who see it as a way to build a more pluralistic party while avoiding the economic callousness of Margaret Thatcher or the culture wars of American social conservatives.

So with the Conservatives back in the saddle and no sign of this nonsense ending anytime soon, where does the Labour Party go? Our friends at the British think tank Demos have put together a fascinating pamphlet titled Labour's Future, in which a number of thinkers set out their ideas for the future of the British center-left. The essayists come from different backgrounds (some are Parliament members and others are activists and professors), but in different ways, they all seem to have coalesced around the idea that Labour needs to rebuild from the bottom up.

The main theme I'm sensing in these essays is that the Labour Party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown became too reliant on the centralized state and a top-down approach to government, too cozy with private industry and not protective enough of everyday citizens, and too tethered to the assumption that the economy would just keep growing and growing. Whether they're calling for a greater emphasis on local services, a renewed commitment to the Labour Party's principles of class solidarity, or a more equitable relationship between markets and people, the writers all seem committed to seriously reimagining the role of the political center-left.

The debates in Labour's Future mirror the debates NDN has been trying to encourage among American liberals: Questions of economic policy, individual responsibility, and grassroots political involvement all come up often. Simon has done work with Demos and has spoken very highly of them, and after reading these essays, I'm inclined to agree that there's a really healthy discussion going on. Check out the pamphlet, linked above, or visit Demos' general website at www.demos.co.uk. Nothing this exciting has happened in England since the invention of chicken tikka masala.

Long-time NDN Friends Hit Stewart, Colbert Shows Last Night

For those of you who have followed NDN for a while, television's must-watch shows hosted familiar faces last night. Jon Stewart hosted Vali Nasr, a professor at the Tufts University and adviser to Richard Holbrooke. Nasr was promoting his new book, Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World, which sounds like an important entry into the newly forming canon of books on the "rise of the rest." Simon interviewed Nasr, the footage of which can be found below the Stewart interview. 

Beneath that, you can find Shai Agassi, the founder of Better Place. An electric car startup that seeks to radically change transportation, Agassi appeared at NDN's "Moment of Transformation" conference last year. His appearance on Colbert last night is a good update on their progress. 

Nasr on the Daily Show:

Simon interviews Nasr:

Agassi on the Colbert Report:


Agassi at "A Moment of Transformation:"

Gordon Brown at TED on Global Connectivity

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was a surprise speaker at the TED Conference in Oxford this week. The themes of his talk will be familiar to regular readers of this blog and friends of NDN. From the TED site:

We're at a unique moment in history, says UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown: we can use today's interconnectedness to develop our shared global ethic -- and work together to confront the challenges of poverty, security, climate change and the economy.

Check out some of our deep thoughts on these subjects at the links below, but first, enjoy the talk:

A Laptop in Every Backpack
by Alec Ross and Simon Rosenberg, 2007
A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world’s people together as never before. The core premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century.

Harnessing the Mobile Revolution
by Tom Kalil, 2008
In recent years, the use of mobile phones and other mobile communications in developing countries has skyrocketed, and Kalil takes a look at the power of mobile technologies in addressing some of our most pressing challenges, such as reducing the huge inequities in life expectancy between rich and poor countries, fostering inclusive economic growth, and promoting vibrant democracies.

Obama Foreign Policy and the Politics of the Bottom-Up

Time and time again, we've seen President Obama go around the world's leaders to speak directly to its people. This emphasis on the politics of the bottom up, which Simon has written about as a global phenomenon, has gone from a hallmark of the Obama campaign to a hallmark of his foreign policy. Today in Russia, he addressed the power of these new politics:

We not only need a "reset" button between the American and Russian government, but we need a fresh start between our societies -- more dialogue, more listening, more cooperation in confronting common challenges. For history teaches us that real progress -- whether it's economic or social or political -- doesn't come from the top-down, it typically comes from the bottom-up. It comes from people, it comes from the grassroots -- it comes from you. The best ideas and solutions come from ordinary citizens who become involved in their communities and in their countries. And by mobilizing and organizing and changing people's hearts and minds, you then change the political landscape. And oftentimes politicians get the credit for changing laws, but in fact you've created the environment in which those new laws can occur.

Will Young People Unite to Save the World?

Seventy percent of Iranians are under 30.

These young people have twice the presence in the population of that country as America's largest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), has in ours.

In the immediate aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election, text messages became the tool for organizing post-election protests. Hundreds of thousands of tweets provided more, if not clearer, information about what was happening each day than traditional media. Opposition and government Facebook pages poured out dueling messages on the Internet. It suddenly seemed as if not only had American democratic values erupted on the barren landscape of a theocratic society, but also that young people's technological capabilities might produce a regime change that no one anticipated. Clay Shirky announced, "This is it. This is the big one.  This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media." And the notion that this was a "Twitter Revolution" quickly became the meme for the entire series of post-election events.

But then the entrenched establishment fought back using the very same Internet-enabled technologies to isolate, spy on, and ultimately shut down the resistance.  Thanks to new capabilities recently acquired from two European telecom companies-Nokia and Siemens-as part of their country's upgrade of its mobile networks, the Iranian government was able to monitor the flow of online data in and out of sites like Twitter and Facebook, from one central location. The Iranians deployed a technology called deep packet inspection, first created to put a firewall around President Clinton's emails in 1993, to deconstruct digitized packets of information flowing through the government's telecom monopoly that might contain what they considered to be seditious information before reconstructing and sending it on to destinations they were also able to track and monitor. The result was a 90% degradation in the speed of Internet communications in Iran at the height of the unrest, and a previously unseen capability to determine who the government's enemies were down to the individual IP address level.

Once again the world learned that technology does not arrive with a built-in set of values that makes it work either for good or evil. Even though Internet technology has many virtues, it is not inherently liberating or enslaving. Instead how it is used is determined by the values of those who access it.  Libertarians celebrate the individual empowerment that the Internet makes possible.  But even though Ron Paul supporters used the technology to take on the Republican establishment in 2008, the end result that year was the election of a group-oriented, civic-minded candidate, Barack Obama, whose campaign used the very same technology to guide millions of people to undertake a collective agenda of change that Libertarians certainly did not "believe in."

The difference between what libertarians wanted and what Obama achieved came from the generational attitudes and beliefs of Millennials, Obama's key supporters, not from the technology that generation was so adept at using.

One of the founders of generational theory, Neil Howe, points out that the under-30 population of Iran grew up during a religious awakening in the Islamic world that came later than America's "cultural revolution" of the 1960s. As a result, Iranian youth resembles Generation X, Americans now in their 30s and 40s.  Like our own Gen X, these young Iranians are "pragmatic, individualistic, commercial, and anti-ideological (which is why they hate Ahmadinejad so much)."

Those values make them anti-establishment in the current crisis. We are fortunate that they feel deeply enough about the potential of democracy to risk their lives to "tear down that power structure," to paraphrase what President Ronald Reagan, Generation X's political hero, said in a different context.  But now the central task of our government must be to translate that democratic impulse into a deeper belief in Millennial Generation values, such as the power of consensus, the peaceful resolution of differences and the need to find win-win solutions to our problems.

That is why the President Barack Obama's recent Cairo speech should be the bedrock on which America continues to engage large young Muslim populations throughout the world, including Iran:

"No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

This statement has the potential to become a governing creed for a new generation of young Muslims. If they come to have, as President Obama does, "an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose," then the power of 21st century technologies will be used to advance the cause of freedom in Iran, rather than suppressing it. But tweeting those words won't make it happen.  Believing in them will.

An Excellent Day of Discussion on mHealth

Yesterday, NDN, CTIA, the UN Foundation, and the Vodaphone Foundation partnered to release a study on mHealth for Development. Following a morning program focusing on the domestic benefits of mHealth, and specifically its ability to impact chronic disease, the evening program focused on mHealth in the developing world.

The evening session featured speakers very close to NDN. Simon opened the presentation, framing the conversation broadly around the power of mobile and reading from the 2007 paper he coauthored with Alec Ross, now the Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Clinton:

A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world’s people together as never before. The core premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century. Increasingly, the world’s commerce, finance, communications, media and information are flowing through this network. Half of the world’s 6 billion people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive mobile phones. Each year more of the world’s people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do.

Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for the people of the world.

We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world’s people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.

The evening continued as Ross spoke, largely about his work at the State Department, noting that “networks are as, if not more, important than states and governments.” Following Ross, Tom Kalil, the Deputy Policy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy spoke, reviewing the conclusions he drew in the paper he wrote last year for NDN affiliate, the New Policy Insitute, on Harnessing the Mobile Revolution. In October of 2008, Kalil wrote:

that the explosive growth of mobile communications can be a powerful tool for addressing some of the most critical challenges of the 21st century, such as promoting vibrant democracies, fostering inclusive economic growth, and reducing the huge inequities in life expectancy between rich and poor nations.

The benefits of mobile communications are particularly profound for developing countries, many of which are “leapfrogging” the traditional fixed telecommunications infrastructure. As a result, billions of people in developing countries are gaining access to modern communications of any sort for the first time. There is no doubt that mobile communications are having a significant impact on the way Americans live, work and communicate with each other. But the impact is no doubt more keenly felt by the African mother who can call ahead to determine whether a doctor is available to treat her sick child before traveling for hours.

Following Kalil, former Senator Tim Wirth of the UN Foundation introduced the study on mHealth and Development, which is available here.

Obama and Realism, Continued

Yesterday on the NDN Blog, Simon, Sam, Dan, and I wrote quite a bit about Obama’s foreign policy philosophy, and I’d like to present a couple more takes on the subject. First, TNR’s Peter Scoblic applauds the Obama Administration’s response to Iran, and their ability to craft a middle ground between realism and idealism:

I don't accept the suggestion that if one is not an idealist, one is necessarily a cold-blooded realist. Although there are certainly those who believe that the internal affairs of other countries are irrelevant or unimportant, it is possible to care about human rights while questioning America's ability to influence the internal affairs of other countries and while doubting that our values and our interests are always synonymous. The United States has other priorities as well. Thus one can be skeptical of the efficacy and wisdom of diplomatic and military pressure in the name of human rights without being amoral. Moreover, although realism may be "cold," its ideological opposite, which puts the nature of regimes at the center of our foreign policy, is even more problematic. In this view, one espoused chiefly by conservatives and neoconservatives, the fact that a regime is good or evil becomes not simply a moral observation but a strategic guide. Idealism's concern with regimes, in other words, can rapidly deteriorate into a dangerous Manichaeism.

I think it is possible to have a foreign policy that harbors no illusions about the nature of enemy regimes, but that recognizes our limited capacity to change those regimes and therefore our need to engage them. I think it is possible to have a moral foreign policy that is not moralist. But how, exactly, do we pursue our idealist instincts without sabotaging the security of the United States and our allies? How can we be appropriately self-interested without being utterly selfish? These are the questions we're wrestling with right now. At first glance, the answers may seem to differ only in balance and degree. (Does one speak loudly and decry the evil of the mullah-cracy in order to support the protestors, or does one hold back, recognizing that interference could backfire not only against Mousavi's backers but against American interests more broadly?) But these are not simply tactical questions…they are the manifestations of fundamentally different worldviews, which is to say they represent different assessments of our strategic priorities and our capabilities.

Also, Stephen Walt over at FP.com convincingly rejects Andrew Sullivan’s call for Western governments to refuse to acknowledge Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, asking how far we would have to apply that standard. He is also (not surprisingly) pleased with Obama’s response to Iran:

Obama's measured response to the events in Iran strikes me as more sensible: we can and should deplore the abuses of basic rights and the democratic process, while making it clear that the United States is not interfering and remaining open to the possibility of constructive dialogue. Given our long and troubled history with Iran (which includes active support for groups seeking to overthrow the current government), any sense that we are now trying to back Moussavi is likely to backfire. Trying to steer this one from Washington won’t advance our interests or those of the reformists.  

Here's a hypothetical question for you to ponder. Which world would you prefer: 1) a world where Ahmadinejad remains in power, but Iran formally reaffirms that it will not develop nuclear weapons, ratifies and implements the Additional Protocol of the NPT, comes clean to our satisfaction about past violations (including the so-called "alleged studies"), permits highly intrusive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, and ends support for Hamas and Hezbollah as part of a "grand bargain" with the West; or 2) a world where Mir Hussein Mousavi -- who was the Ayatollah Khomeini's prime minister from 1981 to 1989 -- wins a new election but then doesn't alter Iran's activities at all? 

This is hypothetical, of course, and almost certainly does not reflect the likely policy alternatives. But your choice of which world you'd prefer probably reveals a lot about how you conceive of the national interest, and the degree to which you think foreign policy should emphasize concrete security achievements on the one hand, or normative preferences on the other.

Finally, I hesitate to even link to this, but Robert Kagan embarrassed himself this morning in the Washington Post. Jonathan Chait at TNR does a fine job of dismantling his argument.

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