The Problem is Not Lack of Ideas

The Sunday New York Times magazine ran its 6th annual Year In ideas edition, which is the full magazine devoted to some of the most intriguing ideas to surface in the United States in the last year. Of course, the list is not comprehensive, and rather idiosyncratic. But what it does show each year is how fertile the intellectual terrain is out there in America.

This insight is not inconsequential for politics right now. Some of the frequent laments you hear is that no one in politics knows how to solve all these problems we face, or the Democrats have no agenda, or where are the big ideas? This is more a function of the state of Washington politics rather that the actual dearth of new ideas, or big ideas, or big solutions out there. Ideas and solutions are out there, they just haven’t permeated our political world yet. So the big progressive political ideas are to raise the minimum wage, or save social security – ideas that were innovative in the middle of last century. That’s not to say that we don’t raise the minimum wage, but we need to throw the net wider on possible solutions to the economic challenges of our time.

That’s where the Times edition is refreshing. It is not about  politics, though it  does have some applicable political entries, like “The Myth of the Southern Strategy,” or “The New Inequality.” But it shows how irrepressible American brains are as they try to figure out the 21st century, improve our lives, and reengineer the system to work better over time.

The good news is that the people-powered politics that is emerging is tapping into that same resource for politics. We’re starting to feel the effects too.

Peter Leyden