A friend of mine, a Democrat who believes "free trade" has been a giveaway of American jobs with little to nothing in return, scoffs at those who say the solution is to retrain all those who have lost their blue-collar livelihoods to cheaper, overseas sources.
"What are we going to do," he says. "Give them all a computer and tell them to start their own Web site?"
He was being bitterly facetious. But to sidestep the "free trade" debate for a minute -- though I do worry we've lost much more than we've gained from this as a nation -- perhaps he has a point. Maybe the best way, the most artistically creative and environmentally sensitive way, out of our current economic mess (especially in Rust Belt states) is for the government to offer financial incentives for people to start up and operate blogs.
Not a fortune, but enough to pay their monthly mortgages. Or medical insurance. Or gas bills. And it can be funded by raising the taxes on the rich, excessive oil-company profits, and maybe by imposing a levy on junk e-mail. I realize some people might not like this, but they can then apply for a subsidy to start a blog complaining about it. (There ought to be, however, an income cut-off for support; Bill Gates or Courtney Love can blog on their own dime.)
It's such a good idea that I'll bet whoever would support it first, Obama or Hillary, could clinch the Democratic nomination. (It's probably not something McCain would support.) By putting tens of millions of Americans to work in the new information economy, it could stimulate the economy. Those who create demand for their blogs might find themselves in demand as experts of one sort or another, or even literary/cultural figures of influence. Yahoo and Microsoft -- or Hollywood -- might even offer big bucks for a piece.
There are already 112 million blogs worldwide, according to search engine Technorati, and these diary-like Internet web-logs provide 112 million running commentaries -- sometimes with video footage and sound -- on every aspect of politics, the arts, religion, sports, sex ... even daily updates on flying-saucer sightings. They comprise a genuine populist, democratic communications network. They're a public service and a worldwide and nationwide civic asset.
But many need money to keep going. One Cincinnati-based blogger, fantasy-film cinephile Tim Lucas, recently wondered on his Video WatchBlog site (www.videowatchdog.blogspot.com) whether to give it all up. "... Blogging typically invigorates a writer's productivity; it has encouraged me to produce writing that I wouldn't have produced otherwise, for lack of an outlet or market -- but I wasn't paid for any of it," he wrote.
So far he hasn't, but why not let the government help him out? He helps popular culture out tremendously by researching, for instance, actress Mimsy Farmer's earliest TV appearance or defending a film like Speed Racer.
There is a precedent: During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration funded a Federal Writers' Project as part of the New Deal. During its existence, it employed some who went on to become our most important writers once the Depression passed: John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Studs Terkel, John Steinbeck and more.
This could do the same, at the same time helping the current almost-Recession pass. Let the government step in now with incentives to create a nation of bloggers. And next, maybe, pay us an hourly wage to read them.
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: firstname.lastname@example.org