Friday, March 19, 2010

Brit Tories and U.S. Democrats may be talking the same language

Button-down columnist David Brooks has the most popular piece in the New York Times today. Entitled "The Broken Society," it looks at solutions proposed by a Brit reformer who labels himself a "Red Tory." That would seem an odd juxtaposition -- commies joining with conservatives. But it's a handy little label for Phillip Blond's conservative communitarian politics. They sound a bit like policies advocated by New Urbanists and Greenies and locavores of the traditional left end of the political spectrum.

I'll let Mr. Brooks Brothers sum it up:

Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.

To create a civil state, Blond would reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government. He would funnel more services through charities. He would increase investments in infrastructure, so that more places could be vibrant economic hubs. He would rebuild the “village college” so that universities would be more intertwined with the towns around them.

Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations.

"Relationships and associations" instead of runaway individualism? Neighborhood stores and schools. Community gardens. Walkable neighborhoods. Local food and local arts. Grassroots politics. Etc.

Maybe Red Tories in the U.K. and Green Democrats in the U.S. are not talking the same language. But maybe we are. And if so, does this signal the places where we can come together on big issues?

Thanks, Brooks. Now I have another big book to read.

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