American Electronic Constitution: Reinventing Government and Neo-Liberal Corporatism

American Electronic Constitution: Reinventing Government and Neo-Liberal Corporatism

Fortunato Musella (University of Naples Federico II, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-254-1.ch004
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The chapter is dedicated at analyzing the strategic use of new technologies in the United States. An evident synergy has been noted between the digital policy projects and the neo-liberal ideology wave that has traced origin in the fiscal crisis of the State in the 1970s. About four decades have transformed some political directions in true imperatives: public sector downsizing, cost-cutting in public agencies, decision-making privatization, and the principle of efficiency as a measure of collective action. If new public management has been imposed as a dominant paradigm for administrative restructuring, ICTs programs sustain reform objectives by putting emphasis on the sure advantages of technological applications. In addition to this, administrative reforms seem to be in continuity with some American historical tradition, in reasserting a central role of private actor in public activities and realizing a significant “fusion of political and economic power”. Digital era seems to have added a new chapter to the American corporate liberalism history, with the difference – and the aggravating circumstance – that private organizations have now more powerful instruments to control and regulate society. New technological instruments seem to be used essentially to produce a neo-liberal interpretation of government activities.
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The more widespread interpretations of the strategic use of new technologies start usually from their democratic promises. With specific reference to the United States, it has be argued that digital policy may intervene as a remedy for the three evils bothering the society: «poor communication between general public and decision-makers in the political system; a lack of political participation, either caused by structural or functional deficits in the political system; and a negative effect of mass media both on the political system in general and on political participation in particular» (Hagen, 2003). Literature on information technologies is generally concentrated on the themes of public involvement, besides appearing empirically disconnected and infused of optimism (Garson, 2003). For instance Grossman states that interactive technologies «make it possible to revive, in a sophisticated modern form, some of the essential characteristics of the ancient world’s first democratic polities» (Grossman, 1995: p. 48, in Needham, 2004, p.43)1. Also an entry of the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences has been dedicated to the concept of “e-democracy”, confirming that it «refers to the use of information technology to expedite or transform the idea and practice of democracy» (Street, 2001). No room is left to other critical questions of the ICTs adoption: how new technologies contribute to change power relationships inside and outside the State? Do they impact on existing disparities among groups and geopolitical areas? What kind of political program they help to promote?

The following chapter moves from the hypothesis that new technologies have a deep impact on political structures and representations, even if it does not probably produce a return to Greek polis. The Internet presents a systemic impact on several areas between market-politics, so that it seems to justify the reference to a sort of constitutive function2. Indeed it seems to contribute to a strategy of reorganization of political institutional systems at the national as well as at global level on several areas. Also starting from the statement according to which the so-called “information society” may represent an obstacle for democracy, a true “false-friend” (Agre, 1999), several authors have confirmed that new technologies encourage new social, political and economic structures: «the change brought about by the networked information environment is deep. It is structural. It goes to the very foundations of how liberal markets and liberal democracies have coevolved for almost two centuries»3 (Benkler, 2006: 1). On other side other scholars have underlined that representations—and myths—on cyberspace, and in association with them images of information age, globalization and e-democracy, may act as a powerful instrument to justify concrete political choices and depoliticize speech (Mosco, 2004: 16). Although the Internet seems to deal with a «story about how ever smaller, faster, cheaper, and better computers and communication technologies help to realize, with little effort, those seemingly impossible dreams of democracy and community with practically no pressure on the natural environment» (Mosco, 1998: 59), it produces relevant changes in power relations even tending to conceal such implication. The use of new technologies, far to constitute a neutral and forced option, seems to be part of an ampler neo-liberal program.

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