America 3.0: Professor Jon Taplin on Rebooting after the American Crash

Film producer (Mean Streets, The Last Waltz, To Die For) and academic (currently Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism) Jonathan Taplin argues (among other things) in this 2008 lecture that American civilization is in decline and that government must be the engine of recovery (see the the 33rd minute mark of this video).

I fear that Professor Taplin's emphasis on the role of government in his 2008 lecture (e.g., a "freedom energy tax" at the 38 minute mark and government borrowing more money for fiscal stimulus at the 39:30 minute mark) is fanciful, given the political equation in the US today.

And, as a college professor who also teaches at a state university, I don't share Professor Taplin's near-term optimism about the ability of our government-supported academic institutions to innovate their way out of the political, social and economic problems facing our culture (see the 33:35 mark). While public universities have historically been engines of innovation (e.g., Professor Taplin cites DARPA), key elements of the state-supported higher education system for research are under attack. For example, in Florida (where I teach) the Governor has recently announced plans to cut funding for academic programs that don't show immediate financial rewards for graduates. Florida's Governor (apparently following a model set in Texas) is mounting a campaign to shift funding to programs that train students for existing jobs in the current system: "I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state." Defunding academic programs that train critical thinkers and researchers - in favor of programs that have been described as "glorified vocational institutions" may not result in the kind of continuing innovation that Professor Taplin expects from academia.

Finally, I must agree with the founder of the TechDirt blog, Mike Masnick: Professor Taplin has not distinguished himself in recent debates. Professor Taplin has some significant insights to share - but he doesn't help himself by engaging in ad hominem attacks or by mischaracterizing the work (e.g., "what she claims to be art") of innovators like Nina Paley (whose approach to copyright civil disobedience I've also found to be infuriating at times). Calling ideological adversaries "shills" and "docile copiers" (when those insulting names don't have much basis in fact) and unfairly attacking their work makes Professor Taplin seem desperate and ill-informed.

Nevertheless, as far as I can tell when it comes to the history of innovation, Professor Taplin gets his facts right in his 2008 lecture. Filmmakers who are interested in copyright law and how the internet will evolve need to pay attention to these facts - even if Professor Taplin's tendency to launch personal attacks undermines his message and that message includes ideas about how to fix the current situation that I fear are not entirely practical.

To read the charts that illustrate Professor Taplin's lecture, select the "change quality" gear icon at the bottom of the video and choose the highest quality (480p).

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