Category Archives: democracy

Government, on the other hand, is serious business…

State government as corporate body ….

State government is the result of the morphing of colonial stock companies and trading posts.  What does state government do?  In the simplest of terms, state governments in the United States:

  • Sell protection services; i.e. family welfare programs, state militia and state police services, and transportation services.
  • Finance themselves via tax collection and fees for the aforementioned services.
  • Provide the aforementioned services via its own staff or through private contracts.
  • Act as brand managers where regulatory agencies describe and implement the philosophy and policies that guide how protection services are to be delivered.
  • Continuously validate the right to tax and govern the populace by keeping their promises to deliver these services.

Competing for the right to manage the franchise …

Political factions compete for the right to describe and implement the philosophy and policies that guide how protection services are to be delivered.  Think of them as management companies that, through their own internal mechanisms, choose the potential managers that appear on your ballot during an election.

Democracy allows the individual citizen to participate in the selection process.  Voters must suffer the silliness of the campaign season, where the management companies seek to persuade the voter that a particular faction should be allowed to provide the state’s protection services.

Maryland is to Nike as Georgia is to Asics …

Nike and Asics are brands that compete on the tangibles and the intangibles.  How are their shoes priced? How do their shoes look on your feet? How do their shoes enhance your performance on the field or the court?  Most times the decision comes down to the intangibles, down to how the shoes make you feel emotionally.

You can probably say the same thing for an airline.  Should I fly Delta or get on Southwest?  Southwest may win on price, but do they connect to as many destinations as Delta?  Is customer service more important to me than consistent on-time arrivals?

In a mobile nation as the United States, a state’s management company, the ruling faction, must keep in mind the brand messaging for its state. It has to be more than how well parties compete with each other in the silly season of political campaigns.  A Georgia citizen may appreciate the terrain, topography, and climate of the Peach State.  It may even appreciate the diversity of the citizenry; that the state is accepting of all peoples, religions, personal views.

But if the price of living in Georgia i.e. taxes paid and other costs of living are not exceeded by the benefits i.e. the protection services a state is supposed to provide, then that citizen may find herself heading to Maryland or Florida.  It goes to the adage that once you win the office you find governing to be a different animal.

Conclusion: Political parties should be prepared to be government brand managers …

When the silliness of the campaign is over, the real work begins.  Government is serious business.  The hand shaking and rhetoric on the campaign trail has to be translated into service delivery that gets your management company another four-year contract.

Re-wiring government to be innovative.

The oxymoron of government being innovative … 

Government is reactive.  Government takes action only when it is petitioned.  A congressman rarely initiates the legislation process on her whims.  She rather responds to legislation drafted by a constituent.  A judge resolves a conflict only upon a petition brought by a complainant. The executive implements an economic stimulus package or promulgates some rule only upon receiving a request to do so.

Throughout history government has been the spawn not the spawner.  When kinsmen bonded to increase the security around the hunt or to protect permanent dwelling, the resulting security compact and the rules that flowed were put into a binder called government.  Government is not independent of us, but the result of our fears; of our inability to co-exist without considering doing harm to ourselves.

Government or Flying Spaghetti Monster …

I am finding it increasingly amusing how citizen-taxpayers view government as some exogenous variable floating in outer space that embodies human characteristics of love, justice, equity, and what not.  The truth is, government is not a living being but a dumb bot programmed to react to fear, and, if operating effectively, leveraging fear in order to provide to its current ruling factions the leverage they need to maintain political power.  If there is one thing the leading faction must bear in mind is that to maintain power, it must maintain the facade that without government, action taken primarily on the part of the individual is fruitless for the citizen.  Government’s ruling faction must make government look innovative and necessary.

From dumb bot to informed policymaker ….

Given finite resources, government, in order to maintain or increase its faux omniscience must invest as much discretionary and non-discretionary resource into information gathering.  The United States is first and foremost about commerce and trade.  Commerce and trade is driven by private actors, contrary to what the current crop of candidates wish to tell you.  If government is to play any positive role in returns on and to capital, as well as in the increase of commerce and trade, the members of its ruling factions must be ardent students of the “economy” which requires constantly collecting and evaluating information about how the economy is truly constructed and working.

The vision thing …

Along with appreciating vision, members of political factions need to have vision.  Today’s candidates are very good spokesmen for the private sector actors that petition government, but as the United States heads further into the 21st century, members of the ruling factions must be as much engineer as they are marketer.  Members of the ruling factions may have to flip the current script in terms of how they organize government.  Rather than the marketer/salesman being the front man, the front man should be the one with the engineering vision, backed up by surrogate/salesman/marketers who consistently sell the vision.

Communication is a two-way street ….

The tricky part is ensuring that the public is communicating on the same frequency.  The electorate has to be re-wired to think “policy” versus “popularity.”  The public’s view of their government executives, from the President right down to a town mayor, has to be such that they recognize a senior technician who is first and foremost a competent implementer of vision while posing enough swag to get the vote.

Conclusion …

Re-wiring the public’s view will take buy in from the political factions to educate the electorate on critically thinking about the importance of policy, but that come to Jesus moment won’t come to political factions overnight.  That re-wiring of the electorate will have to come from the mass citizenry.  Only then will ruling political factions react.

Should government reorganize around the reality of the sharing economy?

If there is an economic reordering, it is from the gig economy…  

According to a report in Forbes.com, 57 million Americans (36% of the U.S. workforce) are in the “gig economy.”  The gig economy is defined as a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.  There is the possibility that a significant number of these workers may not be recipients of the health, leave, and other benefits associated with permanent work.

Compounding the change in the permanent workforce is the emergence of “artificial intelligence” defined as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

The uncertainty of American labor, where more Americans are stringing together jobs in order to meet rent, and ironically where some gig economy workers who are busy stringing work together are also facing the elimination of such jobs (just think the Uber driver facing the probability of driver-less Uber cars), American government may find itself in the very near future trying to legitimize its role as the prime instrument of social organization.  A voter who sees no security in the labor market with no answers coming from her government may start a search for alternatives to government.

Not yet in dystopia …

I think the perception that artificial intelligence will create robots with zap guns turned on the last remnants of humans has been quelled.  The U.S. is not at risk, at least in the short term, of falling into a totalitarian scenario as a result of more workers employed in two jobs or a couple freelance contracts. The U.S. government should be prepared for slow down in economic activity over the next ten to fifteen years as a result of more Baby Boomers retiring.  Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z are expected to live lower quality lives than their Baby Boomer parents and grandparents, including making less in income.  Lower incomes mean lower tax revenues for government which in turn means a reduced capability to react to an increasingly stressed electorate with social programs that may bring some relief.

Time to start thinking about solutions …

Lurking twenty years into the future is an existential threat to American government.  This is not a long time, approximately five presidential election cycles. While immediate term forecasts show a rebound in the American economy in 2020 (news that should make the Trump campaign happy), the younger portion of the Baby Boomer generation will start retiring within the next ten years.  This means the sell-off of assets in order to access cash that supplements fixed incomes from pensions.  Lower asset prices tend to be accompanied by higher interest rates. Higher rates means it will be more expensive for government to finance the programs necessary for caring for elderly Baby Boomers.

This has me wondering how younger generations may want to restructure the obligations of government when government is faced with this storm?

Andrew Yang’s candidacy has a realistic view of America’s digital future

The eye-catcher ….

This afternoon during a town hall meeting in Bedford, New Hampshire, Andrew Yang, contender for the Democratic nomination for president, made the argument that his fellow candidates for president were not aware that the United States is in a fourth industrial revolution.  Just what is this fourth industrial revolution that Mr. Yang is referring to?

You’re in the Matrix, baby…

In his book, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, Klaus Schwab describes the environment spawning the revolution of technology and how it impacts work, government, and the economy:

“We have yet to grasp fully the speed and breadth of this new revolution.  Consider the unlimited possibilities of having billions of people connected by mobile devices, giving rise to unprecedented processing power, storage capabilities and knowledge access.  Or think about the staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing, to name a few.  Many of these innovations are in their infancy, but they are already reaching an inflection point in their development as they build on and amplify each other in a fusion of technologies across the physical, digital, and biological worlds.

We are witnessing profound shifts across all industries, marked by the emergence of new business models, the disruption of incumbents and the reshaping of production, consumption, transportation and delivery systems.  On the societal front, a paradigm shift is underway in how we work and communicate, as well as how we express, inform, and entertain ourselves.  Equally, governments and institutions are being reshaped, as are systems of education, healthcare and transportation, among many others. New ways of using technology to change behavior and our systems of production and consumption also offer the potential for supporting the regeneration and preservation of natural environments, rather than creating hidden costs in the form of externalities.”

We have all heard the buzz terms “automation” and “AI” bandied about.  We take for granted that advanced communications bring us closer to our global neighbors, where we once occupied local space, i.e. being at home or driving thirty minutes to work, some of us now work on a daily basis with a colleague located in Mumbai, Bonn, or London.

Automation, as Mr. Yang reminded us today in Bedford, threatens to replace workers in fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and automobile plants.  But we professionals are threatened, too.  Just yesterday my employer emailed workers sharing the news of a partnership with a tech firm that uses technology that reduces the number of documents attorneys have to review.  The upside is that attorneys may have more time to apply critical thinking skills to activities that they do best: problem solve.  The down side is that we may need fewer attorneys to do certain types of work.

Change is never a factor that should be absent from our expectations

And what of agile response as part of governance?

Not only does government face policy challenges when addressing a changing labor market, government will face challenges from digital platforms capable of providing services government currently has a monopoly on.  Again, citing Mr. Schwab:

“In summary, in a world where essential public functions, social communication and personal information migrate to digital platforms, governments—in collaboration with business and civil society—need to create the rules, checks and balances to maintain justice, competitiveness, fairness, inclusive intellectual property, safety and reliability.

Two conceptual approaches exist.  In the first, everything that is not explicitly forbidden is allowed.  In the second, everything that is not explicitly allowed is forbidden.  Government must blend these approaches.”

One recent example of the challenges government could face from competing platforms is the proposal by Facebook to introduce a stablecoin. A stablecoin is a cryptocurrency that uses an asset or a reserve currency as a back up.  In other words, the asset or reserve currency can be used to as a measure of the stablecoin’s value.  Policy makers such as U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, have expressed reservations that Facebook and other digital platforms that issue a cryptocurrency could pose a threat to the U.S. government’s ability to regulate currency and promote its economy.

None of the current Democratic candidates nor the incumbent president have expressed how modern financial technology and the currencies that fintech can produce may impact the U.S. economy.  In a changing economy, could a lack of experience in this area contribute to poor policy making regarding governance in the digital 21st century?

Yang so far has the knowledge to govern in a digital 21st century America …

Changes in how Americans will work over the next twenty years and the currency that they will use for exchanging commercial value will require someone who does not make policy based on an analog view of the world.  Observers of technology and government usually lament how policy never keeps up with rapid changes in technology.  Can the United States go four more years with its government’s chief executive completely unaware of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will impact livelihoods?

Political power starts in households, not in group politics

The head fake …

We are in the silly season.  National election primaries are ramping up as the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus looms in February and a number of state legislatures prepare for state representatives to invade their respective state capitals.  It is the silly season because candidates will attempt to sell you ideas and plans that have not a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.  All one has to do is listen to Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders’ promises of delivering free college education or free childcare for working families without once laying out the tactics for dealing with a Senate that will likely be in the hands of the Republican Party on 3 January 2021.

The danger of group non-efficacy ….

One overlooked incident of silliness is the voters’ placement of limits on their own political power. Many voters limit their power and influence to the singular act of voting.  The reasons are well documented.  Voters are working two jobs trying to keep food on the table.  After working two or more gigs to feed their kids, voters want to chill for a couple hours watching Netflix versus going to a city council meeting or watching a debate or congressional hearing on C-SPAN.

These types of voters, those who cannot make the time to glean information on policy making are dangerous and quite frankly shouldn’t be allowed near a voting booth as their uninformed voting decisions have a negative impact on the rest of society (although some candidates may like this type of voter as long as they have bought into the candidate’s narrative hook, line, and sinker.)  Creating a large collective of voters i.e. political colonization, is advantageous to a candidate especially where the candidate can sell that group on what the group’s self-interests should be.  The candidate enjoys efficiencies from aggregating this most important electoral resource because creating a collection of voters buoyed by a few singular issues helps to refine the number of promises or political packages the candidate has to offer.

The risk to individual households with interests that vary widely from the group is that their political needs will not be served.  Being herded into a large group, whether based on race, culture, income, etc., dilutes your position, limits your influence, drowns out your voice.  There is a decision to be made.  Either be the wolf maximizing your political gains or be the sheep herded to the slaughter spawned by dissatisfaction.

Each household must step out on its own….

An individual household cannot hold itself back out of some false sense of allegiance to a group.  There is no rule saying you must bear the cost of a group’s non-efficacy.  Once you have decided that only you can increase your influence; that showing up just to vote is not enough, then you must take the next step of investment.  I will not tell you that the investment is cheap, but the costs can be minimized.  Here are a few simple steps that you may have already heard of.

First, build your political network.  That network may be right in front of you.  We are all six or fewer handshakes away from meeting Kevin Bacon.  Someone in your network likely knows a policymaker or elected official.  In that case, seek out an introduction.

One other way to meet policy makers or elected officials is to identify the policy maker or elected official that is making a decision on a matter that you are most interested in.  Contrary to public belief, elected officials want to meet you.  You are their resource.  When you identify them, set up a meeting or determine what events they will be attending so that you can meet them.

Second, continuously engage your policy makers or elected officials on those top issues you are concerned about.  Engagement need not be expensive.  Written correspondence is great.  A short letter will suffice.  Letters are preferable to email.  While both types get entered into the record, letters get more thorough responses.  Also, if your budget allows, offer to meet the policy maker or elected official for coffee or lunch.  As long as you are not lobbying on behalf of a group or business, no disclosure reports need be filed.

You can near guarantee an audience if you are bringing some insights or knowledge to the table.  In your emails or letters, always demonstrate that you are abreast of the issue by sharing some tidbit that you have researched.  This bit of information will get you closer to a meet and greet.  Stay informed!

Lastly, donate time, money, or both.  If you want to impress a policy maker or elected official, show up to hearings and if the forum allows, make a statement for the record.  If you believe an elected official is meeting your representative needs, send them a donation.  People who donate get an audience, even if it is a response to a message via LinkedIn.

You can do it …

The above advice is from real world experience.  I have met policy makers and elected officials simply as a result of reaching out.  For we shy types, it is not easy at first, but keeping your “ask” real simple will settle your nerves and keep the engagement simple.  Once you are willing to increase your households influence over the political process, you will see the investment of time as worth it.

Need more consultation on reaching out to policymakers or elected officials? Feel free to reach out to me at altondrew@altondrew.com.