Category Archives: government

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.

Part I. Three questions before voting: Why are we a union? (And when is California grape season?)

I only eat grapes produced in California.  This is the time of the year where the only grapes I find in the local grocery stores are either from Chile, Mexico, or Peru.  The taste of grapes from those countries never appealed to me.  Maybe the pickers are in a rush to get the grapes to the American market sacrificing sweetness for the chance that the consumer has a taste for grapes from Central and South America.  Maybe it’s the soil; its nutrients, irrigation, or the environment they grow in.  I don’t know.  I just prefer the texture and taste of California grapes.

I have been to California three times; twice to San Francisco and once to San Diego.  Nice towns; picturesque.  The people never really stood out as warm and hospitable, but after near forty years in the South, I probably expect too much in terms of hospitality.  Last time that I was in Brooklyn, for example, I had to adjust my “friendly meter” because New Yorkers have no time for spare eye contact and smiling with a brother.  Not to say New Yorkers are rude.  On the contrary, New Yorkers are some of the nicest people I have met.  Their way of expressing themselves in public is simply different from people in the South.

For Americans of a more cosmopolitan ilk, being able to visit different regions of the United States and experience the culture and food may excite them.  From a political perspective, however, does it mean that these states, have to bear the costs and burdens of being united under one federal government?  Why should Americans want to maintain this union?

The reason I pose this question is primarily due to the upcoming presidential elections and the expectations voters impose on the candidates.  My general observation of the electorate finds a voter who expects one of these men, either Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or incumbent president Donald Trump to help make their lives better.  They expect that the current or future president should utter words and implement policy that emanates from the halls of the White House and trickles into the voter’s bedroom, office, grocery store, schools, and bank accounts.  They expect to be saved.  They expect to be uplifted.  They expect to be made whole.  They expect to prosper and have a good life.

Candidates play on these expectations by pushing the right emotional buttons, by sharing the properly tuned narrative that hopefully gets the voter to exercise their franchise in a candidate’s favor.  One example of this is the mantra emerging from the Corona virus crisis, “We are all in this together.”  Federal, state, and local elected officials have been trying to assure Americans that under their leadership the virus will be contained and that if Americans take the proper precautions, this too shall pass….

Assure the voter.  Ensure the vote.

The average voter takes little if any time to re-read her national history much less critically analyze the Constitution of the United States.  This failure to take another look at the nation’s make-up creates a thought void that a politician can play on.

To fill the void, the voter should challenge any and all narratives they have been subjected to since first watching “School House Rock.”  One such narrative is the purpose of the “perfect union.

The purpose of the union, of an interstate compact, was to ensure that goods, services, and labor could move freely between and through the States.  The primary purpose was never about creating one happy culture but one happy commercial flow and customs and tax zone.  For an example, Article I Section II notes the apportionment of direct taxes among the States.  And in the discussion of Congress’ power and duties, found in Article I Section VIII, four of the first five clauses discuss taxes, duties, imports and excises.  They also discuss Congress’ power to borrow money, regulate money, and mint coin.

Feeling good about mother, apple pie, (California grapes) and the flag are not mentioned.

And while the rationale stated in the preamble expressed the expectation of a perfect union, the establishment of justice, providing a common defense, providing for the general welfare, and securing liberty, this thought, this view or philosophy of the world was held by the aristocracy who had a vested interest in protecting the flow of capital and increasing its returns by having a national government structure in place that protected its flow.

Democracy was an ingenious way of preventing collateral damage.  In order to validate the hierarchy, a narrative had to be created that a “perfect union” was necessary for the benefits of liberty to flow and an aristocracy of learned and/or propertied white men should lead it.

I ask why a union with, say, Delaware, be viewed as necessary to my well being or welfare?  Does Delaware supply me clothing, food, education, or manufactured goods?Does Delaware provide me financial capital to seed my enterprises or personal consumption, and even if it did, does allowing its two U.S. senators and a couple congressmen to vote on affairs that directly impact my state provide a worthy exchange for my liberty?

If a voter cannot demonstrate how being in a union made up of different cultural views, terrains, economies, justify the potential negative impact their votes can have on her state or more importantly, her personal freedoms, then excitement about a national vote is severely misplaced.

If she accepts the status quo, that the perfect union provides her personal benefit, then her second question should be, what is the best political-economic mechanism to guide the union’s path?

That question I leave for Part II.  Until then, I will wait patiently for the California grape season…

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.

 

 

Capital. The true digital divide

A couple early morning thoughts on the digital divide.  So far the digital divide narrative has occupied two schools of thought that are not necessarily opposed to each other.

Race and the Digital Divide

The first school of thought revolves around race.  Given that within the black American community there is a higher level of poor households, affordability is keeping blacks from accessing the internet via high-speed broadband infrastructure.  If blacks do not have the income to sustain a broadband business model, then internet access providers are less likely to deploy facilities in poor neighborhoods.  Lack of deployment in these neighborhoods may result in a barrier to valuable information that may lead to greater economic opportunities, according to advocates seeking to close this gap.

Rural Communities and the Digital Divide

The second school of thought revolves around rural communities.  The argument is that lower population density as compared to urban areas makes deploying broadband access facilities in rural areas more expensive.  In addition, terrain, such as that faced by internet access providers in mountain states, has traditionally added to the problem of higher costs to provide broadband access facilities.

An Overlooked Divide

There is another divide, one that is often overlooked and it has to go to what is known as “first-mover advantage.” The real value generated by the internet is the ability to extract, analyze, package, and distribute information, and have that information be available digitally forever.  The focus on a gap between facilities deployed in black neighborhoods versus facilities deployed in white neighborhoods or the gap between rural community deployment versus urban community deployment goes to seeking out new suppliers of information.  The civil right veneer that has been placed over the broadband racial divide hides this supply-side characteristic from the policy debate.  It has also created the opportunity for the political left to craft an electoral package that can be sold to voters.

It is the other side of the equation, the production side, that, in my opinion holds more value.  When we look at the history of the internet, particularly the period when the internet was commercialized, its players included white venture capitalists; Web 1.0 internet service providers, i.e. AOL, CompuServ, Mindspring, etc.; and dial-up access providers such as BellSouth.

Black Americans could always access information from analog sources, i.e. television; print media; or word of mouth, but the efficient extraction, cataloging,  indexing, aggregation, and distribution of information via the internet were the domain of companies invested in and managed by whites.  As whites continued to level their first-mover advantage, this gap between producer/owner of capital and consumer continued to grow.

Capital not only seeks a vacuum, it also seeks a return.  Returns from investing in black or even rural communities were not going to be as high as returns invested in affluent neighborhoods, neighborhoods whose residents probably owned shares in the very companies that commercialized the internet in the first place.  Closing the “digital divide” means first closing the capital divide.

What will Government Do Next?

Government will do nothing from a capital perspective to close the digital divide. The Federal Communications Commission has a number of universal service funding initiatives designed to encourage mobile and fixed broadband deployment in rural areas; to facilitate the delivery of health care via broadband; and to reduce the costs incurred by low-income consumers for accessing and maintaining high-speed broadband service.  By subsidizing the consumer demand for broadband services, the Commission hopes to encourage the delivery of broadband services.  But again, the focus is on consumer demand, not bridging the capital gap.

The philosophical underpinnings of the American economy, where capital is to flow freely to its best use may prohibit government from taking any concrete action for closing a capital gap.  If blacks or rural residents had sufficient capital to purchase, construct, or maintain broadband access facilities, using their intimate knowledge of their communities to distribute services, we might see a decrease in the gap.  We should expect that government will stay on a path of incentivizing capital investment in infrastructure development versus trying to repair capital discrepancies via a capital transfer.