Will Estonia Be The First Cyber-State?

Schnurer_CyberStateLast December, Estonia took the unprecedented step of offering any person in the world a chance to become an Estonian e-resident, a title that grants the holder access to many of the country’s top-notch online government services. Acquiring this status would allow, say, an Indian entrepreneur to establish an Estonian company that he runs from Dubai but which does the bulk of its business in Spain; he’d also be able to use his electronic signature to execute contracts with customers throughout the European Union—and pay no taxes by keeping his profits in Estonia. No wonder that 13,000 people have signed up to beta-test the program in its first nine weeks of operation, and 500 people have already received their e-residency cards.

The Estonian government has touted the program as a way to attract foreign entrepreneurs. But in launching the effort, Estonia has also laid claim to a growing new market that could transform the global economy: public services. In the future, governments, like transnational businesses, will transcend national borders, offering services, attracting customers, and deriving revenues without regard to physical territory. That would allow states to turn public goods into virtual business ventures—an opportunity that some creative countries, especially smaller ones such as Estonia, are already seizing.


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State of the Union

State_of_The_Union_2015This week, President Obama fulfilled his constitutional duty to report to Congress on the State of the Union. I thought I would mark the occasion with a report on the state of my firm, Public Works.  We’re starting some exciting new work in 2015 – in education, in health policy, in human services, and in government reinvention:

– A year-long review of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

– Helping Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale), Florida, in implementing the results of the countywide community needs assessment in human services we helped conduct in 2014.

– Conducting education performance reviews of school districts across South Carolina.

– Assisting with the transfer of Louisiana’s Child Care Development Fund supporting early childhood education.

– Streamlining inspection and permitting processes in the City of Chicago.

More important than the individual pieces, however, is the overall direction we think government is headed in the 21st Century – and how we think these all inter-relate.

Given the substantive and financial challenges facing the public sector today at every level and across the country, there is an increasing need for not just efficiency but also for creativity in imagining and delivering government services.  The greatest need is for re-imagining the delivery of the human service systems – anything where governments do not simply enact and enforce rules, but actually directly service human beings, whether in social service, health, mental health, long-term care, correctional, or educational settings – that comprise two-thirds to three-quarters of government budgets. 

All significant improvements in public policy in the coming decade – changes that will make life better for millions of Americans, and improve government service provision – will encompass not just better policy but also budget savings. Conversely, the best way to achieve savings in the years ahead is not through mindless cuts but through positive policy improvements.  

We’re aiming to offer a single coherent and comprehensive approach to all areas of government that both represents the best public policy – i.e., the most improvement in the lives of average Americans – and realizes the most, and most-sustainable, budget savings.  Budget savings and best outcomes are inextricably interlinked – in the future, our politics need to make that linkage explicit.   

As always, I’d love your comments and feedback.


Post-Charlie: Is Freedom of Speech Back in Vogue?

Charlie-Hebdo-Freedom-of-SpeechFreedom of speech is back in vogue.  Now, everyone is Charlie.

Except, it turns out, most people don’t really want to be Charlie, because Charlie is offensive.  After the initial, near-universal rallying to the banner of freed speech, some on the left have begun to assert that the magazine’s targets – racial and religious minorities – took it outside the bounds of permissible speech.

(Let’s ignore for the moment that Charlie seemed intent on insulting everyone, from Catholics and Jews to Charles de Gaulle, not just Muslims.)  Many are now debating whether speech like Charlie’s deserves the freedoms we accord it or whether there isn’t some less scurrilous speech to celebrate.

In my US News piece, I try to spell out the rationale for free speech and its limits that I worked on in law school and in my early legal career – and why I think it’s so important.

This is a difficult issue.  We all recognize that authorities should be able to suppress attempts to overturn the government by force – but should they also be empowered to suppress advocacy of overthrow?  If so, where do we draw the line between impermissible advocacy and mere criticism of the political system and calls for change? Can those in power – or even the majority in a democracy – be safely entrusted with drawing such distinctions?  Where do we draw the line between people’s right to express their opinions, no matter how controversial, and speech that offends others – or that potentially compromises other people’s interests?  Answering these questions in many ways determines the kind of society we have.

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Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

Nous Sommes Tous CharliePeople everywhere today are mourning the attack on Charlie Hebdo. As many of you know, I take freedom of speech seriously; many years ago, it was the primary focus of my law practice, and, at one point, when I defended the first amendment rights of an unpopular group, I received death threats myself and had police protection for several days. For a while, I wouldn’t go out with friends to avoid placing anyone else at risk. And many people had a hard time separating belief in free speech from the (repugnant) beliefs of those whose rights I defended.

So, in a much lesser way, I know first-hand the isolation that arises at the limits of the freedoms we hold dear, and I salute those who paid the ultimate price yesterday for those freedoms. And, ironically, I had planned to share with you today the range of end-of-year articles I wrote recently that, while on diverse subjects, all ultimately relate to the general question of freedom and its price.

The central heritage of the liberal West is the right to express even views offensive to others. The furore over the movie The Interview started with the assertion by the North Korean regime of the power effectively to ban expression it found offensive; my threepart discussion of it ends with why freedom of expression may be what ultimately allows liberal societies to succeed in the face of even physical and economic threats.

If it’s our values that allow the West, and particularly the US, to serve as a beacon to peoples everywhere, and that ultimately form our greatest bulwark, then the torture debate last month should be dispiriting. Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans thinks that the “enhanced interrogation” techniques employed by our government constitute torture but endorses their use. This can lead to difficult and important philosophical debates about means justifying ends – but, as I argued in US News & World Report, it should shut the door on the ability of torture supporters to assert that they’re the defenders of morality in any meaningful way.

Finally, with a new Congress this week, I discuss in The Hill how liberals and conservatives alike cling to positions from fifty years ago as if these are eternal values rather than context-specific expressions of them – and how, instead, we might move forward together.