30
Sep

My Old School

eric-schnerer-old-schoolThe last two weeks have taken me back to my old high school, college, and graduate school. My trip back to Redwood High was for a reunion – but it triggered thoughts resulting in my post this week in US News, “Politics Today Make Me Miss High School.” My visits to Brown University and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, on the other hand, were outgrowths of the very frustrations expressed in the US News piece.

As I’ve noted here before, earlier this year I reorganized my business life to focus less on advising governments and elected officials (although I’m still doing that with my firm, Public Works) and more on other activities including writing, teaching and launching the “social venture” I’ve been thinking about for several years – related to all the writing and teaching.

I mentioned in my last update that I’ve been working on new models for delivering public goods and would be discussing these with officials at Brown, where I hope to institutionalize some of this work as a sort of “Davos for Doing Good,” and with students at the Kennedy School.  I wanted to share with you an edited transcript of my talk at Harvard last week explaining in more detail what I’m thinking, so we could continue the conversation:

I write for a variety of publications, and teach at the University of Chicago’s graduate policy school, on “The Future of Government” – which was also the impetus behind the original founding of Public Works: The world is changing. Borders are falling, distinctions are blurring. Non-public sector entities will increasingly “do” government – which leads me to my newest venture.

Here’s the idea. Governments are now selling their services to citizens of other countries: I went to Estonia earlier this year, which is selling its business registration and business services to entrepreneurs elsewhere.

Slim Sikkut, policy advisor to Estonia’s Prime Minister.

With Slim Sikkut, policy advisor to Estonia’s Prime Minister.

Meeting with communications consultants in Sweden.

Meeting with communications consultants in Sweden.

I visited Scandinavia, where governments are both competing and cooperating across national borders in the delivery of mail to citizens of each other’s countries. There will be more of this in the future – in a decade or two, you will be getting your retirement from the German pension system, your business services from Estonia, your kids’ educations from Singapore or Arizona State University, your health insurance from Scandinavia. Once that happens, there’s no reason that non-governmental organizations – for-profits, non-profits, even extra-legal entities – can’t deliver the same services, and they basically already do. There are entities already attempting to create private “governments,” relying on platform and blockchain technologies – which is going to revolutionize service provision more than the Internet has done – but right now these are confined to services like property registries, marriages, ID, and a national anthem. I think these technologies can be applied more creatively to enable the provision of public goods beyond the areas like security, war-making, education, private legal systems, or garbage pickup where private models already exist.

What’s done less successfully is the delivery of classic public goods, like justice, trust, and equity, because those are traditionally incapable of generating value that can be quantified, captured, and monetized. Technology is changing that, lowering the marginal cost of just about everything – including the transaction costs of collective action, which is basically what governments do – and making it possible to monetize and capture value that previously could not be monetized and captured. That makes it possible to have profitable and sustainable business models for delivering more public goods.

I believe we can capture and monetize the benefits of reducing poverty, investing in human capital, increasing social trust and justice, and promoting opportunity – and, in doing so, increase their provision. Launching a business model to do that is my goal over the next year – and that requires tech, finance, business and start-up expertise, and I need some smart Harvard students to help with that. So, if you know any, let me know.

As always, I would love to know your thoughts. Feel free to leave your comments below.

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12
Sep

The Future of Work

 

 

Eric-Schnurer-Blog-Workers

 

Since my last update, I wrote a piece in US News, The Man Who Would Be Caesar, arguing that Democrats need to develop an agenda to address the challenges of threatened working Americans:

  • This will hardly come from the upward income transfer policies of those on the right, including [Donald] Trump, who cynically have exploited these voters’ ennui to promote policies that actually run counter to their economic interests.… These are people our country has failed.

Of course, every time I write about Trump, I receive nasty emails from Trump supporters. This time, besides the usual vitriol, the writer complained that I didn’t really have a plan myself for how to address these problems. So, I decided I should sketch what a fuller agenda might look like – however, I quickly realized that would take more than a single piece. So, in a Labor Day article, Misdiagnosing Labor Pains, I first laid out my three-part diagnosis:

  • American consumers benefit from the lower prices of goods produced overseas; workers who used to produce those goods in the U.S. do not. This does not mean that we ought to resist trade or immigration … but it does make it incumbent upon proponents of each to consider how to help those displaced by change to transition to new jobs.
  • Another related challenge is technological advance…. [F]urther technological advances in robotics and Artificial Intelligence, among others, will render even more jobs obsolete.
  • [T]he giggification of work, the reduction of most of us from lifelong employees to day-to-day, part-time, self-employed “consultants,” has been occurring for decades, too. It will intensify.

In yesterday’s article, Our Looming Economic Future, I describe how to address the transition the transition to this new high-tech economy. I’ve got some wonky suggestions (“focus more workforce funding and attention on the often-neglected area of incumbent worker retraining … and improve the wayward ‘Trade Adjustment Assistance’ program with expanded ‘wage insurance’”), some surprising facts (it takes roughly 10 Chinese workers to match the output of one American worker), and some of my favorite ideas for the future:

  • Elite school and public colleges in some jurisdictions are slowly transitioning to a “pay it forward” system in which the education is free upfront but paid for over a lifetime commensurate with the outcome it produces; this is the future, and public institutions should lead the way in getting there sooner.
  • Tilting the playing field back toward worker organizing is one of the easiest things government can do to improve the economic prospects of many working class Americans…. [T]he ultimate answer probably will be not further pro-union legislation but the development of worker-owned, for-profit labor supply firms.

I found a further piece was necessary just to address the problems of the “gig economy.” You’ll see that next week – along with articles in two other publications on related topics: immigration in the print journal Aspenia, and trade in Aspenia Online.

As for my future work, I hosted a two-day retreat last month to discuss new models for delivering public goods that I’m working on with some other folks, and which I’ll be talking about at Harvard next week. I’m also meeting about institutionalizing the retreat – a sort of “Davos for Doing Good” – with officials at my two other alma maters, Brown and Columbia. And I’m kicking off a new series of forums this fall on the “Future of [everything from politics to conflict to economics],” in addition to my “Future of Government” course, at the University of Chicago. Further details on all these in my next update.

 

 

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