In the past several weeks, I’ve had an unusual number of opportunities to speak to various groups about things I’m working on – and in the next few months I’ll be speaking and teaching at universities and conferences from Providence, Rhode Island, to Nairobi, Kenya. And, of course, I hope to welcome all of you to the second Greater Good Gathering, in New York City this November.
But today I want to share with you the talk I gave at the recent Impact Summit in New York City, a three-day conference for computer science students from all over the country interested in social good. Following a 24-hour “blockchain hackathon,” and discussions on blockchain and artificial intelligence, I was the last to speak on a panel the last day on “The Future of Democracy.” I’ve got to warn you: When I finished, the moderator – a college contemporary – reacted that my presentation was “interesting” but “scary.”
This is a reaction I hear frequently from my peers – but not younger Americans. People often say they find my predictions “scary” or “depressing” because I talk about things we take for granted and care about – like countries and democracy – changing dramatically in just the next few decades. But I don’t think that’s scary or depressing – just different. The world is very different today from, say, the Middle Ages, and if you told people then about the radical changes coming – in religion, government, social structure, commerce – they probably would’ve called it “scary” and “depressing,” too … but I don’t think any of us would want to go back. We have no choice but to move forward – our choice is what we do with that. And no-one knows that better than today’s young people.
In fact, I asked the students, “Do any of you find this ‘scary’?” None raised their hands. “Of course not,” I concluded to general laughter, “because you already know this is what’s coming.” I had opened (again to general laughter) with a piece I wrote two years ago:
Pessimism about democracy is widespread today – largely because of President Trump – but democracy has actually been declining worldwide for the last two decades, for a wide range of reasons, basically spurred by technologically-driven changes in the economy:
As I’ve been saying for a while, countries as we know them (or, more precisely, “nation-states”) are being undermined by this technological change, just like “business models” in other fields of human activity from music and publishing to manufacturing, transportation, and lodging.
We really shouldn’t be surprised, then, that governments and democracies are – like these other models – in eclipse … as we know them. Democracy – by which we mean political, particularly representative, democracy – is in dangerous decline and under competitive threat.
But the world is also being radically democratized in other ways, providing a wide range of choices thanks to technologies – particularly blockchain – that will go much further than currently imagined to disrupt the world we know and provide us with new bases for forming communities and governments. This is already happening – e.g., in Estonia, which has put all its government services online through blockchain and started making them available for people anywhere in the world:
As this becomes more and more common, the line between “public sector” and “private sector” will blur and disappear – in fact, it’s already doing so:
Businesses are increasingly competing against governments to provide, essentially, “governmental” services – including adjudication, regulation, enforcement, security, intelligence, and waging war. Some of these aren’t even so new. But here’s the problem: Some services governments traditionally provide – “public goods” like education, public health, justice and public safety – are at risk of disappearing, for a simple reason: They don’t make money. As technology provides citizens with greater ability to “opt-out” and choose alternatives, public goods are becoming harder to fund because, by definition, they can’t exist in a world where people opt-out. Until now.
Fortunately, technologies like blockchain will allows us to create new models making it easier to:
… all the things we created government for. And it’s that – not “coins” or “registries” – that represents the true promise of blockchain. So, I’ve been developing a whole new “operating system” for the age-old technology called “government.”
It will deliver what we want from “governments” and “communities” – but decreasingly find today in either the public or private sectors: Enabling people to invest in each other’s futures – through things like educational opportunity, job training, day care and family supports, and affordable insurance against health care costs and life’s other vicissitudes. Creating parks and public places. Providing security and privacy for both people and their data and identities. Using collective action and market clout to protect consumers and to lower costs, and even drive pay-for-performance in service delivery and other “public policy” improvement. We call this new “government biz”:
And we’re going to want you to get involved.
I’ll tell you how in my next update.
As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments below.