Martin Luther King III, Harvard historian, “Top Global Thinker” on technology, state and local government innovators, established and rising social entrepreneurs – and you
The program for The Greater Good Gathering continues to expand and firm up. I wanted to let you know of new additions just this week – and encourage you to get your conference registration and hotel reservations in ASAP, while the Early Bird rates are still in effect.
Here are the headlines:
Conference Keynoter: The big news is that Martin Luther King III will deliver a keynote speech at the Saturday conference session, speaking on Doing Good in the 21st Century. In addition, Johnny J. Mack, former Chief Administrative Officer of the MLK, Jr. Center in Atlanta will moderate a Saturday panel on the future of economic justice.
Framing the Future: In what we hope will provide an interesting change-of-pace, a pair of very different thought-leaders will provide brief presentations and Q&A with attendees on the deeper issues that frame our entire discussion. In his latest book, Once Within Borders, Harvard historian Charles Maier tracks the epochal changes that have defined territories over five centuries and pays close attention to our present moment, asking in what ways modern nations and economies still live within borders and to what degree our societies have moved toward a post-territorial world. He’ll be followed by Dr. Kalev Hannes Leetaru, one of the leading innovators of the internet era, and one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, who will address where technology is taking government and the nation-state in the future.
Government Innovation: Some of the most innovative leaders in Rhode Island state government will be joining several of our panels, including Governor Gina Raimondo’s advisors on government innovation and Macky McCleary, a business-process innovator who now heads the state’s public utilities commission and formerly was director of business regulation. Governor Raimondo and Senate Sheldon Whitehouse, who just published a book on cleaning up the federal government, have also been invited to appear on the Friday dinner panel discussing the future of government, moderated by former Delaware Governor Jack Markell.
Social Venture Funders: The leaders of several different creative social venture funds – doing for social progress what venture capital did for technology – will be discussing how approaches to social change are quickly evolving. Kim Syman, Managing Partner of New Profit in Boston, and Kelly Ramirez, CEO of Social Enterprise Greenhouse in Providence, are incubating some of the leading creative solutions, both for-profit and not-for-profit, to a range of social challenges, and they’ll be telling us about what these are and what else they see on the horizon.
Innovative Entrepreneurs: We’re lining up a number of creative doers implementing business models to drive social change. These include established business leaders like Maximilian Weiner, who has founded a social enterprise in the Inclusive Insurance space that is providing low and moderate income Americans with free insurance – and rising stars who are current Brown students or recent graduates, like Stefanie Kaufman, the founder and Executive Director of Project LETS, which advocates for disability rights and creates inclusive communities for people with mental illness.
And please share this invitation.
As you know, for the past several years, I’ve been writing about the challenges of illiberal and antidemocratic forces, rising alienation of the failing middle class, and technological changes making governance and social cohesion increasingly difficult. I’m starting to shift more toward trying to sketch out solutions, and actually creating new initiatives that, in their own small ways, may – in the words of an old colleague, Bill Drayton – make a “scratch on history.”
The next few updates will be unveiling the new platforms and initiatives I’ve been working on that I hope will help make more of a contribution. In this update, I want to start with several articles I’ve written recently that begin to spell out the framework for those efforts.
In a prior update, I mentioned my recent trip to Brussels, where I visited both the battlefield of Waterloo and the headquarters of the European Commission. In A Modern Waterloo, I described how a high-ranking Euro bureaucrat responded to my questions about the opposition to European (and, more generally, global) integration with the retort, “It doesn’t matter.” Similarly, “the great and good of Europe could congratulate themselves after Waterloo that the revolt of the lower orders, well, it didn’t matter”:
Those who believed that Waterloo meant they could now get back to ruling subject populations as they had for the previous half-millennium were therefore soon to be sorely disappointed…. The democratizing aspirations of the deplorables so feared by the aristocracy ultimately proved to be not only on the right side of history but also right.
That we’re at the end of another similar fin de siècle is evident even in such seemingly-quotidian issues as the never-ending health care struggle, which, I argued in Life after Obamacare, is really the last battle of the last century and the politics of the welfare state: “[I]n today’s polarized either/or environment, both parties are locked … in a duel to the death between a pre-20th Century vision of a market unpoliced by government and a mid-20th Century vision of government supplanting the market.” Other alternatives will soon overtake both positions “that better reflect the direction the world is headed – one of weakened states where other entities, including businesses, provide more and more of what used to be thought of as government services.”
Is there hope of resolution in this increasingly polarized society? Yes, but perhaps in diversity more than consensus – if we can learn to live with that. In an Independence Day riff on a Harvard Business Review study (of all things), I spent some time musing on How environmental factors affect our politics. The study discussed in the HBR found that people in more densely-populated areas tend to be more “future-oriented,” which leads to all sorts of behavioral and attitudinal differences:
Environmental factors – like community size and density – not surprisingly affect the strategies organisms (like, say, people) adopt … for every other aspect of dealing with their interactions with others. This includes fundamental questions about how to structure those dealings – centralized or decentralized, coercion by law or through social ostracism – and issues that flow from these such as taxes versus charity…, attitudes toward crime and terrorism, receptivity to immigration and trade, regulation of business activities or firearms, in short virtually everything.… Which may mean that, if we are to remain United States, and celebrate many more holidays of shared nationhood and shared values together, we will need to learn better to accept that the other side may be coming from a different place on major issues not because these other Americans are evil or irrational, but simply, well, coming from a different place.
And that brings me to my piece this week in US News: A Better Future for Democrats: We need to start recognizing both the challenges and the opportunities that an increasingly centripetal world poses to modern ideologies. “The left needs to reconceptualize what ‘government’ – or, more specifically, liberalism – might look like in a post-industrial, post-mass-produced world. The ability to individually customize mass-produced items is the hallmark of the New Economy.”
The challenge for progressivism and liberalism today is not how it can compete with the revival of anti-liberal ideologies of the 1930s with a similarly retro agenda from the ’30s – it is how to further progressive aims like meaningful opportunity, economic security and constraint of the powerful in a world where the traditional enforcement mechanisms of collective action to achieve these aims are increasingly undermined by emerging technologies.
The same technologies that give rise to the challenges also offer solutions. I’ll be discussing possible solutions – and the initiatives I’m launching – in future updates over the next month.
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:
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:
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:
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.
It’s been quite a two weeks. A Turkish friend started IM’ing me from Istanbul as the coup attempt against President Erdogan broke out, and our text conversation continued in “real time” throughout that dramatic night and into the next few days.
The next week, the Democratic National Convention convened here in Philadelphia and quickly consumed all my time: One US Senator decided to make my house his own B&B and then insisted I stay out until 2 a.m. listening to his favorite band – and, in return, unexpectedly gave me floor credentials.
One of the final-night speakers contacted me out of the blue and asked me to redraft her prime-time speech on a few hours’ notice. I met with three 2018 gubernatorial candidates about policy, and ran into countless old friends from all over the country – it was a great time. Then the next day, I had the opportunity to meet with journalists from Pakistan and female political leaders from Afghanistan to discuss the convention and the upcoming elections. The results of all this are below: three new articles – on the Turkish coup (sorta), the current election, and its potential aftermath.
Yesterday’s piece in US News & World Report – The Other Half of America — synthesizing where I think things stand after Donald Trump’s stunning acceptance speech describing America in apocalyptic terms, has already produced a surprising number of insult-filled emails (not like it’s that hard, but you actually have to feel strongly enough about responding to go look up my email address – it’s not in the articles). More people than usual have already re-posted or re-tweeted it. So, it seems to have hit a nerve on both sides. This is becoming increasingly true, with emotions unusually high in this election – as I note in the article, a previous piece provoked a similar Twitter exchange: “When the tweet started with the words, ‘I never heard of u b4,’ I immediately knew this was the rare reader who wasn’t a member of my immediate family and that the exchange wasn’t going to end well.”
The main message of the piece, however, which seems to have gone by both the liberals who like it and the Trump supporters who loathe it, is that while the latter’s “positions may seem counter-factual,”
that’s not how it feels. As a result, they are embracing political and legal positions they once opposed and that liberals once advocated for others. To liberals, this looks like hypocrisy and disingenuousness. But the fact that this means that liberal institutions (and liberal concern) aren’t there for them only makes their anger worse.
My convention piece for Aspenia — A Major Political Realignment Amidst the Confusion —elaborates on this theme, starting with the observation that “Donald Trump has realized Richard Nixon’s vision of making [blue collar] voters the core of the Republican Party, the culmination of a process long in the works, and the party realignment will look something like today’s polling for years to come: a more upscale Democratic Party more libertarian and less inclined to Big Government solutions than in the past, and a Republican Party more solicitous of Big Government programs to help low-to moderate-income voters than the party’s traditional ‘conservatism’ would ever countenance.”
It then urges Hillary Clinton to be like Franklin Roosevelt and “reach out to disaffected working Americans with an agenda that speaks to their needs.” It concludes with a warning of the US breaking apart after this election – presaging the beginning of Trump’s warnings several days later that the election will be stolen from him – asserting that, “The main questions are whether this can be headed off now by the ‘newly ascendant’ crafting an agenda for the economically dislocated, as Democrats would have in the past – and, if not, if the resolution comes peacefully or not.” (I was also quoted this week in much the same vein in Governing magazine.)
My article on the Turkish coup — A Predictable Surprise in Turkey — is similarly somber. It begins and ends, “When the end of democracy came … everyone was surprised.” You can read into it what you want – but read it. While this all might sound rather depressing, I’ve actually been enjoying myself through it all. Hope you are, too.
As always, I welcome your comments below.
“The real moment of success is not the moment apparent to the crowd,” said George Bernard Shaw. In fact, breakthroughs occur long before they’re perceived. In the last few weeks, Brexit has broken across the globe like a tsunami – but, of course, it is really the result of tectonic shifts in politics, economics and technology that the world has been undergoing for roughly 50 years. These events foreshadow even larger, axial shifts that we’ll recognize over the next 50 years. This is thus a moment in history worth stopping and pondering.
I’ve already sent around the post-Brexit piece I penned in the vote’s immediate aftermath – literally, the morning after. In the past week, I’ve written three more pieces, extending the argument and tying it back to what I’ve been writing over the past several years about this coming phenomenon.
In The Real Brexit Fallout, I wanted to tease out the implications of my oft-stated argument that, “Within a generation, governments will operate in a largely open marketplace for their services.” This raises various, inter-related practical and theoretical problems:
What happens to provision of public goods (things that basically have to be shared, like police protection, national defense or parks and green space)? What happens to provision of “public bads” [like government regulation]? And what happens about inequality (the reduction of which, since it generally has positive spillover effects for everyone else, is coming to be recognized as a traditional public good – paying for which many, if not most, folks want to opt out of, just like public bads)?
German Chancellor Andrea Merkel provided part of the answer in her day-after-Brexit declaration that, “Those who want free access to the European domestic market will have to accept the basic European freedoms and the other rules and duties which are linked to it.” I think this portends the answer we’ll reach as a society as to the “free-rider” problem with public goods: “Of course, if you’re not willing to pay, maybe you shouldn’t be able to use the public roads, miracle drugs or Internet developed largely at taxpayer expense.”
In the final piece of my Brexit trilogy for US News, The Angry vs. The Ascendant, I push back on the overly-simple but now-fashionable argument that Trump and other Republicans are making, that we’re seeing a worldwide revolt against “the Elite.” (Look for a staple of next week’s GOP convention to be attacks on the Clintons, liberals, Mexicans, blacks, and even the poor as part of this oppressive “elite”….) The divide in the world today isn’t between a small elite and an oppressed 99% – it’s basically an even split between those who are part of a “connected” world and those economically left behind. The former live under a system that “isn’t really ‘social-ism,’ as that term has been used historically (although it might help explain the unusual prominence of ‘socialism’ in this year’s presidential campaign) – it’s more like social-ish.” This is rendering all other existing arrangements – including nations and governments as we know them – obsolete:
For the social-ish, borders of all sorts, not just the physical kind, are breaking down – and that’s good…. [T]he internet generation’s belief that privacy comes from ubiquitous transparency, not firewalls, probably also describes the future of physical and cybersecurity, as well, where distributed technologies are likely the future of everything.
But “those angry people outside … don’t feel the same way.” My most recent post, The Great Realignment – for Europe Insight, which asked me to write as a result of my recent speech on all this in Copenhagen – notes that these right-wing populist movements are not anti-government (which is why the conservative elite of the GOP is so alarmed by the Trump phenomenon): “Tea Partiers who rose up against Obamacare because, well, Obama, at the same time railed that the government should keep its hands off their Medicare.” The aggrieved Trump, Brexit, Le Pen and other angry white voters around the world are so angry because “they are turning to the fading nation-state system they have known, and derided, all their lives to provide newly-appreciated ‘rights’ to economic security and protection against their newly-found feelings of victimhood – and finding that, for them, these are no longer there.”
As always, I welcome your comments below.
My latest post for U.S. News & World Report, “No Shortage of Radicals” addresses the subject at the heart of my course at the University of Chicago (and the theme of the occasional series I write for The Atlantic): “The Future of Government”. This usually elicits a quip about it being a very short course.
Short or not, I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time – since I was asked in college (while writing for The Washington Monthly) to review a pre-publication copy of a new book by a little-known, back-bencher congressman named Newt Gingrich: I realized that Gingrich was right about the coming, technology-induced fall of the 20th Century welfare state. But I was perturbed by his vision of a 21st Century in which, as Anatole France once put it, everyone, rich and poor alike, would be equally free to sleep under a bridge – now, with a laptop. When Gingrich ultimately masterminded the more-or-less-permanent conservative takeover of Congress in 1994 (and cost me my own job as chief-of-staff), I realized it was probably the last time I’d ever serve in government again – and that government itself was changing forever.
Those changes – the impetus for founding Public Works, a consulting firm conducting high-level government policy design from outside government, and for the “Future of Government” course and series – are coming faster and faster these days. As I often tell my students, the class was designed three years ago to think about what government would look like 30 years from now – but every year I have to update it as events keep overtaking my timeline.
Sunday night, President Obama spoke to the nation to attempt to dampen rising fears about Islamic terrorism. I agree that the hysterical reaction is overstated (although, as I wrote a few weeks ago, we need to realize that there will be increasing levels of terrorism for quite some time) – but the diagnosis is way too narrow. The world is undergoing globe-wide changes that will generate stresses – and violence – in cultures and societies far beyond Islam and the Arab world. In fact, it is already doing so. The adjustments will be far-reaching and a long time coming. Among them will be dramatic changes in how we govern ourselves, how power is wielded, distributed and channeled, and how – perhaps even if – we live together successfully. This article is one of several I’ve been writing lately trying to grapple with these coming changes.
To read the full piece on “No Shortage of Radicals” in U.S News & World Report, click here.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.
I’ve had my own “Triple Crown” of sorts, with three pieces in US News & World Report in the past 10 days, including this one yesterday explaining the roots of inequality in our economy in terms of horse racing.
It’s entitled, “Down the Stretch (With Luck).” Winning the Triple Crown requires skill, but also a healthy dose of luck, much like succeeding in the economy.
On a different kind of horse theme, this piece on “The Modern Horsemen of the Apocalypse” followed up on President Obama’s recent speech on global warming to look at several related global threats. We’ve made precious little progress in recent years in combating these threats.
And over the weekend, I tackled what a progressive agenda for the 21st Century might look like in an article called “Don’t Look Back To Move Forward.” Progressives need to do more than invoke tired government fixes for today’s problems.
I would love to know your thoughts, so feel free to comment below!
I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that there’s only one progressive solution to the problem destroying American politics and, with it, our country’s future: Give Republicans the one and only thing they care about.
That’s right – let’s exempt the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans from all taxes. Permanently.
Hardly a day goes by without a new study, book, or presidential-candidate pronouncement on poverty and inequality – but they have long been central concerns of mine. I studied the subject with Lester Thurow at MIT in grad school, worked with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on anti-poverty legal strategies under the US Constitution, and have addressed poverty issues at my consulting firm, Public Works LLC, with such great public servants as Bill Richardson and Gabby Giffords. This week, US News published the first two parts of a series I’m writing on how we can reduce poverty and inequality – not so much through public policies to remediate it, but through changing the underlying social and economic structures that perpetuate it.
This week I’d like to share my latest analysis for The Atlantic – on the future of Obamacare – and some news on my firm’s newest, and perhaps most important, contract: helping to address the serious structural challenges facing Puerto Rico.
The Future of Obamacare
With the Supreme Court set to decide King v. Burwell in the next month or so, many speculate that Obamacare’s days are numbered. I argue, instead, that Obamacare we will have with us always, in some form – but that form is likely to change somewhat from how it stands today.
Where a conservative alternative has been formulated, the proposed changes from standard Obamacare have been fairly mild: Beyond predictable attempts to shave benefits and impose work requirements, the Republican modifications to Medicaid expansion have centered on ideas that many Democrats would find acceptable and (in some cases) have even proposed themselves: partial financial responsibility, incentives for healthy behavior, and “premium assistance” – which reflects the conservative preference for government aid in buying private insurance over government-provided insurance. The likely result is a national consensus, at some point in the future, on a plan that both parties could have agreed upon a long time in the past.
To read more, click here.
The Future of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico for several years has been rated with Greece and California as among the biggest bond risks in the world, due to persistent structural budget deficits. But these budget and debt woes are caused by deeper economic challenges: Over half the island’s population lives below the US poverty line, and, like most islands, it lacks natural resources for export. The long-term answer requires investment in Puerto Rico’s one asset – its people. Public Works has been asked to help address the Commonwealth’s immediate budget shortfall – and to resolve it in the long-term with improved education, health care, economic development, and government efficiency.