I’ve been promising for several months to give you the details of the idea I’ve been working on the last three years – the business model for what’s going to replace government as we’ve known it for at least the last 2,500 years. Sorry that’s taken me so long … but: Here it is!
As I discussed previously, the origins of this idea lay in what I’ve been writing and teaching the last several years about “The Future of Government”: that modern technologies like the Internet, the platform business model, and blockchain, by moving us increasingly into a virtual world where distance, mass and geography matter less and less, are undermining the traditional national state. The question then becomes what replaces nation-states – an issue at the heart of the current worldwide political struggles between globalists and nationalists – and, in particular, What happens to so-called “public goods”?
In economic jargon, “public goods” are non-rivalrous and non-excludable – in other words, my consumption doesn’t deplete the amount available for you, and I can’t “own” it and keep you from using it. Public goods include much that we’ve come to expect governments to provide, such as public safety, public health, social insurance, education – things that create broader benefits for society as a whole, and from which everyone benefits. “Public goods” thus ultimately form the rationale for government itself. What happens to them in a society where technology increasingly allows resources to escape the territorial clutches of governments more easily than ever, and allows us all to opt-out of obligations we don’t want?
I think they die – unless we can develop a method to capture (or “monetize”) their benefits and share them back to all (and only those) who choose to subsidize them. In other words, we need a profit-making model for public goods. Fortunately, the same technologies weakening nation-states today make possible the formation of voluntary, virtual communities.
Investments in “human capital” – education, health care, child development, social insurance – aren’t just liberal, feel-good things: They pay measureable economic “dividends.” For example, the average lifetime earnings of an African-American single mother go up by a half-million dollars if she has five-years of day care for her kids. A child’s lifetime income goes up by $6,000 (in present value) for every year that child has a good, instead of simply a mediocre, classroom teacher. These returns not only pay for the social investment – they’d turn a healthy profit for anyone financing them in place of the government.
Closing the Circle
This is easiest to see in the commonly-understood example of return on higher education. Above are two illustrations I frequently use: The way things are today, taxpayers pay for government-provided services that (hopefully) improve people’s lives – but the benefits don’t necessarily accrue observably to the taxpayer. But if we treat beneficiaries as entrepreneurs, in whom we make an investment and then reap a percentage of the “profits,” the increased income alone would pay a healthy rate of return.
Such “income share agreements” already exist in higher ed; my new business, Virtu.us, aims not only to expand their presence but also to bring this concept to financing job training, high-quality child care, various forms of social insurance, and even provision of the kind of K-12 schools every child needs and deserves. All through an easy-to-use app and web portal.
But the concept doesn’t stop there. As the graphic at top illustrates, this model will incorporate policy analysis insights as to “what works” into market assessments of how best to invest in individuals; use the market clout of a growing community-of-interest to drive down the price of these services for everyone; and even expand over time into a wider potential range of “public goods” encompassing, well, virtually all current government activities. Eventually, this becomes a fully-fledged, on-line community – providing the things people want, but decreasingly find today, in real-life communities, let alone the on-line kind.
Perhaps you think the idea of private “governments” is terrible. Perhaps it is – but as public institutions as we know them decay, a new alternative will be needed for a very different future. Perhaps you think everything going on today will pass in another two years (or two weeks); perhaps it will – but the economic, political and technological phenomena driving public disinvestment have been going on for the last 40 years, and are occurring today everywhere across the globe. As you know if you’ve been following what I write for the last, oh, decade or so, the need for a new model of public-goods investment – and social progress – isn’t a passing Trump phenomenon: It’s the defining political challenge of our time. Virtu.us is my attempt at an answer.
If you want to know more, there’s a 60-page white paper online at ericschnurer.com/virtuous: Please read it – I really want your comments and feedback! If you’d like to do more, let me know: We need programmers and project managers, futurists and finance whizzes, analysts and actuaries, marketers and MBAs. One way or another … we need you!
Also, the last issue left out the link to my recent article about the collapse of the center: http://www.aspeninstitute.it/aspenia-online/article/two-americas-and-lost-center.
An analysis of the 2016 midterms
The role of policy in campaigns
How we helped to strengthen one of the poorest school systems in America
Takeaways from my new course at Brown University on poverty and the future
Again, I welcome your thoughts in the comments below!
In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been several months since I’ve written about, well, much of anything. I’ve been in the odd situation of being terribly swamped while having nothing to report – basically because I’ve been getting a lot of things lined up, which are now coming to fruition.
In my last update, way back in June, I promised that the next installment would be a detailed description of the new business I’m launching – VIRTU.US – a for-profit business intended to represent the “government” of the future.
Finishing that business plan consumed most of the summer, however, a big part of the reason you haven’t heard from me. VIRTU.US is now ready for launch, and you’ll be hearing about it in detail … in my next update. But, for now, I have a number of developments to catch you up on. First and foremost, after several months of discussion, the Greater Good Initiative has a new home – and dates for the second annual Gathering. Please mark your calendar for:
More details in a future update.
I’m also back this fall at my undergraduate alma mater, Brown University (pictured above), teaching a new graduate-level course, “Poverty, Redistribution and the Future of Work.” And I have invitations to teach at several other universities, which, again, I’ll discuss in more detail in a forthcoming update.
I’ve also been busy getting started on a new “boutique” appellate law practice, returning my government consulting work to its original goal of advising top elected officials on policy and strategy, and an exciting international initiative involving the families of Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi – all subjects for future updates, as well.
Finally, you haven’t been reading much writing from me of late because I’ve hardly done any. As you might know, US News & World Report – for about five years my major outlet, especially for time-sensitive, quick-turnaround analysis – ceased publishing its Opinion section in February. With The Atlantic also undergoing a major shake-up, I’ve spent most of 2018 seeking new writing platforms – and I’m happy to report that I soon will resume publishing more. In fact, a lot more. I’m still sorting out what exactly I will be doing where, since I want each publication to have a distinct “stream” from me, but it now looks like I’ll be writing for the following outlets:
● For The Atlantic “Politics channel,” I plan to tackle the political and governmental implications of the “forces of the future”: global warming; technology-driven changes to labor and capital; the disappearance of truth and reality as we know them; why cyber warfare will require restructuring society itself; how bioscience will radically transform wealth and power worldwide; and the total “financialization” of the economy.
● For The New Republic, I’ll be writing monthly on what I call “Liberalism 3.0” – re-conceptualizing progressivism for the 21st Century.
● Replacing US News, my new quick-turnaround destination for timely commentary on news events will be (thanks to former Governor – and CNN commentator – Jennifer Granholm) … CNN. I’ll also be providing CNN a series I’ve long contemplated – using quirky international cultural features to make broader points about politics and the future (what Sacagawea dollars in Ecuador say about sovereignty, what a wine bar tells you about the break-up of governments): kinda “Anthony Bourdain in reverse.”
● Stratfor, the world’s leading global intelligence consultancy, recently republished a piece I wrote for Aspenia, the journal of the European branch of the Aspen Institute. I’ve now been asked to write for the former on an ongoing basis, where I’ll funnel most of my geopolitical prognostication, while writing for the latter (now my longest-running gig) whatever they ask me to write. In fact, my one piece this summer was a request from Aspenia for thoughts on the collapse of the center in American politics – so I’ll leave you with that:
Politics are no longer really arrayed along a line presenting something of a traditional bell curve, at the center of which lies the vast bulk of the population, forming, well, a “center.” Instead, whatever lines there may be lie on two separate planes that simply don’t intersect. The challenge today is not that, in William Butler Yeats’ famous formulation, “the center cannot hold”: It’s that there is no center anymore.
Read the full piece here.
I welcome your thoughts in the comments below.
It’s been an unusually busy several weeks, so it’s been unusually long since I provided an update. October was consumed, of course, with the Greater Good conference I organized – I’ll have more on that in a future update, but if you just can’t wait you can watch a video of my speech summarizing the conference here. And I spent half of November traveling in Arizona, where we’re working on strengthening the Hopi school system, and in Kentucky, working on rural economic development (and meeting several Derby-winning horses). In between, I managed to crank out four articles for US News & World Report, two for Aspenia (one of which is forthcoming this month), and three more for The Atlantic now in the queue for publication.
So, there’s a lot for future updates!
But I’m writing today to share with you a column by the great Thomas Edsall in this morning’s New York Times, “Liberals Need to Take Their Fingers Out of Their Ears,” in which he refers to a piece I wrote last week in US News and then quotes extensively from an exchange he and I had over the weekend. I’ll just let Edsall do the talking – and the quoting – from here on:
I am quoting [Karen] Stenner [author of “The Authoritarian Dynamic”] — and later in this column, the public policy analyst Eric Schnurer — at length because they both make arguments about complex ideas with precision and care….
Eric Schnurer, a writer and public sector management consultant who has worked for many Democratic politicians and presidential candidates, addresses what he sees as the lack of recognition on the part of liberals of what motivates conservative voters.
“Both sides of this increasingly polarized divide see the other as trying to extirpate their way of life — and not inaccurately,” Schnurer wrote in “War on the Blue States” in U.S. News and World Report earlier this month:
Blue America spent the last eight years dictating both economic and cultural changes invalidating virtually every aspect of Red America. Liberals see all that as both righteous and benevolent — we’re both promoting better values and willing to help train them to be more like us.
Schnurer elaborated on this line of thought in an email:
The prototypical Trump voter sees a changing America leaving him behind; part of this is economic, part of it demographic, part cultural. I think liberals tend to see this as a thin cover for racism, a reflection of troglodyte viewpoints, and in any event unwarranted as the world these folks are resisting would be better even for them if only they’d let it, by giving up their benighted religious views, accepting job training in the new technologies, and preferably moving to one or the other coasts or at least the closest major city.
Red and blue America often draw diametrically opposed conclusions from the same experiences and developments, Schnurer contends:
I don’t think there’s much argument that the modern economy is killing off small towns, US-based manufacturing, the interior of the US generally, etc. There is, or could be, an argument as to whether that’s just the necessary functioning of larger economic forces, or whether there are political choices that have produced, or at least aided and abetted, those outcomes. In any event, while most of us in Blue World see these changes as beneficent, they have had devastating effects on the economies of “red” communities.
Schnurer observes that
This is a classic political problem of general benefit at the cost of specific individual harm. At a minimum, “we” — as a country but also as a self-styled progressive subset of that country — have given inadequate thought to those harms and how to ameliorate them; but I think you can also make the argument that we have exacerbated them.
Long-term trends may be working in favor of the left, as the recent governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey suggest, but liberals, Schnurer argues, are using policy to accelerate the process without determining the costs:
For example, we could adopt protectionist policies, which of course we haven’t because both mainstream Democrats and Republicans see them as counterproductive in the long term; but we have also attempted more actively to steer the economy more quickly to the likely, proper, outcome by shifting national tax and spending priorities toward new energy technologies, and away from fossil fuels.
Schnurer notes that
You don’t have to buy the right’s “war on coal” rhetoric to accept that, even if that’s the direction the world is headed, anyway, hastening coal’s demise and shifting federal subsidy policy away from it and into alternative energy sources will have a negative economic effect on certain communities.
In addition to the economic setbacks experienced in heavily Republican regions of the country, Schnurer, himself a liberal, argues that blue America has over the last decade declared war on the “red way of life.”
He makes a case very similar to Stenner’s:
The political, economic, and cultural triumph nationwide of a set of principles and realities essentially alien to large numbers of Americans is viewed as (a) being imposed upon them, and (b) overturning much of what they take for granted in their lives — and I don’t think they’re wrong about that. I think they’ve risen in angry revolt, and now intend to give back to the “elite” in the same terms that they’ve been given to. I don’t think this is good — in fact, I think it’s a very dangerous situation — but I think we need to understand it in order to responsibly address it.
Do liberals in fact need to understand — or empathize with — their many antagonists, the men and women who are sharply critical of the liberal project?
Please read Edsall’s full piece in today’s Times. And I’ll have more soon on what I wanted to share with you from my other writing. Until then – as always – I welcome your comments.
– Tom Edsall’s colum: Liberals Need to Take Their Fingers Out of Their Ears
– My US News piece: War on the Blue States
This past weekend was the first Greater Good Gathering – something I hope will become not just an annual event but part of a larger initiative to promote the “greater good” globally. What does this mean? I’ll be discussing that in more detail in several articles and in a future update – but you can already read this coverage of the conference:
In my own remarks at the conference, I defined my view of “the greater good” as something not partisan or ideological, but rather simply “advancing the good of others than just yourself.” Below is one of the “graphic illustrations” from the conference, summarizing my remarks.
A similar theme was struck by our keynote speaker, Martin Luther King III:
As I discussed in my piece this week for US News & World Report, Live More Life, “For me, this has always been the basis for a particular concern with justice and fairness.” The article relates these “macro” issues to more personal concerns that start from my learning during the conference that one of our cats was dying. “I’ve come to see these passings as less about the awesome finality of death than the wonder of life,” I wrote, which takes us to the heart of this week’s missive:
[W]e can and must make the most of the time we have. The literary critic Harold Bloom, in his interpretation of “The Book of J,” one of the main source documents of what we now know as the Hebrew Bible, focuses on the image of King David.… Despite (if not, indeed, because of) his all-too-human failings – his passion not just for God, but also for conquest, for women, for all around him – David personified an ethos of “more life” that Bloom explicates from all the “J” text as God’s central aim. That doesn’t necessarily mean more years, but it does mean that the purpose of life is to wring as much from those years as possible.
But living life fully cannot possibly mean living life selfishly: To confine one’s concerns to one’s self is to limit oneself even more in time and space than the constraints nature already imposes on us. Why would one do that? In fact, my greatest concern for our country in this time of Donald Trump is not the repugnance that flows from Trump himself, but rather that a near-majority of Americans would embrace an ethos that concerns itself with nothing but the self….
People often shrug at injustice with the words, “Life isn’t fair.” Well, no, it isn’t. But while life itself places conditions upon us, our unique intelligence and moral sense give us the ability to transcend those constraints, to make life, and the world around us, more fair. To do so – not just for ourselves, but even more so for others – is how we, too, pursue “more life.” We ought all weep those times we cannot.
This piece was, in many ways, an unintended bookend to my reaction to the Las Vegas shootings that appeared two weeks ago. As I noted at the very beginning of Change Our Violent Culture, “Las Vegas made one thing clear: No matter the size of the massacre, nothing will lead to gun control legislation in this country.” But, I continued, “frankly, I don’t think we have a violent society because guns are readily available: Rather, guns are readily available because we are a violent society. That’s what really needs to change.” After a discussion of the constitutional and practical impediments to stricter gun laws, I turned to my central argument:
[U]ltimately, combating antisocial behavior, whether words or weapons, is, as conservatives like to assert, a matter of culture more than law…. This goes for everyone: If you’re stockpiling death-dealing weaponry, you’re part of the problem, not the solution. But if you patronize violent movies, buy products that advertise on violent TV shows, let your kids play violent video games, honor singers of violent lyrics, or vote for politicians who cynically promote firearms in bars and schools while banning them (for obvious reasons) from the government buildings where they work, then you’re part of the problem, too.
Because a nation that acted like shooting people is wrong, every day, wouldn’t also experience a mass shooting virtually every day.
I’m heartened that surprisingly large numbers of people seem to see the Greater Good initiative as a ray of hope in an otherwise dark time. Because, as always, where there’s life, there’s hope.
As usual, I welcome your comments below!
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Thanks to American Airlines delaying my Thursday evening flight home by 6 hours, I pulled an all-nighter and was able to follow the Brexit returns and morning-after impacts from London in real-time. I immediately dashed off a piece for US News. It went live this weekend. Given the history-in-the-making nature of this vote – and its impact on all the issues on which I write and teach – I wanted to share it with you right away.
Below is an expurgated version for quicker reading; to read the complete version, The End of Democracy as We Know It, click here.
Many observers are interpreting Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in much the same terms as Donald Trump. “Basically, they took back their country. That’s a great thing,” Trump said. In a written statement, he went on that the British “have voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy.”
The British vote indeed may be a good leading indicator of where elections are headed in the U.S. later this year and in Europe the next – but what it indicates for the longer term is probably exactly the opposite of what these commentaries, and insurgents like Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, and the Brexiteers, represent.
Britain has taken the first step in tearing apart one of the world’s major transnational organizations. It’s clear that others will soon follow and that the “Leave” vote in Britain was driven by the same anti-globalization, anti-immigration anger that has swept over not only the whole of Europe but also our own country. So, at first blush, these would appear to be – as Trump and others have heralded it – the first waves of reasserting national sovereignty and the firmness of borders (not to mention border walls).
Think again. The waves are cracking and demolishing all walls, not building them up.
The immediate effects of the Brexit vote include not only calls for further nation-state exits from the EU, but also resurgent sub-national claims to exit from their nation-states. The Scots – who voted overwhelmingly to Remain – almost tore Britain apart two years ago and are now almost certain to do so by 2018. They are not alone.
In sum, the nationalist resurgence of 2016 is not the new normal. It is but a way station on the road to the larger crack-up.
The U.S. itself is not immune. That should be the clearest lesson of the U.K. vote. That vote was very segregated: London as well as Britain’s historically more European-oriented satellite states strongly supported the “Remain” position; other parts of the country – those not enjoying the benefits of global trade, finance and elite educations – overwhelmingly wanted to leave. The different tribes of Britain – defined now more by their opportunities and, thus, their, global connectedness than by historic ethnicities – are going their separate ways.
The same is true here. This country is deeply divided into two ideologically homogenous but wholly incompatible blocs. These blocs are also almost entirely geographically independent. Given the snarling animosities of this year’s campaign, it is highly likely that talk of actual separation will rise after November. Since Obama’s election, conservative enclaves and states have increasingly raised the specter of seceding; lefties – which increasingly means the globally-connected urban, coastal elite – increasingly will be willing to let them. As borders and territory everywhere come to matter less and less to the economic and political elite, but more and more to the Left Behind, it is unlikely that the U.S. will be spared this phenomenon.
That means not just the end of nations as we know them, but also of democracy as we know it. I don’t mean that I expect totalitarianism to wipe away democracies everywhere. Instead, the choices that matter will be those between such entities, not within them. People will “vote” with their feet, their markets or their clicks. The old science of politics will be a thing of the past.
The “End of History” is so over. This is the beginning of a whole new chapter.
As always, I welcome your comments below.
Here’s the first big development that I told you recently was coming in 2016: As of this week, my company, Public Works LLC, has merged with Sequoia Consulting Group – enabling us to offer a more comprehensive range of services and a unique, new top-to-bottom approach to the public sector:
— Futures Planning. As you know, between teaching The Future of Government at the UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and writing for publications like The Atlantic, US News & World Report, and Foreign Affairs, I’ve been working more and more on what the future holds. Now, we’ll be able to integrate that orientation with the fast-emerging field of data analytics to give elected officials and their top managers hard, actionable, real-time, data-based recommendations to identify, reduce, and turn to their advantage impending financial, economic, policy, and organizational risks.
— Policy. Public Works is already a pioneer in on-going, high-level public policy and strategic planning for governors, agency heads, and other chief executives around the country. We’ve been especially focused over the years on reimagining “human services,” broadly defined to encompass everything where governments act directly on individuals (as opposed to issuing rules and regulations) from health and social services to corrections, education and workforce training, which together comprise roughly two-thirds of public spending at all levels of government. You can read some of my articles on this here, here and here.
We’ll be expanding on all that – especially in education. More on that next week.
— Supporting Functions. Public Works already has a proven record of helping individual agencies and entire governments redesign their operations and improve their bottom lines through our performance and efficiency reviews; joining with Sequoia allows us to add a broad range of analytic, financial, and IT infrastructure that governments need to reduce red ink, put things in the black, and keep everything running effectively.
Look for more information in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, I welcome your comments, as always.
People 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 three–part 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.
Popular culture provides a window into world affairs for me for the second week in a row, as the upcoming Seth Rogen/James Franco movie, “The Interview,” becomes the eye of an international storm. I generally don’t find Rogen’s work all that funny, but the notion that a fictional, over-the-top portrayal of a CIA plot to assassinate North Korean President Kim Jong Un could become the trigger for a real-life cyber war is pretty amusing – if you ignore the larger implications this holds for the future.
As I discuss in my new post this week on US News & World Report, we just may have witnessed the defining war of the 21st Century.
A group of hackers, apparently at the behest of the North Korean government, wreaked havoc on Sony Pictures by stealing thousands of documents and causing the company an untold level of damage. You might think it unlikely that anyone would conceive of a Seth Rogen pic as intelligence war rather than part of a war on intelligence. But North Korea’s less-than-keen appreciation of satire has led it to denounce the movie as an “act of war” that would result in “stern” and “merciless” retaliation, and to launch a cyber attack on a private company (with revenues that exceed the GDP’s of one-quarter of the world’s states) intended simply, as in war, to destroy it.
In sum, we’ve just seen a new category of state aggression against non-state actors (or, to judge by some of Sony’s email comments about its own stars, non-actors), involving entirely economic – without any physical – destruction of a non-territorial adversary. These events encapsulate in one episode all the trends we see coming – the blurring of distinctions between governments and businesses, state and non-state actors, the real and the virtual. Most of it won’t be as comedic.
Because of Public Work’s successful work on the Louisiana GEMS project, the company has been brought in to facilitate implementation of Louisiana’s unified Early Childhood System of Local Networks. This will provide families across Louisiana with access to high-quality early childhood programs by bringing the multiple current early childhood programs – including pre-kindergarten in public schools, the Nonpublic School Early Childhood Development Program, Head Start, Early Head Start, Early Steps and the Child Care and Assistance Program (CCAP) – together under one roof within the Department of Education.
This project is an example of Public Works’ unique capacity to work closely with and within government agencies to implement public policy and programmatic objectives and to being desired outcomes to fruition. Public Works is working with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) to help transition the Child Care and Development Fund from DCFS to LDOE.
Public Works is accomplishing this by managing an extensive work plan to transition the CCDF fund and programs tied to CCDF, including the licensing of day care facilities, CCAP payments, and client eligibility. Bringing together both agencies, Public Works is working to seamlessly transition budget, programs, personnel, and computer systems from one to the other without interruption to the services they provide. In conjunction with agency leadership and staff, Public Works is managing the creation and drafting of Cooperative Endeavor Agreements and ensuring that operational and statutory deadlines are met