Posts about government

Health-insurance stagnation

America’s health care system – or lack of one – leads to a stifling of economic innovation and mobility. Consider:

* Daniel Taghioff argues that people are more likely to risk starting new enterprises – leading to economic growth – in countries that have health safety nets.

Turning to entrepreneurialism – would you rather risk all to start a new business in a place like the US where if you lose everything you may end up, literally, with nothing, no health-care, no decent schooling for your kids and so on? Or would you choose a society where, if all else fails, the state (or strong social networks) will take care of you? . . . The list of countries with the most new businesses per capita is full of small to medium sized countries with strong social safety nets, or small Asian countries with very high levels of social cohesion.

* I know I didn’t quit my job until I had new health care insurance lined up, for without an employer, I wouldn’t have gotten any (and in the interim had to pay $24,000 per year in COBRA). How many people are sticking with jobs, unhappily and thus probably unproductively, just because of insurance handcuffs? What if they were freed? It would be better for them and their employers.

* General Motors was brought down by more than its its health insurance obligations. Nonetheless, those obligations weighed heavily on the company as they do on many other companies with long legacies and large staffs.

* I was at a WEF event yesterday at which one of the wise counsels pointed to the exacerbation of the health-care crisis that is coming with so many Americans unemployed. This, I think, will force the political issue.

Rather than spending billions to bail out and now even buy crumbling legacy industries and crooked banks, how much more value would universal health insurance give to the economy?

What if, instead of bailing out the past and filling potholes, the government assured universal broadband access? What would that do to spur innovation and entrepreneurship and begin to reform education, which, in turn, would spur innovation? What if education were reformed to emphasis innovation over test-taking? What if investment in new companies were a high priority of the tax code?

We are not thinking strategically enough about these issues in the political debate. We complain about companies thinking short-term but so does the nation.

The start of transparent government

The announcement of Data.gov marks an important shift in government, opening up our data to us and enabling collaboration and creation with government.

Jake Brewer of the Sunlight Foundation also announces a contest to create apps atop the API.

I believe that in the future ecosystem of news, transparent government data will play a key part. It will enable us to have millions of watchdogs on government’s action.

I also hope that this openness starts to shift the conversation around government from get-the-bastards to collaboration and creation.

Brewer says:

New federal CIO Vivek Kundra and the Obama Administration have officially launched Data.gov, which is the first-ever catalog of federal data being made freely (and easily) available to citizens.

Now, it’s unlikely the description of Data.gov will send chills down the spine of anyone who doesn’t speak Ruby or Python or MYSQL, and if you visit the site, it’s unlikely you’ll be struck or know to be impressed by what’s there. But if you step back and take a minute to understand what you’re looking at, you’ll realize we’ve just taken an unprecedented first step into the Era of Big Open Government.

When information and process become free and participatory, markets get created (think about weather data), more people engage more deeply with their government (see: Obama’s online townhall), and ultimately, people care more about what their government does and how it serves them. …it’s nearly impossible for people to know more about what’s going on and care less.

Transparency is at the heart of destroying apathy.

The key with this new data, though, is that we do something with it. While opening up data is a beautiful thing in its own right, what will make this release truly great is when citizens actually take the information and create new, brilliant applications.

That’s why Sunlight Labs in partnership with Google, O’Reilly Media, and Craig Newmark of Craig’s List has simultaneously launched a contest with $25,000 in awards to incentivize the creation of said brilliance.

Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge

The bigger MP scandal story

I don’t think the U.K. scandal around MPs skimming tax dollars through their expenses has been getting nearly enough coverage here in the U.S. That’s not just because it is already causing political upheaval over there. It is also because this storm will surely lead to greater transparency and oversight of legislative expenses and actions there — and we will have a lot to learn about how to force the same to happen here.

I believe that in the new ecosystem of news that will replace the old singular, centralized companies and products, government transparency will have to play a big part. We, the people, will demand that the actions and information of government be searchable and linkable. When that happens, there will be millions more watchful eyes on government, finding stories that journalists of many stripes can then report.

The MP scandal in Britain is opening up a crack in the wall around Parliament, a start in an inexorable trend toward transparency, and is causing a profound discussion about changing government. If we – in media and blogs – were paying more attention to it over here, I believe – well, hope – that it would spark more discussion we must have about transparency and remake government.

I think it would also cause a journalistic discussion about how the Telegraph has made a mark with this story and how data is (are) news.

Tax-supported content is taxpayers’ content

Gannett and Wisconsin high-school sports bodies are in a fight over streaming games. As more and more people can broadcast even from their mobile phones, I think there’s an important principle at work here and it should be: Tax-supported content is taxpayers’ content. That means that anyone should be able to broadcast public events paid for by the public. This also should include government meetings (which are usually covered by local open-meetings laws). Otherwise, we are going to find governments, bureaucrats, and private bodies trying to stop us from sharing what we see because of commercial interests (or using those interests as a means of control). The problem with my doctrine is that companies that invest in broadcasting events will say they will not be motivated to do so when they don’t hold exclusive rights. It gets very complicated – and expensive – at a university level, I know. But as a matter of principle, I am uncomfortable with government selling control to information we paid for, from research to maps to field hockey.

Minister of digital engagement

Tom Watson, the blogging and tweeting Member of Parliament, passes along, via Twitter, a job posting for a director of digital engagement in the U.K. government. Specs include:

• Develop a strategy and implementation plan for extending digital engagement across Government
• Work with communication, policy and delivery officials in Government departments to embed digital engagement in the day to day working of Government
• Work with Directors of Communication to ensure that digital media are included in the reporting of reaction to Government policy and initiatives
• Work closely with web teams to ensure that digital communications are making the most effective and efficient use of hardware and software
• Act as head of profession for civil servants working on digital engagement
• Ensure that digital engagement is always a leading part of Government consultation
• Introduce new techniques and software for digital engagement, such as ‘jams’ into Government
• Convene an expert advisory group made up of the leading experts on digital engagement to provide advice to Ministers and act as a sounding-board for the Government’s digital engagement strategy . . .

You will have a small budget, but two key purposes of the job are to assist Government in making effective use of current digital spend, which runs into many millions, and to enable departments to save significant sums on their engagement activities through switching from expensive face to face and postal methods to cheaper digital techniques. You will be accountable for leading Government’s new focus on digital engagement, which is central to Government priorities and with significant risk of reputational damage if this does not happen or Government gets it wrong. . . .

You will be required to exercise influence across departments with Ministers and senior officials to drive forward the future of digital engagement. This will require Government and individual departments to change the way they do business – from consulting citizens to collaborating with them on the development of policy and how public services are delivered to them. It will involve supporting Ministers and senior officials in entering conversations in which Government does not control the message or the dialogue. . . .

Within two years the use of world class digital engagement techniques should be embedded in the normal work of Government

Campaign by the internet, govern by the internet

The Guardian’s Comment is Free asked me to write a post about the new White House blog. I’m about to get on a plane so I’m crossposting it here before that link goes up…..

Two years ago, when I interviewed the then-head of David Cameron’s Webcameron, I asked whether—when and if he assumed office as Prime Minister—he would continue making his videos. “If it suddenly stopped,” the aide replied, “that would be seen as a very cynical move . . . You can’t stop communicating.”

Campaign by the internet, govern by the internet.

Now that Barack Obama is in the White House, he must continue to use and spread the tools of the internet and transparency that he so brilliantly plied to win the office or else it would make his promises of change empty.

We see the barest beginnings of his digital administration at the White House Blog. (Ah, how that link warms the heart of a blogger. Too bad that the president and vice-president of Iran beat the president of the birthplace of blogging to the platform. Oh, well, progress is progress.)

Dave Winer, one of the fathers of blogging, complained on Twitter and his blog that the presidential blog is weak tea. But I think 24 hours is too soon to judge a revolution.

The presidential blogmaster, Macon Phillips, promises communication, transparency, and participation and we’ll see how well he and his boss live up to their broad goals. Before taking office, they asked the public to suggest policy and action at Change.gov–as Starbucks and Dell do (it’s all the rage)–but, sadly, they took that down when they took office and linked instead to the new blog, where we can watch and read his inaugural address.

A new age of government openness, and collaboration with the citizenry won’t be made on one blog or Twitter or RSS feed or YouTube stage. It will be made by issuing and instilling a new ethic of transparency in government.

I argue that we should abolish the Freedom of Information Act and instead make transparency the default for government’s business, which should occur digitally and in the open, so citizens may search, link, comment on, and analyze it. Rather than our asking the government to release our information, the government should ask our permission not to.

And the President should also instill an ethic of listening in the agencies of his administration. Some collaboration may occur at the White House site. But the real voice of the people is already out here, on the internet, in blogs, on YouTube, all around us. All you have to do is search for it and listen. That will be a new age in government.

Two presidents

Barack Obama says we have only one president at a time. That, apparently, is why Gail Collins and Tom Friedman want the old one to leave office now, which is silly if understandable wishful thinking.

What we need instead is, indeed, two presidents. And we’re beginning to get that. Barack Obama is revealing his path and is taking action. The fact that the stock market can reach orgasm just on his naming a Treasury secretary – and not a particular superstar at that (see Andrew Ross Sorkin’s leavening of the exuberance today) – shows how much he’s already in charge and how welcome that is. The more Obama acts presidential, the better off we will be.

I have been impressed with Obama post-election. He has been moving to the center, where I am glad to see him. He has been unafraid to work with strong characters from the Clinton administration, including his rival. He was unafraid to reach out with a peace offering to the left’s boogeyman, Joseph Lieberman. He has been decisive in showing leadership on the economic crisis – and the more he acts the part of the president in power, the better. In the small arenas I watch – the FCC and the web – had has made extremely savvy moves.

My fear about Obama during the campaign, often stated, was that I hadn’t seen enough of him and thus worried he’d be a Jimmy Carter. Now my fear is the opposite: that so much hope is invested in him, he will disappoint his most devoted followers as he necessarily opens wide the tent and compromises to accomplish. But he’s not disappointing me. He’s giving me, uh, hope.

I don’t have a lot to say in this but some folks have asked why I’ve been silent since the election. It’s because I didn’t have much of anything to say – see, I can say that – and I was watching. In answer to those folks: I like what I see so far, very much. Damned glad I voted for him.

The failure of listening

We’ve just played the highest stake game of guess-the-number: The market was thinking of a number and the government was supposed to guess it. Lehman folding? Bzzzt. That’s not the number. Bailout of money market funds? Bzzzt. Think higher. $700 billion to buy toxic loans? Bzzzt. Wrong again. Buying equity in banks? Ding-ding-ding, you win!

Why wasn’t the government better at listening to the market? Did it ever ask what it should do?

That’s not the way government thinks. But it’s the way it should learn to think. There need to be systems to listen and expectations that we out here should speak. In a representative democracy, government doesn’t always need to act on what it hears. But now it can’t hear.

Government and regulation will need to be transparent and interactive in this, the Google economy.