Posts about government

Government by the people

In the midst of the UK’s MP expenses scandal – and as Gordon Brown’s government teeters, with nudges over the edge from The Guardian itself – the paper asked its columnists and then its readers to reform, even reinvent government. The results are in and are fascinating.

Tom Clark’s writeup in today’s paper service is quick to point out that this is a survey of Guardian readers with their baggage in their left hands. But that makes it even more surprising that, for example, 70% say they do not support demographic quotas as a means to configure Parliament. They want to change voting and the structure of Parliament and they want a constitution. May I recommend a First Amendment?

What’s exciting about this is that it turns the usual discourse around, shifting from complaining about government to doing something about it, taking responsibility. After the destructive comes the constructive.

: Speaking of…. See also Kevin Anderson’s report from the Deutsche Welle conference on the need for journalists to focus more on solutions than problems. More here.

: And see Lloyd Shepard’s tweet: “sheesh. when voting is a process of elimination, you know democracy’s in trouble. this is how people end up supporting arsenal”

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.