On the Proper Failure of America
Cheers to the Parallel Universe
Note: I wrote this eight years ago. Social media and journalism are just on the verge of doing what I suggested. Now that Bezos is going to spend more time on the WaPo, maybe somebody you know can pass these ideas on…
At my reunion last night, at long last I got into a political discussion with Phil, Big Carl, Serious Mike and Cap'n Steve. Unfortunately, my feet hurt, I didn't let Big Carl get a word in edgewise, Big Mike blew in and out, and Phil and I already agree. But since this is an issue that is quite near to my moral universe, I needed to continue on. This is for Cap'n Steve and so many others like him.
The other day I remembered something about a class of problems called Rabbit Holes.
A rabbit hole is a problem whose solution begets more problems. When you begin to address it and solve one part, you create new parts. These new problems may be puzzles, they may be new mysteries. There may even be rabbit holes within rabbit holes. Often the wisest course of action when faced with a rabbit hole is to avoid it altogether. Alternatively, the wisest course is bravado, overkill and simplification. Don't even pretend that you can solve the problem with any finesse, just jump in and get busy.
I have been making excuses not to involve myself with the business of politics while still being very concerned with the proper ends of politics. My problem is that I am impatient with the kinds of arguments and discussions that are not as informed as the ones I've been having here for the past ten years. I've got work to do.
I was amazed when Jeff Bezos not long ago predicted the future with perfect accuracy. He said that in ten years he will not expect that his customers will be asking him for lower quality service and higher prices. So the logical conclusion is that he must arrange his business to produce higher quality and lower prices. If you can't configure your business to do the same, then you have no future. So it occurs to me to apply this reasoning to the operation of cities, counties, states and federal bureaucracies. But what I see ahead is failure. So before you get the idea that I want failure for failure's sake understand that I am taking Bezos' path. It is not coincidental that this mirrors the business strategy of my day job. To wit:
There are certain complications built into the way things are that allow people to drag their feet in dealing with obligations they ought not be caught up in. They wouldn't have such obligations if it were not for their faulty behavior and/or their failure to predict the future in the way Bezos has. There are a lot of American entities that are dancing on high cost, low quality platforms that are simply unsustainable. These are a class of rabbit hole problems. The federal deficit is a rabbit hole problem. Universal health care is a rabbit hole problem. And for the lot of these and many like them, the wisest course is not to try and patch them up, but let them fail.
As some of you know, I am building the same kinds of systems I have been building for the past 20 years on the new cloud platform. The cloud is going to let me build higher quality products for lower cost. But my company doesn't have nearly the market share or revenues of the vastly more expensive home grown systems of the clients I used to serve. They are going to have to learn things the hard way.
My negative attitude about politics means I am not going to waste my breath, time and energy trying to come up with a solution to today's rabbit hole politics. We all know they are broken and I am out of the patching business. I am no longer working with duct tape, chicken wire, bubble gum and spit. Nor am I working with bulldozers, wrecking balls, dynamite and dump trucks. I'm not even on the board for urban renewal. I'm just building the next generation of buildings which will be immune to the kinds of failures I predict in the future for the unsustainable status quo. You see? A new kind of city government, a new type of state legislature, a new sort of federal bureaucracy needs to be evolved separate and distinct from what is doomed to fail. Lazy people will hobble to the new system if they survive the crash of the old, but thoughtful people will advance the new as the proper future.
Steve informed me that when the big Sequestration comes down, he expects that the Navy won't be participating in Fleet Week any longer. It came as a surprise and as no surprise. The US Navy will fail.
I take Chesterton's advice very seriously. I am not going to destroy that thing whose purpose I don't understand merely for the sake of erecting something new. I'm working in a medium that will allow us to work alongside the ailing patient - it will clone the best DNA and put it in a more antifragile body. We can work in parallel with the old and the new. I'm not engaged purposefully in a zero-sum game, just like Netflix co-existed with Blockbuster for a decade. But we're offering the old thing and the new thing too - for less.
How do you build a better democracy? You start with fiscal transparency. Not just the kind of Woodward and Bernstien hit pieces that define our entire notion of '-gate' scandals. I am convinced that today's journalism lack that longitudinal view. Tomorrows news will include yesterday's and today's data. Not just "This just in" but "We draw your attention to the health and safety of the American embassy security situation that we have been monitoring for the past 7 years" -- See? Here are the budget numbers, here are the votes for the appropriations, here are the directives, here are the projects that succeeded and these are the ones that failed. No mere 2000 word specials. A nation of millions of Americans can do 2000 word journalism specials every day for 10,000 bureaucracies. This is how democracy will be changing as the old stuff dies. It's time for us to come up with a better way of putting policy together than Robert's Rules of Order.
I will be involved in collaboration with people here in California, and my avocation will be to make systems of transparency and redundancy. Every lawyer I talk to says, oh yeah it's easy for me to get case law out of Lexis and Westlaw. As easy as Google? As easy as Facebook? As easy as YouTube? If it was easy, then any high school kid who has a viral video of somebody getting beat up at McDonalds would be attaching the case docket number to the video. They would be attaching the names of the attorneys in the case and having the testimony in PDF files on the sidebar. They would have the judgment or settlement figures in a spreadsheet right there. And this would be as impossible to fake as everything else, because the people will make it their business to get to the facts and stay on type of the facts far longer than the profit area of the 'media cycle'.
This requires several tools that don't currently exist and are not easily accessible to the internet public and experts at large. Today. This is not about being mad as hell about what doesn't work. I don't have time for that. I have new things to build while everything else fails.