The First Knowledge Economy State

By Ron Rivers,

One of my favorite lessons learned about U.S. democracy is the concept of states as methods of experimentation. We see it to a reasonable extent in the United States with different state’s approach to issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, education, and redistributive social programs.
What we don’t see is any significant variation in structural arrangements such as laws surrounding property and contract, education, and democratic practice. The first state to embrace the Knowledge Economy will be the one that dedicates the time and resources required to reshape these core institutions.

Whichever state chooses to be the first to embrace the Knowledge Economy’s potential will begin with a plan for consistent, piecemeal, and focused transformation. The structural changes that we need are a far cry from Capitalism as we know it, but no one could accurately label it Socialism. Knowing how intertwined our personal lives are with our chosen economic arrangements, the Knowledge Economy provides a model of exchange that raises the human experience in every direction it grows.

Law and Identity

Central to the American historical narrative is the private ownership of property. This concept has molded the American psyche for centuries, tying freedom to economics. It has also shaped our educational institutions, our definition of work, and our relationships with one another. Culminating into a system best illustrated by Reverand Martin Luther King’s Jr., “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”

What happens to rugged individualism when entire industries become unemployed in rapid succession due to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and automation? We can imagine the inevitable scenario where transit drivers of all kinds, fast food, retail, and data entry workers rapidly becoming unemployed would not be handled well in today’s economy. Our present economic arrangements rely on resource redistribution to lessen inequalities created by our structures and will have no viable solution to such extensive and widespread financial hardship.

The first Knowledge Economy state will understand that a proactive approach towards restructuring laws supporting our economic structures is necessary to avoid repeating crisis driven by increasingly fast economic disruption. Policy-wise this translates to reimagining laws surrounding property and contract. In addition, knowledge economy implementation requires us to reorganize laws surrounding patents.

Patent Law

The defining characteristic of a Knowledge Economy is that it ties innovation and production into the same process. Imagine the concept of change as a foundation that we build upon, all new creations growing out of the imagination of past ideas and efforts. The higher the floor, the more rapidly human creativity can flourish in more directions. A Knowledge Economy values innovation over profit and in doing so operates under arrangements that lessen the strength of individual organizations to maximize returns while promoting a significantly higher level of access and opportunity for outsiders to innovate within an established niche.

United States patents typically last about 20 years which given the present rate of exponential technological growth[1] is, by my estimate, about 15 years too long. In a state economy organized in such a way to maximize the total creative potential of its citizenry, the goal is to allow as many people as possible to have access to the most advanced technologies and practice as quickly as possible. Reducing patent durations will enable us to provide innovators with a higher floor to stand on, accelerating both the pace and variance of innovation within a society.

As the U.S. Constitution supports patent laws, states seeking to embrace the knowledge economy would be wise to create separate sets of market arrangements to avoid getting tangled up in legal disputes. According to professor Roberto Mangabeira Unger, the single greatest achievement in legal history has been to determine that there is no unique form of market economy required by law.

Innovation firms could be attracted to these new arrangements with incentives such as public investments, workspaces, and technology access. In exchange, we could design profit structures with deep social responsibilities built into them such as social profit distribution after certain profitability tiers, and the responsibility to develop and facilitate continuing education programs for state residents looking to change the direction of their life.

Giving more people access to the most advanced technologies, practice, and procedure available will spur more innovation. The first Knowledge Economy State will require a population that believes that profit is not the defining factor of the human experience.

Private Property and Access

Implementing a Knowledge Economy within a state will require the emergence of a new type of social and moral code for the majority of residents. A shift from a profit-driven ownership mentality to an access based use approach. My argument is not for the abolishment of private property, instead for the expansion of alternatives to the singular form of property ownership we have now.

We can begin with residential properties. It’s difficult to attract and maintain talent when people cannot afford to live in locations where specific niche verticals are concentrated. Simply put, if we want to draw talented people from different walks of life, we need to think of ways for them to have access to a permanent residence.

One solution proposed in Amsterdam is that all new housing units sold cannot be used as rental properties[2]. This suggestion would decrease overall housing costs and lessen rent-seeking, a financial activity that adds nothing to the real economy[3]. An alternative idea is to fine landlords who own properties that are not occupied, encouraging them to sell the properties or lower costs to find tenants. Rent-seeking on residential properties is damaging to entire generations who were unable to take part in the cheap land and housing grabs of previous decades.

Image Credit: Hasbro Games

Alternatively, we could stop thinking of housing as a profit center entirely. One idea to accomplish this would be to establish permanent access to residential locations for people free of cost. If the public desires durations and conditions the details can be decided democratically.

This same idea could serve to help uplift so many of our residents who are victims of systemic poverty. You have a permanent residence, free of charge until you are ready to move on. Occupants of these access-based housing units would be prohibited from owning other properties and would be required to keep them in good order or face expulsion and fines.

By challenging residential rent-seeking, the first Knowledge Economy state begins to build a more comprehensive suite of protections for the individual. Giving every interested person the opportunity to attempt to experiment and innovate, to take risks, and to fail without fear of homelessness. An innovation economy protects its participants from decimation for trying something new. We know that 90% of startups do not succeed[4], but think of how many great ideas we’re missing by operating within a structure that both punishes people so immensely for failure and denies others entry entirely.

Consider the inherent structural classism proliferated by our present structure; it mainly empowers those with the safety net to fail to take risks. How much creative potential do we squander each year because our suite of social protections is inadequately prepared to deal with shifting advances in productivity?

A Knowledge Economy state recognizes that being poor isn’t a lack of character; it’s a lack of cash. Human ingenuity is our primary productive resource moving forward. The first state to recognize and organize around this concept will lead the rest in transitioning to a high-frequency innovation economy.

Education

The institutional arrangements in a Knowledge Economy state are designed to help shape each person in a way that provides them the capabilities to change the direction of their lives at will. We understand the disruptive impact technological innovation can have on entire industries, and we know that the rate of change is speeding up. Therefore it is logical to conclude that industry-wide disruption will occur more frequently soon. The first state to embrace education as a lifelong process supported by institutional arrangements will lay the foundation necessary to take full advantage of the Knowledge Economy.

Primary education will need to shift from traditional encyclopedic memorization methods used to prepare people for hierarchical work structures to a more dialogue-based way of learning. Beyond the fundamentals, school becomes less about memorizing facts and regurgitating them and more about exploration and selective depth. Whenever possible subjects learn from two perspectives and then a discussion is fostered between the students and guided by the professors. We can illustrate this point with an example of American history, teaching the colonization of North America from both the native inhabitants and the conquesting Europeans perspective.

Given that the students of today will have perpetual access to all of the world’s information at their fingertips the memorization of facts loses its value. Creative problem solving, cooperation, and communication, become driving objectives of primary education, preparing students to enter a world of collaborative competition built around maximizing the potential of every individual.

Specialized secondary educations opens up to all individuals at no cost. Democratic elections can determine the qualifications and requirements for program entry. A Knowledge Economy state rejects the practice of requiring people to subjugate themselves to for-profit banks to advance their skills and understanding of the world.

Given that the economy is shifting to a highly skilled, highly transferable workforce having more people with advanced experience and educational depth lays a foundation for more radical innovation and experimentation. The narrative that more highly educated people diminishes the value of the education is false and only perpetuated by our present economic arrangements which encourage firms to seek the lowest labor costs possible.

Beyond primary and secondary education the first Knowledge Economy state will proactively create numerous pathways for continuing adult education in a wide variety of fields. The state can cooperate with its best companies to facilitate and design these programs. Funding can be in the form of total corporate sponsorship, public investment, or a hybrid model. The decisions should be made democratically, giving the public credible and transparent sources of factual information available in multiple mediums comparing the alternatives.

Recognizing that large corporations have more social responsibility than presently required, the Knowledge Economy state designs programs where adults can enter and learn the most advanced practice and procedure from the state’s best talent. Our long term goal is to give every person the agency in the direction of their life. Companies benefit by getting direct access to highly specialized expertise in their verticals, trained and prepared to adapt to their standards and procedures upon graduation. It’s a win-win and a necessary step to create a transition into a new era of economics and labor.

No Alternatives

Stagnation of the economy is bad for organizations but even worse for families. If we continue to allow a handful of companies to isolate the best technologies and practice, then stagnation is almost certainly a given. Coupled with advances in automation and artificial intelligence we find ourselves on the verge of a market and economic disruption, unlike anything we have experienced. Unfortunately, under present arrangements, these innovations will only stand to benefit a tiny minority. States that are serious about being ahead of crisis should begin the foundational work for transitioning into a knowledge economy today.

The choice to embrace a state-wide Knowledge Economy directional shift seems on the surface to be a far off fantasy given the state of politics in the many states and nation as a whole. In reality, it is both feasible and achievable. Our struggle is not ones of means. It’s one of imagination. There is no future for the methods of the past, and if we’re going to prosper, we need to rethink the structure of our most core institutions. Only then will be able to reach our fullest potential in both progress and our humanity.

The first state to adopt a Knowledge Economy will be the first state to have the political leadership that can create the language to convey the need to transform accurately.



[1] The Law of Accelerating Returns by Ray Kurzweil http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns
[2] Amsterdam’s Plan: If You Buy a Newly Built House, You Can’t Rent It Out by Feargus O’Sullivan City Lab https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/03/amsterdam-rental-housing-prices-new-home-owner-occupied/585235/
[3] Finance, the Real Economy, and the Progressive by Ron Rivers OurSocietyhttps://www.oursociety.org/finance-the-real-economy-and-the-progressive/
[4] 298 Startup Failure Post-Mortems CBI Insights https://www.cbinsights.com/research/startup-failure-post-mortem

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Embracing the Future of Labor Today

By Ron Rivers,

Throughout history, labor has been a primary defining factor in human experience. For the majority of us, it is the task we dedicate the majority of our time and mental resources to each week. Labor, like everything else in our universe, is subject to varying degrees of change that bring along new sets of human-centric problems to solve. Unfortunately, history has taught us that resistance to change is almost as common as the change itself. The solution is to encourage the proactive embrace of our present shift from a manufacturing economic model to knowledge-based labor, linking labor, economics, and politics together to form new structures and ideas facilitate an evolution that is pluralistic. To prepare we should begin by understanding why we are here.

A Whole New World

Globalized trade and labor function on theories of global exchange between wealthy advanced economies and emerging economies with low-cost human labor. The historical relationship between the United States and China is one example that illustrates this point[1], the outsourcing of labor-intensive low-value goods has been a cornerstone of U.S. business strategy for decades. Putting aside the ethical and moral conversation about the conditions in which Chinese workers operate under for another article, this strategy has proven to be a useful model in the past.

Today U.S. tensions with China and other international trading partners grow, both because of the present administration’s policies and the transformation of global economies to a Knowledge Economy model. Knowledge Economies are ones where the most advanced form of productivity is highly skilled, highly transferable labor. Companies operating under Knowledge Economy models integrate production, research, and innovation into one continuous process that allows them perpetually transform the organization’s products and services.

What sets knowledge economy organizations apart is not strictly correlated to better outputs relative to inputs, but rather their ability to quickly rise to the top of a specific market niche and remain there. Consider Google as an example, their talent, technology, and operational culture give them incredible power to ensure that they stay at the forefront of innovation within their desired niche. Google’s position as an innovative leader is secure because within their organization innovation and production are linked as one.

The ability to stay at the forefront of innovation within a vertical is the future of many existing and future companies operating under Knowledge Economy models and one of the primary reasons for progressive policymakers and thinkers to proactively foster the growth of these organizations. It is already changing the nature of how we cooperate with other countries and has tremendous potential to transform global societies. The challenge we face in embracing the transformation is how to decouple the antiquated political and economic ideologies of the past.

Designing Uncertain Employment

One of the primary roadblocks to breaking open access to this new innovative labor model is that the organizations at the forefront shield themselves from challenge through our existing laws of property and contract. Developed during a time when the present arrangements were inconceivable, these structural arrangements impose a limitation on American innovation. Observing our current circumstances, we know that the mega-corporations of today have essentially commoditized their production models — outsourcing labor to other parts of the world where human capital is cheap, and taxes are low. The ability to maximize capital gains at each level of value generation creates a cascading impact, where the most advanced Knowledge Economy firms can grow at incredible rates and solidify their power.

While nothing mentioned in the above paragraph is news to any student of business or economics, the implications are compounding and disheartening. If we observe the present trajectory of labor it is clear that we are rapidly entering a space of permanent uncertain employment, often cited to as the “gig economy.” We can observe this shift around the world but especially in wealthy economies like the United States.

Politically the impacts of these economic shifts are already being felt and will only open up future opportunities for ill-intentioned abusers in the future as industry-wide disruption begins to occur more rapidly[2][3]. The old mass production economics models were the foundation of the same political thought and theory that we practice today. Proactively embracing these new economic models through innovations in our legal arrangements will help insulate ourselves from bad actors while simultaneously heightening our ability to address unexpected and immediate challenges.

Image Credit: Nordic Business Forum

Opening Access to Innovation

As continuous innovation is central to the function of firms the best and most advanced practices and technologies, become further concentrated in just a handful of companies. This isolation of knowledge is supported legally by property and contract laws written from a place in space-time and human consciousness that is not reflective of our present trajectory. In a sense, we are actively participating in the stifling of innovation and experimentation here in the United States — the exact opposite of what we would be doing under a proactive embracing of the Knowledge Economy.

I believe that a unifying purpose for every American should be to actively fight for the spread of Knowledge Economy practice and procedure to every productive vertical that can use it. We can approach this effort from numerous directions such as requiring large firms to develop free continuing education programs, revising patent laws, legally requiring finance to be tied to the real economy, and deepening cooperation between existing large firms and new innovators.

Opening up access to more people to learn, explore, and work with the most innovative technologies and techniques will significantly raise the floor that every innovator stands on. Imagine a new startup working in logistical technologies having access to Amazon’s proprietary patents and practice and being able to use them in their chosen direction. By revising patent laws to support new innovators over existing market giants we give ourselves the ability to expand beyond anything possible today.

If it sounds radical and incompatible with the present arrangements, you’d be correct. But what is the alternative? Do we continue to allow the select few companies to dictate all experimentation and innovation at the highest levels? No, we do not. That is a pathway to the dystopian future that we’re all tired of reading and seeing.

Our reality is that the future is not waiting for us; it is here. If we’re open to embracing the future of labor and acting in a way to create structural arrangements that empower innovation over profit we will provide ourselves more opportunity to express our productive power in the direction of our choice. In rejecting the past’s grasp on the present, we take a significant step towards a more pluralistic future that evolves proactively, without the need of crisis.


[1] Understanding the US-China Trade Relationship by Oxford Economics U.S. China Business Councilhttps://www.uschina.org/reports/understanding-us-china-trade-relationship

[2] Robots could replace 1.7 million American truckers in the next decade by Natalie Kitroeff The Los Angeles Times https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-automated-trucks-labor-20160924/
[3] Japanese white-collar workers are already being replaced by artificial intelligence by David Gershgorn Quartz https://qz.com/875491/japanese-white-collar-workers-are-already-being-replaced-by-artificial-intelligence/

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What is the Knowledge Economy?

By Ron Rivers,

Labor and productivity play a foundational role in the human experience.  Through so much of our shared past and present the work that we do becomes a defining part of who we are and how we interact with the world around us.  History teaches us that while the nature of productive efforts changes, there is always more to be done and numerous methods establishing how to do it. While change is a proven constant, the precursor of awakening to new approaches and ideas is often a crisis.  In this first article of a series we explore what the new Knowledge Economy is and is not. Arguing throughout the essays that a proactive approach towards scaled implementation of the Knowledge Economy must be central to the Progressive narrative.

Society in the United States seems to go through peaks and valleys when it comes to active participation in the arrangement of society.     When a crisis arises, we see an increase in activity to shape the direction of how we address the circumstances generated.  A modern example is the surge of political activism and action stemming from the 2016 elections. Genuine transformation for good demands that we extend our expanding understanding of consciousness into our institutional arrangements, creating a structure that enables every person to choose between routine work and creative innovation at their discretion.   This is why a deep understanding of the latent potential of the Knowledge Economy is vital to the future of so many people.

Structure and Form

The Knowledge Economy is an economic system where the most advanced form of production requires highly skilled labor that is easily transferable between organizations. Our modern example being Silicon Valley. This type of work has already displaced manufacturing for the title of the most advanced form of production.   In many cases, most advanced will be defined as the most significant returns for input, but not necessarily in all. Knowledge Economy organiziations are the ones that reach the forefront of productive power and, more importantly, demonstrate the ability to stay at the forefront for the foreseeable future.

Central to the Knowledge Economy is the ability to create a high degree of customization of labor and output without requiring standardization.  You can imagine it as a blend of innovative experimentation and productivity, creating a form of employment that draws from humanity’s highest potential, our imagination.   Historically scientific advancements helped to drive advances in productive activity. Today we can observe how within the Knowledge Economy production becomes a vehicle for scientific progress.   

An example would be new products and services that utilize machine learning.  Each innovation builds upon advances in information technology while simultaneously pushing the envelope for what is possible with every new iteration.   Another example would be the increasing efficiency of 3-D Printing which is now allowing people to go directly from ideation to creation of products, saving significant time and resources for prototyping and developing material goods through third parties.  Both scenarios describe processes where the work of production and scientific discovery become intertwined, fundamentally redefining the nature of the labor involved. This reimagination of work, the blending of experimental innovation and creation, has profound consequences for humanity.  

Compare the shifting nature of work in a Knowledge Economy to many of the blue and white collar jobs of today.  For many people being productive in the world is limited to repetitive and machine-like tasks. A blue-collar example would be manual factory labor, taking part in an assembly line, fulfilling a single or set of repetitive tasks each day.     A white-collar case is being a fashion designer in New York City.  On the surface, it sounds like an appealing line of work but after better understanding the process it is apparent that it offers little more creativity than a traditional assembly line worker.  Designing is limited to repetitive and narrow sets of constraints provided through a top-down hierarchy with the primary value being quantities of output. Both examples highlight the needs addressed by the Knowledge Economy, the automation of the repetitive tasks people are forced to endure to live.

The blending of imagination, discovery, and labor offered by the Knowledge Economy creates an opportunity for radical transformation, the complete automation of repetitive tasks within society.   The rise of artificial intelligence as proactive problem-solving machines transcends the capabilities of historical practice. If a task is repeatable, then it is possible to express the action in a formula.  Formulas allow us to encode that action into a machine, freeing us from having to play the role of an imperfect tool in our labors. Humanity is finally at a point in time where we can begin to reconceptualize the entirety of how we work, freeing ourselves from mindless repetition and allowing us to maximize our primary resource, time.  By expanding the horizons of possible directions for our creative potential, we create structures that better support and enhance our freedoms and potential.

To better understand the concept it is important to discuss what the Knowledge Economy is not.  Applying high technology to a hierarchical organization that uses human labor for repetitive work does not constitute a Knowledge Economy organization.  We could use the conglomerate Walmart for example. Walmart has the capital to invest heavily in new practice and procedure, but no amount of technological innovation can act as a substitute for a business model that views employees as cheap, disposable widgets[1].  Walmart lacks the structure to maximize the creative potential of the majority of its staff, instead relying on historical modes of thinking about the organization of labor and tasks within their labor arrangements. Knowledge Economy organizations break from stagnant models of work by combining advanced technologies, education, and procedures to create an environment of practice that pushes the boundaries of what the firm could be.  

Image Credit: ScooNews.com

The Power of the Knowledge Economy

One of the most significant reasons that the United States should encourage the development and spread of the Knowledge Economy is the possibility to transcend the limits of diminishing returns.  Diminishing returns means that after a certain point within a production process adding more resources to a vertical within the process begins to produce lower returns per resource unit. To illustrate this point we can imagine adding more workers to an assembly line in a factory setting.  Eventually, companies reach a point where demand is stable, productive capacity reaches full utilization, and every new employee added produces less than the person before them.    Taken to the extreme, we could imagine an example where adding new employees becomes actively detrimental, causing undue stress and complications on the established processes.  A rigid arrangement of a structure with a company will always subject its productivity to diminishing returns.

Organizations embracing Knowledge Economy technologies and techniques draw from every person’s mental capacities in exploring new and undeveloped ideas.  Whereas in the past productive innovation relied heavily on external sources that were irregular in their timing and relevance, today change can integrate with the process of standard operation.    This structure empowers each worker to experiment and create both within existing arrangements as is tradition, and outside of them, challenging the structure of the firm to be better.   Implementing flexible models of structure allows firms to embrace automation of the repetitive tasks, perpetually pushing the boundaries of what is possible within their organization.

Drawing again from Silicon Valley we could take the example of a start-up development firm.  When employees develop successful automation for a task, it disseminates within the organization, forever freeing people from having to do the repetitive work once associated with the function.  Each innovation builds upon the previous while simultaneously drawing inspiration from the not yet known. The totality of their potential limited only by their imagination of the possible.

These examples provide us with a view of the true scope of power the future Knowledge Economy presents us.  A world where collective efforts towards automation of the repetitive are shared across industries to ensure that humanity is never subject to do the work that a machine can do.  It represents a pivotal point in human history that will not only redefine our definition of work, but also our understanding of who we are. Humans are context driven beings; the historical experiences we share in our cultural, political, and economic arrangements shape our perception of the world.  By embracing a world where labor can be radically fulfilling we write a new chapter in the human experience.


[1] The Fight Against Walmart’s Labor Practices Goes Global by Michelle Chen The Nation https://www.thenation.com/article/the-fight-against-walmarts-labor-practices-goes-global/


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Building a Cooperation Nation

By Ron Rivers,

American culture is one that defines freedom as autonomy.  That is to say, the sovereignty to be self-governed and to self determine one’s path throughout life.   This central tenet of American ideology has been reinforced through our social, political, and economic arrangements solidifying the dogma of competition as the best method towards progress for centuries. Today, cultural shifts and empirical evidence is demonstrating that a competitive culture struggles to address some of society’s most pressing issues. In our efforts towards transformation we must embrace the task of developing an alternative vision of the future, one building upon cooperation and collaboration as the core beliefs that give rise to our structure.   

There is no denying that applying a competitive ideology to an economic model of production produces innovation, but the progress comes alongside the cost of hyper-concentration of wealth.  Extensive research [1] demonstrates a strong correlation between decreases in trust, mental health, educational performance, social mobility, and many other issues with wealth inequality. Drawing from the perpetuation of historical scarcity, the narrative of limited resources for unlimited needs persists despite technological advances – which if appropriately applied would render the core premise obsolete.  American autonomy and competitive culture have had their place in history, but it is apparent that they are unsustainable in their current organization.

So why is it that so many people who experience harm due to our competitive arrangements are so quick to defend them?  Because so much of our life centers around some form of economic activity, the ideologies infused into our methods permeate almost every aspect of our interactions with each other.  From our educational institutions to our cultural norms, competitive culture reinforces itself by shaping the way we approach interactions. When relationships become transactional, by default competition becomes the underlying theme of communication.  

A competitive culture breeds ideals that influence people to believe that the world is binary: for me to win, you must lose. The theory of life as a constant competition selects tidbits of history and natural observations to command authority, while at the same time ignoring that the broader picture of both negates the argument entirely. Despite its inadequacies, the idea may seem sufficient if it’s the only economic model you’re exposed to. Progressives must develop a strategy to transcend this programming, an alternative vision of the future that is different enough to be feasible but not so distant as to be dismissed as Utopian. In doing to so we recognize an often misunderstood truth, the battle of ideologies presently waging in the United States is not a battle between good and evil. Instead, it’s a battle between good and good. The question facing us now is what type of programs we can develop to foster a shared vision of the good?

Star Trek: An example of an ideal, but Utopian future given present circumstance.


Cooperative Arrangements

Infusing the value of cooperation into our arrangements begins with childhood education.  From a macro perspective, we shift the classroom environment from an individualistic authoritative model of teachers dictating facts to students with the expectation of regurgitation to a collaborative experience where learning occurs through dialogue.  Where possible, we should teach each subject from two perspectives, for example learning about the conquest of North America both from the point of view of the invading Europeans and the original Natives.

Drawing from personal experience in organizing volunteer civics courses for high school seniors, I can share that this model of transformative dialectic education is already occurring at least in some schools in New Jersey.   We began our classes with two questions; “Why don’t people vote?” and “What would take to get more people to vote?” Afterwards the discussion evolved in numerous directions, with me acting as a facilitator for discussion – entering in with new questions and facts where needed.  The two contrasting points of view allowed students to state personal understandings and challenge beliefs that did not align with theirs in a respectful moderated setting. What unfolded was a conversation where the students essentially hit on all the points that we were looking to present in the discussion through their own methods with one another.  Embedding dialect into education is vital in teaching the necessary skills needed to collaborate together in the high-tech automated workforce students will find themselves facing in the very near future.

Teachers facilitate by distinguishing fact from falsehood but in a way that never restricts, constrains, or reprimands the exploration of ideas.  Education is the cornerstone of a thriving democracy. Therefore it is a priority for Progressives to partner with educators to develop curriculums that foster a more collaborative approach to learning and interacting.  In doing so, we prepare our youth the transcend the limitations of meaningless repetitive work that automation can and will replace. In fostering their infinite imagination and creativity, we equip our youth with the necessary tools to do the tasks machines can never do.  

A second precursor to more cooperative economic arrangements is the deepening of democracy.  Compared to the many other advanced democracies, the United States operates at low energy.

The problem with a low energy democracy is apparent in the present moment.  Private corporations have seized control of many aspects of our legislative process through the legalized bribery of our elected officials.  Private lobbyists are first in line to have their concerns heard. Running for office beyond the community level costs a small fortune, and history shows us that entrenched party administrators pick high-level candidates with no care for the popular demand[2].   Public voting data tells that these elected candidates do not align their voting with the popular will of the people.  Progressives can solve this by focusing on increasing access and agency for citizens within the process.  

Access to reliable candidate information is a real problem.  A recent study by OurSociety found that in 77% of 2018 candidates running for local office in New Jersey had no information posted online about their campaign.  Given that the now most significant percentage of potential voters grew up using the internet, it is unacceptable not to have candidates legally required to post candidacy information online – ideally in a non-partisan, non-profit structure, free from advertiser influence.   It is going to be difficult to enhance electoral participation in communities without improving access methods.

Agency is giving citizens more purpose and control in their democratic choices.  We can accomplish increasing personal agency in numerous directions, but, foundationally, Progressives need to speed up the pace of politics.  Constitutional amendments to resolve impasse quickly could be implemented, utilizing public voting days, empowering the public to break stalemates.  Drawing from a present example, we could imagine a citizen organizing of a national vote to address the recent government shutdown, specifically a legally binding popular vote about the fate of wall funding.  No more shutdowns, no more time-wasting meetings, and photo-ops; increasing the public’s ability to use democracy to decide national matters hold every elected representative to higher accountability. Most importantly, engaging citizen participation via more popular vote structures imbues deeper meaning into participating in our democracy for every individual.

Social Solidarity Today and Tomorrow

The values we encode into our institutions are the glue that holds people in society together. Progressives understand that in saying “everything is subject to change” we do not exclude humanity.  

Central to this argument for arrangements designed to increase cooperation within society is the rejection of the present arrangements that facilitate our interactions.  Today, money is the dominant form of social connection and communication. Redistribution supported by the government funds social programs, and we exchange our labor for capital and our capital for resources or goods.  The problem is, as many of us already know and feel, money is weak social glue. The last two decades of globalized labor markets outsourcing tasks to the lowest bidder combined with decades of stagnant wage growth have illustrated just how fragile these arrangements are.  

So what is our option beyond money?  Human connection. We must structure society in a way that provides people with more interaction with others outside of their immediate social circles.  This isn’t a revolutionary idea, in many respects the social services we provide represent this collective democratic action. We want to take the best aspects of these programs and export them to other verticals of society.

The most direct route may be an establishment of the value of social service, either through voluntary or even possibly mandatory efforts.  We can imagine that every person within our society has two responsibilities – contribution to a productive direction of their choice and service to others outside of their immediate family unit.  If we can imagine an America pursuing alternatives to perpetual war we could develop a new branch of our military as a social corps, dedicated to learning the most advanced skills available at present to help address some of the society’s most pressing problems.  It could be mandatory or volunteer but both options would relocate youth to areas outside of their immediate sphere of influence to give our youth the opportunity to experience cultures, values, and problems outside of their immediate sphere of influence but under the umbrella of community support instead of national defense.  While no empirical data exists I would imagine enrollment would be significantly higher than present military numbers due to the fact that recruits would not be focused on fighting a perpetual war that began before they were born.

Time is our primary resource and central to this suggestion, and Progressives must ensure that in whichever direction we manifest this program, it does not allow money to become a substitute for time.  This means that if the program is mandatory you cannot buy or donate your way out of the service requirement. Allowing these options would reinforce class structures and the power of money in social bonds.  

Cooperative efforts increase our collective power as citizens.  The more we understand about the humanity of the other, the better equipped we are to share the reigns of power in our shared democratic destiny.   I believe that a deep sense of who we are, and more importantly who we want to be, can be found in political, social, and economic arrangements.

A cooperative structure of arrangements is a central theme of the Progressive Project.  It is a long-term project that we can create through numerous small innovations, over time.  In working towards this transformative effort, we should not lose sight of the fact that an ideal form of solidarity is one that builds upon our differences.  We do not seek a homogenous culture, besides being boring it’s inherently oppressive. Creating pathways for each of us to interact with people outside of our immediate views of the world and reality is the highest form of cooperation.  Each new relationship and interaction creates degrees of change in who we are and how we perceive the world. A cooperation nation perpetually fuels our transformation and in doing so, our ability to transform the world.


[1]  The Spirit Level by Richard Wlkinson & Kate Pickett, Bloomsberry Press (2010) (p. 52, 67, 106, 160)

[2] Leaked Emails Suggest DNC Was Conspiring Against Bernie Sanders by Hilary Hanson https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/wikileaks-dnc-bernie-sanders_us_579381fbe4b02d5d5ed1d157


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History Hinders the Future of Public Services

By Ron Rivers,

I’m a fan of public services, and it irks me when I hear people complain about their quality.  Not because they’re wrong, but because I imagine that their experiences have been frustrating and lackluster.  It’s a shame as the power of the state to organize and direct collective resources towards our shared vision of the good is tremendous, yet it always seems to fall short of expectations.    While the blame typically falls on public employees or the state itself, there is a deeper seed sprouting these challenges.  Many public services are still operating with a core philosophy stemming from historical time, well-intentioned but ill-equipped to deal with the needs of the present.

History’s Lens

Social services have been a part of the United States for over a century, with attempts to address poverty dating as far back as the 1880s.  The Social Security Act  was passed in 1935 and expanded into direct relief programs such as food stamps, cash benefits, and more.  Presently we offer more than 75 different programs to help assist people in need. In this regard, our democracy has demonstrated itself as a tool of empathy and social good.   Why then, do these programs struggle to provide a premium service? Unpacking this question begins with understanding the time sense of the social services movements.

When the foundational social service programs were developed the most advanced form of production was the mass production of standardized goods and services.   A classic example being Henry Ford’s assembly line. Using low to moderately skilled labor, organizational structures based on hierarchy, and rudimentary machines, our most advanced economic model defined our contextual understanding of the world. Social services were designed to serve as low quality but widely available services that are provided as alternatives to the higher quality options available for purchase through the private sector.   Given the context of the period this method made sense, it ensures that the programs serve as many people as possible as quickly as possible. This philosophy has its merits, it surpasses its limitations of information and communication of the period by casting a wide net. The melding of advanced economic methodologies with social outreach practices was an excellent solution at the time of inception but hinders present progress by constraining the narrative about what social services can and should be.

Social programs aren’t the only example of institutional arrangements that are constrained by the ideas of men long dead.  Adam Smith’s economic theory of supply and demand is strongly influenced by Newtonian physics, specifically his third law. “Law III: To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.“  Any time a market fundamentalist talks about how prices will self-correct due to demand they are drawing from theories originated by Issac Newton. Time, however, spares no person or ideas from change. Today we operate under Albert Einstein’s vision of a dynamic space-time, replacing Newton’s static version as the dominant understanding.  Science is open to adapting new truths and rewriting historical arrangements upon their discovery, so why not do the same within society?   

As context driven beings our imagination of structure and the possible is defined by the world at a point in time. We share this with the architects of the past.   Human imagination is potentially infinite while simultaneously constrained by what is right now. In accepting our limitations today, we recognize the inadequacies of the past.    Fortunately, the radical technological, social, and cultural transformation that brings us to this present moment equips us to experiment with alternative arrangements of our public services.

Image Credit: StudentLoanHero.com

Adapting and Expanding

We can begin by enhancing the quality of services readily available.  The work of organizations like Code For America is an excellent example of how focused funding can support innovative government services.   Integrating new technologies with a user-centric design into existing services such as food and health services gives families in need a more efficient and convenient way of receiving these benefits, reducing stress and increasing personal time.  We can observe examples of how small investments can dramatically improve the ease and convenience of access.

Depending on the level of investment we wanted to commit at a federal level we could imagine highly integrated benefit networks expanding across states designed to maximize process efficiencies while always erring on the side of human good.  Machine learning integrations could support continuous improvements through the analysis of existing and future data sets, logistics, deliveries of service, and more. By integrating the most advanced technologies and practices from our knowledge economy into our social programs we can shift direction towards a more effective form of public provision.  

Expanding beyond the horizon of existing programs we open up the discussion for what public services could be.   Given the changing nature of work, it’s necessary to begin to plan services for a different type of human experience.   As machines continue to automate traditional jobs, we will be forced to contend with a new world of precarious employment for much of the labor force.  If we are intent on existing within the historical frameworks of social services, then the future is likely going to be much worse for more people. Alternatively, if we recognize that human imagination and ingenuity are our most productive and powerful resource we give ourselves ground to restructure services to a different end.     No person should have to do the job a machine can do, but we exist in a world of machine doing.  Therefore we must develop new pathways for people to enhance their capabilities.

Public services viewed through the lens of the present and future should facilitate a suite of vital protections for every citizen that is not tied to employment.  What those rights are will be chosen democratically, but I suggest food/water, shelter, healthcare, education, transportation, information, and communication – all of which are an absolute necessity to thrive in the new Knowledge Economy.  Our rights extend beyond our occupation and no shift in technology or techniques should hinder our potential for transformation.

The connection of rights being tied to employment is an ideological relic of the past.  It made perfect sense for a world where many people would enter a manufacturing job with the intention of stable, long-term employment. Present day automation and a system of fragile employment presented under the guise of a “gig economy” illustrate a very different picture of the world today.   One that shows no signs of slowing and could be a massive benefit if directed correctly. Expansion of rights and freedoms through democratically chosen public services is a necessity given all economic and technological trends but remains hindered by the past’s grasp on our understanding of the moment.

We should choose to have the state act as both the bottom and the top for these projects.  At the base level, we provide the necessary services and access to allow everyone to experiment and innovate within life without fear of economic desolation if their efforts do not succeed.  At the top level, we utilize the power of the state to facilitate the most complex projects. One example of such a project could be taken from Jeremy Rifkin who lays out a plan to develop an integrated energy network by retrofitting every building with solar panels, using batteries to store the power, and distributing that energy where needed.  This would create a near-zero marginal cost society, where energy was so plentiful and cheap it would radically redefine our understanding of the world. These types of massive infrastructure projects designed for the collective social benefit best left to state organization, just as the U.S. interstate highway network was in the past.  

Projects that scale between the floor and the ceiling should be left to society to address.  Public service projects could be implemented to equip better and coordinate these ventures with access to the most advanced forms of technology, practice, and collaborative coordination while simultaneously encouraging competition to foster innovation and experimentation within social services.  Legally we could create new arrangements, for example requiring that an organization taking advantage of said services to develop public solutions would be needed to be structured as a non-profit. We could imagine this format, combined with a suite of protections for the floor, increasing competition for new and better ideas more frequently give that the inevitable disruption would not be as damaging to the human participants as it is in present time.  This model allows for more people to have more opportunity to change society for the better.

Structuring public services in the fashion argued above is a direct pathway to increase the organization of society outside of the state.  It recognizes the need for proactive adaptation to an uncertain future while empowering domain professionals to help us experiment with alternative visions of the future of services.  We reject the privatization of public services as the poorly performing substitutes they have always been, understanding that our objective is to democratize society rather than further marketize it.   In doing so, we encourage the organization of more projects in the realm of a shared vision of the good.

I’m a fan of public services, and it irks me when I hear people complain about their quality.  Not because they’re wrong, but because I imagine that their experiences have been frustrating and lackluster.  It’s a shame as the power of the state to organize and direct collective resources towards our shared vision of the good is tremendous, yet it always seems to fall short of expectations.    While the blame typically falls on public employees or the state itself, there is a deeper seed sprouting these challenges.  Many public services are still operating with a core philosophy stemming from historical time, well-intentioned but ill-equipped to deal with the needs of the present.

History’s Lens

Social services have been a part of the United States for over a century, with attempts to address poverty dating as far back as the 1880s.  The Social Security Act  was passed in 1935 and expanded into direct relief programs such as food stamps, cash benefits, and more.  Presently we offer more than 75 different programs to help assist people in need. In this regard, our democracy has demonstrated itself as a tool of empathy and social good.   Why then, do these programs struggle to provide a premium service? Unpacking this question begins with understanding the time sense of the social services movements.

When the foundational social services programs were developed the most advanced form of production was the mass production of standardized goods and services.   A classic example being Henry Ford’s assembly line. Using low to moderately skilled labor, organizational structures based on hierarchy, and rudimentary machines, our most advanced economic model defined our contextual understanding of the world. Social services were designed to serve as low quality but widely available services that are provided as alternatives to the higher quality options available for purchase through the private sector.   Given the context of the period this method made sense, it ensures that the programs serve as many people as possible as quickly as possible. This philosophy has its merits, it surpasses its limitations of information and communication of the period by casting a wide net. The melding of two innovative practices was an excellent solution at the time of inception but hinders present progress by constraining the narrative about what social services can and should be.

Social programs aren’t the only example of institutional arrangements that are constrained by the ideas of men long dead.  Adam Smith’s economic theory of supply and demand is strongly influenced by Newtonian physics, specifically his third law. “Law III: To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.“  Any time a person speaks about how prices will self-correct due to demand they are drawing from theories originated by Issac Newton. Time, however, spares no person or ideas from change. Today we operate under Albert Einstein’s vision of a dynamic space-time, replacing Newton’s static version as the dominant understanding.  Science is open to adopting new truths and rewriting historical arrangements upon their discovery, so why not do the same within society?   

As context driven beings our imagination of structure and the possible is defined by the moment the collective progress of the world at a point in time. We share this with the architects of the past.   Human imagination is potentially infinite while simultaneously constrained by what is right now. In accepting our limitations today, we recognize the inadequacies of the past.    Fortunately, the radical technological, social, and cultural transformation that brings us to this present moment equips us to experiment with alternative arrangements of our public services.

Adapting and Expanding

We can begin by enhancing the quality of services readily available.  The work of organizations like Code For America is an excellent example of how focused funding can support innovation government services.   Integrating new technologies with a user-centric design into existing services such as food and health services gives families in need we can observe real examples of how small investments can dramatically improve the ease and convenience of access.  

Depending on the level of investment we wanted to commit at a federal level we could imagine highly integrated benefits networks expanding across states designed to maximize process efficiencies while always erring on the side of human good.  Machine learning integrations could support continuous improvements through the analysis of existing and future data sets, logistics, deliveries of service, and more. By integrating the most advanced technologies and practices from our knowledge economy into our social programs we can shift direction towards a more effective form of public provision.  

Expanding beyond the horizon of existing programs we open up the discussion for what public services could be.   Given the changing nature of work, it’s necessary to begin to plan services for a different type of human experience.   As machines continue to automate traditional jobs, we will be forced to contend with a new world of precarious employment for much of the labor force.  If we are intent on existing within the historical frameworks of social services, then the future is likely going to be much worse for more people. Alternatively, if we recognize that human imagination and ingenuity are our most productive and powerful resource we give ourselves ground to restructure services to a different end.     No person should have to do the job a machine can do, but we exist in a world of machine doing.  Therefore we must develop new pathways for people to enhance their capabilities.

Public services viewed through the lens of the present and future should facilitate a suite of vital protections for every citizen that is not tied to employment.  What those rights are will be chosen democratically, but I suggest food/water, shelter, healthcare, education, transportation, information, and communication – all of which are an absolute necessity to thrive in the new Knowledge Economy.  Our rights extend beyond our occupation and no shift in technology or techniques should hinder our potential for transformation.

The connection of rights being tied to employment is an ideological relic of the past.  It made perfect sense for a world where many people would enter a manufacturing job with the intention of stable, long-term employment. Present day automation and a system of fragile employment presented under the guise of a “gig economy” illustrate a very different picture of the world today.   One that shows no signs of slowing and could be a massive benefit if directed correctly. Expansion of rights and freedoms through democratically chosen public services is a necessity given all economic and technological trends but remains hindered by the past’s grasp on our understanding of the moment.

We should choose to have the state act as both the bottom and the top for these projects.  At the base level, we provide the necessary services and access to allow everyone to experiment and innovate within life without fear of economic desolation if their efforts do not succeed.  At the top level, we utilize the power of the state to facilitate the most complex projects. One example of such a project could be taken from Jeremy Rifkin who lays out a plan to develop an integrated energy network by retrofitting every building with solar panels, using batteries to store the power, and distributing that energy where needed.  This would create a near-zero marginal cost society, where energy was so plentiful and cheap it would radically redefine our understanding of the world. These types of massive infrastructure projects designed for the collective social benefit best left to state organization, just as the U.S. interstate highway network was in the past.  

Projects that scale between the floor and the ceiling should be left to society to address.  Public service projects could be implemented to equip better and coordinate these ventures with access to the most advanced forms of technology, practice, and collaborative coordination while simultaneously encouraging competition to foster innovation and experimentation within social services.  Legally we could create new arrangements, for example requiring that an organization taking advantage of said services to develop public solutions would be needed to be structured as a non-profit. We could imagine this format, combined with a suite of protections for the floor, increasing competition for new and better ideas more frequently give that the inevitable disruption would not be as damaging to the human participants as it is in present time.  This model allows for more people to have more opportunity to change society for the better.

Structuring public services in the fashion argued above is a direct pathway to increase the organization of society outside of the state.  It recognizes the need for proactive adaptation to an uncertain future while empowering domain professionals to help us experiment with alternative visions of the future of services.  We reject the privatization of public services as the poorly performing substitutes they have always been, understanding that our objective is to democratize society rather than further marketize it.   In doing so, we encourage the organization of more projects in the realm of a shared vision of the good.

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