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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The Impact of Trust in a Knowledge Economy

By Ron Rivers,

The nature of work is changing rapidly here in the United States and across the world.  A growing pool of technological resources, best practices, and a highly skilled and innovative workforce is shaping the way humanity can work into a new and exciting potential that will forever change our lives.  The transformation is already occurring and demonstrates that high-trust environments producing flourishing environments. Here we explore the impact of trust on businesses in the past and present economic models and how we can utilize government as a tool to ensure that the new high-trust work methodologies benefit all business sectors. In doing so we build a stronger foundation for cooperation and collaboration in every day life.

Welcome to your first day of training… (Photo Cred)

Trust and Competition

All exchange in the world is based on trust.  Market economies are essentially a form of institutionalized cooperation between strangers.  If we consider the present market arrangements, we can conclude that in an environment completely devoid of trust exchange as we know it would not be possible.  In other words, if our fear that the person we are going to exchange with outweighs our trust for them we would never choose to complete exchanges. You would avoid buying things online entirely, and merchants would be hesitant to accept transactions from unfamiliar people.

The mass production economic model that historically defines the United States generates a relatively low trust model of exchange.  In many respects the way the laws enabling these operations encourage behaviors that do not put much faith in employees or outside parties.  An internal example would be an assembly line worker who is given exact direction on how to act and does not have the autonomy to break from routine to experiment with new processes that might better create results and efficiencies.  Externally we observe low trust through the existing patent system which in many cases imprisons some of our most advanced practices and technologies in the hands of single companies, denying others the ability to take those advancements in new directions. These two examples are practices that help to create low-trust organizational structures.

Drawing from personal experience, this low-trust structuring of work can hinder the development of strategic advances for businesses of all sizes.   Before selling my previous small business, I spent time developing strategies to organize purchasing cooperatives among competitive firms within our geographic radius.  The benefits on paper supported the collaborative efforts and would have generated net profitability benefits for all involved parties. Unfortunately, a few members were unwilling to participate because they did not want to share the quantities and products they were purchasing with the other members of the cooperative.  By closing the door on a more cooperative form of competition they lost the ability to add 3-6% to their bottom line revenues.   

Alternatively, in an environment with high trust, our present market arrangements become unnecessary.   This is the future that is at our doorstep presently, it’s not a question of if but when this model of exchange assumes dominance within the world.  We can imagine a system of exchange where people can choose cooperative teamwork or independent ventures and have access to the most advanced technologies and practices independent of their preferred work style.  Using advanced techniques such as 3-D Printing and deeply networked communication, the experimental nature of development, labor, and exchange becomes instantaneous.

High trust contributes significantly to the success model of Silicon Valley companies.  Cooperation is deeply embedded in its productive ecosystem. A software developer expresses their talents through sets of programming languages that allow them to express their creativity differently depending on needs.  Their abilities make them highly skilled labor, but their ability to work anywhere makes them highly transferable. If you know how to code in a specific language, you can apply those skills to any organization that needs them in any direction they desire.  Each time an individual leaves one team for another, they bring a wealth of knowledge in both practice and procedure to the new organization. By creating a web of talent that moves fairly freely between organizations, Silicon Valley as a whole has harnessed humanity’s potential like no other productive sector ever has.  The beauty of this high trust model of labor is that the more it spreads, the better it gets, perpetually expanding its capabilities alongside its participants.

Building the Foundation for High-Trust Economies

High trust is not the natural default for every laborer in present society.  On the surface, high trust for others seems more natural for generations who have grown up with the internet.  For many Millennials, myself included, personal connections were made and maintained without ever meeting people in person.  For many people, these interactions build understanding and trust with others outside of their immediate circle. Compare the future scenario where the majority of people of different ages, races, religions, and economic classes are interacting with each other around shared interests for decades before entering the workforce.  We could imagine that if given the opportunity to do so, work will transform into a more inclusive and high trust process that better reflects the openness of evolving communication. A predisposition to high trust combined with exponentially increasing innovation sets the stage for a radical transformation of how trust and labor intertwine in society.  

In many respects, we are on the cusp of a moral evolution fueled by our institutions.  The direction of that evolution is uncertain, but not entirely out of our control. With enough social and political willpower, we could work to expand a high trust collaborative competition model throughout numerous economic verticals.  While this may seem like a radical utopian ideal, the reality is that opportunities exist now to create structural innovations to increase the frequency of high trust transactions within society.

Let us examine a relevant moral and economic issue in the increasing of the minimum wage to $15 per hour and how Knowledge Economy practices might impact our possible solutions.  The argument for a minimum wage increase is supported both by the historical data and the moral obligation to help support our brothers and sisters throughout the nation.  Discussions against the minimum wage increase typically center around rising costs for small businesses, the potential for inflation, and the old fashioned “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”  mentality. This presents us with the false narrative that increasing the minimum wage is a battle between small businesses owners and the poor. The truth that fails to our current leadership fails to represent is that the evolving nature of work requires innovative thinking outside existing structural arrangements to avoid a crisis.

Understanding the value small businesses provide to our communities requires us to recognize that with the changing nature of work small companies may need assistance to rethink their strategies on how to prosper.    Here the state could be used to facilitate high-trust frameworks through deeper government cooperation with small business owners to help with this transition.

For example, government administrations could work with small businesses owners in the state to implement a more collaborative form of competition.  We could facilitate regional purchasing cooperatives for similar businesses. The state could provide the tools in the way of information resources, logistical resources, and a digital platform to help coordinate orders for small business owners in specific regions.  This allows individuals to organize on their own without direct state intervention beyond the initial foundation building.

If we use a Pizza shop as an example, collaborative purchasing would drive down resource costs such as flour, sauce, cheese, etc. for the shop and increase their profitability per slice. This way small businesses can better focus on the things they do best, offering real and personal value in the experience.  The revenue gains recognized from this type of structural innovation would likely exceed the costs associated with an increased minimum wage.

Beyond revenue initiatives, participating businesses could cooperate to facilitate research into best practices that could be shared to all participants, network employees together to create shared labor pools, and develop cooperative marketing strategies.  There is no limit to the latent cooperative potential existing both inside and outside our existing market arrangements. By facilitating cooperation and high trust among small business owners, we empower industry participants to work towards redefining the markets they operate within, continuously pushing the envelope of what is possible.  When necessary their combined forces could influence the creation of laws surrounding property and contract within their specific niche.

While it is difficult to quantify the intangible benefits gained arranging higher trust into our economic arrangements, it is worth mentioning.  As humans, we’re context driven beings. Much of our experience and feelings dictate our perception of the world and the others that inhabit it. While the argument that a higher level of trust and cooperation within society would be a good thing is relatively self-evident, the scale of this impact is still yet to be determined.  The Knowledge Economy presents us with an opportunity to radically transform the nature of our most frequent interactions and doing so creates a significant chance to build higher trust and stronger social bonds into our everyday interactions.

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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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Progressives Need to Start Playing Offense

By Ron Rivers,

Progressive projects and social movements today are active in working towards building a more pluralistic future.  It’s never been a better time to be an activist because there are just so many things that we can improve in the world, some more critical than others.  Collective efforts of activists across the U.S. are making great strides in many directions, and yet at the same time, their work is regulated to trying to humanize the perpetual inequities that our present arrangements create.  Maybe it’s time we stopped playing defense with our policy. Together we could build a Progressive offensive offering creative and imaginative policy solutions that address core systemic issues of distribution of access and agency within our society.  A shared vision of a greater good is the first brick in the foundation of a unified population that can democratically choose a future beyond serfdom.


Defense Doesn’t Win Games

Much of the policy activism people are working towards today is about decreasing the inequalities generated in a market economy.  These programs take the form of some distribution of wealth financed via tax and transfer. The underlying idea makes sense because we understand that the growing wealth inequality is the primary driver for a significant number of problems facing America.   

Protecting social entitlements is a necessary action presently, but because of the corporate interests in our legislature, we’re always fighting back an encroaching tide of wealth transfer that hurts the majority of Americans.  Everytime we score a victory we find ourselves defending another offense. We keep moving forward, but it doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere.

If we’re going to have any hope of creating genuine change, then we’ve got to start thinking differently about our focus.  We need to confront the truth that all of our activism assumes that the present order is static. That there are set rules of engagement and establish frameworks for ideas of the possible dictated by what has been instead of what will be.  Even the most “radical” among us advocate for a substitution of structure pulled from history; Capitalism for Socialism, or something of that sort. We focus on creating access to equality and security but lack a real vision of increasing agency within our lives.  

We suffer from a failure of imagination, an ailment that is preventing us from creating a proactive approach to fixing problems of the present.   The Progressive vision of the future will never gain majority support without a break from the past.


Understanding our Offensive Strategy

Protecting access to entitlement programs will not matter if we do not codify the right to change the structure of our established institutions.  The most glaring flaw in our arrangements is that they are resistant to change in a time when change is occurring exponentially. Driven by the growth of information technology[1] change across emerging economic sectors is happening more rapidly than ever before[2].  Embracing and accelerating our ability to adapt to change is a necessary and unavoidable reality we must confront. So how do we incorporate change into our institutions with our activism efforts? The imagination of alternatives and their translation into policy is a great place to start.

Each of us can begin with an of an area of improvement that strikes our passion.  I’ll propose the deepening of democracy here in the United States as it is foundational to all progressive movements. Right now democratic participation in the United States ranks poorly compared to other western democracies[3], highlighting an opportunity for improvement.  At the same time, we observe changes[4] being implemented in states such as New York and New Jersey to move towards a more accessible democracy which provides us momentum that we will build upon.

Image Credit: NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Justice Agenda

Voting rights is an ideal example for our argument as these initiatives illustrate the concept of playing defense instead of offense.  These practices exist in numerous other western democracies, and the implementation here in the U.S. is essentially bringing our institutions up to speed with the rest the democratic world.  They are a step in the right direction but do nothing too innovative within our arrangements. We increase access to the ability to vote but do nothing to address the lack of agency embedded in the process.  It’s a missed opportunity to create real change that pushes the boundaries of how we operate within society.

A Progressive offense focused on voting rights would seek to push the boundaries of how and why people participate in elections.  It would require by law that candidate information for all contests, School Board to President, be accessible online easily and conveniently.  Thinking pluralistically, we would want to make sure that information the candidates provide is available in a variety of mediums so that every person has an opportunity to learn in a format that best resonates with them. Mandated civics education seminars for high school seniors and university students would be implemented to introduce our youth to the process and show them where and how to gather and evaluate information about candidates.  If we created a publically funded and owned centralized candidate information platform we could ensure that the experience of obtaining this information was as easy and convenient as possible, creating a customized user experience to for all individuals. All of these concepts do more than open up access to voting. They open up access to a personal agency within the process. By ensuring the information and communication about candidate options is directly available to the public at all levels, we build the framework for an informed electorate who understands the power within each person.

These examples demonstrate the concept of a Progressive offense, going above and beyond existing methodologies and infusing imagination and creativity into the process. Progressives should work towards becoming the movement that gives every person more stake in the shaping of the world and ourselves.  It is a task that allows for transcendence over the limitations the past projects on the present.    It’s an offensive strategy that opens us up to supporters who will realize that there can be a better way then belittlement through the present arrangements.  A Progressive offense is an embracing of our potential for change in the present unbeholden to the institutions of the past.


[1] https://ourworldindata.org/technological-progress

[2] Human evolution is still happening – possibly faster than ever by Laurence D. Hurst Phys.org https://phys.org/news/2018-11-human-evolution-possibly-faster.html

[3] [5] U.S. trails most developed countries in voter turnout by Drew DeSilver Pew Research Center http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/15/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/

[4]  The Law That Just Passed In New York Is A Huge Win For Voting Rights by Ari Burman Mother Jones https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/01/new-york-passes-huge-voting-rights-expansion/


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What is a Free Society?

By Ron Rivers,

This essay is deeply influenced by my research over the past three years focusing on the articles, lectures, and books authored by Roberto Mangabeira Unger.  It is necessary to pay an intellectual debt to his theories and vision of the future as over the years they have been one of the primary drivers of my understanding of the possible.  While the conception of a free society below draws from his works, it is intertwined with my perspective as an activist, independent researcher, and civic entrepreneur.


What is freedom?  It depends who you ask.   It seems like every political party has their interpretation of the freedom that they believe is best for them.    That’s not a critique; it’s hard to put your finger on the concept.  Freedom is a lot like fear, anger, happiness, and love. We know them when we feel them, and they’re meaningful parts of the human experience, but we can never accurately give them form.  Despite that, we yearn for more.

If we’re ever going to have a chance of deepening our freedom we better start by understanding what we want.

Are you feeling free yet?

For many of us, things feel bad now.  It doesn’t matter which political team you root for; our combined anxiety is palpable.   Climate change, mass extinctions, government shutdowns, systemic racism, a healthcare system designed to extract wealth, an opioid epidemic fueled by desolation of purpose, and so many elected representatives who act as corporate agents.  Its a system supported by massive wealth inequality empowered through legislative policy by every administration since Nixon. It makes me anxious just writing it. Where did the practice of democracy go wrong?

The idea of freedom that produced our present institutions is drawn from classical liberalism.  It combined the belief of empowerment of the individual with the institutional arrangements of society.   The laws surrounding property and contract being central to this historical framework. We know now that this organization of economy and state has failed to increase agency in every individual as promised because much of America’s population exists within a state of economic oppression.   

Our version of a market economy has evolved over the years with mixed results.  It has produced incredible innovations in many different directions while simultaneously disenfranchising entire classes of people via debt-fueled serfdom.    We know that three families hold wealth that is four million times larger than the median wealth of American families and three men (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet) own more wealth than the bottom half of our country combined. [1]  Entire books have been written about the damage that wealth inequality is causing in societies today.  

We should not reduce the argument to just wealth.  The most important indicator of the need for alternatives is that our institutions deny the vast majority of our population the opportunity to develop their potential within the world.   Our mistake has not been choosing capitalism as our system; our mistake is the dogmatic worship of its present form.

So how do we address this error?  We can start by taking a lesson from history.  The liberals and socialists had insightful ideas about future structures of social order.  They understood that social structures should be used for the good of the majority. We differ from the past through our commitment to rejecting absolute devotion to any single institutional arrangement   We can learn from history without being ruled by it.

Deeper freedom is both possible and achievable, but it requires an alternative vision of the future from anything offered presently.  If we can develop a genuine alternative for good then we will ignite our collective hope for the future.

Freedom to be

Reimagining a structure for a free society begins with identifying the values we want to codify into our institutions.  Structures impose a certain way of living and thinking upon us and by existing within institutions our understanding of the world is formed.  Just as the liberals of the past intertwined property ownership into the definition of freedom and institutional arrangement so must we establish a core set of values that we will use to measure the success of our structure.  

To start, we should agree to avoid any attempt to be neutral. This translates into the abandonment of policy that is considered a central compromise between the artificial construct of right and left political ideals.  People and experiences can never be successfully classified by efforts that attempt to shrink alternative visions of the future into a handful of fringe issues. No law impacting our political, economic, or social institutions can ever be neutral.  Every arrangement that we might choose encourages some forms of experience while discouraging others. Claiming to be neutral, or claiming a potential direction to be neutral, will almost certainly serve to entrench ideals that favor present power structures further.   Neutrality is a false goal and denies us the possibility of realizing genuine transformation.

We want to create a set of value-driven structures that respect each individual while empowering them to explore their limitless potential.  It is in this belief that we form the foundation of a profoundly free society. Entering into this political effort, we understand and embrace that no concept of a free society is definitive or all inclusive.  Everything is subject to change and over time our vision of the good will be replaced by a bigger version drawing from experiences we have yet to perceive. Each new structural innovation represents a limit to be surpassed, a snapshot of history.  Through this culture of perpetual change, we continuously expand our understanding of ourselves alongside our institutional arrangements.

Embarking on reimagination of our most fundamental rights requires embracing an absolute truth; we do not know what we do not know.  Existence is a series of moments experienced in an identifiable section of space-time, an infinite present. Today we can only learn from the past, therefore we have a limited view of what the future of society and humanity can be.  If we constrain our ability to transform the economic, social, and political structures of society then we choose to limit our self-understanding.

Embarking on reimagination of our most fundamental rights requires embracing an absolute truth; we do not know what we do not know.  Existence is a series of moments experienced in an identifiable section of space-time, an infinite present. Today we can only learn from the past, therefore we have a limited view of what the future of society and humanity can be.  If we limit our ability to transform the economic, social, and political structures of society then we choose to limit our self-understanding.


Freedom to create

We’ve established the relationship between the structure of society and the self while laying a core foundational principle of deep freedom.  Now we give the ideals of a free society meaning by exploring the institutional change necessary to manifest it.

We define structure as the institutional and ideological truths that define our routine practices, transactions, and conflicts, many of which we take for granted.  Creating pathways to transform structure will always weaken present arrangements in favor of the new. This is the ideal outcome, perpetually decreasing the power of the past over the present.

We design society to maximize access and agency for every individual. Our intent is to ensure that everyone has the educational, economic, and political tools necessary to move between actions within existing frameworks and new ones that challenge it.  Every person can freely choose to labor in an established methodology or challenge that path in search for something greater. We encourage imagination in all directions, marrying passion and labor together.

Education becomes primary and allows each of us to have the depth needed to transcend the way things are. Access to continuous education at all stages of life is a requirement of any free society moving forward.  The exponential growth rate technology [2] guarantees massive disruption in our present routines and will continue to generate situations where we will be forced out of our comfort zones and into new pathways of exploring the world.  Armed with this knowledge we imbue the primacy of education into our economic, social, and political institutions. Any person who wants to change the direction of their efforts within the world is provided access to the most advanced educational resources available.  There is no restriction or requirement.


Freedom of Opportunity and Equality

A genuinely free society shapes the concepts of opportunity and equality in the form of a series of personal and social protections that are completely secure.   Each person has access to a type of education that is continuous, allowing for the redirecting of their efforts to continuously grow and innovate in whatever direction they desire. Deep freedom breaks from our present structure in that we remove the constraint of our identity and security being tied to a specific form of living.   We choose a future that allows us to adapt to become greater versions of ourselves continuously.

You can imagine this suite of vital protections as an updated bill of rights, beginning from the present and written in a way that is open to continuous revision as progress reveals new needs.   Keeping in mind our intention of the maximization of access and agency of the individual we can begin with suggesting a framework of focus. We can refer to them as the Seven Dignities. Food/water, shelter, healthcare, education, information, transportation, and communication.  By ensuring every individual access to these resources as a fundamental right, we remove the power of being born into an advantaged class. To embrace these dignities is to deem the equality of respect and opportunity as sacred within humanity.

No free society can ever have a class structure.  The division of peoples into factions defined by material wealth becomes illegal.  Inequalities created through entrenched power structures in our political, economic, and cultural are also banned.  It is because of class structures that the present order denies freedom as we have outlined above.    A society that prioritizes material wealth as the primary indicator of success will always deny people equal access to opportunity as the very structure generates inequity by design.  The fact is millions of Americans [3] are subject to a level absolute poverty that denies them any agency of transformation within the world. Present structure prevents these people any opportunity of self-improvement, failing the proclaimed objective of democracy as it exists today.   No person or groups of people retain the right to refuse the other of their power of transformation.

A free society discourages the worship of power.  Power today is typically translated in control of an industry or political region but can also be classified as cultural.  The problem with worshiping power as we do now is that it inhibits the talents of the powerful while simultaneously disenfranchising those without.  We know from countless biographies that in many cases people with remarkable talent or natural advantage are motivated by the very process of doing. Concentrating their cultural and material power above others does nothing for their ability to create and poses a genuine risk to the philosophy of inclusive cooperation required by a free society. We reject the myth that people need material incentive to innovate that pervades society — recognizing that if given access to the necessary resources to dive deeply into passion the individual works for the very purpose of the work.

Equality and opportunity impact our relation to one another as well.  No person has the right to coerce another. No state or organization can act as an instrument of oppression of an individual.  As our ability to transcend circumstances of the present defines our humanity so then do we structure our legal arrangements as always to honor this commitment to one another.  We meet attempts to establish thought and structure regimes based on coercion with total opposition.

In guaranteeing the freedom of equality and opportunity, we do not accept the disenfranchisement of the many for the benefit of the few.   It requires us to be aware of new inequalities that arise and to proactively correct them. To be clear, this is not an argument for equality of outcomes which is not feasible and detrimental to the human potential.  A free society promises no success in results while simultaneously maximizing the opportunity to attempt innovation.


Labor in a Free Society

One of the biggest tragedies of the present liberal order is the abandonment of what some of history’s most admired leaders believed of wage labor.  Abraham Lincoln was one of many who thought that wage labor was an inadequate labor arrangement drawing comparisons to slavery. [4] Free labor defined as an economic model where people have access to the resources necessary to pursue work in any vertical they would choose.   A free society rejects the notion that economically dependent wage labor is a natural occurrence choosing instead to embrace the link between work and personal transcendence.

No person should ever have to do a job a machine can do.  Any repetition we observe can translate into a formula that we program into machines and software.  As soon as advancements allow we implement innovations across all industries. In doing so, we give every person the ability to spend their time focusing on creating and innovating.  Reflecting on the present day, the looming crisis of automation becomes our most significant opportunity. Automation spreads throughout all industries through the extension of access of the most advanced technologies and practices to all organizations.  By challenging our perceptions of how we organize labor on a macro scale, we can create a structure to radically deepen every person’s ability to work how they desire.    

This definition of labor is both feasible and necessary.  Automation has already transformed industries that historically relied on low-skilled factory labor and has already begun to advance into what would presently be defined as high-skilled labor. [5]  Everything we know about the nature of work is changing, and we must structure our institutions and society in a way that embraces this change for our benefit.

Cooperative competition becomes the standard practice for labor.     Firms are structured in a way that they compete on the value of the services and goods they offer.  Systems are built to deepen cooperative efforts such as collaborative purchasing, dissemination of best practices, and access to the most advanced technologies and tools to all organizations a sector.   Every person seeking to innovate has access to our collective knowledge about the best methods existing in the present which in turn allow them to begin work on creating the new. Redefining how we view competition in our markets enable us to empower our citizenry to deeper levels of freedom in their labor and direction within the world.

A free society embraces the most advanced form of production and rejects the notion that any single organization, or group of organizations, have the exclusive right to create using the most advanced methodologies.  The Knowledge Economy requires highly skilled and highly transferable labor. It is the responsibility of a free society to ensure that every person has access to the resources necessary to improve themselves and participate in the form of labor of their choice.

Cooperative competition turns disagreements into opportunities to grow in different directions.  Each person, protected from belittlement through their rights to equality and opportunity, is now given a chance to experiment.  Reinforced by the understanding that failure to innovate is a lesson in what did not work, we remove the decimation of a person’s livelihood as a potential risk of an unsuccessful attempt to innovate.  This philosophy extends beyond just markets, allowing us to encourage greater competition among competing ideas of the good economically, culturally, and politically.   

Change as Structure

The framework of a free society outlined in this essay is not a direct translation into a specific set of institutions.  Our shared goal is the deepening of freedom and what that means will evolve. This evolution develops our ideas of what is possible perpetually, further inspiring innovations and improvements in our structural arrangements.  No institution is sacred in a free society; all are subject to revision. Change in structural arrangements is implemented in all directions. Locally upwards or nationally downwards we seek to advance without bias. We empower ourselves to explore our ideas and discover the gaps in our understanding.  Over time we will continue to discover what we want.

Everything suggested here will be analyzed for replacement in the future.  A free society embraces change as an integral part of the structure. Humans are context driven beings – we draw understanding and inspiration from the world around us.  Free societies continuously push the human potential beyond understood limitations. They develop our ability to express love and imagination for the world.

Shifting our efforts and focus may not manifest our personal goals of social transformation within our lifetimes.  We accept this fate in our commitment, knowing that our efforts towards the recognition of this good expand us all.

The future learns nothing from the past.  A free society can only be created now, at this moment.  Together we can reject the rule of the past on the present.  Uniting under the purpose of redefining what it means to be free we rekindle the shared spirit of the American people.  It’s a vision of shared greatness, an inclusive and pluralistic arrangement that expands our ability to grow and learn well beyond the limitations of the present.  A free society is one that evolves alongside its people in a state of intertwined expansion of the possible.


[1] Billionaire Bonanza 2018: Inherited Wealth Dynasties in the 21st-Century U.S. by Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie Inequality.org https://inequality.org/great-divide/billionaire-bonanza-2018-inherited-wealth-dynasties-in-the-21st-century-u-s/

[2] Technology Feels Like It’s Accelerating — Because It Actually Is by Alison E. Berman and Jason Dorrier Singularity Hub https://singularityhub.com/2016/03/22/technology-feels-like-its-accelerating-because-it-actually-is/

[3] What is the current poverty rate in the United States?  Semega, J; Fontenot, KR; Kollar, MA. Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017. Census Bureau, September 2018  https://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/what-current-poverty-rate-united-states

[4] Anarchism and Power Interview with Noam Chomsky by Harry Kreisler 2002 Berkely http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people2/Chomsky/chomsky-con2.html

[5] AI Starts Taking White-Collar Jobs by David Cassel The New Stack https://thenewstack.io/ai-starts-taking-white-collar-jobs/


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