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Who Cares?

February 5, 2013

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”
― Theodore Roosevelt

At least since Ancient Greece have men realized that a perception a person’s character and motivation is key to his ability to persuade. The wily Greeks believed that there were three keys to persuasion – ethos (character), pathos (passion) and logos (logic), only the last of which is strictly about who is actually, factually right.

So it is no surprise that our politics is dominated by arguments over intentions rather than results. Laws are enacted based on what they are meant to achieve – but never are they enacted with measurable goals, and after the fact, rarely does anyone bother to check if the intentions match the outcomes.

It is now early February, which means that we are well into the season of broken New Year’s resolutions. So it should be obvious to everyone that a person’s motivations are not a good predictor of their behavior: What is more likely to be the reason that someone broke their diet last night? Because they didn’t want it enough? Or because the dinner host plunked a big slice of chocolate cake in front of them, and it just sat there staring at them? And was this jovial person at the dinner table, with the randy jokes, the same “kind” of person they were that morning at work? Or at Saturdays lunch with the in-laws? Or the romantic dinner the night before? Does it even make sense to talk about what “kind” of person someone is without context? But we persist with our labels because they simplify life. We even do it to ourselves, we lose our phone and berate ourselves for being stupid for the rest of the afternoon, as if we had just discovered the true essence of ourselves. In our lazy, simplifying minds we ARE the phone loser, that is the “kind” of person we are – until something else distracts us and we are on to thinking about other things.

So does it really matter what “kind” of people we elect to congress, or what the motivations of the President are? Did the President not close Guantanamo Bay because “he didn’t want it enough”? Are our Congressmen unable to agree on a budget because their moral fiber is somehow suddenly inferior to the noble ethics of all previous sitting houses?

Perhaps we need a system that is able to function even if the voting public is unable to pick the saints out from the sinners. A system where a person’s character, motivation or even intelligence is not a deciding factor. Do we have an example of such a system?

Yes. Yes we do. Science doesn’t care how much a scientist cares or about their background, wealth or personality. It doesn’t even care about their relative intelligence! We don’t decide which scientific theory is correct by giving scientists an IQ test and then choosing the theories of whoever got the highest score. Science would even work, albeit more slowly, if theories were scribbled out by monkeys and then picked out of a hat. What science does care about are results. Theories are tested by experiments. Whichever theory is better at predicting the results is king, until a new experiment comes along or it is replaced by a theory that conforms even more tightly to the results. Yes, this is often a messy process, with petty politics sometimes descending into full-scale nerd fights. But because the results speak loudest, the politics is kept in the background, not center-stage.

In science, mankind has discovered a methodology to consistently generate progress, instead of just change. Theories get better, they don’t just switch around. Likewise, in our politics, we need more progress we can rely on and less change we can believe in. If we want to be able to consistently improve our societies, instead of having them lurch from good times to bad, from free to totalitarian, from growing to stagnant, we need to stop basing our choice of government on gossip and start basing it on facts.

We need to experiment. We need some experiments to fail and some to succeed. And we need to build on those successes with more experiments. And what is success? Success is whatever kind of society people want to live in – because that is what governments are for – creating the types societies that people want to live in.

Today we have practically all the governments of the world conforming to just two main methods of government, representative democracy and totalitarian rule. And they all conform to one single model of what a society should look like – a nation state, centrally ruled. Most people can’t even imagine alternatives. But before science, pretty much every society looked the same as well – agrarian and superstitious – and nobody could imagine an alternative to that either.

We can do better. We need a thousand different countries, all experimenting with some theory of good society and we need anyone who wants to leave them and try a different one to have that opportunity. We need to give people the same freedom that we have given our cell-phones, and pop songs and other merchandise, the freedom to go anywhere in the world. We need a thousand different societies competing with each other for the right to please people. And may the best society win… until a better one comes along.

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“Quicksourcing” Labor With Jurisdictional Arbitrage

January 27, 2013

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now drone making entrepreneur, has a great article in the NYTimes on how portions of Tijuana and surrounding areas in Mexico are becoming attractive places for American companies to source labor: 

Like many Americans, until recently, when I heard “Tijuana” I thought only of drug cartels and cheap tequila. “TJ,” though, is a city of more than two million people (larger than neighboring San Diego), and it has become North America’s electronics assembly hot spot: most of the flat-screen TVs sold in the United States, from companies like Samsung and Sony, are made there, along with everything from medical devices to aerospace parts. Jordi Muñoz, the smart young guy who had taught me about drones and then started 3D Robotics with me, is from TJ — and he persuaded me to build a second factory there to supplement the work we were doing in San Diego.

Shuttling between the two factories — in San Diego, where we engineer our drones, and in TJ, where we assemble them — I’m reminded of a similar experience I had a decade earlier. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I lived in Hong Kong (working for The Economist) and saw how that city was paired with the “special economic zone” of Shenzhen across the border on the Chinese mainland in Guangdong Province. Together, the two created a world-beating manufacturing hub: business, design and finance in Hong Kong, manufacturing in Shenzhen. The clear division of labor between the two became a model for modern China.

Today, what Shenzhen is to Hong Kong, Tijuana is becoming to San Diego. You can drive from our San Diego engineering center to our Tijuana factory in 20 minutes, no passport required. (A passport is needed to come back, but there are fast-track lanes for business people.) Some of our employees commute across the border each day; good doctors are cheaper and easier to find in TJ, as are private schools, although it’s generally nicer to live in San Diego. In some ways, the border feels more like the notional borders of the European Union than a divide between the developed and developing worlds.

Sign of Model City Revival in Honduras

January 26, 2013

The news

By a large majority (110 votes to 128), the Honduran Congress approved the modification of three articles of the country’s constitution, giving powers to Congress to create areas subject to special arrangements, referred to as “Model Cities” that were declared unconstitutional last October for being considered “states within a state.” reports that “The law consists of two approved articles. The first amending Articles 294, 303 and 329 of Decree 131 of January 11, 1982 containing the Constitution, which divided the country into departments. These ‘are divided into autonomous municipalities administered by corporations elected by the people, in accordance with the law’.
Without prejudice to the provisions of the preceding two paragraphs, Congress can create areas under special schemes in accordance with Article 329 of this Constitution ‘.

The reforms also include the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court when it has to do with Article 303, which says: ‘The power to dispense justice emanates from the people and is administered on behalf of the State free of charge, by judges and independent judges, subject only to the Constitution and laws ‘. It goes on to say:’ the judiciary is comprised of a Supreme Court of Justice, the Court of Appeals, the Courts, by tribunals with exclusive jurisdiction of the country in areas subject to special regulations established under to the Constitution, and other entities established by law ‘.

Voice & Exit Event in Austin, March 9th

January 25, 2013

Learn more here:

Voice & Exit is about:
•    Advocating non-coercive means of making social change
•    Highlighting people who roll up their sleeves to make change without political power
•    Celebrating the creation of new rules and ways of organizing communities

Voice & Exit
 is an event in Austin, TX to be held on Saturday, March 9th, 2013—in parallel with the SXSW interactive conference. Eleven fascinating movers and shakers will take the stage to present eleven short-form (TED-style) talks about innovations in social entrepreneurship and radical community. Each talk will be filmed for high-quality web distribution following the event.

Developer Pitches Charter City on Island Near Detroit

January 14, 2013

ImageFrom the Detroit News

As the broken city thinks big and radically about its future, a developer is stepping forward with a revolutionary idea: Sell the city’s Belle Isle park for $1 billion to private investors who will transform it into a free-market utopia.

The 982-acre island would then be developed into a U.S. commonwealth or city-state of 35,000 people with its own laws, customs and currency.

City officials are likely to reject the plan. But on Jan. 21, supporters including Mackinac Center for Public Policy senior economist David Littmann, retired Chrysler President Hal Sperlich and Clark Durant, co-founder of Detroit’s Cornerstone Schools, will present the Commonwealth of Belle Isle plan to a select group of movers and shakers at the tony Detroit Athletic Club.

This American Life on the Charter City Episode in Honduras

January 13, 2013


A young idealist named Octavio Sanchez is chief of staff to the president of Honduras. He gets an idea: What if you could cure all your country’s ills by just … starting over? In one little spot, you could create a whole new, perfect city. Do all the reforms you want to do in that one place — and if it works, it could spread to the whole country. But how could he pull off such a radical project?

Karl Marx and Milton Friedman Would Agree: We need Innovation in Government

January 2, 2013

This is a guest post by Edan Yago. He is a entrepreneur who studied neuroscience and philosophy. He comes from a long line of rebels and freedom fighters. His family fought Nazis as partisans and fought the Apartheid government of South Africa. Yago has continued this tradition in Israel where he was a conscientious objector to the military and has volunteered in both Jewish and Arab schools teaching the principles of freedom.  –Editor

The future is going mainstream. Publications like the Economist, Forbes and the New York Times have finally figured out something that has been obvious to us for a while now – technology is moving at breathtaking pace; but, at the same time, we are experiencing a “great stagnation”, because vested interests are doing their best to limit change. Specifically, innovations like P2P sharing, virtual currencies, 3D printing, online education and DIY health monitoring are threatening the business models of large established players – everyone from big media to taxi unions. These vested interests are fighting back by smothering innovation with a blanket of labyrinthine regulations and patents.

What this boils down to is that our future is being stolen from us – because of a mismatch between the pace of technological change and governmental change.



For the last couple of decades, starry-eyed futurists, singulatarians and transhumanists have espoused a crazy “techo-utopian” idea: Technology is going to make things so cheap that abundance, rather than scarcity, will become the norm. Futurists have been the recent champions of this idea but they did not invent it. Intellectual giants of the past have been animated by this vision, which they could see as clearly emerging from the trends of technological progress.

John Maynard Keynes published an essay in 1930 – Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren – in which he predicted that, by 2030, society would become so rich that “for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem — how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.” Not long after, in 1932, Bertrand Russell wrote “In Praise of Idleness”, where he suggested that technological and scientific progress should make it possible to reduce the work day to only 4 hours. However, way ahead of these two giants and far more influential, was a thinker for whom the increasing productivity provided by capitalism was the central idea in this thought.  In 1848, Karl Marx described in the “Communist Manifesto”, a “society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production” that it needs to deal with an “epidemic of over-production.”

Marx realized that at some point, capitalism would make things so cheap, that capitalists could no longer be able to make a profit. When this happened, the capitalists would fight to limit abundance. Marx also predicted something else, that Big Business would try and capture whatever benefit could be squeezed out of technology to reduce its reliance on labor. So workers (the 99 percent) would find themselves, on the one hand, competing with technology for an ever decreasing slice of the pie and, on the other hand, forbidden by law to take advantage of technologies that could empower them. In other words, Marx predicted both DRM and outsourcing. It is this combination of being restricted from either end that brings Karl Marx and Milton Friedman to agreement – this is not a free market, it’s a rigged game.

Which is why we are now seeing right-leaning publications like the the Financial Times agree with the likes of Paul Krugman. The FT noted that “companies have an interest in sabotaging progress and efficiency because not doing so could lead to the sort of abundance that might make it impossible to monetise anything” and linked this to thoughts by Krugman, who believes this helps account for decades of wage stagnation in America.

This war, with technology and individuals on one side and Big Business and Big Government on the other side has only just begun. As technology increasingly has the potential to empower individuals at the expense of centralized power, the steps that vested interests will need to take to hold back the tide of progress will become increasingly draconian. We need to reorient our thinking around this problem. In a world where Marx and Friedman would agree with Krugman, Keynes and even Ray Kurzweil, the old political divides are increasingly irrelevant. Technological change is the dominant fact of our modern existence. We must figure out how to adapt our governments and rules to take advantage of progress. The new dividing line in politics is between those who are ready for an evolution in society and those who want the past to control the future.


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