If we can create our world and our institutions any way we want, how the heck did we end up here?
Is this really the best we can come up with?
Is this what we truly want our society to look like?
I don’t think so.
When I ride the subway here in New York, I look at the people around me. They don't look happy. They mostly look tired, worn out. The subway, the stations, the facilities look worn out.
Outside the subway, the roads are full of potholes.
I see millions of people who are undereducated, for no good reason.
People are not eating food that is nourishing or good for them. 15% of the citizens in New York State are on food stamps. Hard to buy good healthy food on food stamps, I imagine.
Most people don't even know what's good for them and what's not. Children are not given the nutrition they need so they actually have the energy and mental acuity to learn. What waste! If we're to turn around the current direction of this country, we need all the bodies and brains we can get.
Even more fundamentally, most people have an unhealthy and distanced relationship to their bodies. They don't understand how the body works, how it stays healthy, and how it gets sick. They don't get how the mind and the body interacts. They don't get that when the body isn't functioning, the brain can't operate properly, either.
We think the doctor can fix the body, but they really can't, because they don't really understand how the body actually works. If they did, wouldn't we have had an explanation for the placebo effect and the mind body connection years ago? The health care system is not about health at all. It's about sickness. Doctors and hospitals and pharmaceutical companies only make money when people are sick, they have no interest in healing, only in treating symptoms, and the best diseases of all are the ones that stay with you for life and require expensive medication, like diabetes. No wonder Novo Nordisk is worth $118 billion.
Most people go to work they don't enjoy, making things they don't care about, which is reflected in the lack of quality of the products and services they provide. Only so they can leave work and have money to buy low-quality products and services made by other people who don't have any care for what they do. What's the point of making money if all you can spend it on is cheap crap?
We have a war on drugs that has lasted longer than I've been alive. Did we learn nothing from prohibition? How's this war going? Over a trillion dollars spent, and what's the outcome? It just doesn't work. We make criminals out of ordinary citizens, and create rampant organized crime. As much as someone might wish that you can make drugs go away, the evidence is irrefutable. And stop to think about it. Why have we as citizens organized ourselves so that we have police arresting us for doing something that at least 10% of the population does regularly. What's the point? Why do we do that?
We have a war on terror that's not been terribly effective, either. The war is completely lopsided. Someone comes up with a plot involving liquids, and now millions and millions of dollars and man-hours are wasted screening for and throwing out all liquids. Coming up with a new IED is cheap and easy, equipping thousands of military vehicles to be protected against them is very expensive. We cannot solve the problem with terror this way. We need a much better understanding of the problem. More deep anthropological work. More intelligence and investigative work. More of the things that work, and less of the things that say boom and look very serious and impressive. More security, less theater.
Speaking of the war on terror, how would you feel if a foreign power was flying drones over America and killing people at their whimsy? Would it perhaps make you inclined to hate that foreign power, and vow to sacrifice everything, possibly even including your life, to fighting that power? Personally, I would definitely feel the anger and rage. I probably wouldn't turn into a violent fighter, because it's usually not very effective, and it's not my strength. But I can totally understand why some people would. The fact that we don't grasp the long-term consequences of our actions just sets us up for even worse problems down the line.
Speaking of, the US national debt and the budget deficit. Currently the debt is just $25 billion shy of $20 TRILLION dollars. Trillion. The budget deficit is at almost $700 billion. That's not the budget, that's the deficit! The fact that we've allowed it to come this far is a disgrace. The war on terror is a huge factor here, if not the primary. At this rate, the terrorists are winning. What if their aim is not to kill us, but to bankrupt us and curtail our freedoms? If that's they case, they're (a) smart, and (b) winning bigly. They've made us scared, and when you're scared, you get stupid (literally, you have less mental capacity), and then you make stupid decisions. We've successfully almost bankrupted ourselves, and we've successfully curtailed our own freedoms. America 0. Terrorists 2. On self goals. Sigh.
And taxes. We need taxes to pay for government services, but the tax code is ridiculously complex, and a big portion of the economy goes to pay advisers to figure out how to file taxes and do accounting correctly. It's a mess. Especially between states. All that money spent on CPAs and tax advisors and filing companies are wasted. They could've become taxes, or they could've become earnings, but now they're spent non-productively. Let's make the tax code simple and fair. What does that look like? Universal income? Flat tax? I don't know. Let's find out.
This country is built on democracy, capitalism, and freedom of speech. Those are the three critical pillars. And all three are challenged today.
American democracy is so corrupt, it's can no longer claim to be a democracy. Legally corrupt, of course. Politicians spend upwards of half their time fundraising for their campaigns, and of course the donors want something for their effort. And politicians come cheap. The amount of money it costs to buy a favor is usually peanuts compared to the gain to the donor. As long is this is allowed to continue to go on, we don't have a democracy, and we can't get anything done. And of course, the donors have an interest in keeping the system the way it is. That's why we need to find a way to appeal to people's moral sense of right and wrong, their common sense, and their interest in the common good, rather than their self-interest, if we are to accomplish anything.
American capitalism has gone astray. Banks are supposed to safeguard your money and invest them wisely, so they make a profit, which they then split with you in the form of interest. That's not how it works anymore. These days, the interest is almost non-existent, and in return, they hit you with fee after fee, while gambling your money away on the latest investment fad. Most banks are wildly insolvent, and the FDIC insurance is no consolation when we know that the US government is even less solvent. And of course, when their gambles fail, the tax payers foot the bill, and they pay themselves big bonuses. The finance industry exists to facilitate the financial needs of the other actors in the economy, but today the finance industry gobbles up about 20% of all corporate profits.
On the stock exchange and in the startup world, people have lost focus on good old fashioned products and services and fallen for the idea of shareholder value, which essentially amounts to "the greater fool". If you can get someone else to buy the shares at a higher price than you paid for them, irrespective of what the business actually does or how it's actually doing, you're golden. How is that good for society? We need companies to make products and services that the people and the companies in the economy and in the world benefit from. Isn't that the point of having businesses in the first place?
And freedom of speech is under attack. While it sounds good to want to protect minorities from harm by outlawing "hate speech", the consequences are devastating. The problem is, you cannot legislate what people think and believe. People are going to think and believe what they want. Some people are going to believe gay people are sick. Some believe white people are the superior race. Some people are going to believe that 9/11 was in inside job. You cannot stop them. What we can do is collectively decide how we define what's true and what's not true. People can say and believe what they want, and when they say something crazy, we will collectively just shrug our shoulders and move on.
It would be great if we could stop people like neo-nazis or white supremacists from existing. Or if we could cure them from their erroneous beliefs. Problem is, there are other people that would like to cure gays of their erroneous beliefs. And while your team may be in power today, tomorrow the tables may have been turned. Once you start to try and legislate what is acceptable to say or think or believe, that can only lead to authoritarianism. All authoritarians think they're the good guys, that they're just trying to make the world a better place. They just disagree on what that looks like.
Therefore the only sane solution is to let people say and think and believe what they will, while we as a society agree on what constitutes our collective truth. And the collective truth is a social phenomenon that requires experiments, falsifiability, and replicable proof. That's how science works. If you claim something, you must be ready to back it up with evidence, and a way to falsify it, and then others can try the same, and if no-one can prove you wrong, then we must take it as fact, for the time being. We just cannot put limits on what are acceptable claims.
It may sound like I'm a liberal, a progressive, but I'm really not.
I don't align with any particular political affiliation. I've never agreed with the left's need to cast everyone as victims. I don't see that as a productive approach to life. I've never agreed with the right's zeal to protect big incumbent companies from healthy competition. I'm a believer in personal responsibility, combined with a good support network, good education and health care.
What I want is to take everything apart, start from a clean slate, and see what we can come up with if we put the best minds in the world on it, and pretend we can make it any way we want to.
From my experience as an entrepreneur and a software developer, I've found that the clean slate approach can be incredibly useful. If you start with all the legacy crud that's been built up over years and years, and you limit yourself to only ideas that you feel reasonably certain you can get implemented, you're going to miss out on lots of creative, lateral ideas.
We want to revisit everything, asking the question "what are we really looking to achieve by this, and is this the best way to achieve that?" Everything needs to be based on clear hypotheses, and real-world evidence supporting it.
The plan is to assemble a team of experts in various fields to share their expertise and together we’ll come up with a coherent design. We’ll incorporate the best learnings from around the world. We need policies around money, democracy, governance, oversight and transparency, taxation, market regulation, traffic, immigration, environment, drugs, education, health, policing, military and national security, and on and on. What are the best ideas out there, what assumptions do they build on, and what’s the best answer we can come up with? Let's find out! The future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed yet.
Underlying everything is the desire to make things simple, clear, logical, and evidence-based. For every policy decision, there must be a clear thesis that can be falsified or validated through experiments. If we cannot formulate the thesis, we’re not there. If we cannot come up with an experiment that would prove that thesis false, we’re not done.
A big question is how to reconcile values. That’s a tough one. People are going to have different values, and we’re never going to agree on a universal set of values. And yet we have to agree on some fundamental values. As much as possible, we’re going to try to derive our key values logically.
I’m treating the whole thing as an open source project. Everyone can contribute ideas and even patches. Like any good open source project, we need a strong, visionary leader. That’d be me. I’m going to try to lead everyone in the same direction, so e can get to something amazing together.
This process of coming up with the best policies we can think of is going to be run like an open source project. I want to involve the smartest people I know, and work with them to flesh things out. I'm personally great at vision, and okay at details, and we need other people on the team who are amazing at details. Details are critically important.
Ideally I want to write into the constitution that any political proposal must be accompanied by a clear hypothesis saying we believe that doing this will have this effect, which is desirable because of this value and goal. If you cannot state this clearly enough for most people to understand and agree with it, then your work is not done. Then comes the process of devising a way to test whether that policy will actually have the desired effect. Here we need an impartial scientific community to help out, because most people are not trained scientists. And then we'll run an experiment on a smaller sample first, and based on that, either implement, revise, or completely discard the originally proposed legislation.
This type of process would do away with fake voter fraud legislation, aka voter suppression. If you're introducing legislation ostensibly to limit voter fraud, then you must provide evidence supporting the existence of voter fraud, that your countermeasures would combat that voter fraud, that it doesn't have other negative effects, and that the form of voter fraud addressed here is sufficient in size and proportion of all voter fraud to warrant the response. I doubt most measures currently on the books would pass muster.
Another example is trickle-down economics. You'd have to prove that this is actually the way it works. It might be, but I haven't seen the evidence yet. Or the war on drugs. And so many other things.
My vision is to create a society where we make it easy for people to do what makes them feel most alive. I believe (and this needs to be tested through carefully constructed experiments) that each person has a sweet spot where they're most productive and most happy at the same time. People mock the "do what you love and the money will follow" saying "who's gonna pay me to lie in a hammock watching TV and eating tacos?". But that's not how we actually work. Healthy humans derive most pleasure from being of service to other people. We like feeling valuable and valued. Sure, watching TV and eating tacos can be nice, for a while, but then we just end up feeling sluggish and tired. We want to be used. We want to be useful.
So how do we help people find that place where they're super productive, yet don't feel like they're working? Where they're amazed that they get to do this thing that is so easy and fun for them, yet is super valuable to others? I have some ideas, and I know some people with ideas, and this is something we want to figure out.
I don't think we can afford to keep propping up old dinosaur industries like coal, or wildly inefficient organizations like we have in the health care industry, or the MTA here in New York. We've got to figure out how to make them run efficiently. That's going to mean a lot of people out of a job, not just now, but continuously, because we're not going to have the tolerance going forward, either. So we need some serious reschooling of people. I see is as a huge opportunity to actually help people find their sweet spot late in life. Better to do it while they're young, but better later than never. It's never too late to find what you love, and learn how to make a living of it. We'll have retreats centers and great coaches and teachers, both paid and volunteers, who've been through this transition themselves, and we'll take good care of people. It's a great investment.
Once we have a clear plan and a fleshed out vision, we'll start looking at how to implement it in the world we live in. We have to know what are the key critical things that absolutely need to be implemented, without which everything falls flat. We need to be strategic about in which order, and how we communicate about it. We need to work within the existing political environment.
Prohibition actually provides a lot of inspiration for this. Basically the women rose up saying "enough is enough" to the men's drunket behavior. I'm not a fan of outlawing liquor or other drugs, but I am in fact of grassroots movements, especially those involving women. I think this could be one.
I also want to get musicians involved. We need both hearts and minds, and while words can speak to both, they tend to reach the mind better than the heart. Music, on the other hand, reaches the heart more powerfully than the mind.
Many of musicians are all love and connection, but don't get down to the nitty-gritty practical details of how we can implement things. Lots of political thinkers are great at the nitty-gritty, but forget the heart and the love and the bigger purpose behind it all. We need both.
There's a story about Freud, who lived in Vienna, Austria. He would regularly be exposed to various concerts, perhaps a violin quartet, and it was reported that he would always withdraw when these took place, because listening to the music give him this "transcendent" feeling in his body, which he was afraid of and wholly against. Sounds to me like Freud was afraid of feeling the love and connection with mankind, and we're still suffering from Freud's angst a century later. It's time to break free of this.
That said, I can totally relate to the people who can get insecure and scared and feel isolated when there's too much kumbaya and love in the room. I'm one of them. I grew up being socially awkward and scared of most other people, due to being different and being bullied for being different. I found a lot of comfort and safety in the predictable nature of computers. We need to make sure that everyone's welcome.
At the end of a day, a nation is like a family. You have to make it work with the people who are actually there. You don't get to choose your family, and you don't get to choose your fellow citizens. We have to find a way to make it work so everyone is welcome, so everyone is accepted, even while we need to set up rules and limits for behavior. We must always keep in mind the distinction between people and behavior. I believe in my heart that there are no bad people. We're all looking for love, approval, and appreciation. We just get terribly terribly confused about how we go about finding them, because they're actually already inside of us, and we're the ones keeping it away, making rules for when and how much of it we can have. Once we have that love, approval, and appreciation, we have no desire to harm other people. Of course, this needs to be tested.
Rules are interesting, too. We need to have rules, and yet we need to be able to break rules. Harvey Silverglate says you commit three felonies a day. Most people on a bicycle or on foto will run red lights. We want to teach our kids that it's okay to break some rules and not others. Knowing which rules can be broken and which can't is an important part of life, and it's something we need to take into consideration when designing the laws.
Why should you be involved in this project? Because the future of our society depends on it.
The US was founded on the most beautiful principles. All men are created equal (setting aside the fact that they only meant white males at the time), freedom and the pursuit of happiness, a belief in a higher power (I'm not religious but definitely spiritual), give us your poor and all that.
But somewhere along the way, we got terribly terribly lost. Money replaced god as the higher power. We forgot about equality and liberty. We either get this ship back on course, or we all perish. I don't see any other outcome.
Being a part of this is something your grandchildren are going to be forever grateful for, just as we today appreciate the tremendous wisdom and foresight that went into the US constitution.
I have many qualifications for undertaking this project, something that was never part of my career planning, but in hindsight works out perfectly.
Get in touch if you want to be a part of this.