Open Republic, Phase II –

follow the money

Governance is about who gets to decide where the public’s money goes. A republic is a government where the peer-to-peer bandwidth is too limited to support a true democracy. A democracy is a government where any citizen who chooses to speak up has an equal voice with the other, equally vocal citizens. We are at an exquisite balance point between the presumption of insufficient bandwidth and wide open, wild west democracy.

Small-r republicans, whatever their party, get this instinctively. The easiest way for those in power to stay in power is to ensure that peer-to-peer bandwidth remains limited.

But middle class American households own most of the society’s money, the votes and now, the broadband connections. It’s a democratic bonfire waiting for the right match.

Phase II of the Open Republic concept won’t grow out of some foundation’s grand scheme for how politics morphs into governance, but rather because of an inevitable outbreak of citizen-provided governance, starting at the local level and bubbling up to the federal and global scales. It starts as we start providing the data governments lack and the political power [polis, L., the people] to speak to our governments directly, requiring governments to be responsive to us.

Politicians fret about such openness while government employees often welcome it. Doc’s recent reminder about this reflects my personal experience:

People get the best government they provide

Politics as Unusual is my latest SuitWatch from Linux Journal. It includes some mind-opening thoughts from my local friend Patrick Gregston, who knows local politics far better than I do. A sample:

Government isn’t the problem. People need to bring solutions to government. Government is dying for answers. Bring some and you’ll get somewhere.

I don’t have experience with the government stonewalling me at all. I experience interest and cooperation at every level, as long as I bring solutions and not only problems.

A lot of helpless people want government to solve their problems or to carry their spear on one issue or another. That reflects an ignorance of how the whole ecosystem actually works. If you’re constructive, you can participate in that ecosystem.

This seemed consistent with what I’ve learned from Phil Windley, too.

Last Friday, Doc quoted Gregston again:

Patrick Gregston’s maxim about the differences between business and government: Business is interested in outcome, and government is interested in output.

Phil Windley and I discussed local government responsiveness on Tuesday and agreed there’s a lot of service provided by people happy to be of service. It’s all about building and fixing the streets.

Creating Infrastructure

Like Patrick Gregston, I don’t have experience with the government stonewalling me at all, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with governments. Before I became a tech junkie, I was a Denver-area real estate developer. I’ve formed three metropolitan districts, closed two municipal tax-exempt fundings, annexed 1600 acres to a 90 acre town and made a lot of money changing zoning, installing utilities and building streets. I even patented a solar home because we couldn’t get natural gas service for a subdivision. You can get a lot done by filling out government forms, but it’s a lot like writing code.

One of my projects involved 120 acres on the Denver-Boulder turnpike, but without access. All it took to increase the value of our land 20-fold was to get four layers of bureaucracy, including the Federal Highway commission, to authorize us to build the interchange by adding an assessment to our land and other interested parcels. Add 15 years of brain damage and bam! Overnight success:

The difference between building a fence in your back yard and building an interchange is only a matter of scale: the interchange involves more permits, more layers of government, more zeroes and more financing.

No one at any level of government wants to prevent citizens from creating infrastructure. But you must be willing to help them work within the regulations. That means a lot of paperwork, patience and empathy. As Patrick Gregston says, they’re interested in output, which is a kind of throughput: Citizens fill out paperwork declaring what they want, and government processes it. Too bad businesses aren’t as responsive.

Self Full-Funding Prophecies

If you and your neighbors want to pave your country lane and it’s not in the county budget, you can get together, fill out some forms, and agree to higher property taxes in order to get your paving. I’m sure some cities now do that on the web and within a few Internet years government sites will support self-forming social networks to support infrastructure.

A few cycles later, the web of obligations and funding will be palpably depicted and managed on line by the citizens. We will make mutual commitments and government entitlements by the same logic: are dust abatement and fewer front end alignments worth the tax increase? That’s an economic decision, not an ideological one.

When that happens, government becomes a service we purchase like everything else. As clients of our governments, we the customers people will demand that our government web application become responsive and user-friendly. The way we’ve always wanted government to be.

Politics IS Governance

This is the interesting part. Historically, political campaigns have melted away on election night. What will be the relationship of the new political tools to the governing style of the victors? Political campaigns have learned to operate web sites to seek our active membership, our policy preferences, our voluntary contributions, our activism and MeetingUp.

Contrarily, governments would rather be left alone. But what happens to a campaign’s web presence when the campaign succeeds? Does it disappear? Or should we expect the online community to be active after the candidate takes office?

Doh! I’d never thought about this before. The web sites of dead campaigns live on! The DeanforAmerica DemocracyforAmerica web site and blog is now committed to electing Kerry and lives on; not surprising. But the Clark and Edwards blogs are still active, because
their community won’t let them die.

There’s no way a successful campaign will be able to shut down its community of winners.

And that’s the obvious destiny of an Open Republic initiative. It starts by paying attention to politics and helping political campaigns to use the new emerging activism tools. But these tools have an unintended consequence: They instantiate a campaign, giving it a life of its own.

Voters who have built a candidate with open source tools will be interested in open source tools that build a government.

6:30:54 PM    

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