The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
Budgets aren’t just lists of priorities; they are statements of purpose and expressions of ideals. A U.S. president’s budget is only an advisory to Congress, which has constitutional authority over government spending. But presidents usually put a lot of care and energy into their budgets — particularly their first ones — because they provide leaders with a chance to say, “This is what I really care about.”
Based on his new budget proposal, President Trump cares very much about spending $54 billion more on the military and building a wall on the Mexican border. He does not care about funding for the State Department’s diplomacy, environmental protection, scientific research, the arts and humanities, and many other functions of government that he has proposed to cut back on or eliminate (Vox). These aren’t just ostensibly elitist institutions like the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities; they also include agencies dedicated to helping the kind of struggling heartland communities that elected Trump, like the Appalachian Regional Commission and Meals on Wheels.
Trump’s plan would decimate climate change research while also slashing spending on emergency planning and services. And the Trump team somehow expects to spark an unprecedented burst of economic growth while cutting basic research into the innovations that power that growth. If you rewrite the U.S. government’s mission statement so that it no longer includes funding science, you’re simply abandoning the prospect of future breakthroughs and the businesses that bring them to market. Naturally, other countries will rush in — and reap the competitive benefits.
Congress will have to rewrite this budget, unless it wants to see the U.S. economy shrink into mediocrity. Way back in 1981, the incoming Reagan administration planned to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, which funds legal representation for poor people. Legal Services survived, thanks to congressional support. Now, nine elections later, it’s once again on Trump’s kill list.
Tech Is Funding Creators and Might Be Keeping Teens Off Drugs
Pundits blame technology for virtually everything that’s wrong in our society, from job losses to the decay of our culture to the decline of our mental health. Today we note a couple of more positive takes on the social impact of tech, both in The New York Times.
First, tech critic Farhad Manjoo sees a big transformation in the economics of online content: Users are increasingly willing to pay money for it, from music to video to old-school journalism. This is happening not only via giant subscription platforms like Netflix and Spotify, but also through more personal-level services like Patreon that connect independent creators with people who want to support their work.
In other words, forget about Trump’s budget cuts eliminating national arts programs! Historians from the future may well view our time as “a remarkable renaissance in art and culture.”
Meanwhile: U.S. rates of drug and alcohol use among teens have been dropping for a decade, and researchers are now asking whether the trend can be pegged to the rise of smartphones (Matt Richtel in The Times). “Scientists say interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence,” writes Richtel. As one scientist puts it: “People are carrying around a portable dopamine pump.”
This connection remains a hypothesis, a path worth researching rather than a conclusion. But with all the panic over “iPhone addiction,” it’s good to remember that most technologies are neither devils nor saviors: As we use them, they change us, but almost always in complex and unpredictable ways.
Owning a Piece of the Network
The “network effect” is widely understood today: It’s the beneficial loop that kicks in for any network that gets more valuable to everyone each time it adds a member. Like, say, the internet, or Facebook. Nick Tomaino (The Control) proposes an update to this concept for the age of Bitcoin: the “network ownership effect” that kicks in when networks can share a stake in themselves.
Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrency-based networks are able to hand out “tokens” of value to participants — in Bitcoin’s case, actual units of currency, but other networks have used other kinds of tokens. That means they can command a loyalty from users that intensifies as the network grows and demand for the tokens increases.
As Tomaino puts it: “Embedding economic incentives into a product makes people fanatical about the product.” Distributed ownership through digital tokens also opens the door for new models of organizational governance. For now, this stuff is still in the experimental stage — but its evolution is moving fast.