The tech behemoths’ role in nation-states is evolving
The biggest US tech companies now have powers which challenge the primacy of governments in many domains. In many cases they also have capabilities not available to nation states. We touched on these issues, and the notion of “corporate foreign policy” in one of the previous issues of my weekly newsletter Exponential View.
Now in the Pennsylvania Law Review, Kristen Eichensehr looks at the issue of Digital Switzerlands in greater depth, 66 pages of it to be precise. We’ve summarized parts of it here. One key distinction between large corporations and nation states is that they lack territory, control of state-violence, and have very different governance mechanisms to nation-states. But that is as true for many supranational bodies as well.
There is a notion worth revisiting: are nation states nearing their end as our preferred scale of the political and socio-economic organisation? This idea lies in contrast with the “end of history” theory of modernity, first posited by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama.
I’ve found the question of evolving the nation-state fascinating since the early 1990s when I first came across ideas of decentralised forms of organisation enabled by new electronic networks (and was contemporaneously studying political institutions and models of governance).
Fixing government services isn’t rocket science. But it does require a fresh perspective and courageous public servants. Fortunately, Jennifer Pahlka is on the case.
Complaining about the government is easy. Doing something about it? Much, much harder. But that’s exactly what Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and former Deputy CTO of the White House, has managed to do. In this “High Order Bit” — a short, impactful talk laddered to Shift Forum themes, Pahlka explains her life’s work. Take the time to watch this video or read the transcript, edited for clarity below. It’s both maddening and inspiring, and will leave you rooting not only for Pahlka, but for the kind of systemic change her work reveals.
Jennifer Pahlka: I’m going to jump right into a story. It in fact also covers a little bit why the California model might be a model for the rest of the country.
Launching at Shift Forum, JFF Labs partners with innovators to scale economic advancement solutions for the 99 percent
As many of you know, this year’s Shift Forum is the second annual gathering of leaders convening to address big issues we won’t have a second chance to solve. If last year’s event symbolized a collective recognition of the problems we face, this year marks a shared commitment to move the needle in addressing them. Key pillars include business transformation, politics and policy, and the future of work. All of us are concerned with how we will pull off the moonshot of our time — establishing social contracts for the 99 percent. Specifically, how will we sustain families and opportunity for dignified work in the face of automation and rapid change?
To that end, I’m heartened to spotlight a unique effort — the launch of JFFLabs — and I am equally thrilled to say it was created as a result of last year’s Shift Forum.
I caught up recently with Maria Flynn, CEO of JFF, a leading national nonprofit that drives transformational change in the American labor and training markets. Maria was a powerful star at the Department of Labor before spending 10 years leading JFF’s Workforce team. Last year she became CEO at JFF and is casting a vision for a future in which economic mobility, dignified work, and automation are equal partners in the American dream.
We’ve built a power structure that leaves the public good begging at the door. This must change.
Over the past few years I’ve been looking for a grand unifying theory that explains my growing discomfort with technology, an industry for which I’ve been a mostly unabashed cheerleader these past three decades.
I think it all comes down to how our society manages its most crucial new resource: Data.
Facebook claims Russian actors spent a pittance during the election cycle. But we have no way to know how large the Russian operation — or any operation — truly was. That must change.
For decades now, tech companies have thrived in the role of Scrappy Startup Hell Bent on Changing the World. For these companies, the traditional rules of business were made to be broken, and “old school” thinking was simply damage to be routed around.
One such set of “traditional rules of business” have to do with transparency and accountability around political advertising. Our democracy is based on the idea that if someone is trying to influence our vote, we have a right to know who’s doing the influencing. Paid political speech is regulated speech, and for good reason. Imagine someone surreptitiously and continuously injecting false or misleading information into your daily media diet, with the goal of influencing your vote and inflaming your passions?
That virus that shut down networks around the world this week, the one that’s been dubbed Petya, isn’t propagating like crazy anymore. But as we’ve learned more about it, it has begun to look even more consequential — less of a disaster than a prophecy.
Point one: Petya turns out not to be “ransomware” at all. It asked users to pay money to free their data, but their data has already been deleted (The Verge).
We shouldn’t be worried about artificial intelligence turning into our new robotic overlords, but that doesn’t mean we should stop worrying about AI, writes Kai-Fu Lee, the Microsoft and Google veteran who helped invent the field of speech recognition and is now a leading investor and voice on the Chinese internet. Writing in The New York Times, Lee argues that our global economy is about to be more deeply disrupted than we have been willing to imagine, as AI draws tight new boundaries around the employment opportunities for humans.
In the continuing debate on whether AI will eliminate tons of jobs or just revamp them, mark Lee down as a strong eliminationist. He foresees “a wide-scale decimation of jobs,” along with an unprecedented flow of profit and wealth to the companies that introduce the new technology.
I don’t remember the ‘70s very well, but thanks to our administration’s recent policy shifts, they’re coming back into focus, and man, we really don’t want to go back there.
Here’s a top-of-my-head rundown of all the shit going down that promises to take us forty years back, to a time when, well…you decide what kind of time it was.
Women had to fight for basic rights. Anyone remember “women’s lib”? That movement found its voice in the 70s, and made steady if punctuated progress for forty years. Now Trump’s promising to repeal the iconic 1970s Roe v. Wade decision, has scrapped equal pay (unnecessary regulations, amiright?!), and, well, this.
Dirty, climate changing coal was king in the ’70s, powering nearly half of US energy output. It’s now less than a third and dropping fast, mainly because of clean sources like solar and wind, which are starting to take power costs to zero, all while driving far more jobs than coal. Do we really want to go back? Well, Trump certainly does. WTF?
The EPA was established in 1970, when our rivers were on fire and kids had to hide inside from killer smog attacks (I was one of them). Now, Trump’s EPA has repealed decades of regulations, and it’s run by a guy who, well, hates the EPA. Oh, please, let’s go back to flaming rivers and unbreathable air, shall we?!
And then there’s climate change. After decades of science, inconvenient truths, and global disasters, the world’s leaders finally got their collective shit together and agreed to do something about our shared existential crisis. But not Trump, who thinks climate change is a hoax and has vowed to cancel the Paris accords. That sentiment might have flown in 1975. But now? Really?
“Law and Order.” If you’ve not watched 13th, please add it to your NetFlix cue…or just take 90 minutes and watch it now. The phrase “law and order” is a semiotic stand in for systemic racism and state-driven racial injustice. It rose to prominence in the 1970s as a political reaction to the civil rights movement, and has been widely discredited as social policy. But, you guessed it, Trump wants to bring it back.
Oh, and war. Remember that long, Cold one? Forty years ago, it was the most critical foreign policy issue of the day. By last year, it was all but over. Then Trump got elected, and…well, it sure feels hot again.
Rampant capitalism/neoliberalism/financialization. This is a tough subject to detangle, but in essence, the past forty years have seen the rise, and recent decline, of unrestrained, Friedman-esque capitalism (note this new book on the topic, FWIW). The Great Recession gave our body politic pause, and while Dodd Frank was in many ways toothless, it did set a new tone. Trump not only put a gaggle of bankers in charge of his government, he also is committed to repealing Dodd.
I could go on and on (immigration, creationism, public schools…) but I think I’ve made my point. We love to idealize the past, but forty years ago, women and minorities had vastly diminished rights, our environment was a mess, climate change was ignored, capitalism was unrestrained and destructive, and we were playing a terrifying game of nuclear chess with Russia. By last year, we had made massive progress on all of these crucial societal issues.
And now we’re going back to the ‘70s. Anyone else want off this particular train?
The Trump administration has had the slowest start in recent history in hiring people to run the government. For example: At the conclusion of the Obama administration, there were 24 people on the White House chief technology officer’s staff. Now there’s one (The New York Times). The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been decimated.
But that’s OK, because there’s really not much going on these days with science and technology anyway, right? Furthermore, what science-policy wonks see as a dereliction of duty could be intentional strategy: achieving Steve Bannon’s “deconstruction of the administrative state” by depopulating the bureaucracy. Conservatives would like to eliminate the White House science office entirely, so why waste time interviewing candidates? Maybe all these empty seats are a feature, not a bug.