Hackers in Government 5: Addressing the Economic and Climate Change Problems

The issues Nick Farr is dissecting here have to do with economics and environmental protection in the context of how hackers would most likely address them.

Economics: Current Problems and Possible Solutions

Perspectives on basic economic factors Now we’re getting to another point – economics. The greatest period of economic growth in the United States in the post-war era, and it closely resembles the “Economic Miracle” of West Germany and Italy in the post-war era, coincided with the most heavily graduated tax system in the US. And by that I mean people who make the most money were taxed at a much higher percentage than people who made less and less, and at a certain point you were not responsible for paying any taxes.

After Ronald Reagan, in the United States the tax system was heavily graduated so that it’s the people who were really in the middle, the people who had a decent middle-class earning to people just below what you would call rich, as the percentage of their income, paid the most in taxes. The people who were really rich, the people who were making money off of things like stocks, investments, and different things like that, wealth vehicles, have since the Reagan administration, as a portion of their income, paid less and less in income taxes in the United States – to the point where we’ve created an incredible wealth discrepancy between the people who were the poorest numbers of our economy and the people who were the richest numbers of our economy.

This is a problem, and I think that if you had hackers honestly looking at the economic impact of the tax structure in the United States, they would be unafraid to say this. And when was the last time you heard a politician say: “You know, the rich, really, are making too much money and they’re spending money unwisely: they’re sending money offshore, they’re putting money into luxuries and different things like that; they’re putting money into these vehicles that are, essentially, aspects of casino capitalism”?

The only thing you hear about in the US increasingly is that rich people are taxed too heavily, which is not the case.

You don’t hear politicians saying that; at least in the United States you hear people who are on the “Left Wing Fringe” saying that, and in the part of the political consciousness of the United States, these people are incredibly easy to ride off. The only thing you hear about in the United States increasingly is that rich people are taxed too heavily, which is not the case. It seems like the richer you are, the more things you have to get out of paying taxes than you do paying into the system.

And that’s something that I think hackers would address if they were looking at resources. Just looking at it as a sort of network problem, if the least parts of your network or parts of your system were hogging the most resources, what would you do? Rewrite the code so that these systems which are the very minority parts of the overall system, do not hog as many resources. I think that’s fundamentally what open software is all about: it’s creating more efficient, well-operating code so that you don’t have these sorts of things. Apply that same thinking to government, and you go back to what I think would be a much more heavily graduated income tax system.

Another thing which governments don’t like to address, and this is more relevant now in the European Union than I think it’s been in a long time, is that governments cannot endlessly borrow. One of the unfortunate things about the post-war era was the idea that governments could just borrow and borrow and continue to refinance, because sovereign wealth is “safe”, they are safe vehicles for investment.

I don’t really have to name the country in European room , to say that that’s not necessarily the case. And the worst part is that’s just really a bellwether. Germany has this problem; the United States has this problem that there is too much debt within the government. But unfortunately, it’s not politically expedient to point this out. Nobody likes to hear that we need to provide fewer services and charge more in taxes, but at some point the bill needs to be paid, and I don’t know the class of people in society that are more well-equipped to convey that difficult message than hackers are.

Unfortunately, there is no mommy and daddy above the United States Federal Government.

If you have built things and paid for things and you’ve wasted money, that needs to be paid back. But unfortunately we’ve had governments operating like teenagers with credit cards, thinking that if they default on it, then mommy or daddy is going to pay the bill. Unfortunately, there is no mommy and daddy above the United States Federal Government. Nobody can bail the largest entity on the planet out of its debt, and somebody needs to start saying that, but we’re not saying that.

And if hackers went to government, they would start saying that: “Look, we have a very serious problem and we need to start addressing it, and we need to start fixing it.” It just goes like the open source example that I said earlier: if you have fixed resources and all resources – economies, governments, entities – they’re all fixed in that way, they have a limited capacity, hackers understand what that capacity is, and they know exactly what they need to cut to fit into that capacity and to make things more efficient.

And so I think hackers know what it is to sacrifice features, and what it is to tell managers, to tell sales people: “Look, we can’t implement that; that’s just not possible.” Can you imagine how much better things would be in government if there were people there who operated like hackers, who were able to say that both to people who provide political patronage and to the people who are their constituents? Because hackers have to do that all the time: they have to talk to their customers and say: “This is not possible,” they have to talk to the sales people and say: “This is not possible.” They have to say: “Well, if you want this feature to be implemented, you have to do X, Y and Z.”

And again, hackers have to work within the limits that they are placed in. The sales people say: “Well, now you have to do it anyway,” and they’ll say: “Ok, it’s going to be really bad and it’s going to crash.” Then the sales people come back and they say: “This is really bad, it crashes” – “I told you it was going to do that.” Hackers are very well acquainted with that, and I think if they were doing that in government, it would be a good thing.

Environmental Issues and Changes to Adopt

What hackers would probably do to protect the environment Quick disclaimer on the next slide (see image), I do have to say it to be completely honest. My current client is engaged in climate change policy, so I’m a little bit biased here. You might not agree with this, this might not be accurate, but leading to my final example, which I think is a really big, heavy problem – climate change.

I think Europe is clearly a lot more progressive in this area than the United States is. But I think if you had hackers who looked at the evidence, both on the economic side and on the environmental side, and the impacts of fossil fuel-based transport systems on both sides of this, they would see that it’s limited, it’s going to run out, it’s creating problems for the environment, and we need to stop it.

I think that if you had hackers looking at budgets for transport, they would say: “These entities are clearly making a lot of money; they don’t need government subsidies.” Quick, done, that’s it. They wouldn’t pay attention to the fact that these entities didn’t get to make billions of dollars in profit without being incredibly politically connected. And unfortunately it takes big environmental disasters, like what we’re experiencing now in the Gulf region in the United States, to see: “Look, this is not right.”

But even in spite of a massive environmental catastrophe, they still enjoy an incredible amount of political power that the people who are engaged in climate change solutions don’t enjoy. And I think that hackers on either side of the divide would find that we don’t need to subsidize carbon-heavy transport. People on the right would say: “We don’t need to spend government money on people that are making a lot of money,” the people on the left would say: “We don’t need to subsidize all fossil fuels.” There is a lot of agreement on both sides.

Hackers are good at inventing incredibly rich technical systems on little to no budget.

Another thing hackers are good at is innovating and coming up with really advanced, good technological solutions. They’re out there, there are people working on them; they’re working on almost no budgets, more so in the United States than here in the European Union. But I think that any hacker would be interested in putting resources into coming up with things that work better, that are more efficient, that are radical solutions to these different things.

And unfortunately, we’re approaching the point where in our fossil fuel-based global transport network we’re going to need really radical solutions to a lot of these different problems. And I think hackers would be the kind of people who, if they were engaged in politics, would provide funding towards what we call: “Clean Energy Solutions”.

Another thing that hackers are good at doing is inventing a lot of these incredibly rich technical systems on little to no budget. And I think that if you put hackers in government, they would be able to identify which of those small outfits are producing good work or have the capacity or potential to produce good work, and apply funding towards them.

Unfortunately, governments are not really good at funding small projects: they fund larger entities that fund entities that are a little bit smaller that fund smaller groups, and so on and so forth. I think hackers, if they were in government, would be good at going from the top directly to the source of people who are working and doing good work and are creating a lot of these technical solutions.

So, that’s my pitch on hackers in government.

Read previous: Hackers in Government 4: Discretionary Spending That Produces No Value

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