• hickman

Big ideas 3: global politics

Updated: Nov 16, 2019

This is installment number three in my long read about big ideas. Click around to find the earlier posts in this series. These thoughts kind of fall into geo-political. This is a space I care (and read) a great deal about, but it's not one where engineers typically get to play. Democracy is on life-support.  We seem to be regressing to the mean, away from the short blip of Jeffersonian idealism, back to a pattern of oligarchic rule that has existed through all of human history.

The technocrat in me still wants to say Sorry Thomas Jefferson, this is what you get when you let just anybody have a say in how we run the place... Forget poll taxes and property ownership, I want a logic test before anyone gets to vote... Obviously, though perhaps not a novelty, the institutions of democracy are under attack. In the early 90s those of us who were simultaneously poets and nerds thought that the Internet would democratize information, and that in so doing, would become an unassailable force for the good of, well, everything. With a few exceptions, that hope has died.

What we’re left with is an easily automated platform for amplifying agitprop. (And, to be fair, cat videos, some of which are pretty great.) I thought secure and user-friendly voting machines would be a good idea after Al Gore lost Florida back in the day. Today, I think it's even more important to get the basics of representational democracy right. Interestingly, India already has this one figured out with respect to at least counting one vote per person, at scale, though I think private interests will balk at anything as cheap and effective of “paper ballots and ink on your fingernail" to track who has and hasn't voted. So, IMO, this problem seems to beg for a disruptive innovation, at the mechanical level. But unfortunately simply solving the problem of voting securely does nothing about kleptocracy, influence peddling, and open mendacity that has become "campaigning."

My personal take-aways on this are two-fold. First, it might be time to overcome my introversion and get out and knock doors to try to convince people to vote in next year's general election. Second, I'm reminded that "Do No Evil" was a great clause to have in a corporate code of conduct, and remains a great litmus test for anything I spin up or get involved with.

China is kind of a big deal We used to talk about BRIC—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—as emerging economic powerhouses. I think it’s now clear that China wins. It won’t take long now for China to pass the US not just in Purchasing Price Parity, but in overall GDP. A good friend draws a regional distinction here, based on philosophical underpinnings. He suggests that not just China, but historically Confucian Asia—China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and possibly Vietnam—will have the collective will power and resources to become the dominant global neighborhood, effectively reversing 500 years of European Colonialism, but also reverting to a several thousand year old mean wherein Asia was globally dominate in trade, science, art and cultural influence. Not sure what to do about this now, but what is certain is that the US will not handle being second well. While China remains workshop of the world, there's an interesting "made local" trend in the US, that companies like Shinola and Detroit Bikes are leveraging, bringing beautiful American made products to the market, at a price point well above what they could charge if they outsourced manufacturing. As a maker, this is appealing to me. I saw this coming in 2008, at which time I tried—and failed—to learn Mandarin Chinese. But with a few projects in the hopper that will require a bit of metal fabrication, I think I'll buck the Globalist trend here and try to work with a US-based fab and machine shop if I get any products past the prototype phase.

Up next, my thoughts on identity, privacy and security. Finally something we can fix with better software!

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