With the U.S. election in chaos, people across the country and the world are struggling to understand what this might mean for our future. The natural reaction is to double down. Sink deeper into warring camps. Cling harder to your unshakable truths.
Given that reality, it might seem impossible to change your perspective. I’m going to try, but let me give you some background first.
As a science fiction writer, I’ve been aware of an impending flood of technology set to dramatically change our world in the near future. My first attempt to grapple with these pivotal advances came through the introduction of a supervillain in my fiction. (No, my book is not one of the suggested reads today, but bear with me…)
The protagonists of my novels are often misanthropes who find themselves battling their demons. The worlds they inhabit, like ours, isn’t black and white. Plagued by nebulous arch-enemies, assignment of the traditional labels of villain and hero gets murky.
Shortwave was one such “villain”.
He was an imagined Soviet soldier captured by militants during their Afghanistan War and a convert to Islam. Between those two worlds, he developed a unique social philosophy. He’d planned a radical societal revolution through seizing control of the United States and world financial markets using a unique weapon: Cryptocurrency.
Shortwave develops a worldwide, decentralized society made up of autonomous nodes reliant on off-grid power and cryptocurrency. Starting in the rugged highlands of Afghanistan and remote areas of neighboring China, he planned to export and seed this society into a U.S. city.
I know. All this sounds foolish to many people. A society thriving on renewable energy? No central authority? A community without banks who…do what exactly? Hold on to our digital money for us for safekeeping and charge fees?
It was, of course, fiction and speculation. But the research for the book led me to an epiphany – that cryptocurrency and blockchain technology will one day replace banking as we know it.
My wife and I (she was the true visionary here) subsequently went all in on a mining farm. We made mistakes. The crypto market collapsed and we had to shut it down. But I still believe in the technology.
The short, eighty-nine-page book lays out a technological future that is bearing down on us harder than a Cretaceous period asteroid. And in this crucial period, we either adapt or suffer societal calamity.
The path we’ve chosen so far is obvious.
According to their report, technological advances had placed every major sector on the verge of massive disruption. Energy will be unleashed from a centralized grid through renewable generation under user control. Finance will be freed from banks through triple-entry accounting systems like the blockchain so peer to peer transactions can happen with no centralized intermediary. Society will enter into what they call an Age of Freedom, and transition from an Extraction economy to a Creation one where we create what we need not from raw materials but a molecular level.
Right. Sounds like more science fiction.
No, really. They describe processes set to turn food into the equivalent of software. A Star Trek replicator-style reality which isn’t centuries away, but decades. They lay out their case for exponential breakthroughs in the near future which will benefit all mankind.
But only if we let it happen.
Entrenched industries will fight to the bitter end against this change. We’ve already seen Electric Vehicles delayed by decades based on the automotive industry’s decision to protect their entrenched interests. Renewable energy has yet to completely buck fossil fuel. Claims indicate you simply can’t store enough of the intermittent source to power whole communities.
However, advances in cellphone tech and electric vehicles have driven battery storage to a point where not only is renewable energy a viable replacement but a cheaper one.
Every one of these advances will face hurdles. Banks won’t fade into their extinction without a fight. After all, we need them for all the transaction fees, ATM fees, and near-zero interest savings accounts…don’t we? Not when I can complete and verify a transaction person to person with my phone I don’t.
These are dying industries. They know it. Their insiders know it. Why are they too scared to tell us? Why drag us down with them? Well, the key to dislodging them is the brutal world of politics, which brings us back to a certain election, and my next suggested read.
I’ve long said the system is what is broken here in the U.S., not the voting public. We’re hostages, not diametrically opposed forces. The duopoly has a vested interest in keeping us at each other’s throats. The drift to the extremes is not by happenstance, but design.
I’ve known this in my gut but have had trouble articulating my ideas. And when even not taking a side makes you a traitor to the rest, nobody is primed to listen.
But I was wrong. The system is working as intended. It was just never meant to work for us.
Harvard Business Review published a short article, Fixing U.S. Politics by Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter based on their book, The Politics Industry. This short read captures our current political disaster with a rational clarity we’ve been missing. Unlike other critical pieces, it also offers solutions.
The current duopoly, by Gehl’s theory, has created what amounts to an uncompetitive marketplace, hostile to any new ideas. Outsiders and challengers are spurned because the only thing which matters is the continuation of the party, not the welfare of the public. Down to their closed, controlled primaries, to the hundreds of pages of committee rules and congressional guidelines (expanded from the six short paragraphs of the original constitution), everything is designed around maintaining party power.
Without healthy competition, the same stale, damaging idea ensnare us. Political platforms grow more extreme, keeping us trapped, generating an uncompromising and active base unwilling and unable to see any alternative but a vote for the party.
Because of this, when faced with key issues, the entire legislative body becomes paralyzed. They’ve pushed so far to the extremes, there can be no compromise. One vote in favor of the policies they have demonized will threaten their re-election and the entire apparatus.
To complicate matters, businesses flood the system with money. At the national level, businesses spent as much as 6 billion dollars in 2019 to influence legislation. And contrary to recent claims, lobbyists still roam the halls of governance. As of 2019, 350 former lobbyists worked directly in the federal government. Their former ranks continue to accept politicians seeking to enrich themselves post “public service”.
Businesses attempt to directly influence the politics of their employees as well. They hold politically motivated seminars, ask employees to write letters in support of or against pending legislation, and one reportedly encouraged employees to take an at-home course that argued against government regulation and taxes.
Many of these problems are well-known. But what of the proposed solutions suggested by Gehl and Porter?
Abolish party primaries.
Unaffiliated and open primaries can broaden the slate of candidates for voters. More choice, as in a healthy marketplace, is a good thing in deciding the fate of our country. Further, it allows us to hold politicians accountable. No more voting for the candidate you despise simply because of their party affiliation – you’d have viable options. The top five candidates would then be sent on to the general election.
Ranked Choice Voting
Three states, Maine, Virginia, and Maryland have adopted this unique approach to determining elections. No longer a winner takes all gambit, voters rank the candidates on their ballot in order of preference.
If no candidate receives a majority of votes, they compare the top two candidates. The other votes are eliminated and the ranked-choice votes on those ballots transferred to the leading candidates to determine the winner.
No need for run-offs. No need for “spoiler” votes. And by having greater choice, the voting population wins at the end, not the party system.
Rethinking Business Involvement in Politics
This is the weakest part of their solution. Written for Harvard Business Review, the authors likely don’t want to push too far down the road to regulation. Neither do I, but some incentive to change is likely necessary.
The article implies that companies have realized their mistake and are coming around to activism on behalf of consumers. The authors provide promising interviews and survey results to support their view. But these are in stark contrast to the reality of a government machine crawling with lobbyists and the billions of dollars spent on the activity.
We’ll likely need regulation, at least temporarily. The unflappable and wholly American ideal that business will right itself hasn’t worked so far. If we can change the character and means of our elections, we’ll find candidates willing to support that cause.
And that’s where we are. A contentious and virulent election. A consolidated world where transformative technologies battle the old. It can often feel like the end of the world. That we’re just casualties caught between warring behemoths.
But they’re fighting so hard because they know their days are numbered. Let’s stop doing their bidding. Stop fighting each other. Let’s help them pass on quietly and claim our new Age of Freedom.