A Free-Market Military

The American military has historically prided itself on its officers’ ability to take advantage of momentary situations in the field, to be creative in the execution of their duties, and to solve problems that inevitably occur in utterly unpredictable combat situations.

Now, however, many of the highly creative and talented officers that attend West Point, Annapolis or OCS leave before completing their careers. Read more “A Free-Market Military”

A Government by the People

Scale model of the United States Capitol
Scale model of the United States Capitol (Andy Castro)

Just a few days ago, President Barack Obama and his staff announced their Open Government Directive. In a memo, beginning with the lines, “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” the White House announced its intentions to work toward a form of “collaborative democracy,” in which citizens would be able to input their ideas and contributions toward governance.

With programs like Peer-to-Patent already around, collaborative government seems closer than ever. Its tool? The Internet. Or, the “tubes,” as disgraced former senator Ted Stevens referred to them.

The directive lays out a specific timetable that can be found online and that orders all executive departments to create “open government” websites within ninety days of December 8, 2009.

It seems quite clear that this is a major change in how citizens will be able to deal with government. What is the nature of the change? As Clay Shirky tells us, “the impulse to share important information is a basic one, but its manifestations have often been clunky.” Read more “A Government by the People”

Participation — Why Bother?

Participate? Why? You’ve got enough people in your movement that I shouldn’t have to participate. I don’t need to join your group, you guys will do the work for m–

A free glossy magazine? Group potlucks? A tote bag with a logo on it? Why didn’t you say so?! I’m in!

The above is just one illustration of how leaders of informal political processes mobilize people; by offering selective benefits (as Mancur Olsen and many others suggest), a group can gain members, money, and thus power. Because public goods are, by definition, public and usable by all, they have the opportunity to fall victim to the tragedy of the commons–overuse by selfish (or perhaps rational-thinking?) individuals.

Indeed, Olsen and many others wonder why Joe the UPS Delivery Man Who Never Comes On Time and Jane the Part-Time Working Mother Who Is Completing Her Master’s Degree At Night School bother to participate in informal processes at all — why fight for something that other people can fight for for you? Read more “Participation — Why Bother?”

How Disturbed Are You?

No, really, how disturbed are you? Disturbed enough to join a social movement? Maybe help out as a checkbook member? Perhaps you’re disturbed enough to go out and start your own social movement.

But wait a second — are you rich? You aren’t. Well, that may cause some difficulties. You see, the heavenly choir sings with an upper-class accent (as E.E. Schattschneider tells us), because clearly they are able to represent their interests better than you, shall I say, more “blue-collar” types. Read more “How Disturbed Are You?”

Why Do We Bowl?

Bowling Alone cover
Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000)

In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam suggests that we act politically because of a shared trust and sense of community. Other political scientists (such as Benedict Anderson) believe that cultural cleavages are what drive us to act. Still others (Lipset, Almond, Verba) think that a shared tradition and shared cultural norms are what drive our political activity. These culturalist schools of political science all have merits and all can explain some past forms of political motivations.

Putnam’s idea of shared trust (“social capital”) and sense of community can explain a lot and is closely related to those who believe in a shared tradition and cultural norms as motivational factors. Read more “Why Do We Bowl?”

Brain Dead Conservatism

In The Washington Post, Steven Hayward lays out his argument that conservatism has become a brain-dead movement:

Consider the “tea party” phenomenon. Though authentic and laudatory, it is unfocused, lacking the connection to a concrete ideology that characterized the tax revolt of the 1970s, which was joined at the hip with insurgent supply-side economics. Meanwhile, the “birthers” have become the “grassy knollers” of the right; their obsession with Obama’s origins is reviving frivolous paranoia as the face of conservatism. (Does anyone really think that if evidence existed of Obama’s putative foreign birth, Hillary Rodham Clinton wouldn’t have found it 18 months ago?) Read more “Brain Dead Conservatism”

What We Call the News

This title stolen from JibJab’s song of the same title found here.

In talking about the information networks of the twenty-first century, one cannot omit the rise of the Internet and the revitalization of conversational media.

As lecturer Alex Whalen has told us, in the first era of the American newspaper, conversation was key; the back page of every newspaper was left blank for people to leave their comments. These newspapers were passed from person to person and the conversation was looked upon by the founders as vital to a republic.

Indeed, in the words of Jack Anderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist:

Thomas Jefferson… He advocated and supported a free press and yet Thomas Jefferson was savaged by the press. He was excoriated by the press. He was abused more by the press than Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon or anybody that we have had in recent times. Thomas Jefferson was savaged by the press. Excoriated. And he was human. He didn’t like it. He went nose to nose with a couple of editors in Philadelphia. He said to one Philadelphia paper: “Nothing in this paper is true, with the possible exception of the advertising, and I question that.” And yet that wise Thomas Jefferson, in a moment of truth, said, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.” After all he had been through, he was wise enough to understand. And there is no one here that has been through as much as Thomas Jefferson.

But now, with information almost instantly available to us from more sources than we have ever had available to us before, what effect will this conversation have?

For a little less than a century, we have been completely reliant on one-way media — television, newsreels, radio — that turn the general public into passive consumers of information.

Now, with tools like this blog and the newly-added comment sections on the websites of major news outlets, as well as online forums and Twitter, conversation is making news interactive again, much like in colonial times. Read more “What We Call the News”