Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

IDF Spokesperson's Unit

Israel has set up a YouTube channel as part of an effort to get their story out and do a better job on the information warfare part of their campaign than they did in 06. So we'll see how it works out. Anti-Israel propaganda activities are so vast that it just may not be possible for Israel's own efforts at shaping perceptions and influencing the narrative to be effective. But at least they are adapting.

Via Silicon Alley Insider

Monday, December 29, 2008

Decentralized Campaigning

This sounds like a fantastic idea:

You don't need a multi-milion dollar campaign to be able to make and distribute an effective ad to a target audience.  You can do it yourself.  You don't even need the permission of the campaign or a central seller to do it.  You can run your own campaign, becoming a part of what Pete Snyder called an "army of spokespeople". 
Decentralized campaigning would provide a whip mechanism against this unresponsive Republican political structure.   The Right has been sinking millions of dollars into Battleships (e.g., Freedom's Watch), when we ought to be building pirate ships and guerilla fighters to conduct information activism at the grassroots level. 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

All the FBI's men

George Friedman's essay on Deep Throat at Stratfor is a must read that looks at the journalism narrative now that we know who Deep Throat was (also read comments by Belmont Club and Cannoneer). This is a perfect example of how a narrative can arise and influence our interpretation of history and inspire people to act. Woodward/Bernstein became the archetype of the modern journalist. The noble investigative journalists pursuing the truth and bringing down a corrupt president. How many people became journalists to live out their "All The President's Men" fantasy? How many times have we heard journalists lecture us on how important they are because they are holding public officials accountable and speaking truth to power? Journalists have used Watergate as a justification for publishing leaks, including classified information while keeping sources secret from the public. Knowing that Mark Felt was Deep Throat reveals the Woodward and Bernstein legend to be a lie. Contrary to what we have believed for several decades, this was a story about how Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee knowingly participated in a black ops mission to bring down a president. Woodward and Bernstein owe their fame and careers to the fact they they were chosen by the secret policeman to play a role in his operation. For decades they protected his identity not as some noble act to protect a vulnerable whistle blower from those with power. Rather it turns out that it was Mark Felt who had and abused power. When is some journalist going to confront Woodward and Bernstein and demand answers about their knowing participation in such an operation? Be sure to read Friedman's essay in full. Here's an excerpt:

And now we come to the major point. For Felt to have been able to guide and control the young reporters’ investigation, he needed to know a great deal of what the White House had done, going back quite far. He could not possibly have known all this simply through his personal investigations. His knowledge covered too many people, too many operations, and too much money in too many places simply to have been the product of one of his side hobbies. The only way Felt could have the knowledge he did was if the FBI had been systematically spying on the White House, on the Committee to Re-elect the President and on all of the other elements involved in Watergate. Felt was not simply feeding information to Woodward and Bernstein; he was using the intelligence product emanating from a section of the FBI to shape The Washington Post’s coverage.
Instead of passing what he knew to professional prosecutors at the Justice Department — or if he did not trust them, to the House Judiciary Committee charged with investigating presidential wrongdoing — Felt chose to leak the information to The Washington Post. He bet, or knew, that Post editor Ben Bradlee would allow Woodward and Bernstein to play the role Felt had selected for them. Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee all knew who Deep Throat was. They worked with the operational head of the FBI to destroy Nixon, and then protected Felt and the FBI until Felt came forward.
This was enormously important news. The Washington Post decided not to report it. The story of Deep Throat was well-known, but what lurked behind the identity of Deep Throat was not. This was not a lone whistle-blower being protected by a courageous news organization; rather, it was a news organization being used by the FBI against the president, and a news organization that knew perfectly well that it was being used against the president. Protecting Deep Throat concealed not only an individual, but also the story of the FBI’s role in destroying Nixon.
Until Felt came forward in 2005, not only were these things unknown, but The Washington Post was protecting them. Admittedly, the Post was in a difficult position. Without Felt’s help, it would not have gotten the story. But the terms Felt set required that a huge piece of the story not be told. The Washington Post created a morality play about an out-of-control government brought to heel by two young, enterprising journalists and a courageous newspaper. That simply wasn’t what happened. Instead, it was about the FBI using The Washington Post to leak information to destroy the president, and The Washington Post willingly serving as the conduit for that information while withholding an essential dimension of the story by concealing Deep Throat’s identity.
Journalists have celebrated the Post’s role in bringing down the president for a generation. Even after the revelation of Deep Throat’s identity in 2005, there was no serious soul-searching on the omission from the historical record.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The diffusion of Santa Claus

TigerHawk posts a couple of Santa Claus photos, one a sand sculpture from India and the other an ice sculpture from China, that offer a lot to think about about regarding the spread of ideas, symbols, and narratives. TigerHawk concludes:

that Santa Claus is the most commercially significant and internationally appealing non-religious legend in the history of the world.

This is a good example of the kind of voluntary cultural diffusion that Claudio Veliz describes in The New World of the Gothic Fox, which has several chapters looking at how the Hellenistic, British and American cultures were unique in the prolific generation of cultural products, practices, traits, images and symbols that appealed not only to members of their own culture but proved to be very attractive to people of other cultures and thus were disseminated through voluntary adoption. The legend of Santa Claus is so appealing that it inspires people to produce these sand and ice sculptures which are themselves appealing to the imagination so that they serve as a vehicle for the further diffusion of the image and legend of Santa Claus. We need to apply this to our public diplomacy/strategic communication efforts as well as private-sector narrative-diffusion projects.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Is this a crisis or an opportunity"

Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Tim Draper :

The AlwaysOn summary:
Draper's message is that we must never forget that entrepreneurs are great heroes. They create new jobs, they build value from nothing, they make our lives better, and they rebuild the economy.
He reminds us that for every financial downturn, from the Vienna stock exchange crash in 1873 through the Great Depression of the 30s, the Cold War of the 50s, and the dotcom collapse of the early 2000, great entrepreneurs have embraced change and driven innovation and the economy to new successes.

This time is no different, he says, and asks a pivotal question: "Is this a crisis or an opportunity." While some people panic and spread fear and worry (and perhaps those are the people who have been writing our headlines recently), others say "let's not waste this crisis."

One thing has not changed, innovation is relentless and continues unabated. It is growing exponentially and globally. The innovations and changes that occur in the next 10 to 15 years will change our lives as much as all the innovation that's happened in the last 50 to 100 years.

"The information war, fought through images and language, is over narrative"

A three-part series from the World Politics Review:

Sri Lanka's Information War, Part 1

Sri Lanka's Information War, Part 2

Sri Lanka's Information War, Part 3

"Stories are a technology, not a high technology, but a biological technology, for remembering cause-and-effect relationships. Our brains are sponges for stories, and it's very hard to undo a well-told story."


Well I got scrooged this Christmas. A couple of weeks ago I was only paid half of what I was owed. I was expecting that to be rectified on this week's paycheck only to receive it on Christmas Eve and find that not only was I not paid the balance of what I was owed from the last pay period, but that they again paid me about half of what I had coming from the current period. I don't know whether this is the result of incompetence or design. This is the worst-managed business I've ever worked for.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A couple of scenario planning papers

Dare to Dream: Visions for Tomorrow (PDF) by Peter Schwartz of the Global Business Network
UPDATE: I've fixed the Dare to Dream link above. The old link was no longer active.

As a genre, science fiction has always stepped up to this challenge. from Jules Verne
and Frank Herbert to Star Trek and The Lord of The Rings, science fiction literature,
television and film have informed, influenced and inspired generations with dreams of
bright and exciting futures. today, SCI FI Channel hopes to build upon this legacy of
science fiction with our “Visions for tomorrow” campaign. through “Visions,” our aim
is to champion an optimistic outlook of the future, empowering individuals to meet the
challenges ahead and inspiring unique solutions to global dilemmas and challenges.

To achieve these objectives, SCI FI assembled an advisory board of 19 of the world’s
most relevant visionaries and innovators in business, government, science, technology,
design, journalism, film, television, and future studies.

For this report, SCI FI has called upon each advisory board member to share his or
her unique perspective on the future: hopes, fears, dreams, and uncertainties. this
report, created by advisory board member Peter Schwartz, Chairman, Global Business
Network, draws upon their distinct and visionary reflections and captures the common
themes, beginning with one scenario of how these themes may play out in a positive

Dave Howe
SCI FI Channel

Plotting Your Scenarios by Jay Olgivy and Peter Schwartz

This essay offers an approach to developing alternative scenarios with engrossing plots. Part One describes two different methods for answering a fundamental challenge: how to whittle the virtually infinite number of possible futures that could be described down to a finitely manageable three or four plots that will shed the most light on a specific organization’s future. Part Two then addresses the inverse question: Once you have determined the skeletal premises of just three or four scenarios, how do you put flesh on the skeletons? How do you elaborate the basic logics of skeletal scenarios into compelling stories? If Part One is about whittling an infinite number of possible futures down to a finite number of skeletal scenarios, Part Two is then about beefing up those skeletal outlines to discover the insights managers need. Part Three then adds 10 tips based on our 20 years of experience developing and using scenarios.

Borders on the art of persuasion

Max Borders has an ongoing series of posts on the art of persuasion at Next Right:

No. 1: Emotional Wedges

No. 2: Metaphors & Models

No. 3: Value Typology

No. 4: Image, Symbol, & Icon

No. 5: visual Data are Powerful & Ambiguous

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kauffman to fund pro-innovation legal scholarship

Updating classical liberalism for the 21st century so that we can develop an entrepreneurial liberalism will have to include practical thinking about how to institutionalize our ideas. It's not enough to have a lot of theory that never gets applied. We need to build a legal and political framework that can support and foster entrepreneurship and innovation. The Kauffman Foundation is taking the initiative to build that kind of legal framework:

Kauffman Foundation Invests $10 Million to Cultivate Innovation-Friendly Law, Policy and Legal Scholarship

Continued economic growth spurred by innovation is essential to improve living standards. Growth, in turn, does not just happen—it must be supported by legal institutions and policies that reward entrepreneurial risk-taking and innovation.

Toward this end, the Kauffman Foundation has launched a $10 million, five-year program to support research by leading legal and economic scholars on how best to shape the U.S. legal system so that it promotes innovation and growth. The program builds on several decades of "law and economics" scholarship.  

"We want our nation's top legal scholars to devote their talents, experience and energy to furthering our understanding of how the legal system can best foster innovation and growth, both to aid policymakers and judges, and to help educate the next generation of lawyers," said Robert E. Litan, vice president of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation.

Via Marginal Revolution

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Entrepreneurial Inclinations

Modern liberal democracies are complex adaptive systems. As such social, economic, political, cultural change is an ongoing phenomena. From time to time there are "perfect storms" of change in which there is a great deal of disruption as societies go through massive phase transitions. As individual agents how we respond to these changes is important. Our attitudes, interpretations, ideologies, and actions all determine the nature of our response to the transition period and its outcome. There is a right way and a wrong way to respond to these periods. Stephen DeAngelis offers a good example of the right way:

One of the reasons I started Enterra Solutions was because I could see that potentially profitable companies were becoming "hopelessly unadapted" because they were trying to solve information age challenges using industrial age solutions. As the pace of globalization speeds up, such companies find themselves with an increasingly unmanageable complexity gap.

I like this. I like the ability to recognize the transformation that is taking place and then the motivation and imagination to create an entrepreneurial venture to contribute to that transformation. As Anne-Marie Slaughter says "You really have to embrace the complexity."

I really enjoy reading Jeff Jarvis because he is someone who has embraced the complexity and is whole-heartedly engaged in the kind of creative thinking that our time requires (and that drives some people nuts, which I find highly entertaining). He teaches a class in entrepreneurial journalism which fosters in the students the kind of creative and entrepreneurial thinking that is necessary to imagine and build the next generation of journalistic institutions.

I love teaching this class. The students’ ideas change, sometimes radically, as the course goes on and as they learn more about business and challenge themselves (as guests and fellow students do) - they act like good entrepreneurs. They understand the importance of learning the business, not something I learned in J-school. They look at the world in new ways and see new opportunities.
In the spring, I’m going to teach a truncated version of the course at the Sorbonne with Eric Scherer of the AFP. Dan Gillmor also teaches journalistic entrepreneurship at Arizona as does Rich Gordon at Northwestern. The more, the better. Journalism is not going to preserve itself into the next era; it must innovate its growth. That’s what this course really teaches - not just business and journalism but invention and change.

You have to have the right attitude: an optimistic attitude that sees in the change opportunities to be creatively explored; the right interpretation: clearly seeing that this is indeed an era of transformation that requires innovative ways of thinking; the right ideology: ideologies are not permanent and unchanging, they are products of their time and need to change when the times change; and the right action: attempting to resist change is the road to failure, becoming entrepreneurial and inventing the new era's institutions and practices is the road to success.
There is no better example of being "hopelessly unadapted" than the US auto industry and the political class's response. Tom Friedman:

...America's bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.

Of course it will be our politics that will be the last to change with the "there's nothing wrong with our ideology" conservatives and the progressives with their orgasmic enthusiasm for a new New Deal leading the parade of the "hopelessly unadapted". That's why we need to get cracking and start following the path of DeAngelis and Jarvis in politics (and every field of endeavor).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Innovation Economics"

Will innovation economics provide the theoretical foundation for a 21st century entrepreneurial liberalism?

While the U.S. economy has been transformed by the forces of technology, globalization, and entrepreneurship, the doctrines guiding economic policymakers have not kept pace and continue to be informed by 20th century conceptualizations, models and theories. Without an economic theory and doctrine that matches the new realities, it will be harder for policymakers to take the steps that will most effectively foster growth.

Fortunately within the last decade a new theory and narrative of economic growth grounded in innovation has emerged. Known by a range of terms – “new institutional economics,” “new growth economics,” “evolutionary economics,” “neo-Schumpertarian economics,” or just plain “innovation economics”: – collectively, this new economics reformulates the traditional economic growth model so that knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation and are now positioned at the center, rather than seen as forces that operate independently.

* * *
This new doctrine of "innovation economics" reformulates the traditional model of economic growth so that knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation are positioned at the center of the model, rather than seen as independent forces that are largely unaffected by policy.

Innovation economics is based on two fundamental tenets. First, innovation economists believe that what drives growth is not capital accumulation, as neo-classicists claim, but innovation. They argue that the major changes in the U.S. economy of the last 15 years have occurred not because the economy accumulated more capital to invest in even bigger steel mills or car factories, but because of innovation: the creation and adoption of new products, services, and business models. The economy developed and deployed a wide array of new technologies, particularly information technologies. Although capital was needed for these technologies, capital was not the driver. And it’s clear from the current financial crises, in which capital was chasing bad deals, that capital was not a commodity in short supply. Thus, the primary goal of economic policy should be to spur higher productivity and greater innovation.

Second, markets relying on price signals alone will always be less effective than smart public-private partnerships in spurring higher productivity and greater innovation. That’s because innovation and productivity growth take place in the context of institutions. In turn it is the "social technologies" of institutions, culture, norms, laws, and networks that are so central to growth. Innovation economists view innovation as an evolutionary process, where organizations act on imperfect information and where what economists call "market failures" are in fact actually the norm. But these are precisely the sorts of social systems that are so difficult for conventional economics to model or study.

As a result, innovation economics holds that the critical issue of the proper role of the state and market should not be understood, as it is currently by policymakers and others in Washington, as the state versus the market. Rather, as Beinhocker suggests, the issue should be seen as "how to combine states and markets to create an effective evolutionary system." And this is largely an empirical and practical problem–to which neo-classical economics, with its focus on prices and mathematical models, is particularly unsuited.

Over 70 years ago, as policymakers struggled to escape the grasp of outmoded economic doctrines that hindered them from effectively responding to the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes famously stated, "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." Today, the challenge is for Washington’s practical men (and women) to stop being slaves of defunct economists–including Keynes–and start being followers of the kind of innovation economics that Beinhocker, Heller, and others so compellingly articulate.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"We’ll be lucky to wind up with a cameo in the national narrative"

It's good to see Mark Steyn making the same point I was trying to make in the previous post:

That’s the problem, and pulling the lever for a guy with an R after his name every other November isn’t going to fix it. If the default mode of a society’s institutions is liberal, electing GOP legislators eventually accomplishes little more than letting a Republican driver take a turn steering the liberal bus. If Hollywood’s liberal, if the newspapers are liberal, if the pop stars are liberal, if the grade schools are liberal, if the very language is liberal to the point where all the nice words have been co-opted as a painless liberal sedative, a Republican legislature isn’t going to be a shining city on a hill so much as one of those atolls in the Maldives being incrementally swallowed by Al Gore’s rising sea levels.

However the election had gone, conservatism’s fractious precriminations – David Frum vs Tony Blankley, Mark Levin vs Peggy Noonan – would be set to continue. But the lesson of the last grim year is that it’s not merely about candidates or policy or electoral strategy. We have to get back in the game in all the arenas we’ve ceded to liberalism – from kindergarten to blockbuster movies. Otherwise, as in Daniel Craig’s improvised casting call, we’ll be lucky to wind up with a cameo in the national narrative.

I think Steyn is spot on here. Where I differ is that I don't believe that conservatism is capable of successfully changing this situation. The conservative movement has had 50 years to achieve this and they didn't do it. That's more than enough time to determine the viability of a political movement. And so it's time to move on and devote our energies and resources to creating a movement that will be more likely to be successful. If we don't want to end up with a "cameo in the national narrative" then we have to write our own script and produce our own movie.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Governance, rulesets, and 21st century politics

Since this year's election loss there has been a lot of thinking by Republicans about why they lost and what they can do to correct their situation. Most of this thinking has been focused on retooling and updated campaign strategy and techniques. But this is not where Republicans have a problem. Republicans have not had a problem over the past 28 years winning elections and winning the White House and Congress. The problem has been with governance, that once they win elections they don't govern as conservatives. People can point their fingers at the Republican establishment, and corrupt, cynical, and hypocritical politicians, and not without cause. But it misses something very important which is that given the current organization of government it is just not possible to govern as a conservative or a libertarian. And here's why: Let's say the Libertarian Party actually got one of its candidates into the White House. Would he be able to govern as a libertarian? No. Presidents don't have the power to eliminate departments and reduce budgets he can't just go in an do anything he wants to do. A libertarian sitting the Oval Office would still have to find people to run the National Endowment for the Arts, HHS, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Labor and so on. His administration would have to formulate policy for running these organizations. He would be a libertarian running a New Deal/Great Society government.

It comes down to this: Ideological Hegemony --> Rulesets --> Governance. Let's go backwards with that. You can't govern as a conservative (or libertarian or whatever) because government operates by the New Deal/Great Society rulesets; and you can't change the rulesets unless you achieve ideological hegemony. A political movement that organizes itself around winning elections may indeed win elections but fail to actually govern in a way compatible with its ideology. Therefore, a political movement that wants to govern according to its ideology should develop its strategy towards achieving ideological hegemony rather than winning elections. Achieve ideological hegemony then you can initiate a ruleset reset and then governance will be aligned with your ideas regardless of whether the individual or party in office is an adherent of those ideas.

In the half century prior to the New Deal there was an open competition among a variety of ideas over what the rulesets would be for an industrializing America. That competition came to an end in the 1930s. An industrial age managerial liberalism achieved hegemony and instituted rulesets that would govern America for the next seven decades. In the 1950s conservatism emerged as an insurgent political movement that would temper many of the excesses and flaws of the New Deal/Great Society liberalism, but would never achieve ideological hegemony or initiate a ruleset reset. In the past 28 years Americans have shown that they prefer their New Deal/Great Society rulesets governed with a conservative sensibility, but they have no interest in replacing them with conservative rulesets.

So where does that put us now? As we transition out of the industrial age, the New Deal/Great Society liberalism vs. conservatism competition becomes irrelevant. After all what's the point of fighting over industrial age rulesets when we are transitioning into an information-service-entrepreneurial age? The period we are entering will be akin to that prior to the New Deal, it will be an open competition to determine which rulesets will govern the new era. In participating in that competition we need to focus our efforts toward winning ideological hegemony rather than winning elections. There will still be liberals and conservatives clinging to their industrial age ideologies and competition, but they will be like those in the Pentagon who are still trapped in the Cold War paradigm and don't get that the situation we are in is completely different.

We don't know what the new rulesets will be or what ideology will be invented to make sense of 21st century realities. The types of mental skills that we need are rooted around an eagerness and enthusiasm for open-ended imagining. A tolerance for uncertainty. A willingness to walk away from the conventional wisdom and seek out new ways of thinking and interpreting. We need to embrace the improvisational spirit of the jazz musician, the frontiersman, the entrepreneur. We also need to stop fighting the old fights and channel our energies and resources into the new competitions that really matter. The results of those competitions will determine how government and society will be organized over the next century.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"More Americans own their own companies than belong to trade unions"

An entrepreneurial age requires an Entrepreneurial Deal:

The New Deal was introduced into a world of giant organisations—of big businesses and big trade unions that were capable of striking deals with big government. But today’s economy is much more fluid. America’s most successful companies are entrepreneurial outfits like Apple and Google, which thrive on flexibility; even giant companies such as General Electric are breaking themselves up into entrepreneurial divisions. More Americans own their own companies (15%) than belong to trade unions (12%).

via The Economist

So what will be the long-term political implications of this economic transformation? How do we need to reform our government so that it can function appropriately in the new age? How do we persuade people that their long-held beliefs are outdated and irrelevant to our current realities?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama's Grand Strategy

So how will a President Obama approach grand strategy? It's too soon to say, of course, but we might be able to get a glimpse of what is to come. The Small Wars Journal links to a story about Obama tapping several people from the Center for a New American Security to serve on his transition team. In the summer I was googling around looking for interesting papers on grand strategy. Many of the papers and articles I found were by several center-left thinkers who I suspect are going to have an influence on Obama's grand strategy (Michele Flournoy, Shawn Brimley, Anne-Marie Slaughter, John Ikenberry) Below are links to those posts with excerpts from various papers. Several of the papers were part of CNAS's Solarium Project and are no longer available online [UPDATE:Available online (PDF) here], but they have been collected into a book which you can buy at Amazon: Finding Our Way: Debating American Grand Strategy At the bottom are direct links to three papers on grand strategy (pdf). Hopefully these posts and papers will give some insight into what we can expect from an Obama national security strategy:

On Michele Flournoy and the Solarium Project

Grand Strategy as Liberal Order Building

Four Basic Options for Grand Strategy

Key Tenets of American Grand Strategy

An Interesting Grand Strategy Discussion...

You have to embrace the complexity

American power did not destabilize world order; it helped create it

Three papers:

Strategic Leadership: Framework for a 21st Century National Security Strategy

Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: US National Security Strategy in the 21st Century

An Agenda for Liberal International Renewal

Finding Our Way: Debating American Grand Strategy

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Building the next economy and a new republic"

Richard Florida offers his take on our era of transformation and what it will take to build a new system for a 21st century America.

Today is much more like the mid-19th century and the time of Lincoln - the rise of a wholly new economic system and the large-scale class divides it produced. It is very difficult to even imagine the broad infrastructure or system architecture required to propel this emergent system of idea-driven, creative capitalism.

One thing is for certain: The old era will have to give way before the new era can take shape. The rise of industrial capitalism required a revolution in agricultural productivity and the mass shrinkage of farm-based employment. Remember Herbert Hoover’s mantra - “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Food had to become cheap to free up consumption and demand for cars and industrial products. The revolution in agriculture freed up capital and labor that could be redeployed in then expanding industrial economy.  The rise of single-family home ownership and the auto-oriented suburb then closed the consumption circuit of Fordism.

Building the next economy and a new republic will require a similarly fundamental transformation of the core sectors of Fordism. This is more than creating new technology and building a new green infrastructure. We will need to massively shrink the cost for consumption of houses and cars.

The new system will be unable to emerge if people are spending the overwhelming amount of their incomes on housing (mortgages plus maintenance, utilities, taxes) and auto-expenses. To do so, we will need to make the housing system much more flexible, massively increase the productivity and efficiency of housing production (I’ll be writing more on this soon), and enable people to become far less dependent on cars. Only this kind of massive shift in the underlying architecture of society will free up sufficient income and demand for the next new things and enable us to begin to build the new infrastructure which can set innovation and economic growth on a new trajectory. Who in the Obama administration is even thinking along these lines?

The clock of history is always ticking. Eventually, the place or places that can set in motion this shift will accure first-mover advantages similar to those that the U.S. gained in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Can this happen in the U.S.? Can Obama help catalyze this broad shift, or are we still too early in the historical process? What about entrenched U.S. interests - the insitutional rigidities the late Mancur Olson wrote about - can they be overcome and recast? Washington remains locked in a conversation which entails propping up the Fordist economy - a housing finance bailout, an auto bailout, a homewner bailout - when instead what is needed is to free up capital from these sectors and massively redeploy it into others. And if not the U.S., where and when might this happen? How long will it take?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Higher Ed-preneurship

All of our institutions are being challenged today by changing circumstances and will need to creatively adapt or die out. GM is the archetypal industrial age institution and it is failing because for whatever reasons its management and unions will not adapt to the new environent. Our system of higher education is in the same boat. We take the way colleges are organized and the way higher education is delivered for granted, but it is a recent development of the past 50-60 years. We need to think creatively about what it means to be educated in our time and how to train people for economic success. This is really a great opportunity for creative thinking. It may seem disrupting to some people, but these times only come now and again and we should be grateful that we live in an era that offers us the opportunity to invent the next era's institutions.

Like so many of our great industries and social sectors, higher education has grown huge, bureaucratic, and in many cases bloated (think 24-hour coffee shops in dorms). The ongoing trends of globalization, technology, and innovation continue to pressure societies and economies and America’s world leading system of higher education is going to have to respond just like other great institutions. There will not be enough ‘bailout’ money for everyone getting in line.

The campus as a vibrant market has always been one of the reasons that campus entrepreneurs exist. As our system of higher education undergoes these massive transformations, entrepreneurs of all sorts will push the change with new models, services, and firms. The best will reap incredible rewards.

"Entrepreneurs will lead us out of this mess"

I'm glad to see this being said, although it is not in itself remarkable, in fact it should be a no brainer. But what is remarkable is where it is posted: HuffPo. Getting Democrats to recognize that while an active government may be appropriate in some circumstances, it will be the entrepreneurs who create the way out of the current situation, and so it is essential to have policies implemented to foster entrepreneurship--and to avoid policies that stifle entrepreneurship. Mark Cuban:

Its great to see President-elect Obama aggressively taking on the economy prior to his taking office. Unfortunately, the economic advisory team that he has put together looks more like a semester's worth of great guest speakers for an MBA class than an economic advisory team that can truly help him.
There are a lot of great minds on the list:
Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Laura Tyson, who served as Clinton's top economic adviser; former Fed Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson; Time Warner Inc. Chairman Richard Parsons; former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman William Donaldson and Xerox Corp. Chief Executive Officer Anne Mulcahy.

Google Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Roel Campos, an ex-SEC commissioner, and Warren Buffett are also on the advisory board.

Notice anything missing?
Not a single entrepreneur. Yes Warren Buffett started a business, but he will be the first to tell you that he "doesn't do start ups". Which means there isn't a single person advising PE Obama that we know of that knows what it's like to start and run a business in this or any economic climate.That's a huge problem.
If we are going to solve our current economic problems, our president needs to get first hand information on the impact his proposed policies will have on real Joe the Plumbers. People who are 1-person companies living job to job, hoping they get paid on time. We need to know what the impact of his policies will be on the individually owned Chrysler Dealership in Iowa. The bodega in Manhattan. The mobile phone software startup out of Carnegie Mellon. The event planner in Dallas. The barbershop in L.A. The restaurant in Boston.
Entrepreneurs that start and run small businesses will be the propellant in this economy. PE Obama needs to have the counsel of those who will take the real risk inherent in creating companies and jobs. Those who put their money and lives on the line with their business.
PE Obama, I'm always available to help, but my recommendation would be to randomly go through the new incorporation filings and ask for volunteers to give feedback. Ask the people who are actually starting new businesses what they need.
Entrepreneurs will lead us out of this mess. Talk to them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"It's a state of mind, and they don't get it"

Innovations in technology, organizational models, and logistics will at some point inevitably be applied to government, changing how government is organized, how it operates and its role within society. The big government that we got in the 20th century was the inevitable result of the application of the innovations in technology, organizational models and logistics of industrialization. This was going to happen regardless of the outcome of the ideological competition that was taking place between the Civil War and WW2. The ideological competition determined the specific form the application of these innovations would take and the rulesets that would govern them, not whether they would be applied. Today we are again in an era where a variety of innovations have been emerging that will inevitably be applied to government:

Mayor Newsom was first the raise the issue of governing in this new era. He said that the Internet and social networks, create "a connection that is more useful." But, "most politicians are not there yet. It's a state of mind, and they don't get it. It's not about old or young, it's a new kind of politics."

But the panel seemed very hopeful that a citizenry connected over the Internet could help the government function. Newsom said, "Government can't solve our problems exclusively." The panel discussed using the Web for not just fund raising but to encourage citizen involvement in thorny issues, such as health care reform.

The ideological competition is about the larger vision that guides the application of the innovations, about the various conceptions of society, government, and the citizen that are in play. Updating classical liberal ideas for the 21st century means understanding the variety of changes that are taking place and crafting a vision and conceptual framework that can appeal to people in our time, embody our aspirations, guide the application of these innovations, and inform practical governance. This is the role that the New Deal/Great Society liberalism has been playing for decades. The conservative movement was never able to replace that version of liberalism, rather it served as an opposition movement that was successful in implementing various reforms. But time has moved on and both those ideologies are outdated relics of another era: most politicians are not there yet. It's a state of mind, and they don't get it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Few Good Books

The General's War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor

I read this book in the summer and could not put it down. A great account of the higher level decision-making in the Gulf War. Two things stood out for me while reading this: the extent to which the ghost of Vietnam influenced decisions and the chaotic nature of the planning.

The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created by William Bernstein

I read this a few years ago. This book is an excellent exploration of a subject that I'm very much interested in: the transition from the pre-modern world to modernity and the development of mass prosperity.

The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America by George Nash

I'm working my way through this book now and it is excellent. Anyone interested in politics and American history needs to read this book.

The Cattle Towns: A Social History of the Kansas Cattle Trading Centers Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City and Caldwell, 1867-1885 by Robert Dykstra

What fascinates me here is that these classic Wild West towns were entrepreneurial ventures. With cattle being brought up from Texas and the railroads moving west, the town builders were trying to find profitable locations to bring the two together and foster commerce.

Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War by Eric Foner

An excellent account of the different factions that formed the Republican Party in the 1850s and the ideas that motivated them. I'm particularly intrigued by the Free Labor ideology which seems to be an 1850s version of an entrepreneurial liberalism. Unfortunately only one chapter is devoted to it. I would like to find a more extensive study of the Free Labor ideology.

Starting a business, changing the world

One of the key tactics in the effort to disseminate ideas is to associate your ideas with something that people find appealing or that happens to be in vogue at the moment. Social entrepreneurship has been coming into vogue over the past several years. The idea of creating a for-profit enterprise for the purpose of solving a problem or meeting a need in society is catching on as a legitimate career path. This is exactly the kind of thing that proponents of market/civil society solutions to social problems should be getting into and championing. And yet whenever I read an article on social entrepreneurship it invariably is being pursued from a leftish perspective. Where are the classical liberals? Probably wasting time discussing the minutia of the economic theory of how the market can solve problems instead of actually creating the businesses that will solve these problems in the real world. Social entrepreneurship combines entrepreneurship with activism and is the perfect vehicle for championing the ideals of an entrepreneurial liberalism.

"I think many in my generation have lived their entire adult lives with a feeling of helplessness to change the world around them," says David R. Anderson, 25, founder of San Francisco-based Green Options Media, a network of sustainability blogs, and Renewzle, a lead-generation service for clean-energy installers. "The decreasing barriers to starting a business, especially online, have opened up a new world of social change, while at the same time providing an escape from the drudgery of a boring, corporate or otherwise ineffectual job."
Lara Galinsky, vice president of strategy at Echoing Green, a seed funding organization for social entrepreneurs, points to the prevalence of social entrepreneurship programs at colleges (Each of the top 10 business schools in the U.S. has at least one faculty member teaching the subject.) media attention, and philanthropic business leaders like Bill Gates and Pierre Omidyar.
"Because of their tremendous wealth and exciting philanthropic strategies, they've helped social entrepreneurship take the fast road," Galinsky says.
"The concept has gotten traction because of the popularity and knowledge about entrepreneurship in general, coupled with a growing interest among young people and others to make a real difference in the world," says Elizabeth Gatewood, Ph.D., director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. "People are more globally focused, have a growing concern about the environment and sustainability, and realize that there is more to life and finding satisfaction than just making money."
Echoing Green has provided seed grants and technical support to more than 450 social entrepreneurs over the past 20 years. Most of the organizations have been nonprofits, but "this year, we've definitely seen a surge of just straight for-profit, socially focused companies," Galinsky says. "That's a really interesting trend." She says that four of the 20 grants provided in 2008 will go to for-profits.
Galinsky says for-profit social entrepreneurs choose that structure because it makes the most sense for the business--not because they're trying to get rich.
"It's because it's a better model to realize their social mission. I would be hard-pressed to think they were doing it with the motivation of having high infusions of cash for themselves," Galinsky says.
They look at the laws where they're doing business, or if they're better positioned to receive investment dollars rather than philanthropic donations.
Anderson sees the for-profit model of social entrepreneurship as a mainstreaming effort--making "doing good" an everyday reality.
"I like to say it's a movement. It's not like this is a typical company or brand," Lewis says. "Everybody feels invested. We have retailers who feel like it's their product. Distributors feel like it's their product. Everyone takes ownership in it all the way down to the consumer, which is what I think makes it work."
"Making money is a necessity that often seems to get lost in companies with socially responsible missions, and I'd be lying if I said striking the balance between making money and creating a values-driven company culture was easy," Anderson says. "But it's not a zero-sum game. Just love what you do, don't be evil and focus on creating the conditions to carry out your company's mission in a sustainable manner. The rest will fall into place."

"If you have fire in the belly, you go to the U.S."

"The American entrepreneur has a passion for the market,” says Keith Blakely, founder and CEO of Nanodynamics, a pioneer in the revolutionary field of nanotechnology. While European fundamental research can sometimes be superior, American innovation is usually first to market. In the American vision, an idea is good only when the market buys it. Again, it’s a democratic view of the purpose of innovation. This explains the unique relationship in the United States between universities and business. In Western Europe, professors and entrepreneurs seldom talk to one another; in fact, to do so is often regarded as a breach of etiquette. In America, Nanodynamics uses university equipment, consults university professors, and shares its discoveries with universities.

Beyond the democratic principle, another engine is at work within these companies, one that existed on a much smaller scale in the early nineteenth century: what Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter dubbed “creative destruction” in 1942. Schumpeter meant that the new constantly replaces the old and that the market reallocates resources accordingly. Nanodynamics has offices in a former Ford plant in Buffalo, in the heart of the Rust Belt: low-skill jobs have been replaced with high-skill, better-paying ones. In Yorktown Heights, IBM survived several waves of creative destruction and now prospers by following Schumpeter’s principle internally: the company has sold its personal-computer division to a Chinese firm and now focuses on customer service and developing sophisticated systems.

Finally, there is American cultural diversity (which was not a factor in Jacksonian or Tocquevillian America). Wherever you come from, if you have fire in the belly, you go to the U.S., says Ajay Royyuru, who left India and eventually became manager of IBM’s computational biology center. Does Suvankar Sengupta of Nanodynamics feel nostalgic about Bengal? “As a land of opportunities,” he says, “the U.S. remains unchallenged, while you are never criticized for taking risks. Moreover, when you are good at what you do, nobody in America asks you where you come from.”

“A German company is ahead of us in the market,” admits Caine Finnerty, the Nanodynamics fuel-cell expert and a former Englishman. “But we’ll eventually take over while we tackle the subject from all cultural angles with our cosmopolitan team.”

As Milton Friedman loved to say: only in America.

There are people with fire in the belly all over the world, in every country, culture, race, ethnicity and religion but whose culture and country may not value and encourage the drive and energy of the entrepreneur and innovator. America is a country founded and built by and for people with fire in the belly so it is not a surprise that the US is a destination for those whose entrepreneurial spirit cannot be fully actualized in their countries of origin. Our challenge is to craft a concept of what it means to be an American and a vision of the American Experiment that is upgraded for our 21st century realities that can inspire these immigrants who have the fire in the belly and their children and get them to buy in to this vision and identify with it. Conservatism is incapable of doing this. What we need is a fire in the belly ideology, an entrepreneurial liberalism to counter the collectivist left. If we do this then it will provide the cultural and political context within which the entrepreneurialism expressed in the quoted paragraphs above can thrive in a complex, adaptive, self-organizing society.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Entrepreneurial Connections

One thing leads to another...
Purpleslog links to the kind of article that I really love reading.

"If you have a good product that you can produce, or that someone else can produce within the appropriate margins, you have access to a worldwide network for promoting it," Welytok said.

Welytok is pounding on that message with what she says are more than 100 clients of the Milwaukee law firm she started in 2005, Absolute Technology Law Group LLC. She's also hammering out her message at monthly meetings of three inventors and entrepreneurs clubs that meet in Mequon, West Bend and downtown Milwaukee.

Welytok has been facilitating the Mequon and West Bend groups for two years. She formed the Milwaukee group last month with some prodding from David Linz, southeast regional director for the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Network.
Since returning to work, she's started her law firm and the three inventors groups, and she's written two more books.

The books cover a range of topics, with titles such as "The Entrepreneur's Guide to Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, Trade Secrets and Licensing." She says she has another book scheduled to come out in February, which she is writing with Louis Foreman, creator of the PBS invention series called "Everyday Edisons."

"Jill should be the celebration of this town. She understands innovation, entrepreneurship and how moms and pops can take their dreams and convert them into real businesses or markets...

"If you get this groundswell of grass-roots entrepreneurial activity, you're going to get some winners."
Whipple organized Wisconsin's first inventors and entrepreneurs club in Juneau County in 2001 to create a "contagious" entrepreneurial environment where people could investigate ideas with group support.

The kind of meta-entrepreneurship Welytok is engaged in can also be adapted to serve a role in our post-war operations as Tom Barnett points out in a recent column:

The only exit strategy is jobs.

Soldiers and aid workers don't know anything about entrepreneurship and can't possibly build a national economy - only businesspeople can. The most crucial handoff is to the private sector, not the United Nations.

Creating private sector enterprises to foster "contagious entrepreneurial environments" can be a significant component in our counterinsurgency and post-war planning, as well as in shrinking the gap more generally, especially where the local community already has an entrepreneurial culture as in Najaf:

The boom also is strengthening ties between the Supreme Council — al-Sadr's main rival — and Najaf's merchant class, which takes pride in the city's famous entrepreneurial spirit.

It is that spirit, say residents, that has cost al-Sadr support here back in 2004 when his militiamen controlled Najaf, driving visitors away and forcing most businesses to shutter down.

Identifying communities with this kind of entrepreneurial spirit should be part of our human terrain research and we should already have a plan in place for dealing with them when we find them.

It is also something that should be part of our strategic communications operations by both government and private actors. In another post PurpleSlog looks at the glamour of the jihadi and how that contributes to attracting recruits. In addition to an effort to de-glamourize the jihadi, we need to offer an alternative. One of the advantages that we have is that there are long-standing commercial cultures throughout the Middle East. Therefore we should be able to champion the entrepreneur as the hero in the story of the liberalization (economic and otherwise) of the Middle East. The entrepreneur serves as a bridge from the pre-modern commercial culture to the modern commercial republic.

This includes Europe as well. The Europeans have long been prejudiced against economic liberalism. I think it is essential that we should wage a campaign in Europe (customized to the different countries of course) to further an entrepreneurial liberal economic order and the entrepreneur offers the best symbolic vehicle to do this. But we are going to have to overcome some very weird European prejudices:

Europe could use more people like Ehssan Dariani. The 26-year-old entrepreneur runs a hot Internet start-up called studiVZ—Europe's fastest-growing social network for university students. Since setting up in a cheap Berlin loft only last fall, he's already hired 25 people. Yet when Dariani looks back at his high-school days, a decade ago in the west German city of Kassel, he remembers his teachers warning against exactly what he's doing. "They taught us the market economy was a dangerous wilderness full of risk and bankruptcy," Dariani says. "We never learned how prices affect supply and demand, only about evil managers and unjust wages." If he'd listened to his teachers, he'd be among the vast majority of German students who dream of becoming civil servants or fitting into the comfortable hierarchy of a traditional corporation. Instead he set out and created some desperately needed jobs.

Ask any European what he learned at school about how the economy works, and you'll likely hear a similar story. A recent study of German high-school textbooks by the Institute for the German Economy, in Cologne, found entrepreneurs—instead of getting credit for creating jobs—taking the blame for everything from unemployment to alcoholism to Internet fraud and cell-phone addiction. Some high-school social-studies textbooks teach globalization as an unmitigated catastrophe; students are advised to consult the radical anti-globalization protest group Attac for further information. In France, books approved by the Education Ministry promote statist policies and voodoo economics. "Economic growth imposes a way of life that fosters stress, nervous depression, circulatory disease and even cancer," reports "20th-Century History," a popular high-school text published by Hatier. Another suggests Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were dangerous free-market extremists whose reforms plunged their countries into chaos and despair.

Such blatant disinformation sheds new light on the debate over why it is that Europeans lag so far behind Americans in rates of entrepreneurship and job creation. It also helps explain widespread resistance among Europeans to accepting even the smallest reforms of their highly regulated economies. But recently there appears to be a small but growing backlash against the popular vilification of capitalism. Unthinkable only a decade ago, business associations, think tanks and a whole slew of capitalist and libertarian activists, many only in their 20s and 30s, are leading a tiny but noisy counterattack. Their common goal: making sure the next generation of Europeans is less in tune with Karl Marx and more with Adam Smith.

Fighting windmills? Maybe not. In Germany, the Banking Association is helping change attitudes by supplying instructional materials explaining markets to more than 20,000 teachers. "A few years ago the Education Ministry would have kicked us out," says the association's Wilhelm B├╝rklin. One participating social-studies teacher, Christel Stoldt at Winkelmann High School in the town of Stendal, reports rising interest among students about how the market economy works. "I have to overcome a lot of prejudice against companies and entrepreneurs," she says. In France, the Centre de l'Entreprise has sent several hundred teachers on internships to companies. Director Jean-Pierre Boisivon says they often return astonished that the corporate world isn't the Darwinian struggle between bosses and workers they'd been taught it was. Junior Achievement, a U.S. organization promoting student entrepreneurship, now has three dozen European chapters and plans to reach 5 million students by 2010. JA Europe chief Caroline Jenner says that 30 percent of the kids who participate in its programs later start their own companies, compared with just 7 percent in the general population. "How else are we going to get jobs for 19 million unemployed Europeans if we don't teach kids that entrepreneurship is OK?" she asks.

You don't win this competition of ideas with a lot of theory, rather you win it by appealing to people's aspirations, imagination, and visions of what they can be. The entrepreneur is the hero of the modern liberal democratic order.

An Army of Boyds

There was an interesting discussion recently on John Boyd at the Small Wars Journal. A few comments on Boyd's role within the defense bureaucracy caught my eye and got me thinking that what we need is an Army of Boyds in every department and agency, every branch of government, federal, state and local, in the universities, at GM, indeed throughout our entire society:

Mark of Zenpundit:

On a serious note, the highest value that I see in Boyd's work was modeling the ethic of being a continuously learning, adaptive, thinking, competitor in a dynamic environment. Something that was very much against the cultural, organizational, grain of the U.S. military at the time, not to mention society at large.
Much of Boyd's work is modeling a process of dynamic synthesis, of continual learning and adapting competitively and reaching to fields further and further away from "pure" military concerns in order to generate new insights.

Another commenter said:

I respect Boyd because he took on the system from the inside...His genius lay in his ability to be a governmental guerrilla, an insider insurrectionary, a bureaucratic insurgent...

The kind of role that Boyd played within the DOD is played in our economy by entrepreneurs. By creating new competitors, products, services, techniques etc. entrepreneurs are constantly challenging existing businesses to remain competitive and to be learning institutions. Like Boyd, entrepreneurs are "modeling the ethic of being a continuously learning, adaptive, thinking, competitor in a dynamic environment." This is one of the many reasons that I think that advocating entrepreneurship is so important for our society: by celebrating entrepreneurs and championing entrepreneurship we are reinforcing values, attitudes, and behaviors that are necessary for our society to remain innovative and adaptive.

We also need a political movement that can play the Boydian role more generally throughout our society. That is, a political movement whose vision of a 21st century America is "modeling the ethic of being a continuously learning, adaptive, thinking, competitor in a dynamic environment". This would be a dynamist alternative to the collectivist left's stasist vision. What would that kind of a movement look like? What would its symbols and imagery be? What kinds of stories would it tell? What would be its vision of the American Experiment?

Book: Freedom's Power

A book I finished reading over the summer that I have been intending to recommend is
Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism by Paul Starr. In my experience most left-liberals don't know the history of liberalism. If you talk about classical liberalism they think you are referring to FDR and Truman. Which is why I found this book interesting. Starr is a left-liberal who does understand this history and he tells the story of liberalism from his perspective without being hostile to classical liberalism. If you are used to conservative and libertarian narratives of this history you won't agree with every aspect of his interpretation but I think it is useful to get outside of your usual perspective and this book does offer that opportunity even if you end up disagreeing with him.

Liberalism is notoriously difficult to define. The term has been used to describe a sprawling profusion of ideas, practices, movements, and parties in different societies and historical periods. often emerging as a philosophy of opposition, whether to feudal privilege, absolute monarchy, colonialism, theocracy, communism, or fascism, liberalism has served, as the word suggests, as a force for liberation, or at least liberalization--for the opening up the channels of free initiative. But liberalism in its oppositional and even revolutionary moments has not necessarily been the same as the liberalism of established parties and governments. In different countries, depending on their particular histories, parties bearing the name "Liberal" have variously ended up on the right or left and thereby colored the understanding of what liberalism means as a political philosophy. This book primarily reflects the understanding of liberalism in Britain and the United States, though it has been conceived in substantially different ways even in the Anglo-American world.

Two conceptions of liberalism chiefly concern us, as they help organize the argument in this book. In its broader meaning, liberalism refers to the fundamental principles of constitutional government and individual rights shared by modern liberals and conservatives alike, though often differently interpreted by them. This tradition of constitutional liberalism--classical political liberalism--emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, culminated in the American and French Revolutions, and continues to provide the foundation of the modern liberal state. The classical liberals themselves were a diverse group, but they generally stood for freedom of conscience and religious liberty, freedom of thought and speech, the division of governmental powers, an independent civil society, and rights of private property and economic freedom that evolved in the nineteenth century into the doctrine of laissez-faire. This cluster of ideas is the principle subject of the first part of this book. The second part turns to modern democratic liberalism, which has developed out of the more egalitarian aspects of the broader tradition and serves as the basis of contemporary liberal politics. The relationship between liberalism in these two phases has been predominantly cumulative: while rejecting laissez-faire economic policy, modern democratic liberalism continues to take the broader tradition of constitutional liberalism as its foundation. that is why it is possible to speak not only of the two separately, but also of an overarching set of ideas that unites them.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Working through the Wish List

A few more books to add to the reading pile arrived this week:

Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor by Donald Davis

I'm hoping to produce a few audio documentaries over the winter and this mission is one of the topics I'm looking into.

The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World by Peter Schwartz

I've been very eager to read more about scenario planning. What intrigues me is the use of storytelling and the focus on intuitive and imaginative thinking.

Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution by Joseph Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin

Until I came across this book I did not know that the Oneida had fought on the Patriot side during the American Revolution. This is something that deserves to be more well known.

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity by Baumol, Litan, and Schramm

This book has been favorably referenced by PurpleSlog, Tom Barnett and other people whose views I respect and I can't wait to dive in given my interest in entrepreneurship and the kinds of institutions required to sustain an entrepreneurial economy.

Monday, October 6, 2008


One morning I woke up early and saw that the light in the valley was interesting and so grabbed a cup of coffee, a hat, my camera, and my dog and raced up to the top of the mountain (the hang gliding launch site) to make some pictures. It was a chilly fall morning and the wind was howling over the ridgeline and was making my eyes water and so most of my pictures were out of focus but a few came out ok.

An 1850s vintage county courthouse.

I don't adhere to any religion but I love religious architecture. I'm a big fan of red sandstone.

A Pennsylvania sunset.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Liberal Developmentalism

I've become very interested in the role of American ideology in our foreign policy. It is interesting to go back and look at what ideas were animating Americans in the past and though it's not a surprise since those ideas are still current in some form they don't necessarily conform to the narratives propagated by conservatives and progressives. Last week I finished reading Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation which was excellent and looked at the role of ideology in foreign policy from the colonial days up to the Spanish-American War. Now I'm reading Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945 by Emily Rosenberg:

The American Dream of high technology and mass consumption was both promoted and accompanied by an ideology that I shall call liberal-developmentalism...Liberal-developmentalism merged nineteenth-century tenets with the historical experience of America's own development, elevating the beliefs and experiences of America's unique historical time and circumstance into developmental laws thought to be applicable everywhere.

The ideology of liberal-developmentalism can be broken down into five major features: (1) belief that other nations could and should replicate America's own developmental experience; (2) faith in private free enterprise; (3) support for free or open access for trade and investment; (4) promotion of free flow of information and culture; and (5) growing acceptance of governmental activity to protect private enterprise and to stimulate and regulate American participation in international economic and cultural exchange.

To many Americans, their country's economic and social history became a universal model. In order to become a modern society, a nation needed extensive capital investment generated by foreign borrowing and by exports; development of educational, transportation, communication, and banking institutions; a steady supply of cheap labor; maximization of individual initiative for people deemed most efficient; wide-open land use and freewheeling enviromental practices; and a robust private business sector solidly linked to capital-intensive, labor-saving technology. This blueprint, drawn from America's experience, became the creed of most Americans who dealt with foreign nations.
Central to the developmental process were tenets drawn from nineteenth-century liberalism...

Encouraging individual initiative through private enterprise was an important canon of nineteenth-century liberalism. Liberalism, of course, grew up in opposition to artificial, statist monopoly or government-conferred privilege. Freedom, in the American tradition, meant absence of the autocratic state and the full play of competing individual initiatives through private ownership. Private enterprise was free because it was not shackled by an overbearing governmental structure. And celebrants of the American system generally credited private business, above all, with producing rapid industrial development and increasing abundance. To be sure, nineteenth-century government, particularly states and localities, did not remain aloof from the process of economic growth. But government intervened in the economy primarily in order to release the energies of the private sector. Government kept the pump of American business in working order, but it did not raise and lower the handle.

"The perfectly organized event, Saul Alinsky style"

So this is how a war of ideas is fought. Who would know better than the son of Saul Alinsky:

ALL THE elements were present: the individual stories told by real people of their situations and hardships, the packed-to-the rafters crowd, the crowd's chanting of key phrases and names, the action on the spot of texting and phoning to show instant support and commitment to jump into the political battle, the rallying selections of music, the setting of the agenda by the power people. The Democratic National Convention had all the elements of the perfectly organized event, Saul Alinsky style.

Barack Obama's training in Chicago by the great community organizers is showing its effectiveness. It is an amazingly powerful format, and the method of my late father always works to get the message out and get the supporters on board. When executed meticulously and thoughtfully, it is a powerful strategy for initiating change and making it really happen. Obama learned his lesson well.

I am proud to see that my father's model for organizing is being applied successfully beyond local community organizing to affect the Democratic campaign in 2008. It is a fine tribute to Saul Alinsky as we approach his 100th birthday.


Via Melanie Phillips

"It was not a miracle at all. It is very easily explained."

One of the most frustrating things over the past few years has been the Bush administration's failure to challenge the lies and misinterpretations propagated by the media, activists and its political opponents. So it is good to see that Gen. Petraeus is willing to directly correct the media's spin:

SPIEGEL: One of the great miracles in all this is the behavior of Moqtada al-Sadr, who for some time now has kept his Mahdi Army quiet.

Petraeus: It was not a miracle at all. It is very easily explained. The Sadr movement’s reputation was tarnished badly by the actions of the militia that bear the Sadr name. The Shiite population came to reject the militia as it no longer needed militia protection from al-Qaida. Elements of the militia were extorting money from shopkeepers, they were kidnapping for ransom, they were linked to the killing of two southern governors and three police chiefs and they caused reprehensible violence in the whole city of Karbala in August 2007. Al-Sadr realized that his movement was on the verge of the worst possible situation -- popular rejection -- and he declared a cease-fire. The same followed the violence precipitated by the militia and so-called special groups in March and April of this year, when those elements sustained very significant losses in terms of leaders and fighters -- and was, again, in jeopardy of being rejected by the people. Al-Sadr really had no logical alternative.

SPIEGEL: And the Sunnis, on the other hand, were bribed into cooperation, as Bob Woodward writes in his new book "The War Within"?

Petraeus: That's not completely accurate. I will tell you what we have done. The Sunni Arabs began to realize that they had made a huge mistake by not voting in the election of 2005 and by not being part of the new Iraq. They had reasons for this: They were effected by the disestablishment of the military and by de-Baathification (the dismantling of Saddam Hussein's party) in winter 2007-2007. They increasingly recognized that their future lay in being part of the solution rather than a continuing part of the problem. But they couldn't reject al-Qaida without our provision of security. So we took care of their security, we moved into their neighborhoods, we protected their tribal leaders who led the rejection of al-Qaida. And then we cleared many of their towns and cities and rural areas of al-Qaida Iraq and other insurgents, sometimes with their help, but often without it. And once their areas were clear, many of them sought to help us keep them secure -- and, over time, we began hiring them to man checkpoints and help keep their areas clear. You know, we had money for emergency reconstruction programs, and this seemed a wise investment -- as reconstruction is not possible without security -- and they helped to maintain it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"Small-scale work"

We seem to be in an anti-liberal moment both at home and abroad. Although the advice on a course of action below was written for Russian liberals, it applies reasonably well to what we need to do in the US.

Russian liberalism is not just in crisis, politically speaking. It has ceased to exist. It is not represented in the parliament, it has disappeared as a focus of public debates, even among intellectuals, and its claims to be a credible and politically attractive ideology now seem vain if not preposterous. I use the term "Russian liberalism" as an umbrella concept embracing the political practices and mechanisms, both the neoliberal and social liberal types, which identified the Russian "exit from communism" with the establishment of the rule of law, political and ideological pluralism, the market economy and an openness to the West.
The same liberals today castigate the regime, and with good reason. The absence of an independent judiciary, severe limitations of the freedom of the mass media, rampant corruption in all branches of bureaucracy and the systematic harassment of nearly all opposition are genuine ills. It is one thing, though, to articulate all these grievances and quite another to set out an attractive and politically mobilizing ideology. Russia's liberals have to send forth a message that resonates with the broader public, and this resonance can't just be some sort of rehearsal of people's "superstitions." It means coming up with a compelling alternative.
If the opposition liberals want to escape from their confinement to the political salons of Moscow and St. Petersburg, they must come to grips with the country's new political and economic realities. They must disclose the present system's inherent tensions, and they must address actual grievances by proposing feasible and popular political courses of action. It is not enough to recycle the mantra of human rights violations because grassroots actions are required. Russia's liberals might find it worthwhile to begin with what former Czech President Vaclav Havel dubbed "small-scale work" when discussing how communism in the Soviet bloc could be resisted. It was a strategy of very concrete small deeds which although seemingly unambitious politically enhanced an alternative public morality, promoted independent networks of cooperation and steeped the reform movement's would-be leaders in a realistic and nonelitist democratic culture.

Four Photographs

A few pictures from my time up in Pennsylvania.


Well, I've been pretty busy the past 6 weeks or so helping the school I attended last winter open a new branch. While it has been only temporary work it has offered the opportunity to get some quality time with an HD digital video camera and learn more about Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools, Audition, Motion. I really love working with these programs and equipment. It's been exciting the past few years as I've discovered a passion for audio and video production that did not exist before.

But while I have been enjoying learning and exploring a new-found passion, I've been increasingly enraged and depressed by the actions of our political class, regardless of party. Is it going too far to conclude that our political class is a greater threat to America than Al Qaeda? Yeah, but it's hard to see how whatever good they do outweighs the bad. I guess the only consolation is that as I read more political history I realize that this is not a unique problem of our time and that the US has done pretty well for itself despite our politicians. Nevertheless I'm completely disconnected from this presidential election. I'm still waiting to receive my voter registration card even though I registered to vote in August. Not that it will matter who I vote for since my state, Maryland, will be won overwhelmingly by Obama, regardless of whether I vote for him or McCain.

I'll have some more posts up throughout today as I try to get caught up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"American power did not destabilize world order; it helped create it"

Another interesting paper by John Ikenberry: Power and Liberal Order: America's Postwar World Order in Transition:

In this essay, I make four arguments. First, the American postwar order – which has occupied the center of world politics for half a century – is a historically novel political formation. This ‘American system’ is organized around a dense array of rules, institutions, and partnerships spread across global and regional security, economic, and political realms. It is an order built on ‘liberal hegemonic’ bargains, diffuse reciprocity, public goods provision, and an unprecedented array of intergovernmental institutions and working relationships. The advanced democracies live in a ‘security community’ where the use or threat of force is unthinkable. This is not empire; it is an American-led open-democratic political order.

Second, transformations in the global system are making it more difficult to maintain some of the liberal features of this order – and so the stability and integrity of this old American order are increasingly at risk. The two most important sources of breakdown are the rise of American unipolarity and the transformation of global security threats. The first of these transformations has involved the long-term ‘flipping’ of the Westphalian state system. America's power has been on the rise since the end of the Cold War, while state norms of sovereignty have eroded. This makes US power worrisome to the rest of the world, and it erodes the balance of power logic of the previous geopolitical eras. Likewise, new security threats – not uniformly shared by old alliance partners – erode the indivisibility of security that underlay the American system. Strategic cooperation between old partners is harder, and it is easier for the United States to go its own way and for European and East Asian countries to depend less on the United States or simply to free-ride on American security provision. As a result the postwar alliance system – so crucial to the stability of American political and economic relations with Europe and East Asia – has been rendered more fragile and tenuous.

Third, these shifting global circumstances mean that both liberal and neo-imperial logics of order are put in play. Both logics are deeply rooted in American political culture and both have been manifest in American diplomacy over the last century. The liberal logic has been manifest most fully in the Atlantic community, and its institutional expressions include NATO and multilateral economic regimes. The neo-imperial logic of order would take the shape of a global ‘hub and spoke’ system. This is order built around bilateralism, ‘special relationships’, client states, and patronage-oriented foreign policy. America's postwar ‘hub and spoke’ security ties with East Asia offer a glimmering of this approach. As we shall see, both liberal and neo-imperial logics continue to offer a mixture of benefits and costs for the American governance of unipolarity.

Finally, despite Washington's imperial temptation, the United States is not doomed to abandon rule-based order. This is true if only because the alternatives are ultimately unsustainable. A neo-imperial system of American rule – even the ‘hub and spoke’ version that currently holds sway in East Asia – is too costly, fraught with contradictions, and premised on an inflated accounting of American power. Likewise, there are an array of incentives and impulses that will persuade the United States to try to organize unipolarity around multilateral rules and institutions. The United States may want to renegotiate rules and institutions in some global areas, but it ultimately will want to wield its power legitimately in a world of rules and institutions. It will also have incentives to build and strengthen regional and global institutions in preparation for a future ‘after unipolarity’. The rising power of China, India, and other non-Western states presents a challenge to the old American-led order that will require new, expanded, and shared international governance arrangements.

In this essay, I look first at the features of the American postwar order. After this, I discuss the rise of unipolarity and other shifts in the global system that are altering the foundations of support for this liberal hegemonic system. Finally, I look at the forces that continue to give the United States reasons to support and operate within a rule-based international system.

Video: Slaughter and Ikenberry at CFR

This is an hour-long talk by Anne-Marie Slaughter and John Ikenberry at the Council on Foreign Relations about their paper Forging a World of Liberty Under Law:

Zakaria BBC Interview: Post-American World

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"You really have to embrace the complexity”

The Washington Diplomat has an interesting profile of Anne-Marie Slaughter, co-author of a couple of the grand strategy papers (here and here) I linked to a few weeks ago.

“I always say the 21st century is a really bad time for control freaks. Even for the best leaders and managers it’s more like surfing and balancing. You really have to embrace the complexity.”
Several years ago, Slaughter and a colleague at Princeton, G. John Ikenberry, launched the Princeton Project on National Security, which brought together nearly 400 experts from government, academia, business and the nonprofit sector to analyze global challenges and develop a new conceptual framework for U.S. foreign policy. Under the honorary chairmanship of former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and former Secretary of State George Shultz, the three-year, bipartisan initiative held nine conferences in the United States and overseas and commissioned 17 working papers on critical national security issues.

According to Slaughter, the project was inspired in part by the work done more than half a century earlier by George Kennan, the legendary U.S. diplomat and Princeton professor. His so-called “X” essay in Foreign Affairs in 1947 outlined the main elements of the containment doctrine that would guide U.S. foreign policy for more than four decades.

“In a way, we set out to write a collective ‘X’ article, to do together what no one person in our highly specialized world could hope to do alone. I don’t think that even someone of George Kennan’s caliber could tackle the breadth of issues required to formulate a successful national security strategy today,” Slaughter said.

“One of the things that I took away from this project is that the search for the one big issue that will dominate the 21st century is misguided. You have to embrace complexity or at least accept it,” she added. “That doesn’t mean you don’t have any priorities, but it does mean you have to think about strategy differently. It’s much more about being ready to respond than setting a rigid agenda. There are so many different players and so many different issues.”

Given this complexity, Slaughter believes it is unrealistic to expect the United States to be guided by a single organizing principle for its foreign policy, such as the containment strategy used to confront communism during the Cold War. She strongly endorses the Princeton Project’s assertion that the main goal of U.S. policy should be to seek “A World of Liberty Under Law,” which she says “captures what we are really trying to achieve: open societies operating under the rule of law.”