As a part of the research work I’m doing for my book, I’m reading radical economist, Umair Haque‘s, The New Capitalist Manifesto. In it, Haque posits a set of Laws for the 21st Century business and describes something that, though referred to in the book, is laid out elsewhere as The Meaning Organisation. Given my deep interest not only in the business innovation Haque’s book argues for, but also in open government, I’ve been thinking about how these laws might be modified to fit a world of open government, fit to govern for the future.
Certainly, government around the world operates much like the dinosaur businesses Haque argues against. Much governing, and indeed politics, is done in the cause of expediency, for a quick fix or to quiet a restive citizenry or opposition. While the overall aims of most democratic government may be worthy, governing is rarely done with generational social good in mind, or is considerate of economic good of the entire populace. So too the other laws look interesting in this light.
So, here is my attempt at redefining The Laws of Constructive Capitalism into a set of Laws for Constructive Government. By no means do I think they are perfect, but perhaps they can spark some conversation. My notes are in plain text with no emphasis.
The Laws of Constructive Government
1. A government cannot allow economic, social or physical harm
“Through the act of policy or program, A GOVERNMENT CANNOT, by action or inaction, ALLOW people, communities, society, the natural world, or future generations to come to ECONOMIC, SOCIAL OR PHYSICAL HARM.”
I’d like to see all policy and program ideas and implementations tested against a harm measure to ensure that neither current nor future aspects of the measures are delivering a harm that can be avoided. It’s kind of like a triple bottom line for policy development and program delivery.
2. Thick value is authentic, meaningful and sustainable
“the fundamental challenge of 21st century government is creating more value of higher QUALITY, NOT just low quality value in greater QUANTITY.”
Ill-considered, knee-jerk reactions to negative opinion, review or actions are all around us. In Australia, missteps such as premature cancellations of grant programs, ill-considered plans for Internet censorship and detention of selected asylum seekers all represent the creation of thin value—an overproduction of bads and underproduction of goods (in the non-widget sense). From the failings of Afghanistan, where Western military action has resulted in the establishment of an ingrained thugocracy to the NT Intervention in Australia whose failings in respect of the very people it purports to want to help are manifold, governments continue to take actions of questionable authenticity, meaning and sustainability. Governments should aim for policy and program implementations that are founded in long term societal and economic good based in thinking and action that will provide for real value.
3. Next-level policy advantage is constructive (not just competitive)
“Creating 21st century policy advantage demands a quantum leap: NEXT-LEVEL POLICY ADVANTAGE IS CONSTRUCTIVE, NOT JUST COMPETITIVE. Competitive advantage means: to the creator of the most value go the spoils of policy reform. But that value might be vanishingly thin – as it was for Wall St, Detroit, the Gap, big food, big pharma, or big media. Constructive policy advantage means: to the creator of the thickest, goopiest, highest-quality policy value, go the spoils of implementation.”
So much policy today is made up of thin value—quick fixes in the name of opinion poll advantage or to be seen as “doing something”—rather than long-term decisions that build advantage and social innovation into the reform agenda. Constructive Government policy reform should rather focus on response over reaction and creating generational social benefit.
4. Constructive policy reform is disruptive
“CONSTRUCTIVE POLICY advantage IS deeply, sharply, lethally DISRUPTIVE. When the two go head-to-head, industrial age sources of competitive policy advantage—cost advantage, party identity, vote margin, scale and scope, and differentiation—are almost always pulverized by the new sources of constructive policy advantage: loss advantage, responsiveness, resilience, creativity, and difference.”
Imagine a policy reform perspective that wasn’t about garnering votes and upping the opinion poll margin. Rather, imagine all policy reform and implementation being about social goods, decreasing bureaucracy, creating a resilient nation, creative problem solving and a better world across generations.
5. Tomorrow is today
“20th century governments built value chains. 21st century governments are building value cycles instead—because value cycles let them renew resources for TOMORROW, instead of merely exploiting them for TODAY. By utilizing value cycles, Constructive Governments are learning to achieve not merely an industrial age policy advantage, but are leaping past it, to attain a loss advantage.”
Certainly, awareness of the need for sustainable policy is growing, but it’s largely emerging in the progressive Left of politics. I’d rather see it (notwithstanding fundamental ideological differences across the political spectrum) appearing throughout. It’s certainly doable, presuming political expediency is abandoned as a first principle. Even on the progressive Left, expediency rules at times. Policy reform ought to focus on renewal or even growth of resources and elimination or consumption of waste.
6. People, not (inflexible) policy
“20th century governments build policy propositions. 21st century governments hold value conversations instead. Conversations are had with, by, and for PEOPLE, NOT inert, mass-made “POLICY”. Conversations are had with people, communities, and society – and they are the key to replacing inflexible policy reactions with thoughtful responsiveness.”
As a young public service graduate, I was taught that policy is exactly that – policy. It’s neither law nor regulation and ought to be subject to consideration before implementation. That is, if the policy doesn’t fit, do something else that is better—ideally for the government and the subject of the policy decision. In the same way, this law considers the betterment of society before inflexible implementation of policy.
7. Principles, not plans
“20th century governments build strategies. 21st century governments begin, instead, with philosophies. Philosophies express the “first PRINCIPLES” of authentic, enduring policy creation, NOT just near-term PLANS to capture or extract value. They are the key to shifting past scale—to resilience.”
Ah, principle. With increasingly centrist government across the democratic spectrum, the principles behind Left and Right are increasingly meaningless. So, instead, let’s have governments come to the people with an agenda founded in philosophies that will innovate, creating a resilient society, capable of withstanding change—political, social and environmental—over a multi-generational long term.
8. Impossible, not possible
“Constructive Governments focus on achieving the IMPOSSIBLE—NOT just settling for the humdrum, workaday POSSIBLE. Instead of competing for votes and opinion, they are masters of policy creativity: the art of popping new policy agendas into existence that rivals have long since written off as undoable, unattainable, or simply impractical.”
Constructive Government looks to ambitious policy and program reform. They attempt (and ideally are successful) at fundamental change; change that their rivals see as unachievable. Sometimes, they’ll implement those changes in the face of strong opposition—from the short-term thinkers politically and from society—because those changes will bring about a greater good. It’s an interesting thought.
9. Outcomes, not advantage
“20th century governments seek pragmatic policy outcomes first, last, and always. 21stcentury governments know that the work they do, the stuff they implement, and the words they say are all meaningless unless it has resulted in tangible, positive OUTCOMES that enhance the well-being of people, communities, society, and future generations—NOT just if it earns near-term ADVANTAGE. Meaning is the key to breaking through the glass ceiling of superficial, skin-deep “differentiation”, and instead making a difference. Think of it as the cherry on the double fudge triple chocolate sundae of thick value.”
Outcomes > outputs. There’s a novel idea. It’s hard to take such a long view into the now. Governments in recent times talk a lot about this sort of thing; David Cameron’s Big Society is one such vision that appears to be turning into so much talk. But execution is where it counts.
10. Smart beats dumb
“20th century governing often results in dumb policy: policy that is locally, globally, and economically self-destructive. It’s built on consumption and expediency instead of social innovation and societal investment, and the rusting iron law of diminishing returns. It’s a model left over from the industrial revolution – and in the 21st century, it is failing to produce an authentically shared prosperity, rather it is prone to more and more frequent and violent bubbles, crashes, and crises. SMART policy BEATS DUMB: it’s built on investment in increasing returns for people, programs and resources, whose real, uncertainty-adjusted returns are positive sum.”
No side of politics has a lock on dumb policy. In fact, all of them are pretty good at it. And good at opposing it. But then they come up with their own policy clangers. I’d rather see all policy formation taken away from the on-the-fly doorstop interview sound grab, election period town halls and focus group opinions and founded in real research, informed from a wealth of diverse views and factors—academia, science, society, regular people, sustainability, climate experts, Nobel Prize winners, plumbers, little kids.
11. Better is better
“In the 20th century, worse was often better. What was better for the policy and budget bottom line was usually worse for people, communities, and society. In the 21st century, the tables are turning. BETTER IS BETTER. Constructive governments earn higher quality policy and budget outcomes by creating value that accrues to people, communities, society, the natural world, and future generations alike – instead of harming them by shifting costs to them or borrowing benefits from them creating short term balance or surplus in the name of political expediency. In turn, they’re beginning to render industrial age rivals who can only create thin value uncompetitive, unconstructive, and just plain irrelevant.”
GFC, anyone? Urban planning and development flaws in Brisbane and other flood affected areas throughout Australia this Summer? And have we, or will we really reform enough to avoid another round? Let’s have some government that works with better in mind. At all levels.
12. Better than isn’t good enough
“Most governments still conceive of superiority as being “better than” a cohort of immediate, familiar competitors; in particular their political opposition. Prepare for disruption: the bar of success has just been knocked into the next galaxy. Constructive Governments aren’t merely seeking to be just a tiny, incremental bit “BETTER THAN” rivals in yesterday’s terms—because it ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH to create a constructive advantage. They are fundamentally redefining what success means, to encompass mattering most to people, communities, society, and future generations. When a Constructive Government comes to town, good enough isn’t good enough – and often being “better than” in yesterday’s terms is a downright disadvantage.”
More than anything, this Law reminds me of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow. A better product isn’t enough, your product (or in the case of government policy and program) needs to be outstanding! How long will it be before we see a Constructive Government come to town? The election of the Obama government, with its catchcry of “Yes We Can” was seen by many as the promise of exactly this. Now, perhaps, the best we can do is compare that government and its President to a fictional one that seemed to be what was hoped for.
“Here’s the competitive logic of the next decade: revolutionise—or get revolutionised. So the only question left is this: where’s your revolution?”
Well, yes. Quite.