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 valuean 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.

13. Rev­o­lu­tionise

“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.