Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crowd sourcing democracy

In democracies, elections are the moments when the tectonic plates of political alignment shift.  The  pressure that moves these plates derives in part from subterranean drivers of the economy.  When these fundamental drivers change, politics needs to incorporate this new reality in a timely manner.  When the politics are not flexible enough to do that, and new and changing needs get no hearing, then the public discourse grows harsher and radical and sudden shifts become more likely. Think of the 19th century transformation from agrarian to industrial economies in North America and Europe as an example.  Technological change produced massive social change and a reordering of society.  Political theory and practice struggled mightily to make sense of this.  Whether through Marxism or  through capitalism, the ripples are still felt today.  But change continues. American politics struggles at this moment on how to change social support systems that were created at the height of our industrialization process -- dating from before the Second World War.  The American economy that existed when those were created has long since disappeared.  Our politics is working on how to have this tectonic shift reflected elsewhere in our lives.  And now, with the acceleration of the Information Age, we face new challenges. 

What our Founding Fathers left behind is still quite remarkable.  The democratic impulse combined with a broad franchise, while ancient in its origins, is consistently modern in so many surprising respects.   The wigged Revolutionaries who trotted to Philadelphia in 1787 to debate a new Constitution could not have been further from our modern techno-savvy entrepreneurs, but each understood a basic truth that has proven persistently true -- a crowd has a wisdom unto itself, and by putting something to the crowd in a vote, that wisdom can emerge.  We know it now as "crowd sourcing".  Let the people speak.  In politics, this crowd sourcing impluse allows the relevant ideas to rise to the top of the agenda which in the long run is the best way that people's concerns get heard. 

This is all preamble to a blog post about a book on jobs in the new economy, but that will have to wait for my next post.