A Unified Theory: Networkism

fountainhead

Recently, I was listening to the Reason Podcast hosted by Nick Gillespie and his interview of Jonathon Hoenig.  Both are Libertarians and Hoenig in fact just published a new set of essays revisiting Ayn Rand’s Objectivist writings.  Their Libertarian contemporaries like to call her philosophies “Americanism” because the country was founded on the belief of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which are all very Individualist notions of importance.  They postulate that Government only exists to protect these individual freedoms.  (Objectivism)

Hoenig is a critic of Collectivism, which is what we commonly refer to as Socialism (doing what is best for the collective good) as well as “America First” which puts the nation above the individual; heresy to Objectivists.  These criticisms and the hosts’ conversation around other political philosophies, got me to thinking about where I stand.  I acknowledge that I don’t fit comfortably into any of these philosophies or the political ideals that attempt to embody them.  But since I hate inconsistency and hypocrisy, I thought it would be impolite to not find a theory that fits for me.  In the process I think I have stumbled on the beginnings of something new that people intuitively know, but don’t necessarily put into practice as a basis for policy prescriptions.

As to the ‘norms’, I like how Conservatism focuses on market forces to create incentives to always be improving your lot in life.  But I have no taste for the cultural conservatism that pretends to know what is best for people based on religious or ‘moral’ grounds.  Those fly in the face of the aspects of self reliance that reflect the pride in doing something for yourself (the basis of my life).  The fruits of which have greater value than anything given to you by Progressive policies that feel the need to redistribute wealth because of a pejorative sense of the need to ‘save’ the less fortunate.  I actually agree with the theories in Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village because it is hard to argue against the fact that teams are more effective at a great many things (think national defense).  I just don’t think that we should take Progressivism as far as Liberals want, where society-wide entitlements are created to make sure everything is equal all the time.  Protecting the rights of the less fortunate is paramount, but I would start by giving people the tools to be self reliant (everyone need not be equally successful).  In most cases this plays out as targeted education and to a lesser extent, health care, which needs to be coupled with exercise (back to the self-reliance thing).  But I also think this extends to work and job creation for those that need a little nudge to kickstart their personal journey.

So I like the idea of people being self-reliant.  But I know that most can’t do it on their own and need help.  Yet I don’t want to give them things for free.  At the same time I see the socio-economic need to evolve the entire human race, which can only happen if certain parts aren’t dragging down others.  To this end, I believe in an economic butterfly-effect in both push and pull directions.  For example, if I leave a light on unnecessarily, I am pulling resources in a way that adds wasted demand on the electrical grid (increasing prices), necessitating the need to make more.  The same is true of using any natural resource.  There are also push effects, where a soccer mom in Florida who leaves her car running for the AC, is adding unnecessary carbon dioxide to the environment, creating a warming effect, and incrementally ruining my ski season.

All of these micro-connections mean that we are networked to every single human, whether we know it or not.  And this network is not mono dimensional.  Rather it is dynamically constructed by the metadata characteristics of each of us and our actions and beliefs in the world.  Some racist in West Virginia has an impact on me, by propelling anti-Semitic norms which eventually change hearts and minds, even if he does nothing but ‘like’ some Tweet from a Russian bot.

It used to be that these networks were created at a very local level for simplicity’s sake.  And geography was the only dimension easily constructed.  ‘State’s Rights’ is probably the first incarnation in the US.  Conservative policies to control education spending at the local level reflects this notion.  Individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution take this one step further.  But what if technology allowed us to dynamically generate network connections on the fly.  We could use these cohorts to ascertain answers to questions historically solved only with speculation.  We could also apportion resources as needed.  Pushing and pulling based on supply and demand.  This would be a spectacular tool for policy decision makers.

How would this work?  Imagine that individual nodes could pull in education/health/financial resources when a part of a network (ie derived by geography, social status, race or gender…or multiple dimensions at once) seems less capable of serving itself.  We surmise that they need help.  A network would be able to measure the gravity-well effect of this group dragging down tangentially related neighbors.  A cost:benefit (capitalism is good) evaluation of lifting that part of the network would take into account all the other relationships of those nodes.  Today we only evaluate how poverty effects real estate values on neighboring communities, but a network could fully-load that cost so that we recognize other benefits to different dimensions of relationships, ie happier people might make parks nicer, decrease crime, lower health care costs, create jobs, and grow our cultural footprint.

I have no idea how to build such a network.  But I think we are starting to scientifically realize that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon extends to all aspects of the real world as well.  We are connected more than we realize.  Technology driven social graphs (FB, Twitter, Instagram) are starting to enable the quantification of all of these connection points.  But a metadata derived social graph would enable us to measure the butterfly effect of every single action at the individual node level, across all of humanity.  We have nowhere near the computing capability (nor the data to drive it) necessary for macro calculations that could justify spending of public funds.  [Note: set aside data privacy concerns for now]  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to take baby steps.  Social media tools show that some of this is possible now (Russian election interference).  I wish smarter people would start to pick some use cases to estimate the fully loaded cost of policy decisions to help educate us all about what happens when we pull an economic lever.  We can start to evaluate policy choices based on all of the ways that a policy touches people.  I have long wanted to fully load the cost of decisions and the absence of decisions.  I think Networkism is the first step in creating a model that lets us frame policy choices with a broader focus than the myopic effects of the current political parties.

Networkism – a framework for evaluating public and private policy decisions based on the sum total of the positive and negative effects of every possible node touched by each action effected by that policy, regardless of how small the individually measured effect.

Yup, I’ll take one of those for the win.

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NH: Pathway to Work

Pathway to work

Several years ago I wrote about the notion of government affecting change in society by giving it little “nudges” rather than expansive all-encompassing entitlement-like programs.  The GOP under Trump is in a state of chaos, but luckily some of these programs still exist.  I’d like to call out one in particular that I think should be a model for small government nudging of the economy and society as a whole.  This was signed into law by a democrat, but I still think it’s right on the mark.

At the end of 2017 I left my last job.  After almost 24 years in the corporate world, I decided it was time to strike out on my own.  To help ease the pain of a transition in jobs, the State of NH has unemployment programs, just like most other states do.  The NH benefit caps out at $10k and runs for several months. It’s not enough to live on, but it provides a reasonable safety net.  That’s what it should do.  The Massachusetts benefit I believe is more than twice as generous.  I continue to think that is too much.

When you file for unemployment, the objective is to get a job as quickly as possible.  You are expected to make job-searching/applying a full time job.  For professional workers, this can be a little unreasonable. While searching, I found only 3 jobs in the local area that I qualified for.  But I dutifully made efforts to find work.  There are resume writing and job search workshops and other programs that are mandatory, and can aid in the process.

While meeting with my unemployment counselor and discussing my goals, she noted that I might qualify for a program called Pathway to Work, where the state recognizes that they can continue to pay my benefits, while I search for work in a non-traditional way…I am starting a business.  I am creating my own work.  This program shields me from the full-time-search requirements so I can focus.  It was a blessing.

Months later my benefits have ended and I am on the path to actually generating revenue.  But more importantly, the program assigned me a different type of mentoring relationship.  I was paired with an advisor through a grant funded program at UNH.  THIS HAS BEEN INVALUABLE TO MY SUCCESS.  My advisor, Julie G, has done so much for helping me navigate decisions, the bureaucratic nightmare of starting a company and most importantly, has helped me build a local entrepreneurial network.  Yesterday I met with someone based on her warm intro, and it could shake out to be one of the most productive partnerships I could have ever hoped for.  I am still excited.

Here’s the lesson.  The state could have just handed me some cash and told me to go out and do more of what I was doing.  But instead it recognized that there is way to create growth, by a simple policy shift and flexibility that accounts for nuances and talents within the workforce.  In this case, the government is actually helping me grow.  I in return hope to pay this forward with profits and tax receipts and new jobs.

There is a place for a small government nudging its citizens forward.  I have been lucky for the wind in my sails and hope others avail themselves of the same opportunities.  Create your own pathway.

 

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NH Is a Sanctuary State

You read that right. NH just became one of the best places to come and live if you don’t want to be harassed by the State governmental authorities. Voters overwhelmingly passed ballot initiative #2, co-authored by state Reps. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, and Robert “Renny” Cushing, D-Hampton. It states,

An individual’s right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent.

Sounds awesome right? I voted no. I will point out 2 things.

First, the authors intentionally and purposefully worded it vaguely so that it would be open to broad interpretation in the courts for the next “25 or 50 years.”. When asked how it should be interpreted Rep. Kurk offered this gem, “Obviously it’s not defined in the amendment, just like the freedom of the press isn’t defined (in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution),” “It’s up to the courts.”

So if you ever wonder how so much power gets ceded to the courts, there is your answer. It’s intentional. Contrary to our new moronic acting Attorney General, the courts are not intentionally supposed to be the weakest of the three branches. Rather, they are supposed to respond to the other branches. If the executive doesn’t overstep, courts won’t need to curb an unjust action. If legislatures write clear and coherent laws, there is no need to adjudicate them. There is a reason the metaphor of the ‘scales of justice’ is so powerful.

Second point. If these two knuckleheads had written “US Citizens” instead of “Individuals,” I would be all for this. But instead, more than 80% of Granite Staters just voted to extend state constitutional protection to illegal aliens and terrorists against non-warrant based metadata gathering, surveillance and data collection. So if you are a foreign terrorist, here’s a tip; come set up your intelligence operation in the Granite State. We now guarantee you will find sanctuary here.

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Building to a Eulogy

John McCain

Loren likes to tell the joke that the first half of your life, you build your resume and the second half you build your obituary.  Seeing the world’s response to John McCain’s passing, I started to realize that for me, neither are all that important.

Your resume is a summary of who you are for the purpose of getting a job.  It says nothing of your character, focuses only on professional achievements, and only hints at your potential.  An obituary is a fact-based listing of your accomplishments in life; family, career, civic organizations…BOR-ING.

But a eulogy is a personal reflection on how you impacted someone’s life.  What you did for them.  How you changed them.  What you meant to them.  I didn’t see all, but I watched some of the eulogies on YouTube.  What struck me, was that each of these people stood up and talked intimately about their relationship with the Senator, father, friend, man.  They joked, praised, criticized and cried when reflecting on that relationship.  The point was to empathetically strike a chord with thousands of other people that were touched in the same way.  They spoke for countless others.

When I think about the second half of my life, I want to think about how people will eulogize me.  I want to be part of people’s lives in such a way that there is a packed hall, full of people with fond memories of me, all eager to talk about how I impacted their lives and made them, and the world, better.

While Senator McCain was alive, he asked his friends and family to deliver eulogies for him.  Imagine that conversation.  Imagine being confident enough in your life and the people you have interacted with, that you can call on them to say good things about you after you are gone.

As I consider the totality of my life and more importantly, what lies before me, I’m thinking about my eulogy and how I want people to remember me.  We should all be as lucky as John McCain to impact the world and make it a better place.  I’m trying.  I will try harder.  John McCain is an inspiration.

(No matter what you have seen for clips on the news, I challenge you to watch all of this video and not cry.)

 

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Summer Reading

Temp Image

I was going to publish longer reviews on each of these books, but instead decided that I would just recommend some reading for those of you looking for good books this summer.

I have been trying to read actual text at least 15 minutes a day and also I subscribed to Audible, which I cannot recommend enough…its awesome for getting reading done.  I crank up the speed to 1.3x and can get through books pretty fast.  Here’s what I have read lately…

Seal Team Six – Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper- Howard Wasden.   Awesome book that details BUD/S & Green Team training and a lot of coverage about how snipers execute long range shots.  One detail in the book was eye-opening for me.  Wasden was critical of Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm and it’s something that bothered me too.  SEALs had been training to secure the oil fields in case Saddam tried to sabotage the Kuwaiti oil supply.  Sure enough those of you that remember and were annoyed with it like me, those fires burned for 8 months churning 1 billion gallons of oil PER DAY.  But Schwarzkopf never used any US SOCOM forces at all, instead he only employed British SAS.  I think I read his book, but don’t remember any retrospective on this subject, it seems a classic, us-vs-them dilemma of using troops from another service and a possible ego driven mistake.  I need to do more research.

Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg.  I admit that it took me way too long to get around to reading this book, but this is a great book.  There are so many relevant stories about mentoring, both how to find and how to do it.  I also liked the continued emphasis on ‘sitting at the table’.  So many times in my career I sat off the main table when I arrived earlier than other major players.  F-them.  I should have sat at the table too.  If you are male, hopefully you do some self introspection, I did.

A Higher Loyalty – James Comey.  This is really a great book on leadership and leadership styles.  Comey talks a lot about his career, who influenced him, how it affected the way he went about leading teams, how that played out in policy creation that we only saw from an outsider’s perspective and only then did he spend 2 chapters talking about the juxtaposition between great leaders and Trump.  There is actually very little about the Trump administration which irritates me that the press made such a big deal about it.  However, the stories he tells of Trump’s inappropriate actions and how Comey views them against other great leaders, are poignant.

The Assault on Intelligence. American National Security in an Age of Lies – Michael Hayden.  Best book I have read in a long time.  If you want to see a truly fact based analytical dissection of the Trump incompetency…read this book.  Hayden is a 4 star Air Force general, former Director of NSA, former Director of CIA.  His contacts and intellect are beyond reproach.  He details all of Trump’s statements, tweets, and policies in the context of international events and relations with our enemies.  It’s a brilliant critique.  I especially like the recognition of the ‘Trump cycle’ that got us into this fake-news, lie-driven fiasco of a presidency: 1) Presidential Taunt 2) Russian Bots 3) Alt-Right Press 4) …

And a fire stoked hot enough to stir argument in my personal extended family, and I am sure many others. Little wonder the Russians continue to play. No real costs. Ready-made issues. A divided society to target. Americans seemingly working in parallel. A frozen U.S. government response.

Next time you frame a political argument based on something you saw on InfoWars, Breitbart, FoxNews or some Facebook meme…think about that.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline.  Yes there is a movie, which I haven’t seen yet.  But if you are a fan of the 80’s, sci-fi and VR…you will love this book.  I read it a while ago, but I continue to recommend to everyone I meet.  The Audible version is read by Wil Wheaton, who is the President in the book, so meta!

Happy summer reading!  Please share any good books in the comments below.

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A-Cruel Life Accounting

Rainbow falls

I once heard a VC say that you shouldn’t do anything unless the cost of it is more than your earning power per hour.  His solution is that you should hire someone if that is less than the cost for you to do it.  For example, if you earn $50/hr, any activity that you could hire a person for less than $50/hr, you should hire.  Landscapers, cooks, cleaners, etc.

It sounds like such a great idea.  But I would argue that it only works if your life operates on accrual accounting.  In this case you can price something based on your potential earning power.  As I was raking leaves [EDITORS NOTE: I first started this post during spring cleanup] and thought about the appr $250 I would have to pay someone to do it for me, I realized that most of us operate on cash accounting.  Do I actually have $250 that I could pay someone?  Would I actually earn more than that in cash if I sat down to do work?  Could I drop my rake, take off my gloves and sit at my desk for the next few hours and earn $250 after I called a landscaper?

In most cases the answer is no.  That VC was pointing out the cruel reality of his world vs mine.  Most of us live in the cash reality; picking up sticks, raking leaves, cutting the grass, shoveling the driveway, changing the car’s oil and fixing the sink when it gets clogged is part of life.  Those with money make the accrual argument, because they can write a check or drop a credit card and not think about the balancing of that transaction to income earned.  They take a macro view of the world at the end of the month, accruing their inflated revenue to the expense paid.  As long as you are still in the black, you can make lots of spending rationales.

I still believe the philosophical argument has merit.  Making the “right” choice regardless of a cash-based weighting of the cost, is definitely the right way to go.  These choices manifest themselves most in political arguments or more tangibly, environmental ones.  For example, not wasting energy has very little cash cost right now, it only burdens society financially when we accrue the incremental cost of cleaning the pollution, the health effects on the body, and the infrastructure costs of climate change much later.  If you weigh THOSE costs vs the cost of being slightly warm/cold by turning off your car while you wait to pick up your kids in the school parking lot, you see a much different calculus.

I don’t know the answer to making this giant leap in society.  But the person who figures out how to enable people to practically make accrual accounting choices for humanity, instead of cash-based short-term reactions, is going to change the world in a way that nothing else has in the course of history.  People making enlightened choices about what they are doing and its relative fully loaded cost to society, without regard to their cash position at that moment?  What a power force of nature that will be.

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Pride

I have a lot of pride for my daughters.  Each is extraordinary in her own way.  Each impresses me.  Each makes me feel like I’ve done an OK job on this parenting adventure.

It’s been a few days, so many of you have already heard, but Taylor officially “clicked the button” as she referred to it, and accepted her appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.  She ships out in late June for basic training.

I try not to take too much direct credit for her success.  In reality, her success is her own,  it is not mine.  I don’t view myself as a success because she is kicking ass.  I had a setback just the other day.  She and I talked about it, just like we do with her challenges.  On the way to success, there are lots of wins and losses.  That’s how you play the game.

As I wrote about in my ‘Fatherhood‘ series, the latter stages of adolescence, where all of these personality traits develop, happens mostly on their own.  We cultivate and coach, but if we are doing our jobs right, there is very little direct involvement.

For my part, over the years I have taught Taylor general stuff.  How to; stay calm, ski, assess a situation, get organized with lists and a calendar, drive a manual transmission, write effectively, think critically, speak clearly, and proper weightlifting and exercise techniques.  There is a lot of other stuff in there, but nothing that directly lead to her appointment at USAFA.  I taught her what I thought were good life-skills for being an adult and a passionate and honorable American.  She took those lessons, along with other contributions from family and friends, and turned them into the stellar trifecta of a resume, coupled with her straight A’s, that probably earned her 3 Congressional nominations and her appointment: Captain of the soccer team, Unit Commander of JROTC, Solo’d as a private pilot.

What I respect most in Taylor is her grit, work-ethic and determination.  She put in the hard work.  I may have sat up with her, but not once did I ever do her work for her.  The other day she was very humble in thanking me for everything Megan and I gave her.  I joked that our deal, where we provided and she focused on school and extracurricular activities, paid off pretty well.  What other part time jobs could she have done that earn a $250k education plus a career, for free!?!

It has been a long road.  And Taylor’s decision was actually not all that easy.  Her ‘second choice’ was a full ride at WPI courtesy of a Type 1 ROTC scholarship…not too shabby.  Even the Colonel of their wing noted that he wouldn’t have wanted to make that choice.  In the end, Tay has a great future in front of her.  Beware, Sara and I will be loading up on Air Force & USAFA ‘proud parent’ swag pretty soon.  Yes, there will be logos on the bus.

So now my thanks to Taylor.  Thank you for your love and for making me proud of what you have done and where you are heading.  It has been my distinct honor to come along for the ride…or flight, as it might be!            #LetsFly

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