A Unified Theory: Networkism


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.

About Josh Rutstein

I am an aspiring entrepreneur and hopeful political candidate. Father of 2 very special girls, husband to an amazing woman, and passionate American. I snowboard whenever possible and follow a 20x mentality for exercise. I also play golf and ultimate frisbee and am a die hard New England Patriots fan and season ticket holder. Everyday I wake up wanting to make this country a better place, someday I hope to actually succeed.
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