Posts from policy

Blockchain Nation States

I went on a walk through the Chelsea Art Gallery district yesterday afternoon. One of the galleries I visited was the Petzel Gallery and they have a show up by the New Zealand artist Simon Denny. The show is called Blockchain Future States and it compares Blockchain efforts like Ethereum and Digital Asset Holdings to the board game Risk.

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Given the comparison to Risk, I thought the name Blockchain Nation States would be more appropriate for the show.

As I was walking out of the gallery, I saw a tweetstorm come through on my phone from Naval Ravikant. It’s a good one, talking about how open protocols are going to change a lot of things.

But given the context of what I had just seen, this one particularly got my attention and I replied to it.

I agree with Naval that open protocols and the blockchains that underly them will be the driver of the next big wave of technology and that they will force big changes that will ultimately impact the global economy. That’s a big statement and I don’t make it casually. I do believe this.

The questions in my mind about this are when it will happen, which blockchains and protocols will emerge as the most important and valuable, and which nation states will embrace this and which nation states will not.

Sitting here in the US, I think the US is not likely to be one of the winners in this next big technological wave because our government and institutions are captured by the incumbent economic system and companies that define it. So many of the blockchain companies we invest in are forced to seriously consider leaving the US or get bypassed by companies and technologies that are being developed more freely outside of the US.

So what nation states are playing this game (of Risk?) better? That was the question I asked in my tweet reply and I got a lot of replies. Here are some of the top suggestions:

  • China (2)
  • Hong Kong (2)
  • Canada (2)
  • UK
  • Japan (2)
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Singapore
  • Switzerland
  • Rwanda
  • Zimbabwe
  • Barbados

It is revealing that the big conferences where entrepreneurs, developers, and computer scientists gather to discuss the latest in blockchain technology are not often in the US. Last week, many in the blockchain world, including two people on our team, were in Shanghai to discuss the latest developments around the Ethereum blockchain. It does seem like China and its environs are emerging as an important center of gravity for blockchain technology.

It is not too late for the regulators in the US to change their tune and become more open to these new technologies and the capabilities of them. But, like the game of Risk, large pools of talent are being built on other continents and countries now and eventually they will be unbeatable.

Trapped In A System 

A book that has really stayed with me since I read it is The Prize, the story of the attempt to reform the Newark public school system.

And there is a particular scene in that book that really sums it up for me.

The author is at an anti-charter school protest and meets a woman who had spent that morning trying to get her son into a new charter school that had opened in Newark. The author asks the woman how it is possible that on the same day she would spend the morning trying to get her son into a charter school and the afternoon at an anti-charter protest.

The woman explains that most of her family are employed in good paying union jobs in the district schools and that the growth of charters is a threat to those jobs.

As I read that story I was struck by how rational the woman was acting. She was helping to preserve a system that provided an economic foundation for her family and at the same time opting her son out of it. 

In some ways that story is a microcosm of what is happening in the economy right now. Many people in the US (and around the world) are employed by (and trapped in) a system that no longer works very well. And although they realize the system is broken, they fight to support it because it underpins their economic security.

My partner Albert argues for a universal basic income to replace the old and broken system so we as a society can free ourselves from outdated approaches that don’t work anymore and move to adopt new and better systems. 

I think it is worth a shot to be honest.

Reason For Reform

Like all impassioned political debates, there is a reason to be on both sides of the immigration divide.

If you are against immigration, you are likely afraid of what these new people might bring to the US. They could bring lower cost labor and cause you to lose your job. They could bring crime or worse. They could bring additional votes that would cause your political party to lose more of its power and weight.

But if you are for immigration, you are excited about what these new people will bring.

And I am most decidedly on the pro-immigration side, even though I understand the anti-immigration arguments.

The reasons I want to reform our immigration laws have mostly to do with opportunity, innovation, and our economy.

Let’s look at NY State.

Immigrants now account for 23 percent of all residents of New York State. More strikingly, they make up more than a quarter of all STEM workers. A third of all entrepreneurs in the state are immigrants and their businesses alone employ just shy of 500,000 people. And this is only the private companies. New York is additionally home to 55 large Fortune 500 companies, more than half of which were started by immigrants or their children.

Since the earliest days of the US, immigrants have been coming to our country and building things, often businesses that employ our citizens.

The tech sector is pro-immigration because it benefits from immigration and because it was created, at least in part, by immigrants. Unlike some sectors of our society, tech has not forgotten where it came from.

If you too have reasons to support pro-immigration reform, then you might want to participate in a “day of action” today called Reason For Reform.

The Partnership for a New American Economy’s (NAE) Reason for Reform campaign is a way to put a face on our current immigration system which is badly in need of reform.  NAE is gathering stories and videos in every single congressional district across the country showing how immigration benefits the local community and why reform is so necessary.  They’re getting business leaders, farmers, entrepreneurs, students, faith leaders, and others to record their #ReasonForReform on cell phones or computers, which will then be sent to members of Congress and shared through social media.

If this is for you, visit Reason For Reform to tell Congress and America what immigration means to you. And you can check out what’s going on in your state here.

Video Of The Week: Regulating With Data

Here’s a talk my colleague Nick Grossman gave at Personal Democracy Forum last month. We have been advocating for some time with anyone in government who will listen that we need to change the paradigm of regulation from yes/no to yes,if and the if is all about data. We call this new data driven regulation paradigm “Regulation 2.0”. Nick walks the audience through this thinking in this talk.

And here are his slides from the talk

The Candidates’ Tech Agenda

Hillary Clinton laid out her tech agenda yesterday. You can see it here. I like much of it, particularly the emphasis on getting our kids the skills they need to be competitive in the 21st century. I am so with her on that.

I googled Donald Trump tech agenda and found nothing substantive. I would encourage the Trump campaign to do something similar so the tech sector can see what these two candidates think the nation’s tech agenda should be for the next eight years.

We have so many important issues that are centered in technology that face our country:

  • cybersecurity
  • privacy
  • STEM education
  • broadband policy
  • wireless broadband policy
  • open internet
  • data rights
  • patent policy
  • copyright policy
  • immigration policy

Those are just some of the big ones in my view.

Hillary told us where she stands on most of them yesterday.

I would like to know where Trump stands on them too.

Tech:NYC

Yesterday was the launch of a new organization in NYC that I have been working on since last fall. This new organization is called Tech:NYC and will be led by Julie Samuels. It will be co-chaired by Tim Armstrong and me.

For years the tech sector has been represented in the city and state and with local civic organizations by a loose and informal group of well known entrepreneurs, CEOs, VCs, and engaged members of the tech sector. I have been one of them.

Lately, as the tech sector has grown in importance in the local economy, this approach has become unsustainable. The same small group of people keep showing up at meeting after meeting.

We need a formal mechanism that allows the entire tech sector to be engaged with local government and civic organizations and we need to get the right people to the right meetings instead of the same small group meeting after meeting.

Tim and I explained all of this in a blog post that aired yesterday on Tech:NYC’s website.

Tech:NYC will be member supported. We would like every tech company, large and small, to join and be represented and engaged. Membership details are here and startups with less than 20 employees can join for free.

If you run a company in NYC, we hope you will sign your company up to be a member of Tech:NYC. If you work at a company in NYC, we hope you will encourage your leaders to join Tech:NYC.

The “Losing Jobs To China” Discussion

I am bothered by the ongoing discussion about how the US has allowed China (and other lower cost countries) take our manufacturing jobs. That is true, of course. But it does not address the larger context which is that manufacturing is becoming more and more automated and many of these jobs will not exist at all anywhere in a few more decades.

We are now well into a transition from an industrial economy to an information economy. It seems to me that part of that transition was the move of industrial jobs to lower and lower cost regions in an ongoing march to reduce costs. But that march may end with massive automation and very little labor in the manufacturing process. That means that these low cost regions that “stole our jobs” will also lose these jobs eventually.

The US and a number of other countries around the world are building new information based economies. That is the long term winning strategy.

So while we can critique our leaders (business and political) for giving up on the manufacturing sector a bit too early, I think the US has largely played this game correctly and will be much better off than the parts of the world that have taken the low cost manufacturing jobs from us.

But we don’t hear any of our political leaders explaining this. I wish they would.

Conversation with General Keith Alexander

I follow Emily Chang’s Studio 1.0 podcast on SoundCloud. It’s very good.

She recently sat down with Former NSA Director General Keith Alexander to discuss privacy vs. security and why there needs to be more collaboration between Washington and Silicon Valley in the on-going encryption debate.

I enjoyed the conversation and you may too.