Posts from policy

Monthly Match: Planned Parenthood

The House is planning to vote today on a bill that will repeal Obamacare.

Included in that bill is a provision that would prohibit Medicaid from paying for services from Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is an organization dedicated to women’s reproductive health and more broadly women’s healthcare.

It does fantastic work and provides treatment for women who cannot get it otherwise.

Our monthly match efforts are designed to combat the efforts in Washington to undo things that are near and dear to us.

And Planned Parenthood and low cost/free women’s reproductive health care is one of those things.

So today, we are launching a $30k match offer for Planned Parenthood.

Amy, Susan, Joanne, Brad, Albert and I will collectively match $30k of donations made to Planned Parenthood.

Our match offer will end when we reach $30k of collective donations or Friday night at midnight pacific time (May 5th).

Here is how the monthly match works

  1. Go to our match offer page and click the big Donate button
  2. Select any amount (min is $10) and click the big Donate button again
  3. Enter your payment credentials and click the big Donate button again
  4. Click the big Tweet Your Donation button
  5. Once you have done all of that your donation will automatically be matched
  6. If you don’t have Twitter, forward your email receipt to [email protected]

I hope you will join us in supporting Planned Parenthood on this difficult day for all who care about women’s reproductive health and women’s health more broadly.

Some Thoughts On Net Neutrality

Yesterday a federal appeals court declined to rehear a challenge to the Obama Administration’s Net Neutrality rules.  This was yet another victory for the fans of a neutral Internet, me included.

But Ajti Pai, the new FCC Chair, is hellbent to decimate these rules and everyone expects him to try to do just that.

Which led to a Twitter exchange with my friend Tom Evslin yesterday:

Tom argues that tightly regulating ISPs will only help incumbents and hurt innovators in the access sector. That has not been our experience. We have backed a number of alternative access providers, in fiber and in wireless, over the last few years and they are not struggling one bit with Net Neutrality regulations. They are struggling with all sorts of barriers that the incumbents have convinced elected officials to erect on their behalf.

The inability to use existing telephone poles that I mentioned on Twitter is just one of many of the things that the big telcos have done to stop innovative young companies from entering their business.

Here’s my thinking on Net Neutrality. We only need it because of the corruption that exists between large telcos and elected officials. If we had an entirely open playing field, we would not need regulations in the least. Competition would solve all of our problems. But not if you can’t compete.

Decentralized Self-Organizing Systems

Mankind has been inventing new ways to organize and govern since we showed up on planet earth. Our history is a gradual evolution of these organization and governance systems. Much of what we are using right now was invented in ancient Greece and perfected in western Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

I have been thinking for some time that we are on the cusp of something new. I don’t know exactly what it will be but I think it will be inspired by the big technological innovations of the late 20th century and early 21st century and it will be based on decentralized and self-organizing systems.

The Internet is, at its core, a scaled decentralized system. Its design has been a resounding success. It has scaled elegantly and gradually to well over 2bn users over fifty years. No central entity controls the Internet and it upgrades itself and scales itself slowly over time.

Open source software development communities are also an important development of the past fifty years. These communities come together to create and maintain new software systems and are not financed or governed by traditional corporate models. The goals of these communities are largely based on delivering new capabilities to the market and they don’t have capitalist based incentive systems and they have shown that in many instances they work better than traditional corporate models, Linux being the best example.

And, for the past decade or so, we have seen that modern cryptography and some important computer science innovations have led to decentralized blockchain systems, most notably Bitcoin and Ethereum. But there are many more to study and learn from. These blockchain systems are pushing forward our understanding of economic models, governance models, and security models.

I think it is high time that political scientists, philosophers, economists, and historians turn their attention to these new self-organizing and self-governing systems. Maybe they have and I am not familiar with the work. If so, please point me to it. If not, maybe this post and others like it will be an inspiration for the liberal arts to catch up to the computer scientists and mathematicians or at least work closely with them to figure out what is next, to articulate it and put it in the context of other governance and economic systems. From that work can come progress that mankind needs to move beyond the current systems, which work, but have many flaws and are becoming stale and in need of an upgrade.

Climate Change

Yesterday brought us an executive order rolling back much of the (meager) progress we’ve made reducing the US’ reliance on carbon energy and the resulting impact on climate change.

The New York Times has a good editorial piece today on this and other moves this administration has made in its short tenure to protect the carbon energy industry.

I am of two minds on this. On one hand, I am pissed off, annoyed, irritated, upset, and dismayed that we have such a luddite in the White House that he can’t see what carbon energy has done, is doing, and will do to our planet. But on the other hand, I am well aware of the progress that wind and solar and other clean energy technologies have made in the last couple decades and I believe that market forces are on the side of our planet and against the carbon fuel industry and that these market forces are getting stronger every day.

Among other things, we will be doing our monthly match this weekend for a climate change focused non-profit and I hope you all will join us to raise money for climate change and stand up against these outrageous acts.

We are considering the following organizations:

350.org

Natural Resource Defense Counsel 

Earth Justice

Sierra Club

Nature Conservancy

Environmental Defense Fund

We may add others to this list. If you have any thoughts on these organizations or want to propose others, please do that in the comments.

Superstar Firms

Watching Amazon take home two Oscars last night brought home the point that they are a juggernaut, a massive business capable of throwing its weight behind all sorts of new businesses.

It turns out these superstar firms, not robots, may be the most important economic issue right now.

This piece from the Economist argues that taxing robots is a bad idea but figuring out how to deal with these superstar firms who are accumulating much of the profits in our economy is a good idea. Here’s the money quote:

A new working paper by Simcha Barkai, of the University of Chicago, concludes that, although the share of income flowing to workers has declined in recent decades, the share flowing to capital (ie, including robots) has shrunk faster. What has grown is the markup firms can charge over their production costs, ie, their profits. Similarly, an NBER working paper published in January argues that the decline in the labour share is linked to the rise of “superstar firms”. A growing number of markets are “winner takes most”, in which the dominant firm earns hefty profits.

Something to ponder.

The American Formula

It’s that time of year when investors (including me) spend the morning reading Warren Buffett’s annul shareholder letter.

There are always nuggets of wisdom and insight in these letters and I enjoy them very much.

In this year’s letter, Warren spells out the formula that America has used to build the greatest economy in the world.

Sadly one of those four pillars is at risk – “a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants.”

We can’t allow that to happen. There is too much to lose by turning off that tide.

Thanks to AVC reader Abid Azam for sending me that quote this morning.

The Monthly Match

Last month, when the Gotham Gal and I and our friends Brad and Amy combined to match $20k of donations to the ACLU and ended up raising $120k on a weekend that saw the ACLU raise over $25mm, we committed to do a match every month for all of 2017. Part of me wants to keep doing this as long as we have an administration hostile to the rights of minorities in the White House but we will see about that. We are going to keep doing this monthly match for the rest of 2017 and then we will see how we feel about it.

So, today we are launching a second match offer. Brad, Amy, Joanne, and I will match the first $20k of donations to the National Immigration Law Center, which “engages in lawsuits that defend the fundamental and constitutional rights of all Americans, including low-income immigrants and their families, often in coordination with other local and national civil rights organizations.” You can read about their work and their mission here. The NILC has been around for almost 40 years and has done some amazing work over that time and we need them more than ever right now.

Why did we pick the NILC over many other groups that need our support right now? Well first of all, we plan to do this every month with a different organization that is supporting the rights of minorities that are at risk under this administration. So we have a long list and this is just the first of many we will support with our monthly match.

But more importantly, we remain upset and anxious about the efforts of this administration to throttle immigration and the rights of immigrants, both those in the US and those coming to the US. We have had some early victories in the courts but we need to keep up the fight for as long as the administration continues to pursue these efforts and along with the ACLU, the NILC is an important leader in this fight.

Here is how the monthly match works:

  1. Go to our monthly match page and hit the donate button and give whatever you feel like giving (min is $10).
  2. After you complete the donation, TWEET your donation out on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
  3. If you don’t use Twitter, you can forward your email receipt. The instructions will be on the post donation page. We would vastly prefer you tweet it out if you can.

Last month, we used Twitter for this and had to manually record every tweet including a receipt. That was fun but a pain to administer. This time we are using Crowdrise for the donations and the accounting but keeping Twitter for the virality that was so awesome and brought in so much money. We have customized Crowdrise to make it feel as much like the Twitter campaign we ran as we could. We think this will work better and we will be optimizing this as we continue these monthly matches for the rest of the year.

I hope all of you who agree that we must fight the efforts of this administration to throttle the rights of minorities will join our monthly match campaign this month, and every month this year, and support the NILC. Go here to do that.

The Robot Tax And Basic Income

In my work to prepare for the Future of Labor conversation we had at NewCo Shift a few weeks ago, I talked to a number of experts who are studying job losses due to automation and thinking about what might be done about it. Two ideas that came up a number of times were the “robot tax” and the “basic income.”

The ideas are complementary and one might fund the other.

At its simplest, a “robot tax” is a tax on companies that choose to use automation to replace human jobs. There are obviously many variants of this idea and to my knowledge, no country or other taxing authority has implemented a robot tax yet.

A “basic income” is the idea that everyone receives enough money from the government to pay for their basic needs; housing, food, clothing so that as automation puts people out of work we don’t see millions of people being put out on the street.

What is interesting about these two ideas is that some of the biggest proponents of them are technology entrepreneurs and investors, the very people who are building and funding the automation technologies that have the potential to displace many jobs.

It is certainly true that we don’t know that automation will lead to a jobs crisis. Other technological revolutions like farming and factories produced as many new jobs as they wiped out and incomes increased from these changes. Automation could well do the same.

But smart people are wondering, both privately and publicly, if this time may be different. And so ideas like the robot tax and the basic income are getting traction and are being studied and promoted.

The latest proponent of a robot tax is Bill Gates who said this about it:

You ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the speed. That’s because the technology and business cases for replacing humans in a wide range of jobs are arriving simultaneously, and it’s important to be able to manage that displacement. You cross the threshold of job replacement of certain activities all sort of at once.

There is a lot of economic surplus that could come from automation. Let’s look at ride sharing. Today I pay something like $15 to go from my home to my office in the morning. Something like $10 of that ride is going to the driver. If the ride is automated, either the price goes to $5, saving me $10 a ride which then is surplus to me, or the profit that Uber is making goes up significantly, which is surplus to them. Some of both is likely to happen. This surplus could be taxed, either at the company level or the individual level, so that the cost of the ride doesn’t go down nearly as much and the driver can continue to compete with the robot or the driver can collect some basic income, funded by the robot tax, while they find a new line of work.

At least that is the idea.

I would not characterize myself as a proponent of a robot tax or a basic income. But I find these ideas interesting and worth studying, debating, discussing, and testing at a small scale to understand their impacts. We should absolutely be doing that.

The Future Of Labor

As I mentioned yesterday, I am moderating a panel this morning at NewCo Shift Forum on The Future Of Labor.

As I think about, there are three big megatrends impacting the future of labor/work.

The first has largely played itself out over the past thirty years and that is globalization and outsourcing. I believe we have seen most of the impact of that trend in the US as wages and the standard of living has risen dramatically around the world and has stagnated here in the US for the working class. We are not yet in balance with the rest of the developed/developing world, but we are getting close enough that it is a much harder decision now to move a job somewhere else.

The next two big megatrends are starting to happen and they will shape the next fifty years. They are the move to an on demand model for work and the automation of work.

And so, the two people that are joining me on stage this morning are people who can help us think about where all of this might be going.

Stephen DeWitt is the CEO of USV portfolio company Work Market. I wrote a bit about Work Market here a few months ago. Work Market’s software allows employers of all shapes and sizes to arrange the people they work with into labor clouds. These labor clouds include freelancers, contractors, and full time employees. When they need something done, they issue the work order to the labor cloud and someone picks up the work order and gets it done. If you think about many of the operational things companies do (provide customer service, install something, attend a marketing event, make a house call, etc), these labor clouds allow an employer to get the work done without thinking about the kind of relationship they have with the worker. This is the “on demand” model for work and I think we will see this model explode in the coming decades.

Maya Rockeymoore is the CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a think tank and advocacy organization that focuses on the needs of workers and their communities. She is an expert on the US Social Security System and has written extensively on it and other issues.

I talked to Maya last week in anticipation of this panel discussion and I wanted to get her take on what happens to all of the jobs we could lose to automation over the next few decades. She explained to that we may want to look at the safety net that we built with social security as a model. We will get into that in more detail this morning as that is an interesting idea to me.

I don’t think all the work opportunities will be gone in fifty years. But I do think the nature of work is changing quite dramatically in front of our very eyes. Some jobs will clearly be automated out of existence. We are already seeing that. And other jobs will go from being full time employment to on demand employment and that will require big adjustments from everyone, including policymakers.

I thought it was interesting in Henry Blodget’s talk at DLD, which I blogged this past weekend, that we have gained 30 hours a month in productivity over the past fifty years and that 28 hours of those gains have gone towards watching TV. We are going to gain even more hours in productivity over the next fifty years. And what we do with those hours will say a lot about who we are as people, what we value, and where we are headed as a society. It is very possible that jobs and work will matter less and other things will matter more, a concept my partner Albert has been considering in his book World After Capital.

We should be talking about these issues as a society instead of pretending that we are going to bring back all of the jobs lost to globalization and outsourcing over the past fifty years. Those jobs are more likely to be gone completely via automation than coming back to the US. So that’s what I plan to do with this panel today. It should be interesting.

Capitalism At A Crossroads

I am on a plane flying up to SF to attend a two day conference called NewCo Shift Forum.

The premise behind this conference, put together by my friend and tech conference impresario supreme John Battelle, is that capitalism is at a crossroads brought on by changing political winds across the globe, technological advancements, and a growing consolidation of power and wealth at the very top. The longer treatise on why this conversation needs to happen is here.

This is not your ordinary tech conference where we are all promoting how great tech is and how successful our companies are. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of those kinds of events. This is a conference that features more academics, policy people, authors, and analysts than founders and CEOs. There will be some of that too, but it’s a balanced discussion covering all sorts of important questions that will need to be answered as we move things forward.

I am participating in one panel (Tech Under Trump) and moderating another (The Future Of Labor). I am looking forward to both conversations.

I don’t know about the plans to record and/or stream the conference. I suspect it won’t be streamed but will be recorded. But I will find out and update this post or post a comment with that information.