America is defined by two organizing principles: capitalism and representative democracy. Ideally, this is a symbiotic relationship, a dance between how much gets done (our economy) and what we decide to do (our policies.) In the past few decades, we have seen a vast societal shift
The Capitalist Engine
Capitalism is governed by the free market, fueled by consumers’ continued purchasing of goods, and an extensive network of debt and investment. The technical advancements, in only the past few decades, towards more efficient capitalism have been astonishing.
Advertising companies — the Googles and Facebooks — have made groundbreaking progress in predictive algorithms, turning billions of data points into What People Want. 1-Click purchase and distribution centers from sea to shining sea guarantee overnight delivery of any good imaginable.
The speed at which markets learn of and react to news is nothing short of magic — literally beyond human comprehension. We have smashed through arctic ice to lay fiber-optic cable, shaving precious milliseconds across the Atlantic. We’ve built towers from Chicago to New York to transmit lasers carrying the prices of cotton and cattle through the air. We have programmed high-frequency trading algorithms to predict prices and execute stock purchases so quickly that “the blink of an eye” is an almost offensive comparison.
All in all, software has provided an incredible boost capitalism. But what about representative democracy?
Civil Service in Stagnation
On this end, things haven’t matured so well.
In contrast to the nanosecond precision of stock markets, staying up to date with public sentiment — most notably via elections — happens every two years at best. Even then, voter participation has plummeted to little more than one third of the voting-age populace. Approval ratings, the closest approximation we have of how accurately the people feel their needs are being represented, consistently flirt with record lows.
The crucial difference between the proliferation of capitalism and the comparative stagnation of government has been in software. There are apps to find apartments, do your laundry, move a couch, fill a prescription, drive you anywhere, and share, tweet, pin, snap, and insta the tiniest details. Your life in the palm of your hand.
Now look at what the average public servant deals with day to day:
That is the database of vendors that work with the city of San Francisco. Imagine working with that on a day to day basis.
So why don’t they upgrade? Well antiquated government contractors don’t have a great track record. Oregon paid Oracle $248,000,000.00 to built Cover Oregon (its healthcare exchange) but scrapped the project after remarkable cost overruns and shoddy software1.
Let’s Get to Work
Public service isn’t easy. But, in the end, if you are inclined in that direction, it is a worthy and challenging pursuit. — Ben Bernanke
And so the question is not whether we can build a better democracy, but if we choose to apply ourselves. The Gettysburg address spoke of a government not only of and for the people, but also by the people.
We’re here to show how capitalism can supercharge a smarter government with a software foundation to rival the best SaaS tools in the private sector.
Instead of using “Big Data” to build better ad-targeting, we’re engaging citizens on the issues that matter most to them.
Instead of leveraging natural language processing to optimize BuzzFeed titles, we’ll digitize centuries of historical records to drive policies with data.
We see mobile as an opportunity to build stronger communities, not just another source of eyeballs.
Instead of automating and optimizing our social media posts, we’re building APIs to connect the entire back-office of government.
We have the potential to affect billions of people in far more meaningful ways than ephemeral photo sharing and we intend to do so.
We hope you’ll join us.