Tag Archives: neo-progressivism

Brain Candy – Great Quotes from Yesterday

I’m in San Francisco to co-chair the Code for America Summit this week, so lots going on, and some deep blog posts in the works. But first. Fun! Here are some of my favourite quotes I stumbled upon or heard in the last 24 hours.

“The 4-Hour Body” reads as if The New England Journal of Medicine had been hijacked by the editors of the SkyMall catalog.

Dwight Garner, in the New York Times review of the Four Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss

The entire review is pure genius. Definitely worth reading.

But more quotes await!

“Micro-managing isn’t that third thing that Amazon does better than us, by the way. I mean, yeah, they micro-manage really well, but I wouldn’t list it as a strength or anything. I’m just trying to set the context here, to help you understand what happened. We’re talking about a guy [Jeff Bezos] who in all seriousness has said on many public occasions that people should be paying him to work at Amazon. He hands out little yellow stickies with his name on them, reminding people “who runs the company” when they disagree with him. The guy is a regular… well, Steve Jobs, I guess. Except without the fashion or design sense. Bezos is super smart; don’t get me wrong. He just makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies.”

Steve Yegge in a now no longer public but still accessible assessment of why Google doesn’t get platforms.

The broader read is fantastic, but this quote – mentioned to me by a friend – I thought was both fun and insightful. There is something to be said for super obsessive bosses. They care about their business. It is worth noting that both Jobs and Bezos founded their companies. A lot of other companies could do with this kind of love and attention – even if, in high doses, it can be totally toxic. It’s a fascinating tension.

So yes, tech and the four hour work week? I must be proximity to the valley… so let’s get away from that.

How about #occupywallst? There is a very interesting analysis of the data behind the We are the 99% tumblr feed over at rortybomb, definitely worth a read. But I was really struck by this quote about the nature of the demands:

The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.”  It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.

Ooph. Now that is depressing. But check out his concluding remark.

We have piecemeal, leaky versions of each of these in our current liberal social safety net.  Having collated all these responses, I think completing these projects should be the ultimate goal of the 99%

This is what really strikes me. Here you have a welfare state that isn’t even that big by Western standards but is still not trivial in the resources it consumes, and yet it delivers a pretty crappy outcome to a huge number of citizens. It may be that enough funding from the wealthy restores that system and makes it work. But the financial crises in Europe would seem to suggest otherwise. For many, especially in America, the status quo is unacceptable, and the ability to go back may no longer exist. So until we start thinking about what the future looks like, one free of the systems of the past, we’re probably in trouble.

But any effort here is going to run into a pretty serious brick wall when it comes to coalition building. Consider this amazing line from this Change.org petition:

Rhee uses Change.org to post deceptively worded petitions with such titles as: “Join the Fight to Save Great Teachers” and “Pay Effective Teachers What They Deserve.” When you delve into it, she’s working to weaken unions and institute merit pay for teachers. These are insidious, corporate, anti-progressive reforms. Change.org should not be participating in Rhee’s union busting.

Merit pay is an insidious, corporate, anti-progressive reform? You have to be pretty far out on the left to believe that. Indeed, the notion of merit sat at the heart of the progressive revolution. Now I’m no fan of Rhee, but I’m also a believer that good work should be rewarded and, well, bad work should be punished. That isn’t saying your pay should be linked to test scores, but it also doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be linked to nothing other than tenure. If that is union busting, then the progressive movement it totally dead. This is why I think progressive reform is stopped dead in its tracks. The traditional left wants to defend the status quo of government (while happily attacking the equally problematic status quo of wall st.) while I suspect others, many of whom are sympathetic to the #occupywallst message, are actually equally uncomfortable with the status quo in both the public and private sphere.

This is bad news for those of us who don’t want to return to the Gilded Age. There may not be a coalition that can counter the conservatives on the left and the right. Maybe there needs to be a collapse of this complex system before there can be a rebuilding. It’s a pretty depressing and sobering thought.

Okay. so, you got suckered in by a few fun quotes only to find yourself in the serious world of protest politics. Sorry about that, but that’s the kind of technology fueled, politically driven 24 hours its been.

Hope to see you tomorrow…

TorStar Op-ed: Liberals have to create a next political centre

This past Saturday the Toronto Star published the following piece by Taylor Owen and myself on its op-ed page. Thought I’d put it here for those who might have missed it.

Liberals have to create a new political centre

Canadians may have once valued the Liberal party, but they reject what it has become. The reason is simple. The centre is dead. Worse still, Liberals let it die. What once was the pragmatic core of Canadian politics, today is a wasteland devoid of an imaginative, progressive vision, occupied by a largely obsolete electoral strategy.

Don’t believe us? Consider the issues the Liberal party managed over the 20th century. The creation of universal health care and the social safety net. The management of the Canada-U.S. relationship by balancing opportunities for Canadian businesses with our desire to preserve our identity. Engaging Quebec and seeking to affirm its place within the country. Cultivating multiculturalism while simultaneously securing individual rights in a charter. Fostering peacekeeping to ensure local conflicts did not escalate into nuclear confrontation.

These were significant accomplishments that defined three generations of Canadians. They are also no longer relevant.

Today Canadians, especially young Canadians, are confident about themselves and their identity — no longer is there a “lament for a nation.” The sovereignty movement, while not dead, struggles. Individual rights continue to erode discrimination and the hierarchical relationships that impeded free expression and liberty. While some progressives continue to bang these drums, no one should be surprised that they no longer resonate.

In other cases, the solutions offered in the 20th century are no longer relevant. Canadians know — as health care threatens to eat up 50 per cent of provincial budgets and service levels remain mixed — that their health-care system is broken. Young Canadians don’t even pretend to believe a pension system will exist for them. Anyone can see that peacekeeping cannot solve today’s international conflicts.

On all of these issues, the traditional offerings of progressive rings hollow. But there is an opportunity for progressives. An opportunity to build a new centre. A centre that moves beyond the debate between conservatives of the right and conservatives of the left.

On the right is a Conservative party that, at its core, doesn’t believe in the federal government. It’s a vision for Canada grounded in the 1860s, of a minimalist government that is responsible for little beyond law and order and defence. Its appeal is the offer to dismantle the parts of the system that are broken, but in so doing it will leave behind many of those who are protected and enabled by the government.

On the left is a party whose vision is to return Canada to the 1960s. It’s a world of a strong national government, of an even bigger health-care system, social safety net and welfare state. Its appeal is a defence of the status quo at all costs, which in the long run will be many. The conservatism of the left means protecting what is unsustainable. It is the unreformed arc of old ideas.

If there is going to be a new centre between these conservative poles, Liberals will need to stop lying to themselves — and to Canadians. They need to acknowledge — loudly and publicly — that they failed to reform the institutions of the 20th century and, as a consequence, health care is broken and the welfare state as presently constructed is financially insatiable. A progressive future lies in taking these challenges head on rather that passively avoiding them.

Moreover, a modern progressive view of government needs to meet the consumer expectations created by Google, Apple and WestJet. Fast, effective, personalized, friendly. In short, progressives need a vision that not only safeguards citizens against the extremes of a globalizing market, but also meets the rising expectations Canadians have of services in the 21st century — all this in a manner that will be sustainable given 21st century budgets and demographics.

No party has figured out how to accomplish this, on the left or the right. And trolling through 20th or 19th century ideologies probably isn’t going to get us there.

The future for progressives rests in figuring out the political axes of the 21st century around which new solutions can be mined and new coalitions built.

We suspect these will include open vs. closed systems; evidence-based policy vs. ideology; meritocratic governance vs. patronage; open and fair markets vs. isolationism; sustainability vs. disposability, and emergent networks vs. hierarchies. It is these political distinctions, not the old left versus right, that increasingly resonate among those we speak to.

The challenge is enormous but progressives have done it before. In the 19th century, the rise of industrial capitalism led to a series of tense societal changes, including the emergence of an urban working class, increasing inequality and the terrifying possibility of total war.

A centrist party turned out to be the place where three generations of pragmatically driven progressives were able to lead nearly a century of Canadian politics. Doing this again will require starting from scratch, but that is the task at hand.

David Eaves is a specialist on public policy, collaboration and open source methodologies.

Taylor Owen is a Banting Fellow at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia

Neo-Progressive Alert: The NDP as risk-averse conservatives

As some of my readers know, I’m always interested in articles that highlight how all the political parties in Canada (and the US?) have become conservative. Not necessarily in the sense that they want to roll back government, but in the sense that they cannot not imagine some new future.

I think the classic example of that in Canada is the NDP which seems stuck in trying to remake the country as it was in the 1950s. This opinion piece in the Star by McMaster Assistant Professor David Goutor touches on the theme of a conservative NDP party, to scared to take a stand.

At the most basic level, today’s NDP is a truly remarkable phenomenon: it is a fourth-place party, usually stuck in the teens in the polls, and purporting to represent the most marginalized groups in society – yet it has become stubbornly risk-averse, acting as if it has too much to lose to speak out strongly on many key issues facing the country.

When it comes to strategy, the NDP was certainly bold in lunging for power through the coalition. It also has a notable amount of talent in its parliamentary caucus, with even right-wing commentators praising NDP MPs for being knowledgeable and performing effectively in parliamentary committees.

But when it comes to the party’s main policies, a mind-numbing blandness has set in. There are few instances where the NDP has boldly taken a controversial position on a key issue.

If you have visited the NDP’s website frequently in the last couple of years, you were much more likely to read about credit card rates, bank fees, and insurance premiums than central economic, social, or foreign-policy questions.

A particularly deep part of the NDP’s rut is that avoiding controversy has become to be seen as the “pragmatic” approach. Standing out on major issues, meanwhile, is viewed as the “radical” approach that will keep the NDP on the fringes. But if pragmatism means anything, it is paying attention to results. The results of the recent “pragmatic” approach are in, and they are dispiriting.

I suspect (but could be wrong) that Goutor would disagree with my and Taylor’s neo-progressive thesis and that our understanding of why we believe the NDP are conservative are markedly different. My assumption(potentially deeply flawed) is that I’m sure Goutor wishes the NDP was more aggressive in re-invoking the 1950’s (a more planned economy, closed off from the world with labour forming a bigger part of the pie) But the fact is, for many Canadians going back isn’t desirable, moreover the party doesn’t know what going forward means and so is flailing around in the present, going after small wins without a grand vision appears to be the order of the day.

This isn’t to say the other parties are significantly better off, the challenge is just more noticeable with the NDP.

Postscript – I notice the NDP never got around to debating the motion about the name change. My sense is that this means it got killed… in the way you’d expect from a democratic party, by procedural means.

A Neo-Progressive Manifesto

This piece builds on my thoughts regarding Umair Haque’s Generation M Manifesto.

Dear conservatives on the Left and Right – and those beholden to them.

We would like to break up with you.

Every day, we see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. It’s been a long time coming but we have irreconcilable differences.

You wanted big, fat, universal and eternal institutions. We want renewable, transparent, responsive, and people-oriented organizations.

You turned politics into a divisive word. We want open, engaged and deep democracy — everywhere.

You wanted financial fundamentalism – be it unrestricted, unregulated capitalism or protected and subsidized industrialism. We believe in a post-industrial economy: a shift from the hierarchical to decentralized with the use of markets as a progressive policy tool.

You wanted big growth, measured only by GDP. We want smart growth and real value, built by people with character, dignity and courage.

You wanted organizations hidden behind veils of secrecy. We want open institutions, fit for survival, designed to grow and share wealth, that seek to create markets, not own them.

You believed in top-down and trickle-down. We believe in emergent and bottom-up.

You prized biggie size life: McMansions, gas guzzlers, and McFood. We want a sustainable, humanized life.

You let citizens devolve into consumers and users. We want citizens to be hackers, creators and… citizens.

You’ve claimed the choice is between a winner take all society or a no winner society. We want an eco-system that rewards talent, ideas, productivity and collaboration – we want a meritocracy.

You wanted a culture that is controlled by the past. We want a free culture that builds on the past.

You’ve wanted to protect monopolies or protect jobs. We want an economy that allows for creative destruction.

You wanted exurbs, sprawl, and gated anti-communities. We want a society built around sustainable communities.

You wanted more money, credit and leverage — to consume ravenously. We want to be great at doing stuff that matters.

There’s a tectonic shift rocking the social, political, and economic landscape. We are pro-ams, we are creatives, we are hackers, we are neo-progressives and we are legion.

Who are neo-progressives? We are engaged. We start non-governmental organizations, work internationally, create social enterprises, volunteer in our communities, start socially conscious businesses and advocate outside of organized politics. We are a growing number of people who act differently – doing meaningful stuff that matters the most.

Neo-progressives are those of us who have not found a natural home on the left or the right of traditional politics and are increasingly returning to the core values of historical progressivism, using evidence-based public policy to help ensure the equality of opportunity in a market-based economy.

Everywhere we look, we see an explosion of neo-progressive businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, and government. Who are the neo-progressive role models? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless, Etsy, and Flickr peeps. Ev, Biz, and the Twitter crew who made Tehran 2.0 possible. Calvin Helin, Wendy Kopp and Teach for America, Tzeporah Berman and the ForestEthics crew as well as Mitchell Baker and the Mozilla community. The folks at Kiva, Talking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmer. Anita Roddick, Margot Fraser, Muhammad Yunus, Hernando de Soto Polar and Jeff Sachs are like the grandparents of neo-progressivism. There are tons where these innovators came from.

The creative destruction neo-progressives want isn’t just awesome — it’s vitally necessary. And if you think it all sound idealistic, think again.

We face global warming, a financial meltdown, a de-industrializing economy, increasing inequality (both nationally and internationally) and the possibility of catastrophic terrorism.

But the real crisis is the same one that confronted us in the late 18th century and in the mid 20th century and it isn’t going away, changing, or “morphing.” It’s the same old crisis — and it’s growing.

You’ve failed to recognize it for what it really is. It is in our institutions: the rules by which our economy is organized.

But increasingly they’re your institutions, not ours. You made inherited them but you failed to renew them and now they’re broken. Here’s what we mean:

“… For example, the auto industry has cut back production so far that inventories have begun to shrink — even in the face of historically weak demand for motor vehicles. As the economy stabilizes, just slowing the pace of this inventory shrinkage will boost gross domestic product, or GDP, which is the nation’s total output of goods and services.”

Clearing the backlog of SUVs built on 30-year-old technology is going to pump up GDP? So what? There couldn’t be a clearer example of why GDP is a totally flawed concept, an obsolete institution. We don’t need more land yachts clogging our roads: we need a 21st Century auto industry.

We were (kind of) kidding about seceding before. Here’s what it looks like to us: every era has a challenge, and this is ours: to renew what’s been given us and create what wasn’t — to ensure we foster a sustainable shared prosperity.

Anyone — young or old — can answer it. Neo-progressivism is about ensuring governing and economic institutions once again reflect progressive values. It is more about what you do and who you are than where you fit on a broken political spectrum. So the question is this: do you still belong to the 20th century – or the 21st?

The Neo-Progressive Manifesto Prelude (or why Generation M must be remixed)

On Wednesday Umair Haque’s posted a Manifesto for Generation M. The post has received some praise and some serious criticism.

I’d be lying if I said the post didn’t resonate with me on certain level – heck, that is why I remixed it (lightly) on Friday night. Many of the manifesto’s ideas and links – and above all, its message of institutional failure – tapped into the challenges and issues Taylor and I sought to weave together in Progressivism’s End: How the Left is Killing Progressive Politics.

Now, at the end of the weekend, having reflected on it further alone, with friends and with Taylor, there is still lots I agree with. We do face a crisis of institutions and, frankly, there are a large number of people who would like to simply dial back the clock (some 10 years, others 35) and say – that’s it, problem solved. I believe Umair is saying that isn’t going to work. And I agree with him.

So having said that, I’ve got two observations and a final mega-remix to make to the Generation M Manifesto.

1. It Ain’t a Generational Divide

In reading the comments (especially this one) and talking with friends I was reminded how Taylor and I shied away from using a generational analysis like that adopted by Umair. This was an explicit choice. Our piece is about the death of progressive politics and what we believe is emerging in its place – it is the kind of narrative that, on the surface, appears to lend itself intuitively to generational divide. But the divide is not generational. First, let’s be honest, there are lots of Social Darwinian, self-centered, materially driven people in every generation.

Consider Canada, which many falsely believe is broadly immune to such thinking despite producing Mark Steyn. But consider the research in Sex in the Snow by Michael Adams. Drawing from his social values surveys, Adams concluded that Gen X could be divided into 5 “tribes.” Two of these tribes – the ‘New Aquarians‘ (13% of Gen Xers) and the ‘Autonomous Post-Materialists‘ (20%) would probably find the ideas in Umair’s Manifesto (as well as, hopefully, Taylor and I’s piece) resonate with them. However, among the other three ‘Gen X’ tribes, many of the ‘Aimless Dependents‘ (27%), the ‘Thrill-Seeking Materialists‘ (25%) and ‘Social Hedonists‘ (13%) would likely fall along a spectrum defined at one extreme by mild interest and the other by outright hostility. Still more would probably feel complete indifference to either Umair’s Manifesto or our piece.

This breakdown is true among Baby Boomers as well. I suspect that Autonomous Rebels (25% of boomers) and Connected Enthusiasts (14%) would be more inclined to identify with much of the Manifesto while Anxious Communitarians, (20% ) and Disengaged Darwinists, (41%) would be less inclined.

In short, a generational analysis simply isn’t accurate. But that is only the half of it. The other reason Taylor and I shied away from generational analysis because such an analysis is likely to hamper the development of a self-identifying and self-organizing group to champion and implement the ideas we (and Umair) highlight. While the Manifesto will inspire some, it’s analytical lens will, however, also alienate potential allies while simultaneously assuming those potentially indifferent or even hostile to its ideas are in agreement. If there is going to be a movement, it is wise to know who’s in, who’s out, and who doesn’t care.

2. It’s About Values

What is notably absent from Umair’s manifesto is any mention of values. It’s not that they aren’t there – it’s that they are left implicit. The values I see reflected in Umair’s post aren’t new; in fact they are quite old. This is the central piece to Taylor and I’s argument – that progressives have become more attached to the institutions they inherited than to the values those institutions were built to serve:

The rise of industrial capitalism during the 19th century led to a series of tense societal changes. These included the emergence of an urban working class, increasing inequality and the new possibility of total war. In response, three generations of pragmatically driven “progressives” emerged. Opposing both the socialist left and the laissez-faire right, they championed values such as equality of opportunity, meritocracy, government transparency and empirical inquiry.

This is the source of the crisis. It is not that one generation held values that another didn’t. It’s that the institutions we inherited don’t always reflect those values in a world where globalization, technology and social values have altered how we work, play and live. Taylor and I (and I suspect Umair) are frustrated because we see enormous time, money and energy being spent in an effort to architect our economy, our government and our public spaces to serve and preserve these institutions, rather than ensuring these institutions support us and an economy, government and public space we believe are essential for a prosperous and sustainable future.

So the question becomes how to ensure the values of equality of opportunity, meritocracy, government transparency, empircal inquiry – along with human rights, and the environment, get imbued into the policies, institutions, communities and companies we will inherit and create? It feels like the first step is to articulate them clearly. This way, when some of these new institutions begin to change we’ll know it is time to reform, abandon or simply move on.

3. Post-Potter Authenticity; and Where are the Women?

Finally, some quick hits. In a post-Rebel Sell world we need to be really careful about talking about authenticity. Even the “authentic” is constructed…  (If you haven’t read The Rebel Sell – go find a copy. Heath and Potter are brilliant).

Also, where are the women? Umair’s manifesto lists Generation Mers but there is almost nary a women among them. (I only counted one – Flickr had a female co-founder).

Gen M is about passion, responsibility, authenticity, and challenging yesterday’s way of everything. Everywhere I look, I see an explosion of Gen M businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, government. Who’s Gen M? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless, Etsy, and Flickr guys. Ev, Biz and the Twitter crew. Tehran 2.0. The folks at Kiva, Talking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmer. Shigeru Miyamoto, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Yunus, and Jeff Sachs are like the grandpas of Gen M. There are tons where these innovators came from.

I’m sure this is a problem that can be crowd sourced – but it had better happen quickly. In our piece, Taylor and I used Tzeporah Berman (Environmental Activisit), Calvin Helin (First Nations Lawyer) and Dan Florizone (Public Servant) as cases. Here I think is another place the manifesto could do with more examples – those doing work in the non-profit and government sector.

A real remix

Again – there are a lot of people who are going to jump on Umair. Indeed on some sites the Law of Fail has already been reached:

Once a web community has decided to dislike a person, topic, or idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation.

I’m not one of them. I understand why Umair is frustrated. I’m not certain that a generational analysis is the right approach but I do agree that we are not sufficiently wrestling with the question of how we redesign market regulation, democratic institutions, financial regulation, etc… to help foster the communities, environment and economy we want for the 21st century.

So with this in mind I’m going to take another cut at remixing the Manifesto. Indeed, it may be so dramatically different it is simply a re-purposing.  Increasingly, I sense that we’ve got to put values back into the equation and tackle figure out what are the cleavages in our society that do distinguish those opposed to reform from those in favour – in short, I’m going to remix it into a Neo-Progressive Manifesto.

The Generation M Manifesto (Re-mixed v.1)

I’ve always been a big Umair fan and think you should to. He writes about everything Taylor and I were getting at in our piece about The Death of Progressive Politics and the need for a neo-progressive movement.

On Wednesday Umair Haque published The Generation M Manifesto on his blog. In the very best spirit of Generation M he asked others to edit and re-mix the manifesto. I’ve added a few lines (all my edits are in red), removed the reference to “I” (underlying thinking: this is a manifesto for a group), removed the “I thinks” (this is no time to hedge ourselves)

I want to think about this more but here’s my first crack.

Addendum: I’ve actually done a lot more thinking on the Manifesto and re-mixed it more significantly here.

—-
Dear Old People Who Run the World,

My generation would like to break up with you.

Everyday, I we see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. It’s been a long time coming but I think we have irreconcilable differences.

You wanted big, fat, lazy “business.” We want small, responsive, micro-scale commerce.

You turned politics into a dirty word. We want authentic, deep democracy — everywhere.

You wanted financial fundamentalism. We want an economics that makes sense for people — not just banks.

You wanted shareholder value — built by tough-guy CEOs. We want real value, built by people with character, dignity, and courage.

You wanted organizations hidden behind a veils of secrecy. We want open institutions, fit for survival, designed to grow and share wealth, that seek to create markets, not own them.

You wanted an invisible hand — it became a digital the sleight of hand. Today’s markets are those where the majority of trades are done literally robotically. We want a visible transparent handshake: to trust and to be trusted.

You wanted growth — faster. We want to slow down — so we can become better.

You didn’t care which communities were capsized, or which lives were sunk. We want a rising tide that lifts all boats.

You wanted to biggie size life: McMansions, Hummers, and McFood. We want to humanize life.

You let citizens be devolve into consumers and users. We want citizens to be hackers, creators and… citizens.

You wanted a culture that is controlled by the past. We want a free culture that builds on the past.

You wanted exurbs, sprawl, and gated anti-communities. We want a society built on authentic around sustainable communities.

You wanted more money, credit and leverage — to consume ravenously. We want to be great at doing stuff that matters.

You sacrificed the meaningful for the material: you sold out the very things that made us great for trivial gewgaws, trinkets, and gadgets. We’re not for sale: we’re learning to once again do what is meaningful.

There’s a tectonic shift rocking the social, political, and economic landscape. The last two points above are what express it most concisely. I hate labels, but I’m going to employ a flawed, imperfect one: Generation “M.” We are pro-ams, we are creatives, we are neo-progressives, we are hackers, we are Generation “M” and we are legion.

What do the “M”s in Generation M stand for? The first is for a movement. It’s a little bit about age — but mostly about a growing number of people who are acting very differently. They are doing meaningful stuff that matters the most. Those are the second, third, and fourth “M”s.

Gen M is about passion, responsibility, authenticity, and challenging yesterday’s way of everything. Everywhere I look, I see an explosion of Gen M businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, government. Who’s Gen M? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless, Etsy, and Flickr guys. Ev, Biz and the Twitter crew. Tehran 2.0. The folks at Kiva, Talking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmer. Shigeru Miyamoto, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Yunus, and Jeff Sachs are like the grandpas of Gen M. There are tons where these innovators came from.

Gen M isn’t just kind of awesome — it’s vitally necessary. If you think the “M”s sound idealistic, think again.

The great crisis isn’t going away, changing, or “morphing.” It’s the same old crisis — and it’s growing.

You’ve failed to recognize it for what it really is. It is, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, in our institutions: the rules by which our economy is organized.

But increasingly they’re your institutions, not ours. You made inherited them but you failed to renew them and now they’re broken. Here’s what I we mean:

“… For example, the auto industry has cut back production so far that inventories have begun to shrink — even in the face of historically weak demand for motor vehicles. As the economy stabilizes, just slowing the pace of this inventory shrinkage will boost gross domestic product, or GDP, which is the nation’s total output of goods and services.”

Clearing the backlog of SUVs built on 30-year-old technology is going to pump up GDP? So what? There couldn’t be a clearer example of why GDP is a totally flawed concept, an obsolete institution. We don’t need more land yachts clogging our roads: we need a 21st Century auto industry.

I was We were (kind of) kidding about seceding before. Here’s what it looks like to me us: every generation has a challenge, and this, I think, is ours: to foot the bill for yesterday’s profligacy — and to create, instead, an authentically, sustainable shared prosperity.

Anyone — young or old — can answer it. Generation M is more about what you do and who you are than when you were born. So the question is this: do you still belong to the 20th century – or the 21st?

Love,

Umair and the Edge Economy Community

Neo-Progressive update: Fighting Corruption

Those who read my blog know that I’ve always been an enormous fan of Lawrence Lessig. On numerous occasions I’ve pointed people to his most amazing talk on copyright. Indeed when Beltzner finally got me to watch Lessig’s talk a few years ago (after months of trying) it caused me to go into a 6 month self-directed reading and listening binge on all things copyright, internet rights and open source. Indeed, it is what propelled me into trying to find ways to contribute to the thinking around copyright and open source generally and the success of Mozilla specifically.

So I remember quite clearly the day Lessig said he was backing away from copyright to address the issue of lobbying, fund-raising and problematic incentive structures in the US political system – what he broadly termed as fighting “corruption.” At the time I was not only a little disappointed that he was moving away from such an important issue (copyright), I confess to thinking he was a little crazy. “Fighting political corruption in the United States? That’s an unwinnable battle and a waste of Lessig’s talent” I thought.

The problem was, I was still thinking like it was 1999. I believed that changing congress started and ended with structural change – altering the laws and processes. That battle felt insurmountable – particular given the recent passage of McCain-Feingold bill in 2002. Lessig – while still believing in the need for structural reforms – knew that better and more meaningful change was still possible if one leveraged new technologies to achieve greater participation and transparency.

One of his most recent updates demonstrates how devastatingly successful his small and nascent efforts have been. Don’t think that other congresspeople aren’t taking note.

This week, Change Congress scored a major victory against U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) after he fell victim to what I call “Good Souls Corruption” — good people trapped in a broken campaign-finance system they refuse to fix.

Ben Nelson probably hates us right now — or at least me. But that’s OK, it was worth it. Here’s what happened.

Nelson has received over $2 million from health and insurance interests who oppose President Obama’s public health insurance option. Those companies fear competition. 71% of rural voters support it.

Who did Nelson side with? You guessed it — in May, he sided with the insurance interests against the citizens of Nebraska, calling the public option a “deal breaker.”

So Change Congress launched $10,000 of online ads, letting Nebraska voters know about Nelson’s special-interest money. We also sent 3,000 direct-mail pieces to Democratic donors throughout the state. This generated state and national news stories for over a week (and apparently freaked Nelson out).

After an intense 11-day battle with Nelson, he’s now publicly “open” to the public option — and yesterday, he made more news by saying he won’t join a filibuster of Obama’s plan. One of our local supporters even got a personal phone call from the Senator yesterday, during which Nelson tried to explain away his special-interest contributions!

This campaign is a model for our ongoing anti-corruption work. But to replicate this success, I need your help. Can you please consider chipping in to help us take our show on the road?

At the above link, you can give once or become a monthly Change Congress supporter, which is certainly appreciated.

Ben Nelson was actually the second in our “Good Souls Corruption” campaign. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) was the first — we successfully called him out for siding with special-interest contributors and made him react as well.

As Mother Jones nicely put it:

“Maybe the reason members of Congress are responding so defensively is that CC is striking a little too close to home. Apparently members of Congress are shocked by the nerve-the nerve!-of people who tell them that taking huge amounts of money from the industries they’re in charge of regulating reeks of corruption.”

Exactly right. And we can’t stop in Nebraska.

Change Congress has really hit its stride, but shaming politicians for participating in a corrupt system isn’t cheap. We’re thankful to those who trusted us with their hard-earned dollars in the beginning. But we really need your help now to continue this model around the country.

On the donate page, we ask you to include any suggestions you have for politicians we should consider targeting next. Please include any links to stories that may be relevant.

Below is a timeline of our recent campaign. I hope you enjoy — and please help us continue this work.

A democracy is a terrible thing to waste. Yet that is precisely what money in Washington is doing — wasting this democracy. Together, we can take democracy back.

Thanks for your support,
Lawrence Lessig

Indeed, Lessig’s work mirrors the efforts of ForestEthics Taylor and I chronicled in our piece on neo-progressivism. Better still Lessig’s work hits a lot of neo-progressive buttons. It:

1. Tackles an issue (reforming congress and dealing with influence peddling and lobbying) that is deadlocked and going nowhere

2. The conversation hasn”t been possible not because alternatives to the status quo are considered taboo, but because they are not seen as feasible, or politically possible.

3. It is an issue where there are real divisions within both the left or right. On the right large corporations are not keen on reform as their money buys them influence. This is less true on the left, but nonetheless certain interest groups – such as the unions – are adept at leveraging the current system to gain disproportionate influence, they might not all be in favour of Lessig’s reforms. However libertarian right wingers and progressive left wingers in the United States would both like the system to be reformed.

4. Debates which unite odd factions from within the left and right – see above.

5. This is also an area where individual freedom is curtailed – indeed, individuals and there influence are downplayed within the system and collective interests – corporate, labour and other interest groups, are favoured.

6. And finally, it is an issue where the impact on the public has always been significant.

Mostly however, what impresses me is that Lessige is

a) trying to find ways to inject into the behaviour of congress the values of traditional progressives of the late 19th and early 20th century – equality of opportunity, meritocracy, and transparency

and

b) is adopting the 21st century approach and philosophy those early progressive embraced but their mid-20th century successors ultimately abandoned – working outside of the state, self-organization through the internet, leveraging micro-donation, self-publishing and using sunlight to shame people into action.

I’m looking forward to seeing how far Lessig can go.