Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Innovate Your State Moves Beyond Six Californias Plan

Famed venture capitalist Tim Draper wants more innovation in government. He created Innovate Your State and its Fix California Challenge to bring Silicon Valley's innovative spirit into the Golden State's messed up system. We have no time to waste. California ranks poorly on Forbes' list of the best states for business. Better governance will be good for business.

The venture capital community worries about more than just California's business climate. Tim Draper's plan for Six Californias did not qualify for the state ballot. The proto-state of Silicon Valley would have been the wealthiest and most educated of the six states. That plan reminds me of Tom Perkins' remarks at the Commonwealth Club about the rich getting one vote per dollar of wealth. Wealthy VCs would not mind if Silicon Valley became one giant gated community. I would not mind it so much myself if it meant new states in Southern California had to pay full market price for their water.

The Tim Draper philosophy of "venture governance" crowdsourced from highly motivated citizens allows good ideas to get traction. Like every new venture, opportunity also brings risk. Ideas like allowing constituents to simulate votes on Congressional or Legislative bills will probably force more real-time accountability between elections. It also risks annulling the electoral process if lawmakers start slavishly following the popular will instead of voting their conscience or brokering compromises. Too much innovation brings the kind of direct democracy the Founders wanted to avoid by designing a republic.

I don't see how digitizing democracy will bypass special interests. Well-funded lobbies can still run compelling social media campaigns, and those campaigns can decisively influence crowdsourced projects. The Founders warned about "factions" in the Federalist Papers. Placing governance into the hands of a wise elite whose wealth insulated them from outside pressure was the Founders' solution to factionalism. Lobbies targeting single issues make representative governance more difficult.

Devolving governance into crowdsourcing works best if it improves the machinery of government, like speeding the passage of bills or making regulatory compliance easier. The good news in venture governance is that bad policies can be undone when they lose public support. Markets work that way.