Of Death and Taxes: Government 2.0

May 13 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, last week I explained why death’s grip might be loosening, and this week I’d like to take a quick look at how our tax burden could soon be reduced.

In the editorial section of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal there were two articles that spoke to how emerging technologies could dramatically lower government expenditures—and, by extension, help cut taxes.

The first was a piece by Brian Carney and it explained how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could soon replace a majority of the military’s jet fighters. What is most noteworthy is that in addition to placing fewer pilots at mortal risk, the cost of a UAV (or drone) is $4.2 million as compared to $350 million, which is the cost of a next-generation F-22 fighter. Better still, UAV’s don’t suffer from fatigue; go on extended leave; nor do they require generous pensions after they are retired.

Advances in robotics offer similar chances to cut our bloated defense budget. Robots are soon expected to be able to drive vehicles and, eventually, even ships and submarines. If so, the rational for our sizeable army and navy will soon be called into question.

Technology’s benefit is not limited only to defense. As Gordon Crovitz explained is his piece, “From Wikinomics to Government 2.0,” the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies are transforming everything from how citizens are combating crime (and thus cutting down on police budgets) to better managing their neighborhoods. (cont.)

The real benefits of new emerging technologies, though, can be found in the areas of education and transportation. Innovative teachers are now employing Curriki to constantly update their curriculum; advances in electronics – such as Amazon’s new Kindle – should help render textbooks obsolete; and the open-courseware movement that MIT and other elite universities are pursuing should make education less expensive by making content freely available to anyone with Internet access.

In the area of transportation, roads, bridges and mass transit systems are all expensive to build and operate. The innovative use of sensors and satellite technology might, however, allow users to more efficiently use our existing roads; and super high-speed bandwidth capability – in combination with improved video and virtual reality technology – should make working from home even more practical in the near future.

The bottom-line is that there is absolutely no reason why government should cost more in the future. People, especially government officials, need to start thinking differently about how to innovatively employ technology to better address today’s existing problems.

Looking for some other innovative ideas about how technology can save taxpayers money? Check out these past posts:

Embracing Change

The Future is Cheap

The Future of Education is Now!

The Future of College

The Future of Kid’s Health

Comment Thread (6 Responses)

  1. That’s good logical thought Jack. I often share your optimism, however on the issue of government spending its easy to turn pessimistic. We have a long history of illogical and inefficient government spending habits. The government in many aspects works in direct opposition of it’s stated goals. When expenses decrease that leaves more money in the general fund which then becomes a blank check for the creation of new bureaucracy. This is a lock-step with many polatition’s quest for more power (unstated goals). It is this philosophy that carries us further from our founders intentions and closer to socialism.

    Posted by: REIRyan   May 13, 2008
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  2. It will be interesting to see the impact of these new technologies on institutions like govt. and education which have always been considered to be the most bureaucratic and slow to change. There is irony in both cases as the military and DARPA in particular are big drivers of technological change and educational institutions are frequently big sources of cutting edge research. I tend to agree with REIRyan in that the inherent goal of organisms, organizations and memes is to grow and proliferate and getting them to downsize and/or become more efficient is always a big challenge. Though, as we see with big corporations, when their backs are against the wall, they will change.

    Posted by: Jeff Hilford   May 13, 2008
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  3. To segway from Jeff’s mention of the corporate world, one of those big barriers to bureaucratic change is exactly that – corporations. The current system rewards entities that can manipulate the government/governmental actors to act positively on their behalf. However, it seems that new systems of interaction and cooperation are emerging that are more positive sum, as seen through some of Google’s practices. Perhaps this is due to increased transparency and thus increased efficiency on the whole? For example, I wonder what kind of effect DailyKos has had on political decision-making and the speed of bureaucratic change, if any?

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   May 13, 2008
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  4. @ Jack: I like the trends that you list and think they represent but a sliver of a broader better-faster-cheaper dynamic that accompanies accelerating change and will disrupt a whole lotta systems.

    In the short-term I agree with REIRyan, being cognizant of the power of bureaucracy and systemic inertia, especially in the case of socially negative disruptions. I could definitely see the U.S., for example, upping our defense budget to a crazy degree.

    But in the longer-term I envision a situation in which automation and other tech expands the economy / money pool and also pushes up the value of individual humans (because now we can tap it more fully), forcing nations into a recruiting dynamic that could drive down taxes and up incentives like better healthcare, tech access, super fast connectivity, direct payments, etc. As everything is quantified and the transfer of value becomes way more fluid, and we collectively continue to ascend the hierarchy of needs, it seems likely that our present day tax system will be considered laughable. Just take a look at the current battle for high-end human resources and imagine it extending to all others, especially as 1) people’s potential is unlocked through software, new tech, new behavioral/psych knowledge, 2) business structures get larger thanks to the web, 3) businesses and people continue to scramble to maximize their upside.

    I plan on writing a more thought-out post on the rising value of the individual sometime this week, so stay tuned. :)

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   May 13, 2008
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  5. Having headed a large state government agency myself, I share the sentiments of those of you have commented to my post that bureaucracies are slow to change and will simply look for new ways to spend any savings.

    However, I am optimistic that the size and scope of government can be reduced if more citizens such as ourselves begin demanding that our elected officials become more innovative.

    I am also encouraged by the rise of “social entrepreneurs.” Many young people are frustrated with government’s inability to solve societal problems and now that they are armed with new technological tools they are just going around government and are working diligently to certain problems.


    Posted by: juldrich   May 14, 2008
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  6. If things line up ideally then perhaps we’ll elect a President who institutes a CTO cabinet position, pushes through protocols for machine readable transcripts of all govt. proceedings (enabling govt. 2.0), and fosters an overall innovation atmosphere. That could finally spark the phase of change needed. If not, it seems unlikely that govt will get more efficient over the next 4 years, barring a successful Change Congress movement (or similar) or a catalytic event (which could also push up defense sepnding, etc.). Here’s hoping for an Obama-esque near-term future.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   May 14, 2008
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