Next Time, Let’s Replace Black Box Debates — Four Out-of-the- Box Ideas

Volume 2, Issue 29

The presidential debates may give us some further insight into the individuals but they tell us nothing really about any plans the candidates and their parties might have. The possibility exists that there might exist only the most superficially developed plans. In this scientific age of computer models — intensive research potential including controlled experimentation, enhancement processes to creativity — our supreme governance techniques appear to be stuck several centuries behind. Would that our government be run the way our best companies and military think tanks are run, making use of the most in-depth plan testing, scenario generation, simulations, wargames, and psychological interventions to strip away mental and emotional blockages. Instead our highest power center still plays out like a student debate in a high school gym. Not only here but around the world.

Whether or not it was right, and regardless of what you may think of Al Gore, at least his An Inconvenient Truth presentation reached a level of comprehensiveness that is lacking in the current debates about solutions for the economy. Shouldn’t each side present its plan in writing to the public, with a full defense against the other side’s criticisms, citing evidence? In the small arena of media research companies, throughout my career I’ve always strived to present the case for my own methodologies using industry evidence and analytics of my own data. Why can’t candidates present the case for their own plans that way?

We are left with the feeling that each side’s plan for the future is a black box reflecting in the end only the original assumptions of each party, i.e. meritocracy (in its worst expressions degenerating into aristocracy) vs. democracy (in its worst expressions degenerating into communism). The only other factor being “Whom do you trust?” This is likely to be answered internally by one’s own bias along party lines, rendering the whole debate process a waste of time. The current candidates exude such reasonability that one is tempted to trust any of them, but how much of that reasonability is simply well-practiced and well-rehearsed good acting? Ultimately the decisions we make as a nation and as a world should be based on the well-defended plans we are choosing among, not merely on the personalities of the front men and front women. We need a plan.

There are still a couple of weeks left in which the candidates should really dig into the details of why they intend to do X, Y and Z. They should show what has worked before, what has not worked, how the contexts have changed since those evidentiary cases, and what their contingency plans are should results deviate from targets by specified dates. Whereas military plans cannot be exposed that way, economic plans can be. That’s Out-of-the-Box Idea #1. Not just debates, but debates after plan presentations. Yes, the plans are on the candidates’ websites, but push would be more effective than pull when the quality of our lives is at stake.

Our Plan For America presented last century focused on individualized education as the key to training Americans to be able to gain and keep jobs in which they could be fulfilled and happy, setting new records for innovation and productivity. Instead of handouts of fish we must train people to fish for themselves, as Charles Kennedy reminded me the other night. Systemic changes are automating jobs into extinction, and so we must all reinvent ourselves at personal and group levels, right up to nations and the planet as a whole. This is a long-range problem with a long-term solution — what do we do to relieve pain right now?

In the Creativity training Richard Zackon and I gave on October 3 at ARF we pointed out that wild ideas are worth throwing out there because they can lead to sounder ideas. So here are three more wild ideas that can be pummeled into realistic ones.

The private sector is the most efficient, so let’s focus on government tax changes and incentives that drive innovations in the private sector and speed up retraining of people out of work. People who have the most money (the top 0.1% or 0.01% for example*) could be offered a choice of higher taxes or the equivalent amount of money invested in the unemployed as entrepreneurs — kind of a pro-social Shark Tank. Before such a plan would start there would be intensive research into who the unemployed are, what talents and defeated aspirations they have had, either through Facebook or something like it. This web-based system would function as a dating service between out-of-work people and rich people. Rich people would help individuals rather than dole out faceless tax dollars. The business plans of the would-be entrepreneurs would be critiqued and improved by the benefactors. If not invested away the same money would simply be taxed away — again, only for the richest 0.1% or 0.01%.

Another process would be incentivizing internships on a massive scale, where the unemployed work for very little in a company where they can learn new skills and maybe get a foot in the door.

We need to consider making it mandatory in our school systems for students to learn a third language — writing computer code.

Let’s encourage the candidates to drop the rote going-through-the-ancient-motions and get on with detailed specific plans that respect our intelligence.

Best to all,


*As reported in the New Yorker:

  1. The top 0.1% received 7.8% of all U.S. income in 2009, according to the IRS;
  2.  Economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty find that:
    a. The top 1% received 93% of the gains of the 2009-2010 recovery;
    b. The top 0.01% received 37% of the gains of that recovery.

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