These are all important problems, but there have been people working on them for decades already without much progress. What we really need is for either government to tackle these problems itself, or else to put in place market mechanisms that are able to better reward entrepreneurs for solving them.
For example, economists are almost uniformly against rent control, which many cities try to implement. And the flood of government money encouraging educational loans seems to have made college costs spiral.
Personally, I think both the free market and the government can do good and can do bad. Sensible policies and entrepreneurs can help these issues, and bad policies and bad companies can worsen them.
Not exactly. Government has been throwing band aids at the symptoms, while continuing full steam ahead with the underlying policy - an inflationary treadmill that keeps pushing "full employment" at a time when human labor is rapidly less required.
Housing is not affordable not because it has become expensive to build, but because it has been effectively financialized into a rent extraction scheme. And changing those fundamentals would disrupt the exit plans of everyone that has bought into the bubble.
I'm not excited about private industry approaches - they can succeed in isolation but they can't change the game. Even if innovation does say, bring down the cost of housing. The explicit government policy is to then raise prices across the board to make sure that average costs still keep going up. Essentially, economic progress itself has been turned into a zero sum affair for everyone but the upper class.
This feedback is exactly what happened after free trade and big box stores brought the benefits of cheaper goods and economies of scale, but also hollowed out our local economies. Rather than everybody ending up with more buying power that compensated for the local lost income, prices were raised to erode those gains. So we were left with lower quality goods for the same price, and displaced workers unable to take over a share of the still-needed work, as the still-employed had to keep working "full time" to keep the same buying power.
We're working to make medicine more affordable, focusing on insulin in particular. Insulin has been around for decades, it's easy to make. Technology has been improving, things should be getting cheaper. Instead, insulin continues to rise . People with diabetes need this stuff, if they don't have it they'll literally drop dead.
The left wing "solution" to this problem is to force taxpayers to subsidize it, and perhaps impose price controls. The right wing "solution" is to puke some cookie cutter line about the "free market" and America's incredible "innovation" in drug development, exposing his skin-deep understanding of what those terms mean. (Later, he'll throw a fit about how so many millenials want socialized medicine).
So our startup idea is to create cheap small-scale insulin production hardware, except the second we try to pay back investors and become "for profit", we get regulated like any other drug manufacturer. That means we need to hire an army of lawyers, go through a multi-year multi-million dollar FDA approval process for all the production equipment etc., and open ourselves to patent lawsuits and other weapons of corporate thuggery that the big-time drug companies are so willing to wield.
If we manage to make it through that gauntlet of fuckery, god knows if we'll actually be able to sell it for any cheaper than the status quo. I'm open to being told I'm wrong about this problem, but from my understanding there's simply no way to solve this problem without massive regulatory reform.
- We make the insulin and give it to them for free.
- They sell it
- They donate to us as a 501c3
The legal framework is really twisted and difficult to parse. Maybe this is the perfect loophole, maybe somebody would end up in prison. We’ve got some lawyers volunteering, but per not having much money its difficult to get steady legal counsel to brainstorm with about the legal risks
Jail may also be an overstatement. We are working with lawyers to get a clearer picture of the legal risk involved, for example maybe the biggest risk is that they just come shut us down.
What's worse, given that Promise appears to be a for-profit company and you're investing in it to make money, you now have a financially incentive against fixing the systemic issue. It's better for you if the justice system is bigger and less efficient, because you'll make more money selling us a band-aid.
So count me in with the GP and Andrew Yang: it's not that the problems seem too hard for startups to tackle, but because they are fundamentally not problems that the free market rewards solving. YC mostly funds profit-seeking companies. That's okay! But I am skeptical that there is profit to be made in e.g. dismantling the justice system.
It's also just insulting to activists and others who have been in the trenches fighting these problems for decades.
The free market can reward this, with certain incentive structures ( https://hackernoon.com/wealth-a-new-era-of-economics-ce8acd7... ).
It is Capitalism that doesn't. Neither does Socialism. :/
The problem is not that there aren't opportunities to improve but that getting those into the hands of users is often nearly impossible. Public officials are not incentivized to improve software or even services. People vote based on emotions and the downside of fucking up a software upgrade is far more politically damaging than the upside of fixing it.
Until the procurement and purchasing process is improved—changes that, in my mind, have to come from within—building better products just doesn't matter all that much. (I say this as someone who co-founded a YC-back company building software for local governments and burned out after 2.5 years trying to sell into them.)
Sales is too expensive.
The value to the public might be millions. The software value to the organization is nil.
Oh we can process applications 10x?? Why bother? The people will wait. They always have. Why change it now? Staff won't want to learn something new.
I don’t know. I sincerely hope someone figures it out. We could improve so so so many things
Agile development is about people over process and government is about process over people (for valid reasons!)
We sat through a retro after a sprint with some of the feds and the questions were all about deadlines and dependencies and when such and such would be complete so they started putting everything on the board and made us throw out story points and put dates on everything and we were like, congratulations you just reinvented the Gantt chart.
Like I get it, they have different incentives than most product owners do, but yeah if you think you’re going to reinvent government by bringing silicon valley development practices to Washington, you are going to have a bad time.
Only 5% of a given public sector IT's budget is cloud software (most of their software is legacy/on-prem) vs. 50%+ for similar large commercial enterprise.
As governments digitize more and more, they will prefer native "gov first" products. So while it's still early days in these parts of the market, the early winners will be a great position as we move along the tech adoption curve.
It's worth noting too that the tech adoption curve still exists in government, even if it's backwards skewed. And when the early majority hits, given the scale and size, it's going to create some very large and successful companies.
How can really small players get into this space though?
Congress could submit new laws to Blockchain to combat tampering and ensure proof-of-work.
My startup is working on Artificial Intelligence to predict laws that model cities like San Francisco or New York would want to implement in the face of acute social woes, so if Government 2.0 could provide a RESTful Lobbying API, that'd let the People move fast.
You could point to the diff and talk about it. Worthwhile, I think.
It doesn't seem absurd to me to have a diff, watch that evolve as new versions are proposed by people, and then finally watch what goes in. Obviously ground truth is still in the books, with laws debated in parliament or congress or whatever, but this acts as a shadow tracking that movement. Even if the act of passing were to end with a merge in of whatever law is debated, that's still hardly troublesome. It only increases transparency and doesn't remove any checks or balances.
Bit hysterical of a reaction for a rather minor request, in my opinion.
Interesting that you're calling me silly or hysterical for simply proposing a fearlessly concurrent Government built on Blockchain technology. After all, we're going for Woke Government 2.technotopia, not Broke Government 1.capitolhill.
I am highly confident it will work--the code and tech are there I'm just waiting for a strong project leader with good domain knowledge to lead it.
Shoot me an email if interested.
In countries whose legal system is based on that of England (including most of the US), ambiguity is a design goal of statutes, not something meant to be eliminated. Statutes are supposed to be specified in broad strokes and then have the details hashed out by intelligent judges to work in particular circumstances that the legislators didn't envision.
And "the law" is not just statutes. Statutes are one small part of the law. Most of the law is the tradition of judicial interpretation of those statutes.
I said exactly the opposite: "not eliminate it"
> Most of the law is the tradition of judicial interpretation of those statutes.
This is a very good point. You could simply have judges write decisions in a decision language as well, which is defined just as the law language is defined.
But how could you write the laws in the first place? You can't write them in a language designed to be unambiguous, because they are meant to be imprecise.
There will be some ambiguity introduced via the English language (not a problem since you'd still have judges), but the whole thing can be defined, from concepts like true/false all the way to very complicated concepts, in the same universal syntax/language.
You could define mins and maxes into the language, or even clearly and unambiguously leave everything up to the judge.
My proposal does not change the laws at all--what people create is up to them. All I propose is a language where the language itself cannot be used by the special interests against the better interests of the people. My language leaves corruption with no place to hide.
I should rephrase as well. The language I am proposing offers much stronger control over ambiguity.
Take the 8th amendment: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
What is an "excessive fine" mean? In the language I am proposing it could be defined as is, or in something like:
cellType dollarAmount number
cellType fine dollarAmount
cellType adjustedGrossIncome dollarAmount
description As a percentage of adjustedGrossIncome
cells adjustedGrossIncome fine
trueIf fine / adjustedGrossIncome > universalExcessiveFineThreshold
So you have more control over ambiguity.
I have a toddler in my arms and have to head to work soon but will answer questions/emails as they come.
I talked to a few people in NY State about it and it went over like a lead balloon, so I'm rest curious about your experience!
The problem is what happens when we get to ways to solve the problems these companies are tackling, without the companies. If we enact universal healthcare, will Gusto pivot? If we structure our economy to remove the need for food stamps, will mRelief shut down?
Or will there be attempts to entrench these problems so these companies still have something to solve?
Startups need to make money, and it will always be way more profitable to sell software to those with power/money than those who are disadvantaged.
I wonder if the people who write things like this have processed the fact that they are no longer insurgents, but the entrenched establishment with a very bad history of exploiting the masses for private gain.
Any sane person should instinctively distrust the idea of giving valley tech startups and private equity firms more power over the mechanics of government.
Municipal & State IT systems (particularly around cyber-security) are atrocious (See Atlanta, Baltimore Ransomware). Many of our (and our peers') systems are a hodgepodge of paper, excel sheets, legacy systems, and new off the shelf systems.
At the end of the day, government maintains a strong role in the operations of cities, counties, and states. For example, our city manages the issuance of more than 250,000 permits annually, a road network of more than 10,000 lane miles, and an annual capital infrastructure budget of nearly $1 billion.
There is a very real need for better IT systems that can be customized to meet the needs of differing legacy systems and data structures by municipalities. If our city is any indication of the industry, there is an insane amount of waste and mismanagement that can be attributed to poor/legacy systems or data.
- Procurement rules that require RFP/RFQ to obtain software and limit departments' abilities to get low cost, easy-win solutions.
- Older, non-tech savvy workforce
- Administrations that focus on high visibility IT projects (to public) without thinking about the not sexy foundational issues that are needed. Also politics.
- Siloes between departments that result in many types of systems that don't talk to each other.
- There's so much to do within government and so much that can be improved that the people who get things done are often overburdened. We're both understaffed and overstaffed at the same time. (not enough project managers!)
- Startups try to sell us solutions on problems that are only a small part of a bigger issue
I already think that business has replaced too much of what government should be doing, and has too much influence over what it hasn't replaced. Also, given the activities coming from the tech industry over the last decade or more, I'm even more nervous that this is aimed in that direction.
Increasing the amount of that doesn't seem wise to me.
There are many spaces that can be maintained either publicly or privately that when privatized don't always result in the best outcomes for consumers. A good example are private utilities.
I had a relative that sold his house in a municipality in east Texas and moved to a new development in central Texas. He intentionally chose a house just outside the nearest municipality to avoid paying local taxes. It all seemed great until he got his first water bill from the private water company, only to find that his water bill was astronomically higher (2.5-3x more). His other private utilities were a little higher than what he paid previously, but he was particularly upset about the water.
The water company isn't some multinational corporation, but they have a profit incentive, zero competition, and they control the water infrastructure, so the community there doesn't have much leverage in that scenario.
On top of that, public utilities are accountable to the public, while private utilities are accountable to shareholders. There were no obvious economic reasons for the incredible disparity in price, other than one utility had an incentive to profit while the other didn't.
As long as those organizations are not for-profit companies.
Plus it is becoming increasingly risky to engage with for-profit companies for certain things because of their insatiable desire for data on their customers.
But those are pretty much all the remaining hard problems! If it was self-funding and didn't have any opposition, someone would be able to solve it.
Many of the needs listed in the post (housing, education, food security, etc) are largely challenges of resource allocation. I'm skeptical that a web app can somehow make landowners willing to encourage increasing the housing stock in a city.
Not that I agree with that sentiment, but "something needs to be done with Facebook!" is one of the few things that both US parties seem to agree on.
Also, governments are big spenders. Plenty of incentive there.
- Always on a weekday, so if you have a job and then a family to take care of after work, good luck finding time.
- Long lines, so that even those who find time are discouraged by standing around in November weather.
- The countless cases of voting locations in minority areas conveniently having broken machines or other barriers that prevent them from voting.
This environment has essentially optimized the experience for one group: retirees who have the time and energy to prioritize their day around voting. It's no surprise that legislation often favors this specific group as a result.
My high-level vision of how digital voting would look:
- A secure open source app that verifies your identity before letting you vote.
- Every candidate on the ballot would have a bio detailing their policies and views, to be filled out by them.
- A digital approach would make it easier to eventually adapt the system to involve things like ranked voting.
This would allow everyone to vote whenever and wherever they want, no relying on external factors like those mentioned above. It also provides one consistent place for every voter to see the same information about the candidates, rather than placing that task in the hands of media and their inherent bias/interests.
That's my 2 cents, I'm excited to see how startups tackle this.
After all, it's much easier to notice a hundred thousand pieces of paper getting added to the vote-counting system than flipping some bits that represent a hundred thousand votes.
The voting system definitely needs improvement, but a digital app is absolutely not the way to go. Vote-by-mail solves nearly all the issues you've brought up, and seems to me to be a good intermediate step.
But the problems that you cite can be resolved without them in a number of different ways anyway. Vote by mail, for instance, or even making "election day" 24 hours long and a national holiday.
From silent malware changing votes on voter's machines, to an authoritarians manipulating the servers, to inability to verify what is actually run on the servers, to hacking of air-gapped servers like Stuxnet did, etc. etc.
Perhaps a smart contract on a publicly verifiable blockchain could alleviate the black box concerns. Privacy issues remain. Most democracies see it as absolutely vital for the population not to disclose who they voted for, so whatever smart contract we come up with, it has to be blockchain analysis-proof.
1. Risk Limiting Audits (RLAs)
2. Software independence 
3. Paper-backed ballots (which are the official record of the vote) that are physically voter-verified (as a requirement for the above)
4. Paper ballots are anonymized after submission, so as to avoid coercion and vote selling
5. Usability improvements
An app may be a solution to some of #5 above, e.g. as a ballot marking device at the polls, but in order to be secure it should absolutely have #1 and #2. FWIW, voting.works will likely support these.
The solution to long lines and timing is a complicated policy issue, which may not be solvable with technology.
I didn't see the link in the article, but here is the list mentioned: https://www.ycombinator.com/rfs/
Student created content has way more relevance than what the government can mandate. Eventually, we will expand beyond writing. I was a K-12 teacher for the past 10 years, and know this to be a critical need. I have been building this for the past 6 months, and we have gotten 200+ submission, and published and awarded 25+ amazing students.
Does this fit under Government 2.0? Even otherwise, would love to hear what the community feels about it.
Maybe political training for "everyday" people who pledge to vote the way the majority of constituents want them to (I think there was a YC startup back in the day that had a software platform for something like this)?
Maybe a political donation platform like Crowdpac that only unlocks donations to a politician if they've voted a way they promised to on an issue?
Maybe a way to help bring more people to the polling station during elections to make them more representative of the population (many poorer voters can't make it as in the U.S. these are often during weekdays, have lines, etc. and they can't afford to take off work or the Uber ride to get to the location)
I've been researching the area and am looking to jump on something full time (currently working for the Estonian govt but will move back into the private sector soon) but haven't landed on a final killer idea so more than open to kicking around ideas with anyone who is interested!
Once the philosophers give us a decent spec, it should be trivial to implement. ^__^;
What is the mechanism by which you propose to enforce this? Who gets to define "do right by voters"?
I have come to the conclusion that commercial offerings in the government space are just fucking over the taxpayer and should be replaced by open source services maintained in specific ways
- OSS for gov should be seen as a pro bono "year out" for professionals on their journeyman year
- OSS needs to be funded at government level for development and for ops separately. Something like a kickstarter / auction for features and for support
- this oss suite gets to become well known and cross supported - because so many small companies work on it they can become a matrix like support network - no worries that there is not a single huge supplier "supporting" their crap source, here comes a "Guardians of the Galaxy" web of small ships all able to pick up the load from another because they all know this big code base
- This is partly "let's bring our government into the digital age, but more importantly its "let's bring all governments" - including those not so democratic. Look at how the GDPR just made itself the default. Now think of every small interaction with government being designed with individual agency in mind. this is potentially the biggest act of cultural "laying down of rails" since the Napoleonic code. Shall Western democracy do it?
- remember "developer hegemony" - this is where such firms would do well
Any way - bed time so not well put but it all popped into my head so wanted to share
That said: My hat is off to anyone who manages to cross the divide between silicon valley culture and govt bureaucracy culture. Navigating the differences in those world views is not for the faint of heart.
I have an idea for a non-profit that tackles a systemic problem, but I can't help but look at some of the other yc grads and think that their companies seem hopelessly out of touch with the problems they're trying to tackle.
Promise is mentioned as "tackling mass incarceration", but their company seems geared more towards improving efficiency in criminal justice agencies. Do they really think that an app that sends reminders is going to help failure to appear rates? Crime, recidivism, failure to appear etc are deeply rooted in poverty and hopelessness.
How does a reminders app fight any of those problems? People fail to show up to court because they don't see the point, because they think the system is stacked against them, because they can't afford to take the time off of work, because they can't find child care, or because they don't have transportation. It's ridiculous to suggest that an app that sends reminders of court dates will make an impact on any of these problems.
You have focused on a single idea to criticize. It's true that some who venture in this space may be young, privileged, out of touch, etc. I don't think this negates the approach.
Many times what happens with non-profits is that they start great with founders' motivation but have a tough time turning that into a sustained operation.
... I'm not even sure where to begin.
In the global world countries can be seen as sort of quasi-companies that happen to have monopoly control on a particular area (a monopoly that is slowly dissolving with the internet) + force.
There are many ways a company can help solve problems that we tend to think of as government problems.
1. Government also buys services.
2. Startups can fix the services government does badly as an additive product, e.g. Gusto or TurboTax.
3. Startups can solve government problems directly, e.g. Fedex vs USPS.
The only real difference between the two entities is the power of force that government can apply to make you people their services. Which is sometimes useful, but doesn't make voluntary efforts at solving the same problems a bad thing. It is also not in competition. Whenever I see these arguments being made I see people who would rather limit their work on these problems to voting once a year, instead of actually trying to solve the problems themselves.
On the most basic level, governments are responsible to their citizens and their only purpose is to serve those citizens.
Companies are responsible only to their shareholders, who may or may not be their customers. Their only goal is to earn money for those shareholders.
Companies get to pick their customers, governments do not.
The examples you give are instructive. Intuit spends a tremendous amount of money lobbying against improvements to the American tax system that would benefit everyone, because that would mean fewer profits for them. Fedex competes in some ways with the USPS, but USPS provides a government mandated service to every remote region of the country, which a private company would not do, because as a country we decided that service was an important function of government. Plus, Fedex actually uses USPS for a significant percentage of their deliveries.
In the US, the default is to appear to support citizens while doing a mix of what lobbyists pay for and actually serving citizens. The mix favors the rich folks' lobbyists whenever there is a conflict. The leaked Citigroup memos called this a plutonomy, a capitalist form of plutocracy.
I listened to a podcast with the founder. She was impressive.
In terms of the impact of reminders, you'd be surprised. One of the student loan guarantors tried a model where they were paid more if they kept people paying their loans. Their program was very successful with just well-timed reminders and calls. It was pretty amazing.
"...By proactively reaching out to borrowers at risk of delinquency and default, ASA helped to avert more than $120 million of loan defaults before the program was eliminated by the Department of Education."
>Yet new data shows only modest increases in two of the main measurements of success since 2017.
In that year, 26.9 percent of defendants released from jail before their trials were charged with a new crime — either an indictable offense or a disorderly persons charge. That number increased from 24.2 percent in 2014.
Some 89.4 percent of defendants appeared for their court dates in 2017, down from 92.7 who showed up in 2014. Analysts cautioned that “small changes in outcome measures should be interpreted with caution and likely do not represent meaningful differences.”
Literally nobody is probably close to accurate.
For all the important systemic problems that parent rights points to as very important, most of them have also proven to be rather intractable. Helping a few people whose major problem is that they never learned how to schedule strikes me as much more tractable.
Sometimes helping people means having to choose between a minor-but-addressable aspect of a large problem and a major-but-intractable one. Just because someone thinks they've found somewhere small where they can make a difference doesn't mean they have earned scorn for not being intimidated by poverty and hopelessness.
Small changes can add up. They certainly do a lot more than giving in to despair.
The question is what happens when we try to radically reduce the number of people we send to prison. Is there still space for Promise to make the new justice system more efficient? Do they pivot? Do they scale down? Do they disband entirely?
Or do they end up opposing efforts that would solve the root problem?
I'm sure they have noble intentions. But a lot of these problems are not things that you can make money by fixing. They require laws and policy changes. Not band-aids on top of an inherently broken system from companies that are unaccountable to the citizens they're ostensibly helping.
I've always found that the big problem with insisting on go-big-or-go-home approaches to problems is that the odds are very good that you wind up landing on go home.
It might just be me - and I'm typing this while blearly-eyed tired - but it seems like insisting that systemic change is the only acceptable approach is a good way to make shockingly little progress. You wind up losing those all-or-nothing bets too often.
If the company helps some people and fails as a company, I'm going to call that a victory for humanity. I understand that some might choose to avoid a potential way to improve some lives out of a fear that it could backfire in some possible futures. I don't know what to say except that I disagree with that weighting of probabilities.
This isn't an attempt to bandaid over the whole problem. It's an attempt to address a minor contributing factor that is much more tractable than hopelessness.
The government is already stricken with profit-seekers extracting value from the public. SV wants its piece too. And it will, if it can make VC money out-impact the status quo of entrenched lobby money.
In the direction of getting their net worth equal to Bezos that is. In the other direction not so much perhaps.
But really what is people's obsession with "income inequality"?
Ya, the rich shouldn't run governments or be able to evade laws or abuse the poor (which is why we have governments who also perhaps should do more to care for the disadvanted), but other than that, if you have 10 dollars and I have one dollar it's preferable to both of us having 50 cents. I just don't get the obsession with "equality". Seems counterproductive. I truly am just confused by the obsession with it.
On the most basic level, you should question your own premises. The reality of extreme wealth inequality is that rich people do have a substantially outsized say in running the government and exercising other forms of power, and they are often able to evade laws as well as engage in activity that is harmful to the poor.
I don't think the best way to solve that problem is saying people can have less money but rather fix the systemic issues (lobbyists, opportunities for corruption, the campaign contribution circus etc). And manifestly not allow abuse of the poor by those with money.
What seems to happen the other way is sort of like what happens in China (or other parts of the world). Becoming a bureaucrat is an income producing commodity. And that has a worse outcome than Bezos buying a newspaper in my opinion.
But I also agree with the problems you point out. They are issues with the way things are running right now in the US for sure that should be addressed and it is hard to do because monied interests stymie attempts.
Hat tip to the USDS and 18F . Hard working people making an impact. YC: Why not consider hiring lobbyists to enable existing, impactful teams more velocity?
 https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/444159-congress-shoul... (Congress should grow the Digital Services budget, which more than pays for itself)
There isn't a country on earth that allows for unregulated capitalism.
Likewise government unrestrained appears to lead to the few accumulating more and more and increasing their power.
Promise is mentioned as "tackling mass incarceration", but their company seems geared more towards improving efficiency in criminal justice agencies. Do they really think that an app that sends reminders is going to help failure to appear rates? Crime, recidivism, failure to appear etc are deeply rooted in poverty and hopelessness.
How does a reminders app fight any of those problems? People fail to show up to court because they don't see the point, because they think the system is stacked against them, because they can't afford to take the time off of work, because they can't find child care, or because they don't have transportation. It's ridiculous to suggest that an app that sends reminders of court dates will make an impact on any of these problems. Have you encouraged the people in Promise to talk to experts in this area?
Or is your approach with all of these systemic problems to just make some apps that crunch data and send reminders?
It really does not make me want to apply, given that you are listing a company like this as one of your bright, shining Government 2.0 examples. Not that I would trust a bunch of VC's to tackle income inequality anyway, but it's almost funny how terrible these companies are about missing the mark.
Text reminders empirically reduce failure to appear by a huge amount. Maybe you don’t understand the problem as well as you think?
That's not true at all. I worked for 3 years on a non-profit that funded itself and it received external donations and investments. This is not "either self-funding or external-funding". The whole idea of a nonprofit is that instead of sharing the surplus of revenues between shareholders, leaders or members, it will invest the surplus further into the company development and projects. It has nothing to do with scalability.
Having managed a non-profit and having worked at a very successful one before, this just makes you sound so out-of-touch it's not even funny.
Yes, some non-profits are driven by donations, but many are not.
> So it's far better for a for-profit to solve a given problem than a non-profit, as they are inherently more scalable.
If by, "more scalable," you mean, "less accountable," then you're correct.
Did you consider any other less misleading/terrifying names?
"The Chinese government is building an OS and, in the not-too-distant future, the world will be split: those nations that adopt it, and those that don’t. This OS isn’t just software – it’s also access to Chinese capital, investments in infrastructure, and more – but it is ALSO software, a very capable suite, and it includes the world’s best facial recognition software. The sales force is out there now, signing up clients. This is happening."
Anyone else heard more details on this?
This sucks to see from YC. So many of us around the world look to YC as an accessible version of American prosperity. America is an exclusive and very rich club however.
A bigger impact than improving American government would be: Improving American Democracy. Improving global government.
I know things have changed a lot in America in the last few years, but I didn't realize how pervasive the nationalistic mental model had become.
YC: Do good in the world, please.
Seriously though, there's millions of people here who have been left out of the exclusive and rich club. The UN repeatedly dings the USA for the standard of living of many of our citizens and our terrible legal/justice system. So much of our government meant to help those people is either deliberately underfunded or mismanaged and can use all the help it can get.
How the heck can we figure out how to help government abroad when we can't even get our own right?
It's reasonably safe to say "oh, god, the US Has Issues and please help us with it." It's pretty widely accepted that America is shite for a wealthy, developed country by quite a few metrics.
What about the cities where Airbnb skirts the regulation and zoning and makes it a hell for people living there? What about Airbnb filing a lawsuit against cities when city wants an occupancy tax? If Airbnb was so serious about helping hosts pay their rent, it would only allow one unit per person/owner to be listed on the platform and honour the day limit imposed by some cities. You and I both know it very well that Airbnb is nothing but a glorified hotel now. There are studies out there that nicer neighbourhoods of the city where Airbnbs tend to concentrate have seen more increase in rent compared to other neighbourhoods.
I really liked, in fact love the idea of Airbnb if it functioned the way it was supposed to be. But all it has done in desirable cities (speaking of Toronto in my case) is take units off the market for long term renters who actually live and work in the city, thus contributing to increase in rental prices and make it tougher for people to buy their first unit since people are investing money into buying x+1st property to Airbnb in it. I'll appreciate it if you actually reply to this post, and i'm willing to discuss it further.
I've worked for a company that paid millions for a contract and software that ultimately wasn't used. There was tons of corporate waste that could be solved by simple internal CRUD apps and a little user training, purchases that weren't used much (if at all), projects that were bad from the start, and apathetic leadership with a comfy golden parachute.
But why would I make a startup that encourages companies to pay their employees more? Or fire bad leadership and bad employees? Or stop making dumbass purchases? Or stop giving out golden parachutes and force leadership to actually have skin in the game?
No business would hire that startup.
Of the issues you listed, dumbass purchases is by far the most tractable. It aligns with existing incentives. It's something companies are broadly already on board with. It might even be possible to contractually hook it in with departmental compensation to boost wages with part of the funds when waste is found.
Now that sounds a lot more workable than "tackling stagnant wages". Might just be me, though.
I cannot seem to find this in the linked survey( seems to link to some methodology about us-german relations). Can someone help me find it. only google hit for this is this YC article.
> We believe this mindset is the result of increased family debt, stagnant wages, and a lack of government commitment to provide equal access to the basic services families need to thrive.
What is the basis of this guess?
The Global Goals
1. No Poverty
2. Zero Hunger
3. Good Health & Well-Being
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
6. Clean Water & Sanitation
7. Affordable & Clean Energy
8. Decent Work & Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
12. Responsible Consumption & Production
13. Climate Action
14. Life Below Water
15. Life on Land
16. Peace and Justice & Strong Institutions
17. Partnerships for the Goals
The goal is to give average citizens a place to go to:
- become informed about all sides of an issue in a quick and easy way
- share a new opinion, or up-vote a remark that resonates
- monitor and engage in affairs you care about while ignoring those you don't
Anyone could open an issue, no matter how controversial. Anyone can provide their opinion, and one of the challenges is figuring out how to engineer the site such that high-quality submissions float to the top while trolling and inappropriate remarks sieve down to obscurity. Conflicting positions would be grouped into major camps with the top-voted contributions of each equally showcased (picture the Amazon review page with the most helpful positive and negative review on top).
Each issue would have a section organizing fact-checked, unbiased research presented from well-reputed sources (possibly distinguished through community moderation) and make that work easy to cite. It would also track related, real-world events as they occur (e.g. bills being voted on, court cases, protests, breaking news, etc). We'd link to existing sites where it makes sense (e.g. Wikipedia, Factcheck/Politifact, stuff like TheyWorkForYou, etc.)
The site would offer (but not require) to collect your demographics and share anonymized stats with levels or branches of government you choose (e.g. local counselor, municipal utilities, state, etc) or social researchers. You could opt in to lightweight surveys from your representatives (targeted by geography, demographics, or issues of interest) to help them gain more granular understanding of the needs of their constituents.
This isn't fully fleshed out and I know it covers a lot of ground - too much for one startup to do all at once. Some of it has already been attempted by others. Would love to hear your thoughts on it.
One thing I became convinced of pretty quickly is in order for this to succeed it needs to be built and hosted by a non-profit able to maintain a strong public reputation for being unbiased.
As someone with a background in education, this is what I wish more edtech startups focused on. Yes, instruction is core, but so much of what's failing in today's schools is bad ops -- hiring, sourcing, maintenance, managing student data, etc. It's also all based on many legacy public systems.
In very very short terms, the tools have been designed from scratch without primary stakeholders (veterans, their advocates) for 2-3 years and they are just now considering opening up to stakeholder issues on their github. Instead, they focus on VA employees say they need to accomplish their jobs or even VA contractors.
Certain VA employees have publicly stated ownership of the USDS's work on their behalf, it's "their" software and not the public's or Veterans', and it is clearly designed as such.
I could give very specific examples all throughout the USDS VA Digital Service github account but I'll just leave this nugget (which I wrote) from October 2017. They just stated their intention to begin to incorporate stakeholder ideas only a few months ago.
What would actually improve Veteran's claims processing starts with what Veterans and their advocates can do - to SAVE government resources doing the same thing or codifying it into complicated software on their end.
see very bottom of 
The biggest thing to understand is that Veteran's do not currently have a way to even view their static "file" that is being reviewed. The VA and advocates with proper clearance can view both top-level and detailed information much more than the claimant themselves can. They basically get to logon to vets.gov to be told they are #10253 in line and it is currently at the "Processing Evidence" level and that's it.
Doesn't really make sense to have the claimant have to work so hard to know how to shape their own claim that they initiated. The easier the claimant can do the legwork, the less the government has to do to explain and pickup extra work (the government has certain obligations to fully assist).
One of the biggest things that is going to hit government that people haven't articulated is the effect of Agile development on service economics.
Short version is, iterative development was designed for things that grow revenue, so the cost of maintaining them using devops is minor when you are a growth SaaS business. Waterfall methods were designed to be built by expensive developers and passed on to cheaper operations groups for long term maintenance lifetimes of a decade or more.
Keeping developers on staff to patch libraries, iterate on features and maintain solutions that have fixed revenue/funding allotments is much more expensive than most agencies understand they are signing up for.
Going to a cloud subscription model creates massive procurement problems with vendor lock-in and competitiveness issues, and it also takes PII and sensitive data out of their custody and control.
I think to understand government, you need to understand public sector economics, which are centrally planned and do not reflect the reality of the outside economic world.
Our current system has a number of problems. Swing states in presidential elections become the focus of presidential candidates and their platforms, even though those states are not home to the majority of the US population. Also, our current system creates weak links in the chain that are easier to exploit. For example, if you are a corporation looking to block legislation the most efficient means of doing so would be to contribute to the campaigns of the senators from smaller states. The average amount raised in 2012 by senate winners in California was $29.3M vs just $1.7M in Utah. It is much less expensive to influence smaller senate races, but the voting power a corporation would influence is the same.  If senate voting power was weighted by population, corporations or other groups would have to influence costlier senate races.
>1. To be clear, we do not seek to replace the government and its policymakers but seek to fund startups that create solutions that provide Americans the foundations for economic growth
Why did you give this project such a provocative name? It's borderline trolling.
We are the working on building a free universal basic safety net for all: https://betterbank.app/
Essentially it's a checking account+insurance policy, bank with us and if you ever got hurt we will pay upto $5k in cash…use it for out-of-pocket expenses+ lost wages. It's free because we make money from debit interchange, targeted at either uninsured young folks who find obamacare to be too expensive or families with high deductibles.
Do we qualify as a profit minded start also doing good? If not, are there any other models out there
IMHO the problem happened when the propaganda machine began telling us that the government is the enemy and can't do anything right:
I know that many people still believe that today, but they are wrong. My personal evidence for this is the fact that our education, infrastructure, and social safety net were all much stronger in the 80s than today. The catch is, that they weren't strong for everyone. Women and minorities were largely left out. The 80s were mostly about the growing pains of transitioning from a 1950's style nuclear family economy to a 21st century one where every human being has equal dignity. That scared a lot of people, and resulted in AIDS and the war on drugs, among a great many other social ills that never.should.have.happened.
The scientific evidence for the lack of justice and progress in 40 years is the vast wealth inequality today. We're what, 2, 4, 10 times more productive per capita than in 1980? But make less money adjusted for inflation? Someone stole that money. And they did it politically. The catch there is that politicans are the symptom of dysfunction, not the cause.
With all that out of the way, I think we can still have a vision forward. I think that to get the USA back towards the top, we need to address every ranking where we currently suffer: education, healthcare, infant mortality, college/personal/national debt, environmental sustainability, being overworked/underpaid, lack of transparency in government, on and on. We know the problems, but our two major political parties have us deadlocked and distracted so they can skim from us to line their own pockets and those of their donors in order to maintain artificial scarcity and rent seeking to bolster hierarchy.
Politics aside, there is a huge, untapped, public sector market that has been starving for capital since 1967. There was a long term agenda to convert that to a private sector market by means such as HMOs, the privatization of education, and buildup of the military industrial complex without an industrial superpower threatening us.
Personally I'd like to see money be shifted from those things back to the public sector (We the People), but that's unlikely to happen because our economy is made up of the middlemen it feeds now. Luckily with our increased productivity, we can find a way to feed everyone.
Government is traditionally good at long term investment. So it's going to be a shift for any private sector startup to go from short term thinking to long term planning. But for example, there is nearly infinite opportunity in things like the Green New Deal, distrupting the ISP duopolies, bringing the arts and humanities back into education, big data/machine learning in medicine, new forms of transportation, organizing labor/guilds, peace corps and legal financial instruments to provide people the means to work off and/or settle their debts, and so on. These are comparable to the federal budget, perhaps $1-4 trillion annually in untapped opportunities.
I'm sure the new startups will always prioritize serving the citizens over making money. After all, that's what private for-profit organizations have a long track record of doing.
I'm sure the listed start ups do good work. There are ways tech can help government and people.
Government 2.0 is awful branding. The idea that you can "upgrade" our government with a handful of private companies is downright anti-democratic. How about instead of trying to replace the existing government with private organizations answerable to a few very rich individuals, you work with existing democratic structures and try to improve them.
The end goal should be open, accessible projects built with open accessible tools.
YC cultivates some amazing hammers, but I'm not sure the inefficiencies of government are nails, but rather massive systemic issues stemming from cultural beliefs about what fairness, accountability, and democracy should look like. Is it wasteful to create tons of red tape to prevent fraud, for example? Yes, probably. Is a more efficient system which creates opportunities for corruption a valid trade-off? That's where the real debate lies and there are no easy answers.
And, of course, YC even funds non-profit startups. Recognised tax-exempt organisations almost by definition work on goals which are also in the government's purview.
As it is, it appears your comment simply takes umbrage with the title? There is even a footnote explaining that the goal here is not to replace government but to improve it. That footnote may have actually been added as a response to your comment, because your's would seem to be a rather odd reading of this request.
Read (at least an outline of) manufacturing consent. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky pointed out 40 years ago that the media is complicit in propaganda dissemination for the government without any active coercion taking place.
> so are internet providers
This is directly at odds with reality, when internet providers are allowed to run rampant we get anti-consumer behavior that requires things like net neutrality to fix. The fact that state mandated monopolies make problems like this worse is not an argument against the state, but against unregulated/poorly regulated monopolies. Telecom at some level does require actual lines to be run; it's a natural monopoly so we don't have a comcast line, an at&t line, a spectrum line, etc all right next to each other. The alternative is forcing them to work together, which we also could do much better on.
Neither of these companies are necessarily fundamentally evil, but without oversight and accountability can, will, and have done bad things. That's the crux of it all, you can't rely on private companies to self-regulate, they're ultimately only beholden to their shareholders.
Government's actions are constrained by a massive aversion to risk. I think in some areas there's definitely opportunity for private companies to provide services cheaper/better than they currently are while still having room for profit.
Also, contracting out to private entities gives people someone to sue (without leaving the taxpayers on the hook) and the government someone to fire (or not renew their contract) when things get F'd up. Compare the options available to the public if the police misbehave vs if private security guards hired by the city/town misbehave.
Government should contract out the things private industry does better and cheaper and in-house things that private industry cannot do. For example, government should give money to organizations that run homeless shelters, not run the shelter itself. If there are local options for getting rid of scrap metal then the government should not be taking appliances as part of city trash pickup.
There's definitely things that government should be doing (like social safety nets) but not everything government does is stuff government should be spending its time and money doing. For the things that government does not do it should act as a check to make sure nothing gets too out of hand, like an operating system managing resources and the software using them.
Most of the topics listed in the blog post fall under social safety net.
"...a lack of government commitment to provide equal access to the basic services families need to thrive. These services include access to quality education, affordable housing/healthcare/food, physical safety, accurate news and information, a social safety net, and a livable environment.
We believe that a new generation of technology startups are emerging who will start to address these needs"
They explicitly state they are looking for startups to address social safety net needs. That is what I am criticizing.
Growing up in poverty has strong correlation with traditional measures of success (high school/college graduation) as well as being shown to affect a child's IQ, working memory, language development, etc. At that point, we can increase access to college and healthcare and whatever else, but the damage has been done.
Education can do some good, but if the problems are environmental, if the challenges are that children can no longer go to school because they need to care for siblings/children of their own or work to supplement their family's income or grow up with PTSD from gun violence or end up in jail because they're taking advantage of the limited means available to them, then…I mean I don't know. It feels like capitalist enterprises focused on adults might not be the real solution here.
And please don't take this as criticism of YC. Their Basic Income project is the most forward-thinking approach to solving this exact problem, but precisely because it doesn't try to solve poverty through capitalist means. The risks associated with doing business with people with low income means the interest rates for lending (payday loans) are unconscionably high. Businesses just aren't incentivized to help the poor.
I think it's going to require political action. Not only helping people vote—YC's funded a number of initiatives here—but specifically supporting candidates who will tackle poverty, who focus on the root of so much suffering in our country and our world that is not directly solvable by capitalism.
And in fact, Silicon Valley's greatest success stories are directly fueling wealth inequality. Not only destroying jobs but centralizing wealth into a small corner of the world. Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, etc. take wealth from all over the world and centralize it into the Bay Area. When these companies IPO, the vast, vast majority of that wealth created comes back to Silicon Valley.
Capitalism is not the answer to every problem, nor was it meant to be.
Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations about markets, but he also wrote The Theory of Mental Sentiments about reducing suffering. Markets to him were a tool in the pursuit of happiness, and sometimes that tool did not fit.
So I agree with the sentiment here, but believe there is more to be done, perhaps more important or impactful work to be done, beyond the bounds of capitalist enterprises.
> Yeah, this album is dedicated
> To all the teachers that told me I'd never amount to nothin'
> To all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin' in front of
> Called the police on me when I was just tryin' to make some money to feed my daughter (it's all good)
Chance the Rapper:
> It just got warm out, this the shit I've been warned 'bout
> I hope that it storm in the mornin', I hope that it's pourin' out
> I hate crowded beaches, I hate the sound of fireworks
> And I ponder what's worse between knowing it's over and dyin' first
> 'Cause everybody dies in the summer
> Wanna say your goodbyes, tell them while it's spring
> I heard everybody's dying in the summer
> So pray to God for a little more spring
: For this reason I believe that one of the greatest political tragedies of modern American politics was the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
The big problem is that if you take into account all capital invested in the financial industry, so investments in VCs, hedge funds, mutual funds but also deposits in banks, financial firms have been a) generating lower rates of return and b) passing a smaller percentage of those returns to investors. Banks in the US keep/spend 60-70% of returns generated on all capital invested with them. In Europe it's actually worse, about 90%. Couple this with the fact that the middle class doesn't have access to and doesn't know how to do due diligence on investments that generate higher returns (the better hedge funds and VCs) and that policy makers have held rates extremely low for a very long time, and you have we are now.
Even though people are not making a lot less from employment, their total income (including returns on saved and invested capital) and net worth is MUCH lower on a relative basis and it's clear that their children are likely going to be worse off than them and they may not have a retirement. This in my opinion is likely the cause of the appeal of Trump.
Both problems a) and b) mentioned above are not because the financial industry is evil. It's because large parts of the industry, particularly the parts that serve retail investors and depositors are obsolete in how they are structured, for example the very idea of a mutual fund (including ETF) or indeed any vehicle that pools capital, except in situations where material capacity constraints exist, is obsolete because unlike in the 1950s where pooling capital reduced transactions costs, it now dramatically increases transactions costs and hence lowers returns.
The industry won't fix it itself because the best and most innovative people working in areas serving retail get pulled into areas that can charge 2 and 20 and because doing so means they compete with their own most profitable businesses. Most extant fintechs won't fix this because putting an API or web-page in front of extant products doesn't solve the underlying problems.
I don't think the typical VC funded startup will fix this because there is an extreme focus on going to market immediately and then iterating. If that's your approach you are going to end up building a web front end to Vanguard or an API to ACH and focus on marketing. Decent returns to VCs but you don't actually fix anything or approach anywhere near the returns possible with a higher risk approach. Extreme immediate focus on iterating is great if you are a 20 year old who hasn't built anything yet. I don't think it works all that well if you have a couple decades of industry experience, know what to build because you are likely your own most finicky customer.
Full disclosure, I am working on fixing this. We (at different firms) built systems that essentially took the US equity market electronic and early HFT systems. That in some ways was a much simpler problem but it still took us 2 years of building and testing with our then employer's capital, essentially serving as our own clients, before we went to our first external customer. We are following the same process now, essentially coming up with a different way of structuring our client's relationship to us, dealing with the regulatory headaches that come from that, and developing novel algorithms to handle investing for retail clients. If you are interested in this sort of thing, can program well, love data science but understand that even when doing something exciting you will spend 70-80% of your time munging data, get in touch.
Please especially don't post nationalistic slurs to HN. Your comment unfortunately dips at least a toe into that toxic waste.
How do you recommend drawing attention to systemic issues of national mindset where these issues are so much "in the water" that they seem invisible to insiders, but are quite notable to outsiders?
EDIT> More specifically the US/Canada differences are interesting because as Canadians we are very similar, we are immersed in your media, and your products, and yet your values seem gratingly foreign at times. It's a valuable perspective, IMO.
We don't mean to do that—on the contrary, we think we're helpfully pointing out information that other people need in order to improve themselves (which in most cases means, be more like us). But the other side feels it acutely. We don't see or feel the shadow we cast when arguing like this, but it's the first thing the other picks up on. Then the impulse becomes irresistible to fling it back—which the first person experiences as being misunderstood and unfairly interpreted—and so we get fights where people are no longer exchanging information or learning from each other. I believe that this may be, in the small, the same phenomenon which in the large is known as war.
So my recommendation would be: don't do it. But if you have to do it, hold off until you've conscientiously searched for unhelpful signals in what you've written and unhelpful intentions that may be lurking in your feelings. Take care to give space to the other side and to allow for how your own biases affect your view of the other. (If you want to look into the latter, one place might be with the feeling behind that word "gratingly".) On HN, there's an additional don't-do-it: don't do it if it would take a thread on a generic tangent. Those lead to much lower-quality (high indignation, low information) discussions.
All that is so hard that it's better just to not go there. Instead spend the energy on processing why one feels the need to go there in the first place—especially on the internet, where misunderstanding is on a hair trigger and human bandwidth so painfully low.