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YC's request for startups: Government 2.0 (ycombinator.com)
196 points by simonebrunozzi on May 23, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 219 comments

In Andrew Yang's recent panel at Monetery Tech Summit, he was making the case that most of these are problems that the free market doesn't reward solving:


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.

I didn't watch the linked video, but aren't things like education and affordable housing also problems that governments have been tackling for decades without much progress and even often making things worse?

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.

> aren't things like education and affordable housing also problems that governments have been tackling for decades without much progress and even often making things worse

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.

The government is in charge of determining what types of businesses are profitable though, so even areas where the government hasn't been effective usually still require better government policies in order for the markets to be able to offer solutions. There are certainly problems that businesses can ameliorate given current government policies, but it just isn't realistic to think that we can solve every problem on our own by routing around government.

Exactly right. I can give you a perfect example from a project I'm working on: http://openinsulin.org/

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 [1]. 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.

[1] https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/11u1Lqm70xFl0kWTtrt6kAEhrSE=...

This is really cool--did you hear about how a bunch of hospitals are coming together to manufacture generic drugs that are marked up by PBMs--I imagine if something like that where a stakeholder with input in the buying process can come in and guarantee like a monopolistic market for an upstart..the drugs are going to be cheaper but the fact that the hospitals themselves are consumers means people can take long term bets without fear of losing money

Hmm that's an interesting avenue. I've heard of that briefly somewhere but haven't put any thought into seeking out partnership. Thanks for the tip.

Although it's great to make insulin more affordable, wouldn't it be better to attack the source of the problem? In my opinion the biggest contributor to diabetes is our diet, we eat too many carbs and too little fat. Since fat delivers 9 calories vs 4 for carbs, we humans could suffice with eating way less when switching to fat. The food industry would suffer, but it could be a win for the environment.

This is really amazing. Kudos to you for the initiative. Going through regulatory, IP, clinical etc. is hard but not that hard. We are going through this ourselves at our startup, and it is daunting and rewarding at the same time. I am happy to share notes should you like.

Thank you, I’m interested in comparing notes. Feel free to send me an email at my user name at gmail dot com

This is awesome! I'm the founder of Alto Pharmacy - let me know if we can help with anything (matt at alto.com)

There may be another way, partner with academic hospitals and have them sell the insulin at cost.

That’s an interesting idea. Maybe something like

- 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

Why would you go to jail??

If we set up a production facility and start trying to sell the insulin we produce, without going through the full regulatory process, we're in violation of the law. If we set up a production facility and give it away for free, and then ask for "donations" from the same group we give it away for free to, is that legal?

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.

Hospitals do cell therapy etc... so I bet there’s a way. Maybe a clinical trial.

I agree - it would be great for the government to tackle these problems. But looking at the current US government that doesn't look likely. I agree it feels almost impossible for a startup to actually fix some of these problems. But we fund startups who try to do the almost impossible all the time. And sometimes they succeed :)

I guess a lot of blowback is coming from the fact that you decided to call it Government 2.0. It seems a bit presumptuous, guilty of the same hyperbole tech is always accused of...changing the world etc...but at the same time it's a title I would click on. It's outrageous, but serves a purpose

Are the startups listed actually fixing these problems, though? You say that Promise, for example, is attacking mass incarceration — but it's basically just a dashboard for lawyers. Maybe lawyers could be more efficient, but that's a way easier problem to solve than radically changing our justice system so that fewer people get pulled into it in the first place.

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.

not sure if I agree with your point about promise--especially with the implied "moral hazard"--if they are trying to solve the inefficiency in the justice system then its better for them that the system remains inefficient-- def seems like something beyond their control that they had no role in creating, and they are trying to help as best as they can. There is a bigger problem for private prisons---not promise

Having a bunch of white tech dudes show up with a startup to "solve" something like mass incarceration is just absurd, and reveals both the massive naivete of this project and the extent to which startup funding has become a meaningless ponzi scheme with no expectation of profitability.

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. :/

As someone who works in technology in the public sector at the state level, let me just say that there is tremendous greenfield opportunity for software startups within existing government programs. Probably every program that government runs requires one or more systems to administer it; these are often painfully legacy systems. We are starting to see startups in some of these niche line-of-business areas (Medical Marijuana licensing, Senior & Long Term Care services, ...) but there are many other areas yet untouched.

100% agree.

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.)

I had the same experience. Too many hoops to jump through. No one trusts the decisions public employees make so there's too much Red tape.

Sales is too expensive.

The value to the public might be millions. The software value to the organization is nil.

Their attitude:

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.

And they almost literally cannot go out of business. The incentives aren’t there.

I don’t know. I sincerely hope someone figures it out. We could improve so so so many things

the government isn’t about efficiency, it’s about fairness. (In theory).

I was working on a contract to replace a legacy system for the federal government, and we were doing agile development (or attempting to) and let me tell you the interface between agile teams and feds is painful.

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.

This 10000%. I founded a YC company that's focused on Public Sector, and we see the greenfield opportunity in this space every day.

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.

Could you link to a product or two SaaS products that you like, built for gov?

How can really small players get into this space though?

Here's three: https://jumpfaster.com (All of these are at the state government level) They specialize in solutions for the senior and long term care areas of HHS. it looks like they may have started with possibly a custom development for one state agency, then turn that into a product and have since gotten other customers. This is a good strategy: for any program or solution area in state government,It's likely there are 49 others like it. https://mycomplia.com/ This company is literally a handful of people, they have developed solutions for medical marijuana licensing. They have partnered with another vendor who handles the seed to sale tracking. https://billtracker.com/ This company is I think one developer and one salesperson/CEO. state agencies need to be able to monitor bills that are progressing through the state legislature; this essentially scrapes the information from the legislative website and lets agencies focus on bills that are important to them. You can add attachments, assignments, etc. It's not rocket science, but it's better than spreadsheets. I have some thoughts on how small players can get into this space, navigating procurement, and key product features, but don't want this comment to get too long drop me an email if you're interested. My account + gmail

We agree :)

If anybody is planning anything that combines laws, versioning/revision control and public access to legal resources, please get in touch with me. I have quite a bit of experience in that field that I'll be happy to share thoughts and talk shop.

I have been dreaming about a government system of laws that uses open source version control with a github-like ui, maybe even a constitution. If I had my own country, that's how I would do it.

Washington DC actually does use Github as the source for the city's legal code (and not just as a copy). I remember seeing this article on HN a while back: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/11/how-i-changed-th...

I have hunch that with the right NLP you could probably do this, at least in the UK. Every now and then I've looked at proposed alterations to acts of parliament and they've mostly been in a format like "In section 3a, paragaph 4, replace 'carrying a maximum sentence of 3 years' with 'carrying a maximum sentence of 5 years, and a sign in the town square telling everyone you're a bad person'".

I think as long as we base the kernel of the Government on Rust (for a fearlessly concurrent Government), we'll be in the clear. Also protects against terrorist memory tampering.

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.

Bit of an old joke, no? I think the "descent to the absurd" style here doesn't make sense because there is a concrete reason for what he's saying: lowering the barrier to suggesting changes in laws in a more structured form.

You could point to the diff and talk about it. Worthwhile, I think.

Absurd? I'm just as serious about what I'm proposing, as I am about a "Github-like UI" for the foundations of our country.

You're just being silly now. No one's saying "merge the PR to change abortion laws". They're talking about tooling to look at proposed differences clearly.

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.

You were able to discern a lot more detail from "Github-like UI" than I was, so kudos to you! I guess I'm just bad at reading into really presumptuous details like that when they're not there.

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 have tinkered with a human readable, mathematically minimal, strongly typed language for writing laws/governments/constitutions.

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.

How do you handle the fact that much law is intentionally ambiguous?

You want to reduce ambiguity as much as possible, but not eliminate it entirely. Still want judges!

This is the typical programmer misunderstanding of law.

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.

> not something meant to be eliminated

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.

> 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.

See basic example code: https://github.com/breck7/jefferson

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.

and then you end up with grotesque injustices like mandatory minimum sentences.


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.

Okay fine, let me rephrase. It is not something meant to be reduced.

Thanks for the rephrasing.

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 cellType universalExcessiveFineThreshold description As a percentage of adjustedGrossIncome constant .1 nodeType isExcessiveFine cells adjustedGrossIncome fine trueIf fine / adjustedGrossIncome > universalExcessiveFineThreshold ...

So you have more control over ambiguity.

But that’s not ambiguity at all — “giving judges leeway according to parameters defined in advance by legislators” is not the same thing as “statutes being ambiguous”.

I have none of the above and would be interested nevertheless!

I'd love to know more.

Okay I just posted some code: https://github.com/breck7/jefferson

I have a toddler in my arms and have to head to work soon but will answer questions/emails as they come.

During my work as a legislative aide, I often thought about the benefit of using an almost Github-like system for editing, and making that revision history public when a bill went up for a vote. The requested edits would be issues, when incorporated they would be commits, forks and branches for and merges for committee deliberations etc.

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!

Please feel free to reach out! john@stae.co - We build a apigee/mulesoft/domo kinda data management utility for cities, a lot of our recent research has been on api driven compliance as a service.

You should write a blog post / do a podcast / similar! I'm very interested, but I'm betting that lots of people are as well.

Can you send me an email at my user name at gmail dot com?

Constitutional Amendment by PR? :)

You're investing in these companies, right? You expect them to make themselves — and you — money?

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?

It reminds me of an op-ed about Imperfect Produce destroying local food coops. Their whole pitch to investors is they're environmentally friendly but in practice they are actually entrenching the agribusiness industry by competing with better alternatives:


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 have a request too. I’d like to see a reduction in the power and influence of unaccountable billionaires over our public policy.

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.

I think this is not the real root of any particular problem. I think entrenched power is good at exploiting weakness in the system. The fact is that the major pro-wealthy policies aren't snuck in as obscure riders to normal policy. Candidates run on a pro-wealthy platform and people cheer for it. The question is why are voters so easily convinced to vote against their interests.

Municipal Government Employee here (from a top 15 US city).

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.

I've tried so many times to work with government entities. It's a complete mess. It seems the only people who want to fix the problems don't work there or are fine with the problems.

Yup, we're a hot mess to work with.


- 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

It's kind of sad that the exact same list of issues applies to many Fortune 500 companies I've worked with.

https://www.senecagov.com/ (no association, just a fan)

I have to confess, this effort makes me very, very nervous.

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.

Bleah - government shouldn't be the default actor in a space unless it's absolutely necessary. It's actually a good thing if community problems can be solved by smaller organizations which don't need tax money or coercive measures to get things done.

I disagree with this.

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.

I find this thoroughly unpersuasive. A 2.5x water bill in exchange for no municipal taxes and no zoning laws and other picayune regulations?

I have no idea what the zoning situation is for him. The bottom line in his case was that he thought he was saving money by staying out of the municipalities, only to find that his total cost of living really didn't change at all.

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.

I disagree. If the space involves a "public good" (a squishy term, I know) I'd rather have an actor that's paid for and accountable to the community, not one that's only accountable to its shareholders and has the additional motive of squeezing out a profit.

> It's actually a good thing if community problems can be solved by smaller organizations

As long as those organizations are not for-profit companies.

That’s not true. If an organization benefits its customers/users in some way, it’s still doing a good thing if it captures some of that benefit in the form of profit.

Maybe. My observation, though, is that whatever good thing it may be doing ends up costing people more, and being less good, when done by a for-profit company as opposed to a non-profit organization.

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.

> need tax money or coercive measures to get things done.

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.

But the space of problems solvable in this manner increases as technology progresses.

Disregarding the misaligned incentives of for-profit enterprises delivering the kinds of services that are traditionally handled by governments, what evidence is there that technology can materially improve many of these services?

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.

It is hard to predict how a small startup can grow to address a huge problem until after they do it. What we want to do is back the founders who are at least trying to solve these problem.

I'm genuinely doubtful that people would want a tech-associated fund to try and mess around running the government. I mean tech doesn't get much of good press lately.

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.

There are people who want to improve government with technology, just because it's an uphill battle doesn't mean it isn't worth doing.

Also, governments are big spenders. Plenty of incentive there.

The real motive is your latter point, to capture evergreen money through government spending. Trying to find opportunities to be the vendor of choice in new ways.

Hmm - I'd reread the RFS. YC is not interested in running the government.

I don't think this implies replacing government with private business. This could be services sold to government or tightening connections between government and the public. And don't just think of federal government. Local government frequently uses antiquated technology because better stuff is out of reach. How about helping small libraries organize their collections? Or fire departments manage procurement?

That "something" is varies widely by party.

A startup working on a secure digital voting system should be one of the top priorities here. As it currently stands, this is what the voting experience is like:

- 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.

IMO there's no such thing as a secure digital voting system. Complexity is how vulnerabilities and exploits get into in-use systems. You want things as simple and obvious as possible, and that means using and counting physical objects of some sort.

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.

I am exceedingly skeptical about digital voting systems being adequately secure.

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.

Ideally, yes, but there are so. many. things. that could go wrong:


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.

Hijacking this to say that we need the following:

1. Risk Limiting Audits (RLAs)[1]

2. Software independence [2]

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.

[1] https://www.stat.berkeley.edu/~stark/Preprints/gentle12.pdf

[2] https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/abs/10.1098/rsta.2008...

refreshed the Request for Startups

I didn't see the link in the article, but here is the list mentioned: https://www.ycombinator.com/rfs/

I have been working a project to create a place where youth can exhibit their writing talents outside of the standard educational system. Exceptional students exist in all schools, but in districts like Oakland, their work never gets visibility. We Write Here (http://wewritehere.com) aims to fix that.

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.

I can't help but feel that with better representation (or at least representation that felt they had to actually do right by voters) then we would be in a much better place and many of these problems would be solved through legislation. I know this is glossing over many things like lobbying, gerrymandered areas, favoritism for incumbent candidates, etc. but I really think there's something to getting more people elected who represent the people and have a serious interest in passing legislation that actually helps people and solves major societal issues.

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!

Unfortunately I think your point boils down to "if we had better representatives, we'd have a better government". I agree, but at least since Plato, there's been no consensus on questions like "what is a good government", "what makes a good representative", and "how do we identify good representatives".

Once the philosophers give us a decent spec, it should be trivial to implement. ^__^;

'at least representation that felt they had to actually do right by voters'

What is the mechanism by which you propose to enforce this? Who gets to define "do right by voters"?

Not sure the exact definition, I meant it more as the politician would have to do what they said they would do when they were campaigning (as in fulfill their promises). The enforcement mechanism is what I think is most lacking today - even when politicians break promises they often still get reelected (hence the Congressional reelection rate compared to voter approval). The pessimist in me says it has to be purely based on money because money is what really talks, but maybe there's another mechanism too

There were better ways to word this and a better name to give it.

And better people to run it.

Why is this not run by PG or SAMA?

I have been banging on about this sort of thing for ages


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

Having been part of the startup community in both Silicon Valley and greater DC, I think this is a much-needed and brilliant effort on the part of YC. I hope it pays off in spades, both for the public and YC.

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.

Thank you :)

The solution to income inequality is not going to come from venture capitalists and private companies.

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're absolutely correct that good approaches to social problems (don't want to use the term "solution" which is ill-suited, I think) will not come from VCs: It will come from naive entrepreneurs, naive in the sense that they don't quite appreciate the problem they are tackling, because if they do they would never take it on. A simple fact I learned in volunteering that's applicable here, too, is that in tackling these issues money is not the bottleneck, it's finding people who want to be involved. If you have a good idea in this space it's not hard to secure money from many different foundations and sponsors.

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.

Great reply! We don't expect to be the source of solutions. We just want to help founders who are brave enough to take these challenges on.

> It will come from naive entrepreneurs, naive in the sense that they don't quite appreciate the problem they are tackling, because if they do they would never take it on

... I'm not even sure where to begin.

As someone who spent my first career in both high-level policy analysis and research into social interventions and also consulted with and helped run multiple non-profits doing direct work with measurable outcomes the idea that it is easy to fund this type of work is ludicrous to me. The lengths I've seen small-medium size non-profits go to stretch a dollar would humble any VC talking about maximizing a runway.

I think you're making a category error by thinking of companies and countries as completely different.

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.

But they are completely different.

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.

"On the most basic level, governments are responsible to their citizens and their only purpose is to serve those citizens."

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.

> It's ridiculous to suggest that an app that sends reminders of court dates will make an impact on any of these problems.

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.

Source: https://www.asa.org/about-us/

"...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."

Not surprising that she was impressive. I’d argue that’s the biggest trait being a founder selects for.

I honestly disagree. There are many people in jail now pre-trial because the government is worried that they won't appear for trial. As a result these people often lose their jobs and their housing -- even if it turns out they are not guilty. Better software and technology can help address this problem.

Or we can change bail laws as they exist now:


>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.”

Somehow I get the feeling that building software is easier than changing laws around here

How about, “build software to change laws” ?

To be sure I understand you clearly, are you making the claim that making sure people don't forget or lose track of court dates will help literally nobody avoid going to jail?

People for whom forgetfulness is the reason they'd miss a court date are likely solve their problem with a normal calendar reminder.

Literally nobody is probably close to accurate.

One of the things I've learned is that a non-trivial number of people never acquired what some might consider basic life skills. Like keeping track of upcoming future events or adhering to a schedule.

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.

Of course not. The claim is that even though it might help people, it does nothing to fix the systemic issue, which is that we jail way too many people. The U.S. has less than 5% of the world's people, but almost 25% of the world's prison population [1].

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.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/04/...

I don't need exposition, though I'm sure some other reader will appreciate the links and numbers.

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.

Nobody starting a venture-backed company is doing so on the premise that their product will be only useful in a few edge cases.

I'm not denying that it might help people, it just seems like a half-assed bandaid solution given the breadth of the problem.

If you have an idea for an app that will directly tackle poverty and hopelessness, I think there are a lot of people willing to listen.

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.

You think YC/VC's are searching for a solution to income inequality? Check @pg's twitter feed...

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.

I agree with you, I’m just hoping other people see it.

I'd say most VC's are probably very interested in solutions for income inequality.

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.

There is a wealth of literature on the subject, no pun intended. Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the 21st Century" (or, more practically, summaries of it) offers one interesting perspective. A different take can be seen in books like "Winners Take All" by Anand Giridharadas.

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.

But the problem in that case is the way government is set up (folks can "buy" government etc.).

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.

People don't want to be "the poor".

I think the solution to income inequality will come from the blockchain and AI.

The solution to income inequality probably isn't going to come from governments either sadly.

It has to come from politics. Capitalism unregulated will pretty much always lead to a few accumulating more and more and increasing their power.

Indeed. Want to fix government? Run for office or work in government. Anything else is polishing brass on the Titanic.

Hat tip to the USDS and 18F [1]. Hard working people making an impact. YC: Why not consider hiring lobbyists to enable existing, impactful teams more velocity?

[1] https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/444159-congress-shoul... (Congress should grow the Digital Services budget, which more than pays for itself)

What about a solution that makes it easy for any small group to hire lobbyists? Something like Kickstarter campaigns for cause areas where you want to get something done (eg. prison reform) so you create a campaign and get people to contribute; it hits a minimum threshold and the platform hires a lobbying firm to work towards the goal. Of course, with lobbying there are no guarantees anything happens, but would be interesting (sorry this isn't very thought out, I'm just reading the threads here and this came to mind)

Stripe Atlas for Political Action Committee creation and maintenance essentially? I would throw money at that. I don't entirely agree that money is speech, but I also don't believe in bringing a knife to a gun fight. Or perhaps Upcounsel for lobbyists.

Not exactly but pretty dang close to Stripe Atlas for PACs, but I think a big part of doing that well is having someone that has connections so there probably either has to be some marketplace of lobbyists attached or some mechanism to guide you to the right lobbyist/team to hire based on the cause area

> Capitalism unregulated

There isn't a country on earth that allows for unregulated capitalism.

For good reason.

What you say is true.

Likewise government unrestrained appears to lead to the few accumulating more and more and increasing their power.

That's why we need balance.

Hey folks - happy to answer questions about our new RFS.

I have an idea for a non-profit that tackles a systemic problem, but the companies you've listed 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. 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.

> Do they really think that an app that sends reminders is going to help failure to appear rates?

Text reminders empirically reduce failure to appear by a huge amount[1]. Maybe you don’t understand the problem as well as you think?

[1] https://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/text-message-rem...

This is spot on and shows how much Silicon Valley is out of touch with the reality on the ground and dismissive of non-profits and government agencies that handle these sort of things.

Why the focus on only profit making for-profit companies when the bulk of what you mentioned is currently being serviced by non-profits?

When non-profits succeed they have to ask for more money. When for-profits succeed, they fund themselves. So it's far better for a for-profit to solve a given problem than a non-profit, as they are inherently more scalable.

>When non-profits succeed they have to ask for more money.

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.

I think it's more about aligning incentives with investors. Money put into a non-profit is a full write-off and so can really only have altruistic motivations. For-profit allows for investments that are motivated by a mixture of altruism and self-interest, which (for better or worse) allows for a much larger supply of capital.

> When non-profits succeed they have to ask for more money. When for-profits succeed, they fund themselves.

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.

Why'd you name it Government 2.0, if you "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?"

Did you consider any other less misleading/terrifying names?

YC didn't invent this term.

Good point. :)

I honestly don't know what Gusto does that is different from companies like ADP (established 1949), especially in being framed as Government 2.0.

I find this very exciting - it strikes me that this field could create some tremendously valuable companies, whose impact upon society will be even more valuable than they are. Great work and best of luck to everyone involved in this general space!

In a recent newsletter from Robin Sloan (sci-fi writer), he shares what he's heard from a few engineers that work in China:

"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?

most of the amazing facial recognition tech is actually israeli--and turns out the biggest buyers of military foreign tech tend to be competitors of china, so not sure how much legs this OS idea has, unless you mean small eastern european republics signing up

still love the OS idea--it found its home on a HN thread. The US has been selling the word its OS for the most of the last century, some would say about time another one showed up

"[..] the goal of making America a better place"

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.

America is in the world. Next question 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?

This is specifically asking for "Government 2.0" startups. I imagine if they framed that as for the world that would be quite the can of worms and potentially interpreted as calling for global governmental overthrow.

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.

The irony when they talk about affordable housing but don't say a word about AirBnb which is fucking over long term renters in popular tourist destinations.

What about the hosts who use Airbnb to help them pay their rent?

Do you actually believe that?

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.

Ah yes, think of the poor high-rise owners who won't take on long-term tenants because they make more from tourists. How else would they afford their vacation home

Note that none of those startups are currently tackling stagnant wages directly, which is really what would fix a lot of the other problems listed here.

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.

More to the point, how do you address an issue with hundreds of contributory causes? It's so large as to be effectively intractable. It's akin to trying to cure the common cold.

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 don't feel like any of these ideas are going to be viable businesses...

Here's a better idea: encourage talented young people to join civil service or run for office. Companies can help government in many ways but have a relatively low positive impact.

Companies already run the government. We need less of this, not more.

> 57% of Americans believe that children in America today will be worse off financially than their parents.

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?

There's money to be earned in solving for the #GlobalGoals Goals, Targets, and Indicators:

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


I've been thinking about creating a platform for discussion of present-day issues, built on a reputation-based contribution system akin to how StackOverflow surfaces quality content.

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
I feel democracy in North America needs to foster more constituent participation, and I think the internet can turn governance into a two-way street.

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.

I'm on board with this. This sounds like creating products / software that basically make public ops much better.

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.

If anyone wants to help Veterans, I am an attorney, 5+ years in assisting Vets get VA benefits. I have A LOT of fully formed concepts, but amateur/hobby technical ability. Most immediate goal is to compliment but go well beyond the very minimal efforts that USDS has been doing for Vets directly the last 2-3 years. VA has coopted USDS into assisting the VA first, Vets only incidentally. matt@deutermanlaw.com

I'm surprised to hear about this. USDS is paraded around as one of the poster childs of how to pair tech with the public sector and effective government work. Are there any posts about how they failed with VA benefits?

I was actually considering writing one but I have no established presence or blog. I'm a full-time attorney but I've been following USDS work with VA for years now. I am subscribed to every update in certain respositories.

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[0] (which I wrote) from October 2017. They just stated their intention to begin to incorporate stakeholder ideas only a few months ago[1].

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.


[1]see very bottom of [0]

What kinds of issues are you thinking about tackling in that space?

Empowering Vets to package up and view their own claims information in a way that more closely aligns to what claims adjudicators are going to be looking for, without bogging them down in laws/regs and making it as burdensome as it is when the VA explains it. Maybe some gamification of the process, in manageable and unintimidating steps.

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).

Interesting idea, it makes sense for the most part! I'd worry about needed "clearance" to view claim information however. How often is this actual DoD clearance? It would seem unlikely to be able to get API level access for anything restricted to be able to package it up for claimants.

The real disruptive techs for govt will be advances in things like fully homomorphic encryption (FHE), data tokenization, identity (happening today), privacy enhancing AI and other privacy enhancing technologies that facilitate data sharing that is impossible today due to jurisdictional and legal issues.

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.

I think the key to improving the US government is to bring the system closer to a one person, one vote situation. I believe the best way to achieve this would be to do the following: 1) Abolish the electoral college and go with the popular vote for the presidency. 2) Weight a senator's vote by the population of their state. So a senator from California would have more voting power than a senator from Alaska. 3) Draw congressional districts via an "I cut, you choose" type system [1]

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. [2] If senate voting power was weighted by population, corporations or other groups would have to influence costlier senate races.

[1] https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2017/november/i-cu... [2] https://dposorio.com/822/the-cost-of-winning-a-senate-race/

Why do you need a start up to do this? How would a start up even do this?

If you felt the need to write this footnote,

>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.

Will there be better outcomes for society if such efforts are pursued as non-profits?

There are forprofits and nonprofits on our list.

Love the debate on this thread whether startups can't meaningfully tackle deep societal problems.

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

My team and I are working on software tools (GPL3) for government technology. I'm excited to see these developments!

I don't see tech being a solution here. As a Canadian, this is one of the areas where Americans and Canadians differ very noticeably. The US seems to have a dogmatic / religious belief that government is bad, and that business / private enterprise is the answer to almost everything. Even among HN Silicon-Valley progressive types who are so similar to me, there's a difference in mind-set. It's like it's in your milk, air, and water growing up.

I'm in my 40s and old enough to remember when the government ran just fine (before the national debt grew to $3 trillion in the 80s). We grew up wanting to go to Space Camp, and build human-powered airplanes, and hack into our school to change our grades. There was none of this dour doom and gloom about government overeach we have today. Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Breakfast Club demonstrated that our biggest problems were finding dates and getting into college, not worrying which constitutional freedom the government was going to take away next.

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.

Who needs public services when you can have private for-profit start-ups?

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.

In seriousness: 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.

I'm in agreement. The problems of government are best solved by pairing civil servants, the ones who know how to run the country, with enthusiastic, well-funded teams.

The end goal should be open, accessible projects built with open accessible tools.


And here in the states we have the USDS and 18F doing great work. The just need more funding.



Do you have any knowledge about how Code for America is doing? My understanding is that they're more on the citizen engagement side of things and have built a few cool solutions. Maybe we need more orgs like that (or need to contribute more resources to them)?

Code for America continues to grow and release their apps in new areas of the country. They've got their annual summit in Oakland next week (29th) and they'll be looking to get more director level folks involved because of the current growth.

Yes, I think this is a strong example of: when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

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.

I would upvote you 10 times if I could. The premise that private corporations will solve every problem by giving citizens what they want/need is a MYTH. Markets and democracy go hand in hand. Markets need democracy (ie a government) to ensure basic stuff like protection of private property, management of public resources, etc.

There are plenty of private companies that are positive or, in many cases, even necessary for governments and democracy to function. The media is one example, and so are internet providers. As this request is written, really any contractor that does something better than the SQ would qualify.

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.

> The media is one example

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.

I totally agree. My first thought was of the world of Snow Crash where there are districts owned by businesses and individuals that set their own systems of law and order. It was not a pleasant future.

There's definitely some room for nuance though.

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.

I agree with you that there is room for nuance. I do not think the government should be all consuming.

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.

Lambda School is in the quality education space. I think lots of viable private companies could be in the more affordable housing, accurate news, or livable environment spaces.

Government 2.0 is not about "upgrading" or "replacing" the government with private companies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-government#Government_2.0

Agreed. Companies should do their best within a framework that’s defined by the population through politics. They shouldn’t create that framework.

It's a great fallacy that the government prioritizes serving citizens over "making money". Government always prioritizes making money. Look at the entire democrat political spectrum concocting different ways to increase taxes, and the republican spectrum to increase spending.

I agree with the spirit of these but (venture) capitalism generally feels unsuited to tackle the deepest underlying structural issue in the United States and the world: poverty.

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[1], working memory[2], language development[3], 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[4] or work to supplement their family's income or grow up with PTSD from gun violence[5] 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[6], 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.

[1]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3052975/ [2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662958/ [3]: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~mfarah/Development-povertyassocia... [4]:

Biggie Smalls:

> 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)

[5] 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

[6]: For this reason I believe that one of the greatest political tragedies of modern American politics was the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

Income equality is not a problem as such. It's a natural consequence of technology seeping more and more into society. In Shakespearean times all musicians made money by performing. The best ones performed for the king and made more money but all made money. With digital distribution, the best ones can reach everyone, and everyone wants to listen to only the best ones, so the best ones make a killing and other musicians turn into starving artists. There is going to have to be a transition of people into professions that aren't easily distributable or automatable. You don't need a startup to fix this. This is precisely what capitalism is good at doing, though it does take time, creates winners and losers and causes some segments of society a lot of short term pain.

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.

Come on YC, the silicon valley elites have destroyed so much of our society. Do we really expect you to fix it? You all need to read Anand Giridharadas "Winners take all".


This is way too generic and inflammatory to count as anything but off-topic flamebait. If you post like this, we're guaranteed a flamewar. However good your intentions and however sure you are that you're right, that's a destructive thing to do, which is why the site guidelines ask you not to, so please don't.


Please especially don't post nationalistic slurs to HN. Your comment unfortunately dips at least a toe into that toxic waste.

You're busy but ...

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.

When people think they're "drawing attention to systemic issues of [someone else's] mindset", what they're usually doing is generalizing from their own limited perspective, rooted in their own identity and emotions. Underlying this kind of generalization, usually, is a desire to give expression to one's identity in opposition to what one experiences as the opposite identity. When people do this, it mostly comes across as a slap to the other side.

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.

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