Government is the name we give to the things we choose to do together.
— Yancey Strickler (@ystrickler) February 9, 2012
The world hasn’t changed yet, but it’s going to. Nation states collect taxes, and then have giant democratically accountable institutions decide how to spend the money. These governments are the best scalable way for the citizens of a country to pool their resources and govern themselves so far devised. But look at how opaque and frustrating these governments can be, even if you believe in them (which I seriously do).
They make sure that we have roads, equal protection under the law, national security, and, fingers crossed, universal healthcare. That’s pretty cool. And these institutions are filled with people who devote themselves to serving their society. That’s kind of awesome, too.
But paying taxes is frustrating and uncomfortable, and watching the legislative process unfold is time consuming and confusing. And trying to influence that process is really difficult, and holding your political representatives accountable is nearly impossible without changing careers and becoming an activist or a political operative.
The idea Quinn put forward today, of supporting civic spending projects on Kickstarter, opens the door to some amazing possibilities. There’s work to do to bridge Kickstarter’s existing framework (or that of any extant crowdfunding site) and the Pentagon’s annual budget. We don’t want the rich to get to pick and choose which civic projects get done, and there are issues of confidentiality and civil rights that need to be addressed. We can’t just crowdfund the government – we don’t know how to do it yet.
But imagine if the experience of paying taxes and watching that money be spent were as smooth as supporting a project on Kickstarter. What would that do for the civic engagement of our society? What would that do for your experience at the post office, with police officers, with parking tickets?
The standards for transparency and accountability that are developing for web-native financial transactions are already transforming business. I for one can’t wait for them to transform governments.
P.s. if you want a sneak peak at what this kind of accountability could be like, spend a couple hours reading everything you can about my Jersey City Councilman, Steve Fulop.