Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bad Ideas Made Good

During his campaign for the presidency, in an interaction with the now famous Joe the Plummer, Obama suggested that spreading wealth around was a good idea. I disagreed with him then.

Recently he spoke of a time when someone has made enough money and that after that, it might be fair for government to confiscate any surplus. I disagreed with that too. I thought them both bad ideas.

After a little thinking outside the box, I thought of a way we can turn two bad ideas into a good one. Sort of the way we look at an old saw: Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

According to some pundits, federal government employees make twice as much as their private sector counterparts. If we assume this is true, then couldn't we say that government employees have made more than enough? Couldn't we spread that wealth around?

How much would we save if we cut government salaries to their private sector equivalents? How much debt could we pay off? Or how much could we reduce taxes? I say we redistribute the excess salaries to the taxpayers who would then spend those savings creating demand for products and creating jobs for those who make them. And how do we respond with the federal workers who create an uproar over the cuts? Heh. To quote a smart New Jersey governor: "You don't have to work for us." :) There are millions of people looking for work that would love those jobs ...

The Army of Davids Publishing Company

“Army of Davids” is the title of a book by Glenn Reynolds about the increased power of the individual due to technological advances in the ability to communicate. An individual can now raise an army with the many social networking tools available. Back in 1987 I wrote a network application running under Novell’s Netware in which one normal business PC would act as a server and hand out assignments to a host of other normal business computers which would solve a Mandelbrot calculation that would take a single computer weeks or months to solve in a matter of hours. The idea isn’t new, but the ability to implement the propagation of ideas socially is fairly recent.

I believe this can be the solution to a problem I’ve pondered for many years: how can we shift the balance from media that not only leans left, but pushes hard in that direction. I thought of ideas relating to taking over large journalistic corporations and revising their editorial processes to reflect more objectivity and balance in the areas of opinion. Taking over existing media is an expensive proposition and is likely impractical due to huge costs in infrastructure and distribution. What to do?

Restructuring the way news is delivered may be the answer, especially using the Army of Davids approach. The idea is to take a big task and break it up into millions of pieces and let a large number of people help in the effort. My idea is to create a product, lets call it “The Lost News”, which is an aggregator and commentary of news. The unusual feature is that the aggregator would be an 8.5 x 11 single sheet of paper, single side (not everyone can print double sided) distributed weekly by each participant to 4-10 neighbors. The paper would include the URL to The Lost News website, which would be updated continuously as new events transpire. The hard copy is a pointer to that site so that publishing all the information on hard copy is unnecessary. Most people can afford to print four sheets of paper per week. If talk show hosts and other conservative media could get just five percent of their listeners to participate, this product would exceed the largest print media instantly. Once people are aware of the site they can get updates at the speed of the hyperfast internet news cycle. The weekly paper is just a physical reminder for people who aren’t watching night and day.

The content of the site would be to keep up to date on stories that are under covered by existing media. It would be fun to have a tracker that provides statistics on which major media companies cover stories in a timely manner and which do not. This would provide the public with information on who is likely to provide them with important stories in the most timely manner so they can switch to new and better sources for their information. It would also be nice if the site would have a section devoted to how free markets work, how capital is formed, used and what the effect is on jobs, and how the principles that underpin our free way of life actually work. A tutorial as it were.

The aggregator portion of the idea is to point at existing news sources who do cover important stories in a timely manner to give them the traffic they deserve and to give incentive to those who don’t to get with the program. If major media outlets censor their stories and only print their side of opinion, that is their prerogative and they get the consequences they create: a declining readership or declining number of viewers.

If this is to work, though, the product would need to be as hard on right leaning media as it is on left leaning media. There is corruption on all sides of the philosophy spectrum. People want honesty, and if people implementing this idea aren’t honest, it won’t work.

The basic idea, though, is that people can donate the paper and toner, and the website can pay for itself with web advertising. With millions of hits per day, it might be feasible. I think it could work.