Is Common-Sense Public Policy Necessarily “Innovative”?

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

(By Betteridge’s Law, no.) Readers will recall that I have often flagged “innovative,” along with “disruptive,” “startup,” “founder”, and (in the business context) “ecosystem” as bullshit tells, and recommended that if you hear such con artist’s patter in a crowd, you should put your hand on your wallet or clutch your purse more tightly. I just finished Thomas Frank’s excellent Listen, Liberal, and he has a great rant about “innovation,” of which I will show a great slab here, from p 186 et seq. Frank even helpfully quotes the more egregious bullshit tells, so I don’t have to highlight them! Do read it in full. After visiting hollowed out mill town Fall River, Frank goes to Boston:


Frank’s book is a great read; he’s outraged about all the right things. However, toward the end of this passage Frank is a little too kind. He writes:

It is not clear that cheering for innovation in the bombastic way we see in the blue states actually improves the economic well-being of average citizens. For example, the last fifteen years have been a golden age of financial and software innovation, but they have been feeble in terms of GDP growth.

But let’s look at Pavlina Tcherneva’s famous chart one more time:


Therefore, in the passage above, it would perhaps have been better to replace the bloodless “but they have been feeble in terms of GDP growth” with something along the lines of “and so they have been marked by the top 10% creaming off all economic gains for themselves, and squandering them.” (Frank makes this point strongly in other passages of Listen Liberal, so this isn’t so much a criticism as a caution that eternal vigilance is the price of a class-based approach.)

Back to “innovation.” Here’s the thing: There are massive gains to be had for the ordinary shlub from “common sense” public policy. Since “common sense” is defined by liberals and conservatives as neo-liberal market-based solutions, I’ll hijack their term and redefine is as a style of social engineering optimized for solutions that are simple, rugged, and proven. (I felt I needed that talking point and that definition, but both may need work, so reader suggestions are welcome. After you read the post!)

In this short post, I’ll mention three “common-sense” public policy proposals:

  1. Single payer health care
  2. Post Office Bank
  3. Paper Ballots

This proposals are not innovative in the least. But they are simple, rugged, proven, and would provide enormous public benefit.

1. Single payer health care

If you’re following the 2016 electionMR SUBLIMINAL With your plastic bag and little shovel you’ll have noticed Democrat liberals like Clinton carefully airbrushing away a single payer system that spans an entire content, as if everything sixty miles north of Burlington, Vermont were some kind of weird fantasy for people who survive by eating round bacon. As I wrote in 2013:

[W]hy do I say that ObamaCare is like a tapeworm, a parasite that exists for no other reason than to extract nourishment from its host? Because it is, that’s why. This chart (again) tells the story:

Figure 1


We are blessed, on this continent, with the closest thing you can get to a controlled experiment in the real world on how to do health care right, and how to do it wrong. We have two countries, of continental scale, both from the English political tradition, each with a Federal system of government, and similar economies. The two countries are similar enough culturally that their citizens can move with ease from one country to another. Canada has a single payer system; the United States has a private health insurance system. And Canada “bent the cost curve” in the mid-70s, when it adopted single payer, and the United States did not.

What the chart shows is that the our private health insurance system is purely parasitic; it is useless; it exists solely for the purpose of rental extraction from its host, the body politic. Abolish it, and you bend the cost curve to look like Canada’s. If single payer had been adopted in 2009, and given a year to implement (like Medicare) the country would already have saved a trillion dollars, and several thousand people would not be dead. That is the cost, the harm, of the tapeworm that is the health insurance industry. Not science fiction; sober fact. (Because Canadians are always sober!) And ObamaCare seeks to fasten that tapeworm’s hooks and suckers to our body politic’s gut. Forever.

Single payer is not innovative. If anything, it’s ObamaCare that’s “innovative,” but only in terms of rental extraction (and the staggering complexity of its implementation (in essence a jobs program for lots of credentialed 10%-ers (ka-ching (Clinton‘s base))). Single payer is simple, rugged, proven, and provides enormous social benefits. Why, in heaven’s name, have we as a society been unable to adopt it?

2. Post Office Bank

Many countries have or had post office banking, including the United States. This passage from 2015 is probably too long, but since readers may not be familiar with post office banking and the rationale for it, I’ll quote it all:

[In 2012, there] was an interesting but all-too-temporary Post Office Bank boomlet (link, link, and link for example) touched off by this report (PDF) from the Post Office Inspector General[1] (and not, mind you, the neo-liberal infested USPS management). For our purposes, we can reduce the report to four points. From the 2014 version:

1. There are 68 millions “financially underserved”[2] adults. Page 6:

[M]ore than a quarter of American households are left outside or on the fringes of the traditional financial system. Some have no bank account whatsoever. Others have a checking account, but do not qualify for traditional forms of credit, forcing them to use costly services like payday loans and car title loans — which can often do more harm than good. Many of the 34 million financially underserved households — representing 68 million adults — are treading water very close to the economic edge.1 Unexpected expenses can push them over the brink into homelessness or bankruptcy, which come with broad social and economic costs. In addition to this at-risk population, there are many other Americans who are simply looking for new financial options.

2. The “financially underserved” must use crapified financial services like check-cashing agencies. Page 7:

The underserved are a geographically, economically, and demographically diverse group of people who, by choice or circumstance, operate partially or completely outside the traditional banking system. We define underserved as primarily consisting of two main groups: the unbanked, who have no checking or savings account, and the underbanked, who have a bank account but also used at least one non-bank financial service during the past year. These non-bank financial services include check cashing, money orders, remittances, payday lending, pawnshops, rent-to-own agreements, and other similar products and services.

And when I say crapified — ever cashed a check at a check cashing place? — I mean just that. We’re talking usury:

Being underserved often comes at a hefty price. The average underserved household has an annual income of about $25,500 and spends about $2,412 of that just on alternative financial services fees and interest. That amounts to 9.5 percent of their income. To put that into perspective, that is about the same portion of income that the average American household spends on food in one year. In 2012 alone, the underserved paid some $89 billion in fees and interest.

3. A Post Office bank would help the “financially underserved” , both at a profit, and bringing great benefit to society. The profit part, page 21:

Financial services are hugely profitable for postal organizations around the world. Whether using a fully chartered “postal bank” or partnering with private institutions, postal financial services account for a major portion of postal profits and revenue in many countries. For more on the financial services offerings of foreign posts, please see Appendix C.

To get a ballpark figure, one can look at revenues in terms of the size of the alternative financial services market in the United States. If 10 percent of the $89 billion spent on alternative financial services was instead spent at the Postal Service, it could bring in $8.9 billion a year. That amount would be in line with the results seen by other industrialized countries. In 2012, postal financial services made up an average of 14.5 percent of their total revenue. For the U.S. Postal Service, that percentage would translate to $9.5 billion in additional revenue.58 In addition, the alternative financial services market is expected to continue growing in the coming years, and is “ripe for innovation.”

(Note that as we saw in USPS is a quasi-private entity with a universal mandate that nevertheless does not depend on government funding; if it were (again) a branch of government, the issue of profit would not arise.)

And now for the benefit to society part. Just by taking usury out of the equation (pages 19-20):

For the most vulnerable Americans — including many of the underserved — the difference between making it and not is a small amount of money. Among the 1.1 million people who filed for personal bankruptcy in 2012, their median average income of $2,743 a month was just $26 less than their median average monthly expenses.54 Put another way, these people were just $26 a month away from making ends meet.

[T]he Postal Loan product outlined in this paper could, by itself, save the average payday loan borrower more than $100 a month in fees and interest. With this kind of cost savings, users of postal financial services would have much more financial security. If this helped decrease personal bankruptcies by just 5 percent, it would not only help more than 50,000 people a year avoid the lasting stigma and financial effects of bankruptcy, it also would potentially keep some $10 billion a year in loans and other debts from being dragged through bankruptcy court, where much of it would be canceled at tremendous expense to creditors (most of whom are financial institutions).55 That would be good for American families, for banks, and for the entire country.

4. The Post Office is well-suited to help the “financially underserved.” Page 6-7:

The Postal Service has numerous competencies and assets that would be critical for providing non-bank financial services. The first and possibly most important factor is the sheer ubiquity of the Postal Service. The vast retail network of more than 35,000 Post Offices, stations, branches, and contract units is spread out across the country and is particularly well established in small towns. Banks and other financial institutions still maintain tens of thousands of branches and other locations across the country, but that network is fragmented among thousands of players and is inextricably linked to population density and centers of economic growth. The postal network, on the other hand, is a single, unified network that is linked to geography. … 59 percent of Post Offices are in ZIP Codes with one or no bank branches.

A second factor is Americans’ trust and familiarity with the postal “brand.” Trust is a crucial asset in financial services, especially when considering bank-wary unbanked and underbanked households that have been dealing with sometimes untrustworthy alternative financial services providers.

(Note that both the universal scope and the public trust are public assets the neo-liberals are working busily to eat away at and destroy, through branch closings and public cuts.)

Readers might also consider the idea that the concrete material benefits of combining post office banking with a jobs guarantee would do more to empower working class women than any number of virtue signaling workshops on microaggression, “lean in” programs, or seminars on the glass ceiling (more jobs for lots of credentialed 10%-ers (ka-ching (Clinton’s base))). Now, there are some aspects of this particular proposal I’m not that fired up about; financial services can be tricky! And do note that [genuflects] Elizabeth Warren was strongly in favor of this program in 2012; somebody should ask her if she’s changed her mind. But the key point:

A postal savings bank is not innovative. Like single payer, it’s simple, rugged, proven, and provides enormous social benefits. Why, in heaven’s name, have we as a society been unable to adopt it?

3. Paper Ballots

Bradblog has been my goto blog on matters electoral for some time. Here’s Brad on the international standard for voting (I wish he wouldn’t bill this as the “gold standard,” for obvious reasons). From (sigh) 2009, and again I’ll just quote most of Brad’s post:

Hand-Marked, Hand-Counted Paper Ballots, Publicly Tabulated at Every Polling Place in America…

Last March, the country’s highest court found that secret, computerized vote counting was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the country was Germany, and the Constitution violated by e-voting systems was the one that the U.S. wrote and insisted Germans ratify as part of their terms of surrender following WWII.

Paul Lehto, a U.S. election attorney and Constitutional rights expert, summarized the German court’s unambiguous, landmark finding:

  • “No ‘specialized technical knowledge’ can be required of citizens to vote or to monitor vote counts.”
  • There is a “constitutional requirement of a publicly observed count.”
  • “[T]he government substitution of its own check or what we’d probably call an ‘audit’ is no substitute at all for public observation.”
  • “A paper trail simply does not suffice to meet the above standards.
  • “As a result of these principles,…’all independent observers’ conclude that ‘electronic voting machines are totally banned in Germany’ because no conceivable computerized voting system can cast and count votes that meet the twin requirements of…being both ‘observable’ and also not requiring specialized technical knowledge.

After the verdict in the case — filed by a computer expert and his political scientist son — Lehto wondered how it could be that open, observable democracy is seemingly an inviolable right for “conquered Nazis,” but not, apparently, for citizens of the United States…

Hand-counting paper ballots is no good at all, argue critics, unless you really want to know who the actual winner of the election was…

It was the fully public counting of hand-marked paper ballots that gave evidence that the unofficial, electronically-scanned election night results in Minnesota’s recent U.S. Senate race were wrong. A hand-count settled the results of Washington State’s Gubernatorial contest in 2004. And in the 2006 Republican Primary election in Pottawatomie County, Iowa, a hand-count found that seven races had been tallied incorrectly by the county’s optical-scan system. Unfortunately, that sort of publicly observable counting has become the exception rather than the rule in this country, and it happens only rarely, in elections where the candidates can afford the extraordinarily high legal costs of a contest, or when the results are so obviously twisted that officials are left with little choice but to count the ballots by hand.

“Hand-counting paper ballots is recognized as the gold standard in state laws across the country,” Ellen Theisen of the non-partisan election watchdog organization told me. “Why settle for anything less?”

Theisen’s thoughts echoed Lehto’s interpretation of the findings of the High Court in Germany. “By letting software count our votes,” she said, “we give software control over our government.”

She’s right. Theisen, like myself, has spent years observing, reporting, and documenting election failure after election failure as democracy’s corners were cut and voters rights stolen with proprietary, unaccountable, secret electronic vote-counting systems. She once thought, as I did, that hand-marked paper ballots, counted by optical-scan systems, coupled with post-election “audits” (really, “spot-checks” of a tiny percentage) would be reliable.

But then, for me at least, came the final straw: Iran. Yes, they had hand-marked paper ballots in the country’s contested Presidential election. The hard evidence of who actually won and who actually lost certainly existed at some point. But, as those ballots were never counted publicly, in front of the citizenry, all interested parties, and video cameras, we’re all left with the guessing game of who won and who lost, as based on our cleverest best assessments taken from selected pre-election polls, analysis of historical voting patterns, and the declarations of disbelief from passionate partisans.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it’s not just Iran. Post-election second-guessing and charges of foul play have become more and more the norm, rather than the exception, with each passing election cycle in the U.S.· — from Florida to Ohio to New Hampshire and to virtually every state and county in the country – and for good reason. ‘Democracy,’ as it’s practiced in our ‘shining city on the hill,’ has become Russian Roulette without the certainty.

“Hand counted paper ballots are the best available technology for conducting accurate, transparent, and observable elections,” John Washburn, a Republican/Libertarian-leaning election integrity expert from Milwaukee says. He has testified before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on computer voting system requirements and he is no “Luddite,” as opponents to computerized democracy have long been derisively characterized by those who stand to profit in the e-voting industry. Washburn happens to be a long-time computer expert and programmer.

“I love technology and am not adverse to using technology to aid in the administration of elections.” But, he cautions, any “new technical solution should be no worse than hand-counted paper ballots when measured along the dimensions of security, observability, transparency, and accuracy.”

“I know of no electronic or Internet system which meets this simple axiom; i.e., ‘First, Do no Harm,'” he added. “I fear many of us technophiles are so blinded by the possible that we overlook the actual.”

For those who don’t understand how fully observable, precinct-based, Election Night hand-counting of hand-marked paper ballots works, one need look no further than those polling places in New Hampshire where the entire process is a matter of civic pride and community participation. We are not speaking about the centralized, behind-closed-doors, party-boss-counted paper ballots of the days of Boss Daley in Chicago or Landslide Lyndon in Texas.

In short, after polls close, a new, bi-partisan counting crew is typically brought in to relieve tired poll workers at each precinct. Each precinct’s crew counts its own ballots in carefully overseen, publicly observed groups of four – two calling out every vote, two marking each one down – as the citizenry watches, video tapes, and otherwise assures the process is on the up and up. The results are posted publicly before ballots are moved anywhere. They are never out of public oversight until the counting has been completed, which is usually done by enough counting groups to be completed before midnight on Election Night (often before some machine-counted precincts have finished!) It’s a very difficult system to game – at least without being easily caught.

It was, in fact, the public posting of precinct-counted paper ballots which tipped off the world to Kenya’s recently contested Presidential election, when the results announced by the central government didn’t match up to those posted at the polling places on Election Night.

I still remain open to other, equally transparent, equally accurate, equally observable, equally democratic methods for tabulating elections. But after more than five years of research, study, observations, and reporting, I’ve yet to come across any. To paraphrase Churchill, it may be the worst method for counting elections, except for all of the others.

Yes, if hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots are good enough for “conquered Nazis,” Kenya, many citizens of New Hampshire (the site of our ‘First-in-the Nation’ Presidential Primary Election), and for elections when you absolutely, positively have to know the correct results, aren’t they good enough for every election, every time?

It’s time to demand that we begin moving forward, toward Democracy’s Gold [sic] Standard for all elections. Now. Not after computers have made voters completely irrelevant. It’s time for us to insist on pilot projects — not of new, even higher-tech vote-counting computers — but of publicly-overseen, hand-counted paper ballots at every precinct in our own localities, with the ultimate goal of extending that Gold Standard to all of America.

Hand marked paper ballots counted in public is not an innovative proposal. It’s simple, rugged, proven, and provides enormous social benefits. Like knowing who really won! And after the vile shenanigans by party regulars in the 2016 Democrat primary (not to mention Ohio 2004 and Florida 2000), I’ve had it. Enough is enough, as liberals say of matters far less important systemically than the integrity of our election system. Why, in heaven’s name, have we as a society been unable to adopt this idea?


For some crazy reason, a common-sense proposal like single payer heatlh care is just barely within the Overton Window, thanks to heroic efforts by activists like National Nurses United (NNU) and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), as well as the Sanders campaign. The common-sense proposal of a Post Office bank had a brief moment, having been advocated for by liberal darling Elizabeth Warren — somebody should ask her if she still supports it — before falling into obscurity. And the possibility of not voting electronically or by machine isn’t even “on the table.” One might wonder why change to the health care system, the financial system, and the electoral system present increasing orders of difficulty for seekers of humane public policy solutions, but that’s a topic for another day.

In the meantime, remember these bullshit tells! And when some member of the political class, or somebody from our famously free press, or your favorite bloated university administrator starts yammering about “innovation,” ask them why it’s so necessary to innovate when we, as a society, can’t even manage to do what’s been proven to work. Does our political class have any common sense at all?


[1] I’m so old I remember the “creative class” in the 2008 election! The PBR, the lofts, and so forth. Richard Florida seems to have been patient zero for this virus, but “creative” seems to have leaped across the continent and mutated into “innovative,” possibly at “startup” bezzle-inducer “incubator” YCombinator. I wish I had a history of this cultural moment.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Erik

    The underlying theme that makes Single Payer, a Post Office Bank, and Paper Ballots so unattractive to the ruling liberal elite is that all three reduce complexity by orders of magnitude.

    Liberalism today believes that complex problems require ever-escalating complex solutions, and it is almost an embedded trait to reflexively believe that anything else is “oversimplifying”. If a simple solution doesn’t ignore supposedly critical aspects of the needs of a program, it certainly ignores some element of the political path required to get there. We all know that a desire to be “reasonable” leads our leaders to begin negotiations by absorbing 50% of the hits from the adversary in advance.

    When all else fails, it’s also possible to create NEW needs through identity politics in terms of who gets what and when. In order to provide for poor urban populations without rankling white suburbanites, we hoops. Means test everything! Even if it means that in 15 years that shiny new progressive program will be viewed as another layer of Welfare to be cut.

    Ultimately, though, the underlying value set is that the ultimate merit in our society is be the ability (mentally, financially, temporally) to navigate complexity. Those who can’t, well they won’t pass the means test and they don’t deserve it. Having a complex playing field where you can get screwed if you don’t do your homework and rewarded if you do is paramount to reinforcing that value set. Giving people Single Payer healthcare, post office banks, and paper ballots would just reward laziness!

    The fact that all three also have fundraising and electoral implications is just gravy. While it is a feature, and not a bug, it’s not the main reason behind the objection. The main reason is that the cultural value of innovation has captured our elite in a way not seen since the Victorian concepts of the deserving and undeserving poor, now wrapped up in an iPhone case

  2. washunate

    (By Betteridge’s Law, no.)

    Lambert, I love your self-awareness.

    In all seriousness, when most public officials/intellectuals use the word innovation, I personally understand it aspirationally. Our higher ed system has bestowed all of these academic credentials, and people want to think that means they have something original to add; this is important to our ego and sense of self. When really, of course, we don’t. Nothing new under the sun and all that. It’s the same old scams and frauds and petty schemes.

    On the policy, I heartily agree with you on universal healthcare and paper ballots.

    I might quibble on post office banking, though, as a solution in search of a problem. This is not a rightist critique; it’s a practical critique:

    There are 68 millions “financially underserved”[2] adults

    Virtually none of those people would be served by postal banking.

    The “financially underserved” must use crapified financial services like check-cashing agencies.

    This is a rather misleading construction. It’s not people who don’t bank who are the victims of predation. It’s people who don’t have much money. That’s a very different problem. Those check-cashing agencies charge high interest because it’s extremely risky lending to people who don’t have much money. Postal banking doesn’t fundamentally solve that problem. It simply means either: 1) we’re subsidizing the cost of banking (in which case, why not just give money directly to people in need?), or 2) the postal banking scheme will fail as costs exceed revenue.

    A Post Office bank would help the “financially underserved” , both at a profit, and bringing great benefit to society.

    This is exactly the kind of vague panacea that goes wrong with mission statements everywhere. You want an organization to help people who don’t participate in the traditional banking system – and you want it to make a profit? I don’t mean this rhetorically. What is your vision for how the business plan would actually operate? Do you have much experience with customer service at post office branches?

    I know I may be in the minority in these parts on being hesitant about postal banking as a solution to financial predation, but I think it’s important to think through the management decisions at some level of detail.

      1. Vatch

        Good point, Ranger Rick. When the check cashing agencies, payday loan, or title loan businesses loan money to people, the effective annual interest rate, including fees, ranges from 300% to 600%. That’s a heck of a lot more than could be justified by mere risk. That’s theft. If risk could justify such rates of interest, any bank that loaned to one of Donald Trump’s businesses would charge something like 300%, because his businesses have had 4 bankruptcies.

        1. Medbh

          If the effective annual interest rate is unjustifiable by risk, then why does no one else go into the business? Based upon one of the articles that was posted to NC recently (at least I’m pretty sure it was here), it doesn’t sound like you need a ton of money or expertise to get started.

          I don’t intend to sound argumentative. I used the check cashing places when I was younger and very broke. I very much understand the pain of losing a huge chunk of your limited income just so you can get your money. What I don’t understand is why someone else doesn’t offer lower rates. If all the check cashing and title loan places are charging similar prices, maybe is the risk really that high, or is there some kind of collusion going on to keep the higher rates?

          1. Julia Versau

            I have wondered this myself, Medbh. Collusion? Lobbying? Is no one willing to make good money rather than obscene amounts of money?

            1. washunate

              Offline, I have been very interested in this question. For several years, I have looked into business models that actually work. There simply aren’t any, from internet-based peer to peer lending to churches doing benevolence work to social service agencies doing social entrepreneurship (or whatever the jargon du jour is in the nonprofit world).

              Either the interest rates are high, the organization subsidizes the full cost of the service, the service is poor/limited/ineffective, or some combo of the three.

              I’m all for regulating payday lending. Fees should be transparent, there should be due process of law, interest rates should be capped, etc. But at the end of the day, you can’t give someone a title loan or a payday loan at 3% APR if the purpose of charging interest is to fund the expenses of operating the store.

              This is especially true for low dollar amounts. A $5 fee barely covers a few minutes of labor. But if you’re borrowing $500, in percentage terms, that’s 1%. If the due date is 1 week later, that’s a huge APR compared to something like mortgage rates (which, on a not unrelated note, are themselves subsidized rather than being set by market actors).

              Or to say it differently, if* postal banking could reduce Walmart’s check cashing fee from $3 to $2, well, that’s great. Look, you saved 33%! But it’s only a buck. If anyone honestly thinks that $1 is a meaningful difference in our society, they are not being serious about the extent to which inequality has been entrenched by public policy.

              *which of course, is a huge if

    1. Jim Haygood

      A case can be made for a post office bank, at least for seniors.

      Banks maintain a blacklist called ChexSystems. If you get onto that list, it may be impossible to get a checking account from a local bank:

      But Social Security benefits are only delivered electronically now. How can you receive your benefit if you can’t get a bank account? Ah … they’ve thought of that! A Direct Express card account:

      All well and good. But a Direct Express card gives you one (1) free ATM withdrawal a month — not enough, since many ATMs are limited to $500 or even $200. Also, Direct Express gives the cardholder no way to send payments.

      Arguably, a basic bank account should be available to everyone receiving Soc Sec benefits, whether they are blacklisted by ChexSystems or not. Restricting payments to electronic only — that is, ditching our absurd 19th century system of paper checks signed with quill pens — would obviate the possibility of user-initiated overdrafts.

      1. washunate

        The very article you link to talks about what to do. Not all credit unions use that reporting, and at any rate, the subgroup of the unbanked whose only barrier to a checking account is that they don’t qualify for one of the second chance programs is so small as to be essentially irrelevant. You’re certainly not suggesting that the USPS can make a profit on that niche, are you? I suppose an interesting service they could hypothetically offer would be a garnishment and levy free account, but that would kinda run counter to other parts of .gov, now wouldn’t it? That’s kind of like an employer offering to circumvent the I-9/E-Verify system. Creative, perhaps, but not scalable or sustainable.

        As for SS recipients, the move to eliminate mailing paper checks has gone quite smoothly overall. It’s not just SSA. The whole economy has replaced checks with electronic transfers, from government agencies to employers to retail stores. The vast majority of SS recipients either already have a bank account that can accept ACH transfers, or they don’t want one.

    2. jsn

      You should take a close look at how poor people actually get and spend money.

      I have a number of relatives squarely in the dying Trump demographic and the variety of blood funnels into their meagre cash flows is terrifying: the weaker you are the easier it is for the parasites to feed.

      No Govt funds or other transfers should ever need to go through the private clearing system where the parasite breed.

      1. washunate

        Hey, jsn, I think with all the DDOS stuff I left a detailed post with links that got flagged (understandably so, this is not a complaint). So short of the story, this is my feeling on the matter:

        I’m not critiquing the concept of offering basic checking and savings accounts as a public service. I’m 1) critiquing the USPS retail presence as it currently exists as the mechanism to deliver that service, and 2) pointing out that the costs of retail banking are higher than implied. I’m critiquing the Synergy Unicorn – the myth that there is this vast untapped demand for retail banking which will fund the project.

        Yes, the unbanked spend billions of dollars in excess interest and fees every year. However, there is no easy way to capture that unless you are prepared to meaningfully subsidize the effort. In which case, why not just give money directly to people in need?

  3. NotTimothyGeithner

    I believe you are searching for Ecclesiastes 1:9. It might be old and too religious for my taste, but I think it sums up the world.

  4. Another Gordon

    “Hand-Marked, Hand-Counted Paper Ballots, Publicly Tabulated at Every Polling Place in America…”

    For comparison that’s not quite how it works here in Britain. The first bit is right but counting is always at a central location, usually a convenient sports hall or similar, but there are lots of polling stations; in urban areas they are unlikely to be more than about 10 minutes walk from most voters’ homes. So the first job is to transport the sealed ballot boxes from each polling station to that location before they are opened for counting. Counters (AFAIK usually clerical grade council workers) sit at one side of long tables while party workers observe from the other side but MUST NOT TOUCH.

    If any party worker sees something wrong he draws attention to it. If it’s not easily resolved (e.g. ballot paper fallen on the floor) then a supervisor is called but at the many counts I’ve been to this has never happened because the ground rules are so clear. Any ballots that are unclear are put to one side and taken to the returning officer who, in the closing stages of the count, goes into a huddle with the candidates’ agents (all of them together) to review them and decide on how they should be counted – for candidate A or candidate B or invalid etc.

    In my experience party workers actually do very little supervision of the count – by that stage they are exhausted and spend most of their time catching up with friends. But the sheer number of people present (probably 100 or more at every count) makes any attempt to fix the result for in-person votes virtually impossible and because it’s so difficult it’s virtually unheard of (although this isn’t true of postal ballots).

    1. TheCatSaid

      One of the big problems with the UK election systems is that the ballots are moved before being counted, and there is no chain of custody of ballots. When ballot boxes are moved they need to be locked, sealed & signed by multiple witnesses, and ideally a couple witnesses should accompany the transport.

      In the UK there are numerous cases of ballot boxes going missing then being found floating in a river days later. Or ballot boxes being transported by a security company, and the van somehow disappearing with those ballots.

      Ireland has a similar problem with ballots being moved with no chain of custody–with the added problem that ballots must be marked in pencil (!) using the soft pencil provided at the voting location.

      1. dk

        This happens in the US as well. It was pretty common in the ’80s and ’90s. I also have direct knowledge of payments made to county officials to insure (or deter) the timely delivery of ballot boxes.

        And I disagree with Another Gordon about the “virtual” impossibility of election fixing of paper ballot elections. It is not at all difficult, it just requires a lot of gall and determination. Attempts are made; they’re not always successful, they don’t always fail. When the stakes are high, count on humans to try anything.

        Electronic balloting has made a bad situation worse, but voting has been fraught with problems throughout history. Paper ballots are not a comprehensive solution. Their safe and accountable administration requires specialized knowledge and demands considerable resources, both physical and human. Irresponsible actors are a threat to any system.

  5. Jim A.

    i actually think that hand marked but computer counted ballots make the most sense, with the proviso that a random selection of polling places is chosen for a (possibly hand) recount. A random sampling should suffice to find any systematic errors or fraud but making computerized scanning the norm will make the system faster, cheaper and probably more accurate.

    1. jsn

      Why exactly do you want to limit participation in the system? That is the only thing your proposal accomplishes.

  6. Elliot

    Lambert, have you had any direct dealings with full blown con artists? I have a relative who is one, and the way he acts and thinks toes perfectly with the innovation scammers Frank describes, and the thinking of legislators and public theorists fawning over them.

    Public good is window dressing for those guys, a thing to put on a resume, or say in a meeting, not anything they actually consider. They haven’t gone into public service to serve the public! They are there only to serve themselves.

    If they can find an angle so that public funds go into their ‘innovation’ system enrich them, those things move forward with alacrity. Things that threaten their investments, or don’t reward themselves directly, or (shudder) help their lessers, don’t.

    States, parties & unis touting ‘innovation’ as a panacea for societal & economic problems are 1) hoping someone else will come up with answers they are too lazy to hunt for themselves, but will take credit for once they do, and 2) planning on the proceeds from it enriching them and their class, not benefitting us dirty proles.

    Con artists and other related sociopaths are not interested in helping others, and would view single payer as a waste of their energy and a misdirection of money that could go into their own pockets.

    Hence, ‘never, ever.’

    That’s why they are anti-single payer; not because it’s not complex enough for them, but because it would flush a lot of their ill-gotten wealth out of the system AND benefit the untouchables, and that’s simply not on.

    1. Code Name D

      Here is a case in point: Solar frekin Roadways.
      Thunderfoot and a few others did several you-tube videos taking down these cons. And yet some how they still get government funding. I’ll get you guys some links when I get back home. (On my lunch brake ATM)

      1. Code Name D

        Okay, promised, here is my follow-up.

        Basically, “solar roadways” are solar panels made into bricks that you can pave roads with. As ideas go, this one seams rather obvious. I suspect just about everyone has come up with this at some point. At some point though, any idea needs to be tested against the real world, and most “million dollar ideas” are found to be complete flops.

        A you-tuber by the name of Thunderfoot dose a masterful job taking them down here

        The problem of course is we not live in an “innovation economy.” Rather than testing ideas in the real world, the economy has been engineered so that ideas are tested in the market place. And all it needs to make it in the market – it the plausibility of “common sense.” In fact, the very notion of research and development comes with a built in excuse that the only thing that is needed to make an idea work – is sufficient investment.

        That is why people give to the solar roadway patron pages, what is why they win government grants. They are selling the potential of the idea – not on its viability. It’s a playground for scam artists.

        1. pretzelattack

          not to defend neoliberal corruption, but it seems an open question of how useful this tech is. some of the critics don’t have much (roy spencer) or any (anthony watts) credibility.

          1. Code Name D

            It doesn’t mater who the critics are, or their credibility. It’s about the evidence. There are real reasons why solar roadways will not work, and even more reasons why it’s the least desirable option among existing solutions.

            The issue here isn’t weather solar road ways are a good idea, but how you go about evaluating it as a solution. You have either the scientific method or the market place. The two are not the same and will give you very different results. The scientific method – by definition – is defined by reality itself. It’s repeatable and reliable.

            But markets are only governed by perception of the investor/consumer. And human perceptions can be wrong and even irrational, especially when you throw in empty promises. Solar roadways only work on its potential for results, but never on the results themselves. Thunderfoot’s videos on the subject give us insights into why it will never produce results. But the market is only concerned on what sells – and you can sell hollow promise rather easily.

            The problem with neo-liberalism is that it deliberately supplants any outside standers, including scientific standers under the banner that the consumer knows best.

            1. pretzelattack

              but why would a chemist know more about the subject than say engineers? or a creationist/water dowser/discredited climate scientist like spencer? or an ex tv weatherman like watts? i just looked at the wiki article, and know nothing about the subject, but normally you would have more legitimate critics. watts and spencer think global warming is a fraud, and you find them opposing anything that is based on the premise that it is legitimate science. I’ve never heard of the chemist, but he may be legitimate. let me look at one of the videos.

  7. Pirmann

    I’d like to see us introduce more technology and convenience into the voting process as opposed to less.

    I cannot believe that in this day and age, we still have to tromp over to the polling station, wait in often ridiculously long lines, be handed an ofttimes confusing paper ballot, then later wait for hours for a final vote count. What year is this?

    If, instead, we could use a smartphone app to vote, I bet more young and working class voters would participate.

    1. shinola

      A smartphone app? You’re kidding, right?

      So, in order to vote one would have to buy or rent a smart phone & pay for the service. How does this not equate to a sort of poll tax where the proceeds go to the phone manufacturers & service providers?

      Is that disruptive innovation or innovative disruption? (I get confused sometimes).

      1. Pirmann

        Not kidding at all. As it is now, you’re basically limiting voting to those who can get time off work and have the patience to wait in line. So, pretty much the elderly and stay at home moms/dads.

        So you make the change incrementally; offer the app along with the option to go wait in line and do the paper ballot thing… but eventually phase out voting sites and have everyone vote electronically. Like it’s the 21st century already.

        1. shinola

          In my state (Ks.) I can obtain an advance ballot & vote by snail mail (on an actual paper ballot).

          Also, why would would an app be any less immune to hidden manipulation by the app designer or service provider than it is now using current electronic voting methods?

          Are you by any chance in the business of selling smart phones, employed by a service provider or an app designer?

        2. roadrider

          And you’re limiting voting to those who can afford to or wish to own stupid smart phones. Despite the limits of your imagination, that does not include every eligible voter.

          There are many who cannot afford mobile phones and many of us who could easily afford them but choose not to own them for a variety of reasons. I personally have never owned a cell phone of any kind and refuse to succumb to the stupid smart phone hype. I consider them to be devices too easily exploited to invade my privacy and collect personal information about me for the benefit of scumbag tech companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, Verizon and other telecoms, etc.) not to mention the government surveillance state. Furthermore they are a waste of money and time and have contributed IMNSHO to social disintegration, pernicious expectations of “always being available” to employers and anyone else who has your number, pathological behavior (phone addiction) and dangerous actions (driving/walking while texting, making calls).

          If that’s not enough for you then consider the massive security holes in phone operating systems and cellular networks and tell me if you still want voting to be done via a “smart” phone app.

        3. crittermom

          Pirmann, I invite you to take a long trip around the West.
          Don’t bother bringing your ‘smart’ phone, however. Often you’ll be traveling for a hundred miles or more with no signal.

          The thing is, some of us actually do occupy such land.
          And some of us couldn’t afford one even if they did work here.

    2. hunkerdown

      Spoken like a self-absorbed iPhone-crucifix waver from YCombinator hustling to gamify the next big thing.

      If there must be electronic voting, I’d be happy with a blockchain ledger of the entire election that can be cryptographically verified in part and in whole by anyone with basic open-source software, and cryptographically signed and (if necessary) revoked from a web page at the library signed by your REAL ID-compliant state ID card (which, frankly, ought to be free).

      Self-absorbed bourgeois liberals yield only problems, never answers. Once you’ve stopped projecting your class interests and commodity fetishism onto others, perhaps you’ll be able to think of a way someone can vote electronically, with authentication, without spending money on some goofy consumer good and service. You can start as soon as you’ve pulled your head out of your screens.

    3. Kulantan

      My country has a couple of proven solutions to those problems.

      Have a polling place at every school. This means that almost all of the population is at least able to travel to a polling place. It also means that queue times are pretty short (hardly ever more than 5 minutes) because there are enough places to process the vote of every citizen (we have compulsory voting).

      Hold the election on the weekend or a public holiday. This doesn’t completely solve the problem of people having to work on election day, but it is light years better than holding it on a weekday. It also reduces the queuing problems by allowing people to spread their voting times out across the day rather than everyone rushing to vote at the same time.

      Use hand marker paper ballots counted in public. We know the results of the election before the next morning and there is really no benefit to knowing any earlier. We know that we can trust the count because the process is clear and visible.

      Have a sausage sizzle (translation: BBQ) at every polling place. I realise that you didn’t really cite any problem that this is a solution to, but its still a great idea.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        I think the sausage sizzle idea is brilliant. Election day should be an occasion for conviviality. And yes, election day should be a national holiday.

  8. James Levy

    Excellent points made clearly and cogently: well done!

    I’m reminded of how the word “reform” has morphed. In the 19th and early 20th century reform almost always meant “helping people”, as in sanitation or child labor or prison reform. Now it means “saving rich people money” or “making it easier from prosecutors to throw you in jail.” innovation once implied “making something better”. Today, it means making something opaque, complex, and able to be gamed by the elite.

  9. Mark John

    If you understand your democratic socialism, you know these things like “We Work” have little to nothing to do with collectivism. They are just allowing little hierarchical startups to have a go. Love the idea of a Post Office Bank. Perhaps we can think big, and say that school teachers need to be the ones running our public school system. It seems to me that those doing the job have the best idea about how their institution should be run. We have allowed administrators with no practical experience in the jobs they supervise to run the shop, not to mention run off with the money. These are ideas to start with, ideas that can undo the hierarchical structure of capitalism if we can garner enough public support.

  10. Left in Wisconsin

    Very nice post, though I’m not sure you make a real connection between the first part on the BS of “innovation” and the second part on common sense public policy.

    Isn’t it time someone does the financial math on the innovation economy? Who is funding all these innovation workspaces, who is paying the rent that innovators pay (their parents?), etc. Madison is an order of magnitude down from Boston but the same BS has taken over here. One new workspace is largely funded by the dominant insurance company in town (out of excess profits, I presume) but there are several others about which I know little. My guess is that they are VC-funded in that way that VC, with more money than G0d, funds stuff it knows will be a total loss but fits with the mindset.

    Here is one financial connection I would bet money does exist between your two parts, and it is the exact opposite of what the innovators think: My guess is that the vast majority of innovators get their personal health care through their spouse, who has a stable jobs with good benefits, often in the public sector (government or K-12 teaching) or in university or health care. And this, I would posit, not the crap about universities being centers of innovation, is the main reason why second-wave centers of innovation always occur in areas that have major universities + major hospitals + state government. (Silicon Valley is and always was unique. The fact that no second-wave innovation hub will ever be able to replicate SV is another story that needs continual retelling.) Which means that a right to health insurance disconnected from employment, a la single payer, is likely to be as big a boon to the innovation economy as any one thing could be.

    1. grayslady

      Interesting speculation about the connection between incubators and university locations. In Evanston, Illinois (home of Northwestern University) a low-rent area of the city was torn down to make way for a “tech center”. Popular restaurants were obliterated and their relocation was subsidized by the city (thanks to citizen complaints) in order to make way for the tech development. This article explains what has happened since. Hardly any businesses that moved beyond the incubator stage remained in Evanston, and only 23 new jobs were created. As I recall, Northwestern’s proximity was never viewed as necessary by any of the entrepreneurs who moved into and out of the building space. Meanwhile, real estate taxes in Evanston continued to skyrocket. Perhaps, Left in Wisconsin, as you say, the appeal of these locations has to do with at least one party having a real job with real benefits.

      In nearby Skokie, Illinois, an incubator park has also started up. However, this park is devoted strictly to medical innovation, and some of the companies located there seem to be small research and development ventures connected to much larger corporations. It will be interesting to see if a focus on medical technology rather than trendy “apps” makes a difference in longer term success.

  11. john c. halasz

    Her name is Pavlina Tcherneva. This is the second time you’ve typoed it. She’s Bulgarian.

  12. Salty

    When the Germans invaded Russia, they were sporting the technologically advanced Panzer IV. Excellent optics, brand-spanking new engines, heavy armor, excellent firepower, and all the bells and whistles a tank commander could ask for.

    The Russians had the T34, which had a low profile and sloped armor. It was the better tank (at combat, anyway).

    Simple, proven, rugged.

    Complexity is usually a callsign for corruption. When you see a supply chain that’s too long, ask yourself who’s taking a cut.

  13. JohnnyGL

    Good post Lambert,

    Couple of points on Massachusetts and “innovation”….

    1) Some of the big anchor tenants in the seaport district are Fidelity, GE, State Street. Not exactly much innovation there. There were large tax breaks handed out by Mayor Menino towards the end of his long tenure as mayor.

    2) Public schools have been facing cuts that were protested by at least one student walk out.

    3) This was the state that Trump nearly hit 50% of the vote on the first Super Tuesday at a time when the Republican field was thick with candidates and well before Trump looked “inevitable”. In fact, I think it was his best result that day. Turnout was substantially increased from prior Republican primary election years.

    So there’s anecdotal supporting evidence of the “innovation” scam, combined with austerity, and evidence of building backlash against it.

  14. Roger Smith

    I just saw OH rep Nancy Kaptur promoting PO banking on Facebook earlier this week. I am glad you posted this as I was not aware of the impact or reasons for it.

  15. Roger Smith

    “…ask them why it’s so necessary to innovate when we, as a society, can’t even manage to do what’s been proven to work.”

    Boom… Turns out Lambert was the one with his finger on the button.

    I would love for someone in a townhall to ask Clinton this (assuming the likely prompts appear).

  16. JimTan

    Lambert – well done. A single payer option would give the US government significant power to negotiate lower prices from health care providers and drug companies. How much negotiating power?

    Total annual US healthcare spending is @ $2.9 trillion (2014):

    Total annual Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services budget is $837 billion (2014):

    The U.S. Government provides 29% of All U.S. Healthcare Spending per Year ( $1 of every $3.4 ).

  17. EGrise

    I like “simple, rugged, proven” as a description, a quality, and a goal quite a lot. Why wouldn’t a country founded by, and who ostensibly celebrates, “rugged individuals” not prefer things that are “simple, rugged, proven”?

    In part it’s because of the technology boom of the 20th century, and America becoming the country of the future (first in flight, automobiles, won the war through virtuoso industrialization, jet age, space age, Internet age, etc.). We don’t like “simple” (old) nearly as much as we like “progress” (new) which is almost always, certainly in its early stages, complex.

    The same could be said for “proven” (read: old-fashioned) with the addition of NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. Some cultures readily adopt proven systems, technologies and ideas invented by others (pre-Soviet Russia is a good example), but since the late 1800s Americans seem to have developed a large and sensitive ego where that is concerned: pointing out that single payer health care works in Canada is not only *not* a selling point but can be detrimental. An “Australian” ballot most likely wouldn’t fly today.

    I suspect that “rugged” will be more popular in the near future. Between the crapification of everything and the increasing consequences of environmental, economic and political changes, I think more people will find “rugged” to be a positive thing, especially if it includes the meaning of “it works in spite of how crummy everything is.”

    Perhaps we need to find a way to make “simple” and “proven” more attractive? The benefit as I see it:

    Net Neutrality? “Simple, rugged, proven.” Jobs guarantee? “Simple, rugged, proven.” Free education? “Simple, rugged, proven.” Can be attached to a number of ideas, and could make it more difficult to attack them. Also a “breath of fresh air,” different from elitist meritocratic con-artistry BS and simplistic everything-solved-by-tax-cuts right-wing BS.

    …clearly I’m blue-skying here. Going to stop and marinate a bit before I do any more thinking out loud.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      What I want is a word for systems delivering public goods that are “simple, rugged, and proven.”

      I used “common sense,” but that’s really just a placeholder.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        It’s not a word I particularly like but the climate change people are now using the word “resilient” in sort of this way.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Not at all. What’s neo-Confucian about any of these proposals? I’d argue that they’re all egalitarian, in that “simple, rugged, and proven” cuts a lot of credentialed rent-seekers out of the loop.

  18. vegeholic

    Great post. I have never understood why business (big, small, whatever, …) is not a fierce advocate for single payer health care. It must be a nightmare for them to provide/coordinate health insurance for their employees. I remember hearing that $1K of every GM vehicle purchase price goes to pay for employee health care. Imagine the increased profits if they did not have to worry about this. Why are corporate executives not manning the barricades in support of single payer?

    1. hunkerdown

      1. “Labor discipline”. An arm’s-length threat against workers’ well-being makes workers less uppity and more desperate.
      2. Primitive accumulation under color of mitzvah. It allows managers/owners to feel like they’re doing something good for “their” people.

      1. Romancing the Loan

        Inability of smaller companies to afford healthcare for their employees is also a huge built-in advantage if you’re trying to maintain a monopoly.

    2. LifelongLib

      I made this argument to small business owners of my acquaintance during the health care debate. They were so convinced that government can’t do anything right that they thought they’d end up paying more for single payer than they already were. Go figure…

    3. washunate

      Why are corporate executives not manning the barricades

      If you’re curious, there are five main reasons:

      1) Healthcare benefits being a nightmare to provide/coordinate is a major benefit to large organizations. They are relatively more capable of navigating such an environment than small organizations. It is a de facto barrier to competition.
      2) Healthcare itself is a huge industry. Single payer would drastically reduce the size of American healthcare.
      3) Healthcare benefits are a way of trapping employees.
      4) Healthcare benefits are a way of providing better compensation to favored employee classes without it showing up in the main wage data. This can be valuable for everything from internal optics to external reporting to tax purposes.
      5) There is an inertia built up over not doing things that would help lower income Americans. It’s part cultural, part economic, part ideological, but mostly, it’s just not part of a corporate exec’s portfolio, so to speak, to spend time worrying about social problems that don’t affect people in their own social circles.

      Reasons 1 and 5 are eroding over time; one of the interesting questions is whether a critical mass will develop among business leaders that they become part of the push for universal healthcare.

  19. Tom Denman

    Three excellent ideas. Though I fear that since the establishment failed to get its way in last week’s UK referendum, those “modernizing” Blairites will start a push to get rid of hand counted paper ballots if they succeed in deposing Jeremy Corbyn.

    Readers will recall that I have often flagged “innovative,” along with “disruptive,” “startup,” “founder”, and (in the business context) “ecosystem” as bullshit tells, and recommended that if you hear such con artist’s patter in a crowd, you should put your hand on your wallet or clutch your purse more tightly.

    I would only add that one should do the same whenever told to “think outside the box.” And then briskly walk away.

    As a corollary I note the recent news concerning that most egregious of con artists, Tony Robbins. Mr. Robbins was trying to convince attendees at a seminar that their fear was holding them back from success and the way to overcome their fear was to walk over a bed of hot coals. The exercise resulted in 30 to 40 people suffering burns to their feet last week. [1]

    I’m sure they had to sign waivers but I hope they sue anyway.

  20. armchair

    When did liberal become a dirty word? Here is a fill-in-the-blank to demonstrate my confusion:

    After losing three presidential elections in a row, democrats turned to a candidate promising a ______ way. This new _______ way, would fight the perception that democrats had become too ______. It was a successful strategy to with the election, but this _____ way president still had to fight off the perception that he was too _____. A certain Rightwing radio host would lambaste any politician who was deemed too _____, and the label of ____ was anathema to serious politicians. A senator with a ____ voting record was considered to be cukoo.

    Anyway, I hear rumors that Orange is the New Black is no longer that good.

  21. QuarterBack

    Having spent a substantial portion of my professional life in R&D, I often see the word innovation conflated with novelty. Unless there is a net utility to someone, mere newness does not qualify as innovation. When politicians join the game, things often go off the common sense rails. All too often, finalists or sometimes winners, for innovation awards are just doing the same old thing in a different way. Such submissions can be very interesting, entertaining, or fashionable, but often present no practical benefit (or benefit the outweighs its own peculiar costs and risks). Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress is certainly novel, but it could hardly be qualified as an innovation. The path to innovation is predominately nondeterministic, therefore rarely affected by stimulation. What I have found is that innovation (particularly disruptive innovation) fails to be realized more often by dying on the vine from the headwinds of creative destruction, rather than by a dearth of good ideas. The greatest enemy to progress is the tyranny of monopolies; where If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mindset rules the day.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > The greatest enemy to progress is the tyranny of monopolies

      And so many of the unicorns, for example, aim to achieve exactly that. (Their word for it is “scale.”)

  22. ian

    I personally like the ‘purple thumb’ system of paper voting (think it was Iraq) – dipping a thumb in a purple dye (that wears off in a day or two), then imprinting the ballot.
    You get a thumb print on the ballot that verifies that you were the one who cast the ballot, you make sure everyone only votes once and it encourages participation since everyone can see who voted.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Check the whole post at BradBlog because it specifically mentions Iran. IIRC, the real issue is that the ballots are not publicly counted. So, sure, you voted because finger is purple, but how do you know that your vote was counted?

  23. TheCatSaid

    I’m delighted you have BradBlog as a resource re: election information. He continues to do excellent work in this area.

    A curiosity about NH is that while some areas have outstanding hand-counting procedures, other places (most of the state) have some of the most questionable ballot handling processes in the country! (As in ballots being driven around by 3rd parties, handed off to others on deserted country back roads–all recorded on video; ballot boxes that were sealed showing up in the counting cernter as unsealed; vans & driver caught on video with ink-erasing solvents, paper towels and related supplies in the back of the van. All of this recorded on video.) LHS controls the voting machines & the computers doing the NH ballot tallying (more problems there documented on video, including documentation of one of the simplest forms of vote rigging using machines with code & custody in the control of LHS.

    So you have some NH townships with the best of procedures, and most of the state using horribly bad procedures & dodgy contractors (to put it mildly).

    The disturbing news coming out on (an organization with which BradBlog has long cooperated) is a report on a proven mechanism for easy control of various elections, various precincts, and various counties even in more than one state. The evidence and details are on the website.

    The initial smoking gun for the recent revelations was a group of dodgy elections in Memphis, Tennessee, where 4 candidates challenged the official results. (Shelby County, Tennessee is mostly African American & mostly Democratic, but we’re asked to believe that for some reason Shelby County voters supposedly elected 100% white Republicans, including the public prosecutor. The candidates were certain fraud had occurred, and the investigation went from there, starting with work undertaken by Bennie Smith, an expert in databases, finance, and elections. To his shock he uncovered in the code exactly what he predetermined would be the way to rig multiple elections, and tell-tale evidence from actual election results and databases (rounding errors caused by fractionalized votes in the poll tapes from the central counting computers). BlackBoxVoting then determined that the identical unapproved software patch was 1) added deliberately and illegally in 2001 as per Diebold emails; 2) this same software patch was still in use on at least 30% of the central tabulators currently in use in 2016; 3) that the reasons the company gave for adding the software patch with fractionalized votes were not true. . . And more.

    They are all currently analyzing the most recent primary results, so when the next portion of the Fraction Magic report comes out it will include more specifics and name additional names.

  24. CraaaaaazyChris

    “… but only in terms of rental extraction (and the staggering complexity of its implementation (in essence a jobs program for lots of credentialed 10%-ers (ka-ching (Clinton‘s base))).”

    Lambert, you are showing great innovation here in the use of parentheses. Is it embedded Lisp, or some cryptic reference to the tribe? I’m not sure if you want or need it, but just in case, here is the balancing R-Paren :).

Comments are closed.