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Social Innovation Necessary for Technological Innovation and Global Governance

If large groups of actors are to work together to collectively solve their problems, we need more diverse and complex forms of collective action.  COVID powerfully reminded us that we are all deeply interconnected, and that there are rich social foundations upon which market economies and individual efforts constantly rely.  At GCRI we think international cooperation and sustainable development can be more fully achieved by combining the strengths of markets and democracy.  Namely, by synthesizing the entrepreneurial flexibility of global markets, to create new technologies and build organizations that supply emergent demands based on these innovations, and the continual accountability to the community served that democratic governments promise.

With the collapse of much of international trade and travel, along with its dynamism and inclusion of the developing world, we see a ripe opportunity to rethink and reconstitute global markets.  There are now resounding calls to reorient the fundamental purpose of the corporation around “stakeholders,” though the path forward remains up for debate.  While markets allow us to interact with people at large scales and across distant lands, they can be reorganized to provide collective goods through more democratic mechanisms.  

The fact is most value is created not by any individual but collectively, by the social groups to which we all have fluid and intersecting memberships, from family to civil society and all the way through governments and corporations. This is why we specialize our labor and live in cities and on networks; we can all achieve more together than what we can achieve alone. These phenomena are the power and synergy of human cooperation, and they should be harnessed for the good of humanity.  

As it is, competitive markets and prices are not built to harness this power. Consider that the cost to create software, for example, for one person to consume is virtually the same as the cost to produce it for all to consume. This is the magic of making software publicly available as open source, and yet even the underlying protocols of the Internet are severely underfunded. Traditional markets, meant to reflect marginal productivity, fail to deliver a better result. In an attempt to prevent spillovers and capture the socially created value, corporations privately control and restrict access to software, as well as other innovations and information goods like investigative journalism, all of which are still terribly underfunded.

The usual alternative is a standard notion of democracy. And to be sure, we must have more collective governance of the value we co-create. Public investments make entrepreneurship possible and are foundational to inclusive and sustainable growth and prosperity. However, governments with rigid and historically arbitrary borders increasingly struggle to keep pace with innovation and respond to the problems we face in the modern world. Given the globalizing forces of modern information and transportation technologies, we must complement incumbent governments with more dynamic and flexible forms of governance that match the subnational, supranational and cross-cutting patterns of collaboration allowed by such technologies.  

Global justice and democracy depends on a plurality of institutions that genuinely deliver equal representation, adapt to complex and changing needs, and build social connections that reinforce solidarity within a community and bring diverse communities into positive relations. It is our hope that new structures of empowerment and participation across economic, social and political spheres can chart the way forward on the long and winding path toward true self-government, where people are protected from the arbitrary control of others and empowered to shape their own future.

We aim to play a small part in implementing these ideas with concrete, formal designs that combine the best of markets and democracy.  QF is a matching fund system that allows for market-based but democratic funding of public goods, incentivizing innovation with rewards proportional not to profit but to social value created.  Indeed, the fusion of markets and democracy allows us to transcend their faults, build adaptive and responsive democratic institutions, and discover liberatory new possibilities.

If we innovate in our social institutions and the way we innovate in technology, we can better integrate private and public action to deliver justice and human flourishing, with a global economy that attracts us to work together rather than be divided. Only together did technology and governance propel us into the modern world, and the improvements in each still to come leave us in wonder and awe.

What do you think?

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