Using Civinomics to distribute American Foreign Aid

Many thanks to Thomas Friedman for his OpEd/ book review of “Why Nations Fail” in the NYT this weekend.

This paragraph in particular caught my attention:

“We should be transitioning away from military aid to regimes like Egypt and focusing instead on enabling more sectors of that society to have a say in politics. Right now, I’d argue, our foreign aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan is really a ransom we pay their elites not to engage in bad behavior. We need to turn it into bait.”

Great point Tom – and I know just the way to do it: an open, online political platform, a.k.a. Civinomics. It’s hard to say whether something like “Foreign aid to Pakistan” should be its own workshop, or if the US should simply agree to fund the top proposals that come out of the various Pakistani workshops on the site. The end result will be the same – cutting edge democracy delivered at the door of any nation that gets US aid.

The US could even allocate funds based on specific programs – health/ environment/ employment, depending on international priorities. Incentives would be included for nations that manage to meet their goals at a lower cost than usual (maybe in the form of better trade or immigration terms? – that will take some political pondering).

Obviously the US govt couldn’t require people to use the Civinomics platform – but it could require an open crowdsourced set of policies and priorities created through just such a platform. These means that you will begin to see two forces pushing governments around the world to use our software – bottom up, coming from activists who are tired of their stodgy governments; and top down – as governments angle to become more savvy and cash in on new aid rules. Tell me this doesn’t sound like a much more effective (and authentic) way to spread global democracy than our existing imperial system: invade, create puppet government, bribe with tons of aid.

Democracy has always been about a social technology, not a particular government or hegemony. Once we decouple the democracy from “western government control” we are likely to see much more uptake around the world.

We often refer to Civinomics as “dumb pipes” because it cannot have any particular political leaning or slant – it is purely an enabling tool. I cannot think of any better example of an “inclusive economic institution” (vs. “extractive economics institution” – read TF’s review) than our dumb pipes. Infact, they stand to change the nature of US foreign aid from an extractive institution – bending foreign governments to the shape of our will, to an inclusive institution – inviting the citizens of other countries to lift themselves out of poverty with the help of our “dumb pipes.”

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