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Views from the Prairie

June 2024

Four Lessons from Good Governments

Smooth running business in clean modern buildings. The image of success is what we want. And then, we look at the mess in City Hall. "Can't government run like a business?" is a common cry. What if there is something that businesses could learn from good governments? There are four lessons businesses can learn: to not let CEOs be kings, have a board to kill ideas, spread power around, and accept community judgement.

Often, when people will say that they wish government would work like a business, what they really mean is that they want the government to be as successful as the best businesses are. The reality is that most businesses fail and very many fail within the first few years. They leave behind empty buildings, mountains of trash, toxic waste dumps, or even hundreds of poisoned bodies. Governments do better than that and businesses can learn from good governments.

Our country has lasted far longer than most businesses. Very few businesses last 50 years and almost none have lasted as long as our country has. From government, businesses can learn how to plan for the long term.

One lesson our nation teaches is to not let the CEO be a "king." Repeatedly throughout history, kings have wasted huge sums bankrupting the kingdoms. Kings have entered into wars due to a personal dislike of the other country's leader. When companies have allowed their CEOs to act as kings, they have followed similar trends; spending large sums on personal projects, attempting ventures because of personal wishes, launching hostile takeovers, wasting huge sums on lavish buildings or on buying other companies, and not recognizing the precarious position that most companies exist in.

Another lesson we can learn from government is to have a board that can kill the CEO's ideas. Our Supreme Court is able to kill laws and regulations. Congress is split so that bad ideas have a harder time being enacted into laws. A good board will kill wrong ventures, prevent actions by the company, and overthrow the company leaders.

Another lesson is that power is best spread around. Our government split power between the Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, and the free press. The President can't "rule by decree." A well-run company spreads power around between the board, the CEO, and with empowering low-level managers and workers.

The fourth lesson businesses can learn is that governing happens only by the consent of the governed. In business, staying in business happens only when the community agrees that the business should stay around. The speed at which bank customers can do a "bank run" and close the bank is measured in hours and days. Likewise, a restaurant can be closed quickly. A business can never take their customers or the community for granted.

Good governance works for both City Hall and for business.

Gold Rush Lawlessness

In the old west gold rush, many acted as if there were no laws and they could grab as much as they could. Mining claims were violated. People got into fights over where claim boundaries were. A "claim jumper" could get swift and harsh judgement. Today, data to train AI systems is the modern gold. People are acting like they are in a gold rush and that there are no boundaries. People are taking your data and photos without paying you.

A similar thing happened in the early days of the east Texas oil boom. "Wildcatters" were drilling wells as fast as they could and pumping as much oil as they get out. Such drilling would destroy the oil fields. Wells were drilled so close that they were sucking oil from each other. It took special legislation by Congress and the states and enforcement by state and federal authorities to bring order to oil production in Texas.

AI requires huge amounts of fresh data in order to be up to date. The problem is that it is running out of fresh data. The AI machines have already sucked up most of the Internet. Thus, companies that want to offer AI powered products are scrambling for more data and are cutting corners to get it.

One company has announced that if you are using their software to draw, they will use that drawing to train their AI system. A social media company has announced that all photos posted on their site will be used to train their AI system. Another company keeps trying to pull all your documents and photos from your computers to their servers (where they are vulnerable to being used).

We may need Congressional action to protect us from technology firms.

Risky World

Stanford University has shut down their research program which was trying to find ways to determine fake items on the Internet. There are some that call this a "win for free speech." It is more likely that Greham's Law (the fake will crowd out the real) will apply to the Internet. It is likely that the Internet will be filled with more and more fake or AI written material.


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