Friday's almost here.
And if you're looking for a feel-good, happy-hour drinking game, here's what you should do: Down a shot each time you spot a great idea in the open letter on the digital economy, authored by several prominent academics and business leaders, many of whom are based in Silicon Valley.
You'll be drunk in no time.
That's mainly because their letter--specifically, its corollary research agenda and public policy recommendations--lists dozens of superb suggestions that anyone trafficking in the world of entrepreneurship would be hard-pressed to disagree with. Which is to say: This is a terrific blueprint for bringing education, economic data, and public policies into the digital age. Here's a sampling of some of the recommendations to address income inequality:
- Creating better measures for the digital economy and welfare, including supplements or replacements for metrics like GDP, productivity, unemployment, and inflation. We can't manage what we don't measure. Yet our current metrics miss much of the value of the digital economy.
- Identifying business models in which technology is a complement to--not a substitute for--labor and creating a taxonomy of their common characteristics.
Public Policy Recommendations
- Entrepreneurship. Young businesses, especially fast-growing ones, are a prime source of new jobs. Despite the boom in some areas, overall entrepreneurship in America has been on a slow steady decline for over a decade. We are convinced that entrepreneurship can be boosted by actively teaching and fostering entrepreneurship through a variety of channels and reducing burdens like certain occupational licensing rules.
- Immigration. Many of the world's most talented and ambitious people want to come to America to build their lives and careers, and the evidence is clear that immigrant founded companies have been great job creation engines. Yet our current policies in this area are far too restrictive, and our procedures are nightmarishly bureaucratic.
The authors have done great work outlining a set of priorities. With fewer than 600 days until the next Presidential election, their timing--to influence the platforms of candidates from both parties--is exquisite.
"This began with a group of us meeting in March to brainstorm the issues," is how MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson, one of the authors, described the origin of the letter in the Wall Street Journal. Other authors include Brynjolfsson's frequent collaborator and MIT colleague, Andrew McAfee; venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson; Autodesk CEO Carl Bass; Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla; and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
"There are big changes happening in the economy and technology is driving it--and it's mostly good news," Brynjolfsson told the Journal. "But it's not automatic that everyone will benefit evenly and there are a lot of things we can do to create more shared prosperity."
Again: It's hard to disagree. So what's the problem? Mainly that this is an open letter. By definition, it's a missive without an addressee. Yes, the implied addressee is anyone running for president. But the letter's lack of a target makes you wonder: Are politicians the only ones who ought to pay attention?
To cite just one example: In three documents covering a wide range of policy and political topics, the silence on healthcare--it is not once mentioned in the documents--is almost egregious.
Are we supposed to pretend that the insane cost of healthcare--and the decreasing amounts employers are willing to spend on it--is not a factor in the unshared prosperity of the digital gold rush? Researchers at S&P Capital IQ made waves last year when they predicted in a report that the common practice of getting health insurance through employers would inevitably going away.
Employers stand to save a whopping $700 billion between 2016 and 2025 by shifting from employer-paid insurance to simply providing stipends through which employees can buy their own policies on independent exchanges made possible by the Affordable Care Act, Michael G. Thompson, managing director at S&P Capital IQ, told Inc. "The government will change the rules, and the IRS will back down and allow stipends," Thompson says. The winners, in his opinion, will be the companies that figure out how to get a piece of the revenues that these soon-to-be-emerging health care exchanges are bound to generate.
Now reconsider what Brynjolfsson said to the Journal: "But it's not automatic that everyone will benefit evenly and there are a lot of things we can do to create more shared prosperity."
One of the things "we" can do--if you define "we" as America's politicians and business leaders--is take dead aim at how much it costs to get help when you're sick. Or simply how much it costs to have a rectangular card in your wallet indicating you can afford to be taken care of when you're sick.
In the last paragraph of their letter, the authors write: "We can only create a society of shared prosperity if we update our policies, organizations and research to seize the opportunities and address the challenges brought by these [digital] tools."
Their letter, though filled with strong, actionable ideas, neglected to even touch on a policy that affects all of "us."