How is Government Like the Internet?

Reid Hoffman thinks we should view government as an internet platform upon which citizens build lives. He isn’t speaking literally, but he isn’t far off the mark either. Hoffman’s background is in philosophy, so it is not surprising that his professional work (he is the founder of LinkedIn) and his political opinions intersect. Taking the view that Hoffman suggests means thinking of government as a service and citizens as customers who have a choice over which services to use and which not to use. I also like that it inverts the usual view by placing government at the bottom, as a foundation, and citizens can rise as high as they want.

Another philosopher/sociologist, Kieran Healy, has an interesting analogy of internet and government. He says

The U.S. system of employer-sponsored healthcare provision is iTunes. It’s complicated and overburdened; it wasn’t originally designed to do most of the things it now does; in fact, at the outset its design wasn’t really thought through at all (there wasn’t time); many of those involved backed it as a distant second-best solution—better than nothing, but not nearly good enough. Over the years, new features were shoehorned into the basic structure. New problems and inconsistencies emerged and were partially patched. And, inevitably, groups who did pretty well out of the system emerged and entrenched themselves, too. In situations like this, some reforms are possible around the edges, but it’s clear to most people that real structural reform is needed.

In development terms, that means it is time for a refactoring or even a complete overhaul. This debugging of government could also incorporate what Eric Raymond calls Linus’s Law (“Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”) by responding to the feedback of informed citizens.

How far can we take this metaphor? Is it too utopian?

2 thoughts on “How is Government Like the Internet?

  1. Pingback: Are States Like Firms? | You Study Politics, Right?

  2. Pingback: The Economist on Internet Politics | You Study Politics, Right?

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