Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm Not As Good As I Used To Be (At Taking Pictures)

I haven't uploaded any pictures to Flickr in a long time. Looking at these old gems makes me jealous of my former self. I cannot produce what I used to.

I recently went on a vacation with family to Colorado, and took a lot of pictures there, so I'm kind of getting back into it. Hopefully there will be more updates here soon on my picture-taking progress.

Desiging A Budget

LANSING, MI - MARCH 17: The Michigan State Cap...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I've been thinking about budgeting lately, because the Michigan legislature can't seem to figure out a good way to do it. Every year, they think they have to argue about what to cut, but I think there's a better way.

People and dollars are leaving Michigan, so obviously revenue is shrinking as well. This means that we have to spend less money. It's not partisanship, it's not politics - it's math. I won't even factor in the growing structural deficit that haunts Michigan (it's going to come back to bite us soon).

Yet there seems to be no political will to cut anything. You hear the same line, over and over again: "we've already made sacrifices." Even so, you can't really blame them for being upset. Everyone has their own corner of the universe, and they are more concerned about that than the bigger picture. It's hard to trust someone who is taking away resources from you that "it's really in your best interest." If you add legislators and politicians who have little courage into the mix, you have a recipe for gridlock.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but I think we're going to have to reinvent the way Michigan budgets. There are other states who have solutions that we should at least be discussing and experimenting with.

One good example is Washington. They have an initiative called "priorities of government" that I think is a pretty innovative way to move towards a more common-sense budgeting process. Instead of taking years past and specific departments of the bureaucracy as a given, they simply start with the priority outcomes that the government is expected to produce.

The process goes something like this:
  • Determine what the priorities are
  • Figure out how much money you have to work with
  • Assemble a team of experts, citizens, and government staff for each priority area
  • Give each team a certain amount of money to spend to achieve their priority
  • Have an open market of people who make offers to solve part of each priority area
  • The teams choose the most effective way to spend money
I should point out that this isn't how Washington makes the real budget. They just use this exercise as a way to give out recommendations that eventually make their way into the real budget.

I would be interested to see what a state could achieve if it actually switched to pure outcomes based budgeting.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, August 3, 2009

Design is the Future of Conservatism

Here's a scenario we can all relate to:

You're trying to learn how to use a new computer program. The box seemed cool, and promised all sorts of awesome features that you knew you couldn't live without. You install the thing, boot it up, and all of a sudden it dawns on you:

The program sucks. Nothing works like it is supposed to, it has buttons and levers all over the place, and you have no clue what any of them do. The whole thing is a big overwhelming mess. To make matters worse, you can't just walk away and use something else, you have no choice in the matter, you have to use this terrible program (for your job or something, I don't know, just go with it for the sake of the metaphor).

If you're like me (or any other human being) this provokes rage and frustration. The thing is just supposed to work. You want it to work and get out of the way.

Funnily enough, I have the same feelings about the DMV. But I don't think it's just a coincidence. I think it's a fundamental truth that we've lost touch with.

No, I don't think Windows Vista and the DMV both sucking are fundamental truths - I think the principles of good design are fundamental truths, and I think good design can make government better just like it could have made Windows Vista better.

I won't explain why this is conservative yet. I think you'll see what I'm talking about as I flesh this idea out. Just remember - less is more.

  • Unity refers to a sense that everything in the artwork belongs there, and makes a whole piece. In the context of a nation, this means so many different things at once. Examples include: some common political culture and beliefs, common units of currency, common structural elements of programs (you want it to be flexible and the different parts of government to be able to work with each other, if everyone is using different standards then a lot gets lost in translation), and much more.
  • Variety refers to the use of dissimilar elements, which creates interest. Think capitalist division of labor. Think democratic separation of powers. Think diversity - multiple perspectives that help us figure out what ultimately works for everyone.
  • Balance refers to a sense that dominant focal points are balanced and don't give a feeling of being pulled too much to any part of the artwork. If you've read the Federalist papers, you already understand what this means for government. Wisdom means finding balance.
  • Harmony is achieved through the sensitive balance of variety and unity. Harmony is what emerges from the system when it works right. Harmony is interesting because it's not a concrete thing. Think about it in terms of music - you have multiple notes that are different but are similar enough to work together to make something beautiful. The harmony is somewhere in between. Harmony is the real goal of society.

Those are the crucial principles of design - the absolute basics. Here's the wikipedia page that lists those, and many others that you might enjoy pondering over.

Admittedly, liberalism also takes much inspiration from the principles of design. But I believe in fundamentally sticking to the principles, which is a conservative attitude to have. If you want more examples of conservative design principles, consider these concepts, and reflect on how they apply to government: worse is better, feature creep, mission creep, second-system effect, code bloat, over-engineering, KISS principle, accidental complexity, Pareto principle, Occam's razor, etc

Notice how all those things kind of said the same thing? I think they're all getting at something important. It's better to just keep it simple. But we also should remember Thoreau's advice:
It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Best. Commercial. Ever.

Three reasons this commercial is amazing:
  1. It is the best use of kinetic text I've ever seen
  2. It doesn't sell a product, it sells a movement
  3. It's just true.
Watch it, and let me know if you agree.