Review: Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century: A Middle Way between West and East

5 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Best Practices in Management, Civil Society, Congress (Failure, Reform), Democracy, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Information Society, Intelligence (Wealth of Networks), Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design, Politics, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution
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Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels

5.0 out of 5 stars Influential, Integrative, with Integrity, Avoids Three Core Topics

December 6, 2012

Here’s what is really great about this book:

01)  The authors are connected, admired, and conversant with the great minds of Silicon Valley (Eric Schmidt offers a very strong blurb) and even more importantly, this book both represents the best from those minds, and has clearly had as positive effect in getting this particular meme (“intelligent governance”) considered.

02)  The authors force attention to a fundamental flawed premise in the West, that any form of democracy (even if corrupted beyond recognition) is preferable to any form of dictatorship (the authors refer to China as a mandarinate).  As someone who grew up in Singapore and has the deepest admiration for Minister-Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and the professionalism of the Government of Singapore (it employed my step-mother from New Zealand for many years, ultimately as head of the Department of English), I am among the first to suggest that the West falls short, but I would point to Singapore and the Nordics and BENELUX as my preferred alternative, not just hybrid, but rooted in ethical evidence-based decision-making.  I would also note that the West has actively supported 40 of 42 dictators for the last fifty years — integrity is NOT a strong suit for our so-called Western democracies.

03)  The book is strongest — no doubt as the publisher and the authors intended — in relation to the impact of social networks as feedback loops helpful to governments, whether democratic or mandarinate, that are capable of LISTENING.  Chapter 4, “The New Challenges of Governmance,” is certainly suitable as a stand-alone assigned reading.  The authors are heavily reliant on David Brin (I am a fan of his) but distressingly oblivious to Howard Rheingold, Tom Atlee, Jim Rough, Harrison Owen, and a host of others that have spent — primed by Stewart Brand — decades thinking about deliberation and consensus-building.  Having said that by way of balance, this chapter strikes me as the heart of the book, and it gets high marks for pointing out that Google and all other options today are not facilitative of deliberative dialog.

The focus on mega-cities is all too short, and I would be very glad to see the authors combine my critical comments on what is missing, with a deeper focus on mega-cities, and do a second book, but this time comparing a city in Brazil, one in China, one in India, and one one in Russia.

Chapter 5, “Intelligent Governance,” is naturally central to the book,and the central paragraph may be this one: “In practice this means that decision-making power must be decentralized as much as possible to communities of active citizens in the domains of their competence.  In short, it must devolve and involve beyond the old systems of a mass public choosing distant rulers in periodic one-person-one-vote elections where their voice doesn’t matter.  An ‘intelligent electorate’ is part and parcel of a knowledgeable democracy.”

In the absence of specifics (the ten high level threats, the twelve core policy areas) this chapter does not have a chance to really explore how intelligent goverance might work, for example, in relation to managing water across all boundaries.  The authors assume that citizens will either be informed (educated), or will drop out and accept not having a voice.  This is certainly worthy of greater discussion — Will Durant and others emphasize that the ONE thing a legitimate government MUST do if it is to be effective is to EDUCATE their population.  There is also the matter of collective intelligence, wisdom of the crowds, and dignity — EVERYONE — regardless of status or education — has a vital contribution to make to any self-governance deliberation.

I realize as this point that the book merits a second and third reading — I am not extracting all of the value on the first go-around.  The section on “Scaling Governance” is for me the crux of the matter.  The authors try to hard to “rationalize” who should participate where, in part because they do not seem to have an appreciation for Open Space and all the other opens.  Certainly I agree with their point that “one size does not fit all,” but I also believe that government will scale easily if it is truly transparent, truthful, and committed to trust as the intangible value that optimizes wealth creation.

Chapter 6, “Rebooting California’s Dysfunctional Democracy,” provides more substance for reflection.  The most troubling section of this chapter is the author’s focus on tax reform as opposed to tax transformation.  I have been a champion of the Automated Payment Transaction (APT) Tax ever since Jim Turner taught be about it, and I am troubled right now that neither the President of the United States of America, nor the Speaker of the House, appear witting of this option, or if they are, their two parties favor the corruption inherent in the tax code (this is how Congress extorts money from special interests) so deeply that they would rather bankrupt the country than give up their one Golden Goose.

Chapter 7, “The G-20,” is an eye-opener for me.  I never expected to learn that China has offered to fund infrastructure projects in the USA, or to collaborate with the USA on clean energy and low carbon development.  I never expected to learn that China has offered to finance California’s high-speed train.  This chapter humbles me, in part because I have mistakenly avoided reading on G-20, having assumed them to be a dysfunctional vestige of the old era.  For me, this chapter “resets” a part of my mind.,

The balance of the book passes through Europe without mentioning Iceland that I can see, touches on the fact that our government processes have not kept pace with advances in science and technology and information technologies, but then glosses over the harder fact that we have created a Tower of Babel with the fragmentation of knowledge to the point that we now award PhDs to people who know everything about nothing and nothing at all about everything else.

There is a middle ground in this book that I find quite irritating, but am hesitant to make too much of.  For example, the authors are eloquent in addressing the terrible consequences of the American form of consumerism without limits, but cannot bring themselves to call out the corporations (big tobacco, big sugar, big pharma, mega-agriculture) that have told lies and funded liars for decades, while the US federal, state, and local governments have looked away and tolerated an almost complete lack of ethics within the US business world, and particularly, at Matt Taibbi has documented so well, in the financial sector.

Now here are the three short-falls — I would be very glad if the publisher encouraged the authors to do a second edition that adds an index after these three short-falls (and the attendant bibliography) are added.

Absolutely recommended at 5 stars, but misses going to the top 10% because as much as it focuses on intelligent governance, and most especially on achieving balance between a nurturing center and relatively autonomous elements of any federation, this book does not discuss three topics I consider essential:

01)  The authors are reluctant to take on the absolute of corruption.  If there is one thing that the Chinese and US governments share, it is the corruption, the pervasive corruption, that is at its worst under a one party monopoly or a two-party duopoly.  Corruption means information pathologies, and information pathologies means that the whole system feedback loops are “dirty.”  Lies are sand in the gears of any complex delicate system of systems.

02)  The authors are too focused on governance as the province of governments, when in fact hybrid forms of governance are emerging in which academic, civil society (including labor and religion), commerce, government of all types and levels, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit–what I call the “eight tribes” work out innovative and efficient ways of addressing challenges that are beyond the capabilities of top-down governments fond of operating on the basis of secrets, lies, and mandate instead of bottom-up buy-in.  The author’s use of hybrid (governments and social networks) is a corruption of the term best applied when ALL forms of information exploitation (the eight tribes) are deeply engaged in co-creation, co-governance, and co-accountability.

03)  The authors offer no strategic analytic model, no whole systems approach to cause and effect, and no mention of true cost economics, which I personally believe is “root” for any governance, hybrid or otherwise, that wishes to be intelligent.  The authors do great on process and feedback loops, but they do not offer up a sufficiently complex portrait of the eight tribes, raw information, or sense-making.  Social media i 80% NOISE, 20% (at best) SENSE-MAKING.  In other words, technology is not a substitute for thinking, and Facebook, Twitter, and Google are inherently NOT intelligent in the professional sense of the word, able to make sense and support decisions.

Evaluated as a provocative long essay in book form, this is a solid five.  I myself am working on a proposed presentation to the next annual meeting of the public administration wallahs, and my tentative title is Public Governance in the 21st Century:  New Rules, Hybrid Forms, One Constant — The Public.  In that paper, which may become a book but probably not, I contemplate the integration of education, intelligence (decision-support), and research, and bring together three sub-systems: Diversity from cognitive science and collection intelligence; Clarity from Whole Systems; and regulation from ecological or true cost economics.  Public governance — a hybrid of the eight tribes working together on the basis of shared information and a co-equal role in transparent collaborative sense-making, provides the integral holistic Integrity of the Commonwealth.

Below are ten other books that complement this book.

Atlee, The Tao of Democracy: Using co-intelligence to create a world that works for all

Atlee, Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics

Durant, Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition

Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past

Manwaring, Environmental Security and Global Stability: Problems and Responses

Manwaring, The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century

Kirby, The Leadership of Civilization Building: Administrative and civilization theory, Symbolic Dialogue, and Citizen Skills for the 21st Century

Reinicke, Critical Choices. The United Nations, Networks, and the Future of Global Governance

Reinicke, Global Public Policy: Governing Without Government?

Wilson, Concilience: The Unity of Knowledge

Robert David Steele
INTELLIGENCE FOR EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability

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