Founders and the Future
Jul 22, 2010 Clay Johnson

I like Gov2.0. I think that what it’s going to do, eventually, is make it so people have better access to their government and better control over it. It’s an important new movement that, like Open Source Software, will change the way people think about their government. I’m happy to be as much a part of it as I can.

Except there’s one little nagging issue I have. Why’s it called Gov 2.0? I suppose it’s called what it’s called, and it certainly beats the “egov” nomenclature of the past (though I especially love eGov 2.0) but I’ve always had a case of “Gov 2 Reluctance” because of a man named Sid Meier.

See— anybody that grew up with Sid Meier’s Civilization knows that we’re way beyond Gov 1.0. In the game, you “discover” different government types as you gather resources and go through the game. Gov 1 is Despotism and Gov 5, 6, and 7 are today’s common forms of Communism, Republic and Democracy. Here’s the whole list of Govs. Any loyal Civilization player knows that “Gov 2” is Feudalism and I don’t think that Tim O’Reilly wants to get in the lucrative Renaissance Fair business (yet).

In all seriousness, what happens when you think of about “Gov2” as something less like a technology overhaul of an existing government structure, and more like Gov VIII— the thing that comes after the “discoveries” of Communism, Democracy and the Republic? The framers current technology when building our nation— like horses, roads, and post offices. The post office, for instance, was built before our constitution. Ben Franklin on the fast-track to becoming Postmaster General in the second Continental Congress, and Congress would be granted the power to make post offices and post roads in the Constitution. While it may not sound like a big deal— I think it was at the time. Take a look at what Supreme Court justice Joseph Story had to say about the power in 1833, first quoting the Federalist Papers:

The “power,” says the Federalist, “of establishing post-roads must, in every view, be a harmless power; and may, perhaps, by judicious management, become productive of great public conveniency. Nothing, which tends to facilitate the intercourse between the states, can be deemed unworthy of the public care.” One cannot but feel, at the present time, an inclination to smile at the guarded caution of these expressions, and the hesitating avowal of the importance of the power. It affords, perhaps, one of the most striking proofs, how much the growth and prosperity of the country have outstripped the most sanguine anticipations of our most enlightened patriots.

And on the medium of the post, he says:

It circulates intelligence of a commercial, political, intellectual, and private nature, with incredible speed and regularity. It thus administers, in a very high degree, to the comfort, the interests, and the necessities of persons, in every rank and station of life. It brings the most distant places and persons, as it were, in contact with each other; and thus softens the anxieties, increases the enjoyments, and cheers the solitude of millions of hearts.

Doesn’t it sound like something a Web2.0 cheerleader would write? Hypothetically, let’s say we sail West, discover a new continent, and have to be new civic innovators— starting from scratch with the technology that we have today. What kind of government would we build? Instead of technologies like horses and roads, we’ve got phones, wireless internet, computers, cars, airplanes, and a printing press in every pocket. Would we bother with a Government Printing Office?. Would we socialize the Internet and the iPhone like we socialized the roads and the post office? Would we build a capitol building at all or keep representatives in their States meeting via skype?

I call that Gov VIII — whatever Sid Meier will plug in after Democracy in Civilization VI.

Information Diet © 2011 Clay Johnson