As an entrepreneurial software developer, I don’t usually look to the government to solve problems for me. Instead I usually try to think of ways to solve the problem (or start a business to solve the problem) myself. Sometimes, though, I stop to think about what it would be like if the government truly embraced and understood technology the way I do. Here are three big changes that might come about from such a government.
Physical currency’s days are numbered. It may be some time yet before we truly replace it, but the time has come to build the systems that will eventually supplant it. The government should create a system of digital currency that would include at least these features:
- Peer-to-Peer Transfer: Any digital currency must obviously be as transferrable as real currency is now, both between individuals and from an individual to a business.
- Not Device-Locked: Digital currency should not be tied to some specific “card” or device except as a convenience of transfer (such as a gift). I should be able to lose my wallet without losing my digital cash.
- Anonymous Transactions: Digital currency should retain the same level of anonymity as physical currency. I should be able to buy something without it being tied to an account or the destination of my funds recorded. Any kind of “tracking” of specific digital currency must only happen after court order (if at all).
- Online and Offline: Digital currency should be simple to use both in person and online.
The impact of digital currency would mean an immediate boost for peer-to-peer economies that are already developing online. If everything from Etsy to eBay could be paid for in cash instead of through an intermediary the growth of individual power in the marketplace would be greatly increased, something that I think is vital to our economic future. I’m guessing that many of the ideas surrounding Bitcoin could be used for “official” digital currency.
This would also negatively affect a number of large companies. Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, and a number of players small and large would have to drastically alter their business models to cope with a convenient, universal digital currency. Since digital currency is (in my opinion) inevitable, this is not reason enough to abandon the concept but instead a warning that there will likely be lobbying interests trying to stop such a move.
Phase Out Physical Addresses
The Post Office is struggling, and plenty of people say it shouldn’t exist at all any more. I’ll avoid weighing in on that, but one thing that should exist is a central registry that maps people and businesses to physical locations without the need for physical addresses. I would propose that the identifier should be an email and the system could work like so:
- The system should be entirely opt-in and completed via some kind of online form.
- I should be able to map multiple email addresses to my account and specify privacy options for each. This could include the ability to reject mail from unapproved senders or get emails to approve/deny the delivery of mail.
- When I mail something, all I have to do is write the email address and affix a stamp. I can just write my own email address for the return address, or I can buy verified stamps associated to my own email address. This way someone can know that the message is actually from me.
- There should be special APIs that can be accessed only by delivery companies such as UPS and Fedex that actually allow dereferencing an email address to a physical address. Usage of these APIs should be tightly restricted and regulated to prevent abuse.
The impact of this would be to drastically increase the ease and convenience of sending physical packages and mail. It would also encourage a whole new industry of startups based around the ease with which delivering physical mail would be handled. It would also ease the frustration of changing address, since people are now mailing things to you, not you at some specific address.
Negative impacts mostly center around the privacy dangers of having identity-based physical mail, but these are mostly addressed by the opt-in nature of the system. I would absolutely love to see this work.
The reason the government can do the above while it would be difficult for a business is because both of these problems have solutions that only work at massive scale. If there isn’t a single digital currency that everyone can depend on using it won’t take off. If there isn’t a single accepted repository for physical address mappings they won’t be used. What other infrastructure
Automatic Tax Preparation
It’s always seemed slightly insane to me that the calculation of taxes is a burden for the citizenry and not the government. It’s seems akin to hiring a plumber who hands you a complex rate sheet and a calculator instead of a bill when the work is done.
For the millions of individuals with relatively simple taxes (the kind that are mostly just filling in numbers from W-2s and other documents into TurboTax), why can’t the government simple accept the documents themselves and send a bill or a refund? Why do we have to purchase software or hire a professional to do something that could obviously be automated if the right systems were in place?
If implemented, this would greatly disrupt the accounting industry, of course, but given the productivity gains of millions of Americans not spending hours worrying about preparing taxes each year, the benefits would far outweigh.
Technology and Politics
I’m often only thinking about politics when they start mucking about in my own technological backyard (e.g. SOPA/PIPA), but the truth is that a government that truly embraced technology could do some pretty amazing things. What grand ideas do you have that could be a reality if the government had the same know-how as a startup?