Newt Gingrich Letter

Gingrich: Transforming Government Through Your Cell Phone

Gingrich: Transforming Government Through Your Cell Phone

Amazingly, the best recent outline for how to replace a lot of centralized bureaucracy with a decentralized civil society is written by a Democrat.

Every Conservative should read California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s Citizenville, a new book packed with ideas for using technology to empower citizens to reclaim the functions of government from the bureaucratic state.

I disagree deeply with Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, on many social issues. But Republicans won’t find much objectionable in his new book. Newsom’s praise of efforts by Republicans such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa makes clear this vision can be bipartisan.

In fact, the book is a blueprint for a Republican Party focused on a better future for all Americans, with more freedom, more prosperity, and lower cost.

Newsom’s title, Citizenville, is a play on the popular Facebook game Farmville, in which players build virtual farms to score virtual points.

Government, Newsom suggests, could co-opt such technology to create its own game — Citizenville — which awards virtual points but takes place in the real world. He explains:

The way to “win” Citizenville is to amass points by doing real-life good. If a player contacts the city to report a pothole and get it fixed, he gets one hundred points. If another player organizes a community cleanup in the local park, she gets two hundred points. If another player landscapes the median on his street, that’s three hundred points. Whenever people make a real-life improvement, they report it to the Citizenville Website, which has a continuously updating scoreboard.

The game is only one example of how citizens could use the ubiquitous technologies of smartphones and the Internet, as Newsom argues, “to bypass government…to take matters into their own hands, to look to themselves for solving problems rather than asking the government to do things for them.”

Imagine, for instance, that you could take a picture of a pothole in the road with your smartphone, to be sent automatically to independent contractors for repair bids, and have the best one selected, with the job completed by the end of the day.

“That is how our twenty-first-century government must operate,” Newsom argues. Technology like this “gives power to the people, which is the first crucial step in moving away from the top-down, bureaucratic, hierarchical government that’s choking our democracy today. Understanding this concept is central to understanding how the government must change and what it must become.”

The dream of the Left, exemplified by the New Deal but conceived long before, has been to have professional systems create a more and more centralized government. Bureaucracy itself was once considered just such an innovation.

But the reality of innovation has turned out to be very different: advances in science and technology are giving people the ability to take power away from government, creating a society that is more dynamic and more impossible to control from Washington.

The high-tech government of the future, Newsom suggests, looks less like 1984 than it does the Apple App Store.

It’s a vision of government as a platform, rather than government as the solution, best described in the book by technology guru Tim O’Reilly:

“What if there were a market for government services, or government like services, where people could say, ‘Oh, I can actually meet that need!’ and there was a government apps store that wasn’t ‘Here are a bunch of apps the government developed’ but ‘Hey, we’re gonna let you figure out how to compete with the government’?” Government doesn’t have to create everything; it just has to let others create.

This is how personalized technology, in ways totally unimaginable just 20 years ago, can empower Americans to work together to meet public needs completely outside of government.

Conservatives, myself included, often think back to the vibrant civil society of the 19th Century and its countless civic associations that captured Tocqueville’s imagination. We often talk about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. We cherish America’s history.

But to focus solely on our American legacy, without reference to a better future, would be a terrible mistake for the Republican Party. Newsom’s book shows that the future belongs much more to the champions of civil society than to the so-called big government “progressives.” Every Republican should read it and then discuss with their friends and neighbors how to implement it. Then they should go to city council meetings, county commission meetings, school board meetings and congressional town halls and ask their elected officials what they are going to do to create a more citizen-centered, flexible, and less expensive system.

P.S.: If you have other Pioneers of the Future to share with us, please tell us about them at GingrichProductions.com/pioneers.

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