The Public Goods of the 21st Century (Thought Leadership Series)

The Public Goods of the 21st Century (Thought Leadership Series)


[MUSIC PLAYING] And so that’s what I’m
going to talk to you about. Anyone over 40 will know
what that means, which is you should interrupt me at any time. People used to roll
Jaffas down the aisle of cinemas with wooden floors. And if you see that in any of
the slides, just ignore it, OK? So those are the topics
I’m going to talk about. And I’m going to start with
public and private goods. And I’m going to talk to
you about how economists see public and private
goods, and then try and look at that whole
question much more broadly. So that’s a private good. And you will be familiar with– many of you will be familiar
with– a fellow called Adam Smith, who
said that it is not from the benevolence of
the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we
expect our dinner, but from their regard
to their own interest. So private goods are
things which are typically sold in markets, and
they are therefore the kinds of things that
are unproblematic to sell in markets. And then there are
lots of other goods – has typically
been regarded as a subset, a kind of
smallish subset of the economy, but consider a lighthouse. Now, once you build
the lighthouse, anyone can take advantage of
it, so it’s hard to provide and it’s hard to
put your hand out, and say you can’t have the
benefit of the lighthouse without you paying me the
fee, also known as price. And same with street
lighting or a simple sign on a suburban road. So those are
classic public goods from an economist’s textbook. And an informal definition
of a public good is that that I’ve just
provided you there. Let’s see if I can point. Yes. Public goods are
supplied by government because markets
won’t supply them. And after a period of
intellectual and ideological skirmishing from
1954 till the ’70s, there was a guy called Paul
Samuelson produced an article with three pages
of mathematics, and said therefore governments
should fund these things. And a bunch of other
people said, well, we’re going to redefine a few
things so that the government doesn’t have to provide them. And a public good was defined
by the Ostrom couple, Vincent and Elinor. Some of you may be pleased
to hear that Elinor went on to win the Nobel Prize. And I’m not too sure where
Vincent was on the night, but he didn’t. And there are two
characteristics of a public good. The first is that
it’s non-excludable, which explains why
it’s so hard to charge for it in the marketplace. And the second is that
it is non-rivalrous. Now, the non-excludability
is the public good problem. That’s the reason why markets
don’t make public goods. And you’ve heard the
expression free rider problem. Everyone’s heard
that expression. Well, guess what? The fact that they
are non-rivalrous, and a non-rivalrous
good is something like the words I’m using,
which can be used again and again and again,
and if you use them, I can still use them,
compared to this thing, which is a rivalrous good. And non-rivalrousness,
if non-excludability creates a free rider
problem, non-rivalrousness creates a free
rider opportunity. Of course, we’ve all heard
that expression, free rider opportunity not. But it’s bigger than
the free rider problem. It’s not that the free
rider problem doesn’t exist, but it’s a mark of
the ideological grain of our culture, if you like,
that the expression free rider problem is something that almost
everyone uses and understands and the expression free
rider opportunity is either– mostly just kind of nobody
knows what it means, or they react to it
with visceral hostility, as somebody did to me
on email many years ago. It was a very
traumatic experience that I will spare you from. So there’s a free rider problem
or a free rider opportunity. And sometimes, you need to
conquer the free rider problem to take advantage of the
free rider opportunity. And the example of
that is a patent, which, by internalizing property
rights, by stopping people copying a particular idea,
enables people to fund the development of that idea. And then when the
patent ends, we have a free rider opportunity. So however, there is a statesman
of the free rider opportunity, but he was going
about his schtick more than 200 years ago. Fresh from the logging
excitement of the 18th century, when they called it pamphlets,
Thomas Jefferson really thought this was a big deal. Now, it’s not that people
haven’t noticed this today. They have. But people do not give
it sufficient attention, in my opinion. If I asked you to guess
what century we were in, you would say we must be in
the 19th century based on that. And that’s where we are. And I want to very
quickly suggest to you that, unlike these diagrams
that I’ve shown you with these particular
goods, and all we do is we have a bunch of
goods that are public goods and a bunch of goods
are private goods, and typically the
government provides the public goods and the market
provides the private goods and we’re all happy, I want to
suggest to you a richer story. And the richer story
I will introduce by talking about a century where
people wore top hats more than in any other century,
I’m reliably informed. And what did we do
in the 19th century? We largely invented public
education, public sanitation. There was this
amazing idea that we should have a public service
built on merit, an idea that we pinched from
the Chinese, who’d been doing it for 1,000 years. Before then, before 1857,
the Northcote–Trevelyan report, which you can see
before you, people used to buy commissions
in the public service. It took seven years to just
start to implement that. There are public bank– there are central bank notes. I could talk to you for at least
an hour on them, but I won’t. Ignore the cat. Just remember that. And we know what
century we’re in now. We’re going backwards. We are in the 18th
century, even though I’m sure that was made
in the 20th century. And the picture I’m
trying to give you is that public and
private goods exist not in some mechanical
relation, but in some ecological relation, and that
economic development is about the co-evolution
of public and private goods. And here’s central banking
coming into its own in the 18th century,
just starting the end of the 17th century. Here’s two pieces
of public knowledge that were absolutely
necessary if the Navy was ever going to go anywhere, because
it kept bumping into continents late at night, and merchant
and military and the sailors kept dying. And Harrison’s clock
solved the first problem, and vitamin C solved
the second problem. The Joint Stock Company
came into its own. That is, today that’s a
proprietary limited company where any small people can get
shares in large enterprises. So we’re in the 21st century. Naturally, I need
a hat for that. But this isn’t
really all that good. This was the best I could do. And I want to ask you– I want to tell you that the 21st
century has seen an explosion of new public goods. And then I want to
ask you what they are. People who have not seen
me talk about this before. Yes? [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, that’s good. I like it. So all of those things
are public goods. And before people get excited
and say that they’re private and they’re destroying the
world, which Facebook may well be, cigarettes
are private goods. So I’m not talking
about good or bad, I’m talking about the kind of
economic commodity they are. So how does this happen? Because none of those goods
were built by government, so how the hell does it happen? Some are built for profit,
some are built not for profit. Some are kind of just sort
of kind of build themselves, like open source software. So I’m going to put
you in a small company. And the small company has
got this incredible algorithm called BackRub. And BackRub is,
whenever we are– I think it’d be around
about 1997, 1998, and all the search
engines that have been introduced to the
internet feed you up junk. Nobody’s been able to work out
how to get the sort of links that you want. And BackRub, on which there
was a patent, Larry and Sergey from a company that
came to be called Google had worked out that, if they
looked at how many links linked to a page, that was
a good proxy for how worthwhile this page was. And so here’s the thing. I’ve just told you
it’s a public good, but there is a bit
of a difference, because all of the
examples of public goods that I gave you
were non-excludable. Nothing non-excludable
about Google. Google could have been
built behind a paywall. So Google had a choice. And if they’d been
behind a paywall, what would have happened? They might have charged
$200, a lot of people wouldn’t have used
them, some people might have tried to copy
them in various ways, and they would have made a nice
amount of money for you or me, $200 million, $300 million. They might even have
made a billion dollars. And the thing is they
would have captured almost, say, 70% of the
value they created. But they decided that the
costs of providing the service are so low that they could
make more money giving it away than they could make selling
it, which is what they did. So that’s the sort of
value that Google creates. And it gets by on the
smell of an oily rag a measly $60 billion a year
of advertising revenue, while it creates about $1
trillion worth of value. Chief economist at
Google, Hal Varian, estimates it as about half that,
but he’s being conservative. And you know, but anyway,
it’s an awful lot of value. And the costs of
supplying the product are maybe half the $60 billion. So that’s looking like
a nice arrangement. So we are in a new world. And I like to say
that we’re looking at public goods along a plane. And on the one hand, we’ve
got these textbook economist public goods, and then we’ve
got all these new public goods. I will leave what that stands
for to one side for a minute. We’ll get to it. But open source software, an
extraordinary public good. These public goods that get
built on platforms and so on. And so a question arises,
and the question is this. These things could be built,
because the costs of building them were so low compared
to the value they created, that they can fund themselves
on 6% of revenue going to the people who set
them up, and there’s a huge profit involved. So there must exist a class
of products, a class of goods here which might generate as
much or more value than Google or Facebook, but which
would cost more than you can recover from advertising. We know that you
could fund roads from putting posters on the side
of them and selling the space, but you could only fund
about 3% of their cost or 2% of their cost. So that doesn’t
build you the road. And so we have a whole lot of
missing digital public goods that look a bit like this. So this was my great
breakthrough, great insight, all that sort of stuff. That’s why I’m a
thought leader, you see? And I knew that I needed
a kind of killer example to kind of make it live for
people, and I couldn’t get one. And then I attended– this is the story, OK? The low-hanging
fruit’s been picked, what else can we turn up? And then, in 2012, I watched
Anne Wojcicki present– now, she was and is the
CEO of 23 and Me. And 23 and Me is a
consumer genomics company. So you pay them some money,
and they send your kit. You spit into the kit. Apparently you spit an awful
lot into the kit, but you do. And then you send
it back, and they do a partial genomic analysis. And then they give
you your own web page, and they’ll tell
you what they’ve found in the genomic
analysis, and also what relatives they’ve found
of yours if you ask them. And I’m sure they won’t do it
if you tell them absolutely don’t do that. And then I thought that’s my
killer example, because it hadn’t occurred to her– she’s an American, she doesn’t
know that other countries have public health systems. And I looked at
this, and I thought this is an obvious
public/private digital partnership. And the basic way it would work
is we’ve got our killer amount of value generated, we’re going
to generate $1 trillion out of this– trust me,
I’m a thought leader– and the costs mean that Anne
Wojcicki and the shareholders of 23 and Me won’t
build the good. But there’s a huge benefit–
but imagine all the things that a public health
system could do. Sorry, it’s up there as NHS. You can see this
lecture has traveled. But if we were in Medicare,
then Medicare can fund it. We can nudge people into
the system at the same time as giving them the
right to opt out. And then we can connect it up
to diagnosis, pharmacovigilance, research. The asset would
be huge, I think. And ultimately, this would
become a platform, and 23 and Me would be some
small app with lots of other people running
lots of different things on the platform. In case anyone’s alarmed
about privacy and so on, obviously these things would
be dealt with very well, but not perfectly. That is because we’re
not yet in heaven. OK, so one can
generalize from this. So any SaaS hub– that
is, software as a service, for the people who
know the term– so think of Xero. Well, think of
Facebook, actually. So everything happens at the
other end of your browser, and there is a
vast cache of data that accumulates in the hub. And we have barely
thought about how– I mean, private companies have
thought about how to use this, but it’s a bit sad, I
think, that we’re not thinking about the potential
social benefits of this, and how we might be able to
build out from those things. This is a Melbourne– I won’t call it a
startup anymore, it’s doing very
nicely for itself. Culture Amp is the company. It’s based in Richmond. This is a product called Murmur. And it’s an employee
satisfaction survey, if you like, employee
engagement survey. Now, they make a good
living, a very good living, providing that
service to companies, and companies subscribe to it. And it’s all browser– it’s just delivered
on a browser. But imagine if the
state government or the federal government
said to them, what would it take for you to make
that available for free to all businesses in
Australia, or Tasmania, or all small businesses? And could we, at the
same time, build into it a partial standard that
people could opt into or not opt into if they don’t
want to, and then it would start to generate
data which would enable us to benchmark firms
against each other in all these different dimensions. And then we could– someone could get
an email saying we know firms that do the things
that you don’t do very well well and the things that
you do well not very well, would you like us
to do all the things you need to do these days
because of privacy regulation to bring about an introduction. So we have a double
blind acceptance, and then we introduce
those people. It’s something that could
be used to benchmark– basically to generate
public visibility about something which could be
very important to productivity. Xero, one could do the same
thing with online accounting. And I won’t talk about that. That was an idea I took
to the 2020 summit, and it doesn’t
come with software. The basic idea is to
collaboratively define a partial standard against
which these surveys are set. And then one has generated
a whole lot of data, and then one can– and then the competition would
lead firms to publish that data if they were performing well. So you start to develop
a market for employees in well-run companies. And why doesn’t that
exist at the moment? I think the answer, I’m
pretty confident the answer is there is no standard
against which to report. So if a firm is doing
very well, another firm can grab a bunch of
other statistics built from a different survey, and
no one is any the wiser as to whether they’re better or not. There are public/private digital
partnerships in urban planning and urban management. This is Alibaba Cloud in
Hangzhou, the Hangzhou City Brain program. And it’s much easier
to do that in– I mean, there are
all kinds of things going on there that might make
some of our hair stand on end, like facial recognition
all over the place. But again I’m pointing
out the potential here, what we are doing something
similar just via Google Maps and so on. But it would be nice to
think that those representing the public interest
were hungry for the good that some of this data
can do, at the same time as respecting some
of the concerns that we would obviously have. This was White Night. And White Night was done
with a public/private digital partnership with ANZ. And here’s a bunch of
pictures to prove it. I don’t know what the
pictures really mean, but I knew I had to
show you pictures. But here’s some facts that
come out of that data. So what they are doing,
what ANZ is doing is ANZ is, in an anonymized
way, looking at the expenditure patents for all those who
have got ANZ credit cards and merchants who are putting
through ANZ credit card payments, and then they’re
looking for the footprint of White Night. And they can tell
us a great deal about what the
demographic is, who goes to White Night, something
about where they come from, why they like it. Let me ask you, what do you
think the main demographic for White Night is? [INAUDIBLE] Oh, I don’t know about age. I was thinking of
where they come from. [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] No. What is the part of– apart from Victorians, and I’ll
tell you about that in a sec, interstate visitors to
White Night, where do you think they come
from, predominantly? [INAUDIBLE] Sydney. What part of Sydney? The western suburbs. So the average income of those
attending is $25,000 a year. They’re not really fully
employed, obviously. This is a good
night out for them. They tend to turn
up the whole time. Melton and Sunshine
are big suburbs in Melbourne for White Night. The average spend is
$50, and they’re there for an average of five hours. Very different to visits
from the eastern suburbs. An interstate visitors
hotspot is Western Sydney. So all this stuff
that we can know, you know, not a lot
of cost involved here, nobody’s privacy is being
breached, and so on. Other data
partnerships, how hungry are we to say to Uber that
part of its operating license would be collaboration on
the data that they’ve got. Google Maps likewise. I mean, I’m not as up-to-date as
I was three or four years ago, but certainly three
or four years ago I was let’s just say a little
shocked at how unhungry ABS was for real-time data. And there’s a lot of it
about, and a lot of it is better than the data
that you get by doing the same old, same old. There’s a lot that could happen. So that’s the old
technology stack. It’s called the Tower of Babel,
and it didn’t work very well. And now we have a
new technology stack, which works a lot better. And once you’ve spent all
the money to build this, everything happens
bang, like that. And the other thing
that happens is that, if you build a
platform that everybody wants to be part of, it
sucks everything in and everybody has to
play by your rules, which isn’t very nice
for some of them, but a standard is created. And so the social
benefit of the standard is created where the
alternative might be none of the benefits
of that process. And thinking about that when I
was involved in an arts group, I thought of this
idea of Platform A. And that is a data
platform for the arts. So these are tricky
things to do. And so arts marketing, this is
what arts marketing looks like. And most of it, we
know how misleading it is, we know that they put
that quote up there because it was the best quote
they could find, and there might be
other quotes that say don’t bother going
to this damn show. And so we ignore it. So something like 10% to 15%
of all money spent on the arts is spent on trying to bamboozle
us, and we don’t care anymore. So I sort of spent the
time thinking, well, can we build a
TripAdvisor for the arts? And if we could, then
the sort of things we– consumers
would post reviews, and we would try to build the
platform so it would answer questions, not just
what’s a good play, but what’s the sort of thing
I would like to go and see. It would be a platform
on which you control who gets hold of your
data, and you would then say this data broker, I’ll
trust them to protect my data and to give my data
to arts organizations that I might therefore be able
to influence them to produce something more like I want,
or to use the sign that was used by the schoolchildren
campaigning against climate change, just to make things
a little bit less shit. Arts venues should be sharing
customer data with each other. Again, anonymized. Why? Because there’s so much public
subsidy going into that. So it’s obvious, and
governments should lean on them to ensure that the most value is
extracted from the public money that goes in. And millions would be
saved on marketing, as it is with restaurants,
because nobody– you know, I suppose in
some upmarket magazines it’s still there, but
you go to TripAdvisor, and there is a lot
more horizontal trust in our community
than vertical trust. We know we’re getting
the best bit of bullshit we can get from people
in marketing positions in pretty much every
area you can think of. And we trust each other
to try and suss out some of what’s going on. You could use it to connect
with favorite performers. You could use it to
influence their next show. And again, anyone could
build apps on this platform. Now, these ideas
were kind of accepted by the Victorian government
about three years ago, and they’ve put a
small amount of funding into trying to build this thing. And it’s kind of
disappeared, disappears for long periods of time,
and I’m not too sure how it’s going. But this is much harder than a
Google, which you just build it and then people use it. This has got– you
can see all the sort of institutional layers to this. And that’s one of the
really big problems. And Swinburne is trying to do
something similar with planning with a digital platform for
urban planning and urban life, if you like. And it will, too, experience
lots of institutional richness, which is a nice
word for obstacles, if you’re trying to do
something big and important and there are lots
of people involved. So that’s all the digital stuff
that I wanted to talk about. I’m making reasonably
good progress, but I do want to talk
about the rest of life, which has some
significance, you might say. So I want to take you to
the very first economist, because believe it or
not, Adam Smith had a much richer view of
what human life was like than your
average economist. He’s famous for writing The
Wealth of Nations, which is about private
goods, but he tells the story of the spontaneous
evolution of a market. And guess what? The market itself
is a public good. Non-rival, non-excludable. Or at least non-excluded,
if it’s a good market. And the amazing
thing about Smith is that he was
fascinated with this idea of spontaneous evolution,
spontaneous order. And his first book, 17 years
before The Wealth of Nations, was called The Theory
of Moral Sentiments, and is a theory of
human culture evolving. And it evolves in a similar
way, according to him, to the way markets
evolve, which– and I won’t go into
the whole story because I don’t have time,
but it’s an interesting story, and I can point you
to some stuff I’ve written if you
don’t want to read the whole of The Theory
of Moral Sentiments, which does tend to run on a little. And there’s another
absolutely– well, I would say textbook public
good, paradigm public good, but it never appears in
textbooks, to my frustration, language. And the government didn’t build
language, we built language. And it got built
in the same way. We don’t know exactly
how, but people are going about their business
trying to get stuff done, and out of it, over a long
period of time, comes language. I call those things
emergent public goods. I’m going to skip that
because I don’t have time. Yeah, look at this. Isaac Newton turns up. What was that all about, you’re
going to be asking yourself. It was big. It was big. The way in which– I will tell you very
quickly that one of the things that
Smith was doing was he was aping Isaac Newton. Isaac Newton’s theory
of celestial mechanics took a single idea,
which was gravity, of which we have
daily experience, and spun this extraordinary
story about the whole heavens out of this single idea. Smith tried to do
that for markets, and he tried to do
it for human society. And for markets, it was
the innate human tendency to truck, barter, and
exchange, and for society it was what he called sympathy. Now remember, the Germans hadn’t
coined the expression empathy by then. And by sympathy, he means
something not just a feeling, but something about
how you know things. You don’t know what someone else
is thinking except by putting yourself into their position. That’s the only way we
understand each other. And that was his
theory of how society– that we care about
what each other thinks, that’s roughly a very
quick description of how he builds his story about
how human society gets built. So a friend of mine has a
great expression for this. And he calls it a
generative commons. So a generative
commons is something which we generate ourselves, and
we produce it as we consume it. And it’s very different to an
economist’s idea of a good, because a good has a producer
and has a consumer that could be the same thing. A farmer can produce food
and can eat the food, but they’re
conceptually different. But you can’t live in a
culture without contributing to it in some way. If you use the language
or the culture, that is contributing to it. And you use it at the same time. And that is the description
of culture, of language, of standards– standards emerge by
people adhering to them– markets, money,
communities of practice. Each of these generate- and
this is an important point– each of these generates
its own ethical world. Economists have
outsourced ethics, and you can’t
think about society by doing that, I don’t think. So the world is what I
call a nested ecology of public and private goods. Private goods,
there is competition between private goods. There doesn’t have to be. People don’t have to compete
if they don’t want to. But competition is fine
between private goods. It’s true of individuals
compete with each other, as well as cooperate
with each other. Firms compete in markets. Organizations are
for themselves. Sporting teams pretty
obviously are for themselves. If they are not,
who are they for? And then public
goods, shared goods are what holds social
formations together. And the theme there is
cooperation and group interest. So rather than a sort of
markets and governments and stick them
together and you’ve got an economic
model of some kind, I’m suggesting that it’s
a much richer story. And I want to say a little
bit more about that. I don’t like the term altruism. I think we should
think in three terms. So altruism, shared
intentionality, that is shared intentionality. No animal that we
know of does that. No animal that we know
of has one person, one being holding down something
for the other one to pick. That’s what kind of
builds our society. So where do you think I
got those numbers from? Tax. So we give about 1%
of our income away. That’s altruism. Paying tax isn’t altruism. We get something for
giving something. And it’s collective. And collective and
shared intentionality, that’s what you want to go
into battle with, not altruism. Economists like sort of,
you know, two things. Good, bad, private,
public, and so on. So some people will
recognize where this is from. It’s from the steps
of the state library. And I looked at
this, and I thought most people would
want to go to lunch or they would have
more innocent thoughts on looking at this
scene, but I thought to myself here is
a nested ecology of public and private goods. Wherever you look,
there is publicness, there is privateness. The people playing the
chess, the people playing the game of chess,
there’s no point in playing the game
of chess if you don’t compete in some sense. I’m not telling you how hard,
how much it should mean to you, but don’t bother playing
if you’re not trying to compete with the other side. That is the point of the
game, and the game itself is a public good. And if we look around, there
are people on the lawns, and they’re having
conversations. And conversations are themselves
about public and shared goods. So a few words on the
social health of cities. This is a guy you
might recognize. A great expression
from Warren Buffett, the institutional imperative. He’s talking about a bunch
of imperatives in business that I’m not talking about,
but institutional imperatives are imperatives. And when institutions have
them, they just go after them. And so one of the
things about this is that professional
knowledge is more prestigious than informal knowledge,
knowledge in the life world. Professional knowledge is
more systematic, so easier for bureaucracies to implement. Hard infrastructure is often
more popular than softer options electorally. But it is true that,
since Jane Jacobs wrote her book in I suppose the
1960s– early 1960s, wasn’t it? The Life and Death of Cities,
The Life and Rebirth of Cities? [INAUDIBLE] 1962. Her and Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson wrote in ’62? Anyway. So since then, it’s
been a long time coming, but since then cities have
understood– city planners have understood this much more. And certainly Melbourne has
done some terrific things. I listened to an
interesting program on– I’m just trying to remember
where it was– anyway, it’s a podcast, radio
national podcast on this sort of urban art. And at the time
that they had just released a new
bit of legislation to clean up graffiti, the
marketing arm of Vic Tourism was out marketing this stuff. And so that has been a useful
little bit of dynamic tension, and has produced some pretty
nice results, of which Melbourners are now proud. This is a map of
the social footprint of that extraordinary
building in Singapore, which is a gigantic
boat on three buildings, and of which much ado has
been made, and Chinatown. And as you can see, the
social connectedness brought about by Chinatown
vastly outstrips the icon. When our human ecology is– when social capital
is damaged, we’re pretty bad at dealing with that. Here’s a quote from Mystique. She was in care from the
age of three, I think. And then when she turned 18, of
course she went off the books. Off you go. And I spent some time involved
with the Australian Center for Social Innovation, and
we were looking for ways to improve the situation. Anyone know what that is? What is this man’s profession? He’s a designer. And what is he designing? A hospital. He’s trying to get
inside the experience. What do you think came back on
the camera, on the camera feed? You just look up, you’ll see. Nothing. That’s what patients see. That’s a useful insight. Nobody’d had it. They’d just had to look
up to get the insight. But there you go. At the Center for
Social Innovation, we built a program
to try to address troubled troubled families,
to help troubled families. But we didn’t have social
workers from another class, another age come and knock on
their door with a clipboard and sit down with
them for an hour, we arranged it as a
mentoring arrangement between two families, which
was coached by a social worker, or at least somebody who
was trained to do that. And I won’t play you the
video I was going to, I’m running out of time,
but that’s the video. Look at that video. It’s a nice-looking video. Let’s move on. I’m going to move on. So we’re back at our
generative commons. And I want to say a little more
about the fact that in here is generated an ethical life. Yes, ladies and gentlemen,
even in a market. A market is a form
of ethical life. The ethics are about exchange. All of these things carry
with them ethical content. And I’ve recently
become fascinated with what I think of as the
most simple generative commons. You can see it there. And I will play you
a one-minute video to show you how deep the idea
of conversation is inside us. Can we get? That’s a ball, he’s saying. He’s teaching the cat English. [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] OK, so that’s the drive
for human connection, the drive for conversation. Don’t try it on a cat,
but that’s not really why I was showing you the video. That’s how strong
this thing is in us. And just to go back to
the original picture, so this thing, the conversation
which I’ve discovered, you know, this is not like
a good which is a thing and it’s unitary,
it’s just on its own. This is a relational
thing, but it’s clearly a unit of something. It’s clearly a unit
that builds society. And so imagine we’re
having a conversation. Let’s say it’s a debate
about whether the Earth goes around the sun or the
sun goes around the moon. Sorry, that was a strange
thing to say, wasn’t it? The Earth goes around the sun or
the sun goes around the Earth. The two parties to
that conversation might compete with each other. That’s actually OK, because
they’re different people, and they’re bringing
different perspectives. But they need to
compete with each other in a way that respects
that they’re both engaged in a joint project,
because if they don’t do that, they haven’t turned up. They shouldn’t bother. Go and get a sex robot or
something, if you like. And that, to me, is
one compelling way to describe what has happened
to political conversation, which has been completely
professionalized, as professionalized as
McDonald’s professionalizes the creation and marketing of
food to get people to eat it, even though it’s
perfectly nice food to have occasionally,
but it’s kind of poison if you eat it all the time. And so I would argue
that a lot of what’s wrong with politics is that this
very fundamental human thing, this thing that human society is
built out of, politics is built out of, everything
human is built out of has been colonized by
people with their own ends. And that’s fine that
people have their own ends, but the whole thing has become
professionalized in a way that people viscerally react
against for good reason. That’s my little summary
of politics as culture war. And it’s the politics
of competition. The one thing that
doesn’t turn up is the idea of trading
things off and coming to a joint conclusion
among people who disagree, although, in some
sense, obviously, the counting of
numbers in parliament ends up producing a result with
greater or lesser legitimacy. I’ve just written a piece in
[INAUDIBLE] on this subject, and how the use
of citizen juries can cut through a lot
of this, because when you see what happens in citizen
juries, little Ari, who’s the name of the little
kid talking to the cat, little Ari finds himself
not talking to a cat, but talking to
another little Ari, and the conversation is had. And it’s so much better than
most political conversation. And anyway, I won’t
spend much time on that because I’m not able to. One very quick point. For cities, it’s important
that scale matters. This is exactly the same
game played by people. And the way the game
worked was that people had to take their own money
and contribute it to the part. And if they all
cooperated, they’d all end up with more money,
but if you didn’t cooperate and everybody else cooperated,
you hit the jackpot. So it was a question
of who would defect or who wouldn’t cooperate. And all that’s
happening there is that it’s exactly the same
game played between exactly the same number of people. One’s played online, and
the other is face-to-face. And the other thing about
democracy as we have it is that it is the
democracy of road rage, not of trying to work stuff out. And finally, then, how
could I be introduced by the former
executive architect of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
and not talk about beauty? The one pinnacle of ethical life
in every civilization that we know of, other than our
own, has carried within it some notion of ineffable beauty. And that’s more or less gone. I brought this up at a seminar
of various policy wonks who were talking
about livability, and they kind of looked
at me as if my sexuality was in question. And they said, well, you
can’t objectively measure it. Anyway, that, if you don’t know,
is the legislative council, inside the legislative council. It’s sublime. It’s a workaday piece of late
19th century architecture. Absolutely sublime to
look at and to be in. That’s it. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

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