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Welcome to the Trump Years

Good luck, Trump. You have a lot to do if you want America to earn the adjective “great.”

Officially, now, Donald John Trump the First is the 45th President of the United States of America. He has 1460 days to make America great again, which means:

  • Raising 30,000 people up from poverty per day
  • Legalize and stabilize some 7500 undocumented immigrants per day
  • Rehabilitate and release some 1500 state and federal prisoners per day
  • See 17,000 undereducated individuals achieve at least a GED per day
  • Employ or improve the employment of 11,200 unemployed or underemployed persons per day
  • Repair or replace 41 bridges per day, among other infrastructure improvements needed
  • Cut the carbon emissions another 1.25% per year to reach the 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020

And so on.

It will not be an easy task, and it will be all the harder for the resistance to greatness that the Republican party loyalists in Congress cling to. They seek not to address these problems with an eye to solution, but instead to focus on limited agendas to improve the bottom lines of a few corporations.

If President Trump truly wants to make America great, he will have to stave off the legislative assassins who will gut any real reforms he might seek.

Greatness is not a measure of the stock market. It is not found on balance sheets. It is quantifiable, but only in the quantity of humans who are prosperous. And prosperous not for a day, a week, a month, a year, or a presidential term, but for their lives. For their children’s lives. And on down the road.

If President Trump does not address the measures above, and others, he will not have succeeded in making America great. He will be held to that standard by history. He can either go down as another in a line of those he would say to, “You had four years, and yet you did not succeed.”

It is a weighty task. There is much to be done. But it is doable. It has always been doable. It will take a lot of work, but any president that is willing to put in the effort can achieve great things.

So, go ahead, punk. Make America great. I dare Trump. I double-dog dare Trump. What is Trump, a chicken? Bok-bok!

Whatever happened during the 2016 election, Trump is now president. He ran to make the country great, to shed the shrouds that have weakened us. Now he must perform.

Gamify Poverty

We can work to treat social problems more effectively by creating games that are designed to drive patients toward the goals.

How it would work isn’t clear, but it’s an intriguing idea: handle complex social problems by turning them into games, with the stakeholders as players and the remote goals left alone in favor of incremental achievement. It could work for many different social and political problems, but today I will focus on poverty as an example.

When someone is impoverished, they might sign up for foodstamps and other forms of welfare like Medicaid and housing assistance. The Republicans want to add more and more work requirements, strings attached to try to help them escape poverty in order to receive assistance. As though the problem of poverty is as simple as “get a job.” And then, of course, you have to balance assistance against wages earned to try to keep people from being better off staying poor than working a dead-end job, and it’s quite a messy problem.

One of the key features of gamifying is to offer both group achievement opportunities and individual achievement opportunities. Some respond better to one than the other, so having both is important. Thus, a person in need of assistance would either be assigned or would choose and join a group of others (likely at a mixture of stages along the route away from poverty) and would work with them on certain tasks.

They would also have individual tasks, with the possibility of individual achievement (and thus reinforcement). Because part of the problem with the current model of poverty-assistance is the fact that people can do the right thing and go wholly unrewarded, heightening the chance they will fail (i.e., an unreinforced positive behavior tends to be extinguished).

Bootstrapping the current welfare model, for instance, a person receiving $1 of assistance by default should receive $1.10 if they look for job opportunities, $1.20 if they research particular opportunities, $1.30 if they fill out an application, $1.40 if they go to an interview, etc. Instead of work-fare, it should be game-fare.

Similarly, for public housing, there should be some amount of discretionary spending allocated, which residents can use in their group (either a floor or a building or whatever pod-size makes sense) for improvements. The data from these events can be used to evaluate the sorts of improvements that will benefit other public housing areas, as well as provide the residents with experience in making improvements for when they have their own homes.

All of this can go atop some sort of score-keeping system, so that the assisted can track their progress, finding ways to improve their scores that also help them escape poverty. By formalizing it into a game, you get a ton of data that can further improve the game and you get a plethora of reinforcement opportunities where the assisted can see their actions resulting in some tangible gain, even if only in game points.

This same model could be used in many other areas, such as Veteran reintegration, prison reform, helping people with medical problems (“the diabetes control game”), and so on.

The biggest obstacles to this sort of reform are probably:

  1. Calling something a game may be misperceived to be making light of a serious situation.
  2. Politicians are preternaturally opposed to good ideas.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s GOP Policy Proposals

The “A Better Way” policy collector’s set is being unveiled. Some thoughts on what’s there so far.

At US House Speaker Paul Ryan has begun pushing policy for the future of the GOP. First was a report on poverty, then one on national security, and more to come. Here are some thoughts on what’s there so far.

First, the rhetoric is the same. You get throwaway lines like, “American foreign policy is failing at nearly every turn.”

On Poverty

“No amount of government intervention can replace the great drivers of American life: our families, friends, neighbors, churches, and charities.” The latter line falls after a paragraph that points out, “In [the sense of their rate of escaping poverty], Americans are no better off today than they were before the War on Poverty began in 1964.”

In other words, the great drivers and the government have both failed to move the needle. Guess that means less government intervention is the solution. Must be the onerous regulation of everything that has thwarted the vast, private anti-poverty efforts. Huh?

The document seems to mostly focus on the same-old of workfare, but there are some potentially-useful bits. Social Impact Financing is a start-up model of privatizing social services, whereby providers (and their investors) are paid with public funds if they achieve something. One can imagine such a program having positive impacts, though it’s unclear whether they can do so in a way that avoids inviting regulation (i.e., if they take advantage of the poor to maximize public payments).

More importantly, however, is that the report fails to get away from the sort of separate-but-equal that is all too common in policy. The VA, for example, has many problems that would vanish if the bulk of care were provided in the same system everybody else uses. If the average American was in-queue next to a veteran and saw them shafted, the law would change much more quickly. More importantly, the social-mixing and ready-for-tomorrow benefit of, e.g., welfare recipients working through an embedded institution rather than a separate system.

In plain language, a welfare recipient should not see a difference in their financial rituals during versus after welfare unless that ritualistic change itself has some positive end in mind. They should receive welfare through normal banking channels, for example. The whole purpose of welfare should be to normalize the right behaviors as a person escapes poverty. It should be gamified, made to feel like a logical process (in both the common sense and in the sense of a deductive process reaching a conclusion).

National Security

If the poverty document was mostly about workfare, this one is warfare. The document looks at terrorism, border/immigration, and cyber defense. It’s a much weaker document in terms of program recommendations.

“Decisively tackling emerging threats before they metastasize.” Why didn’t Obama think of that?! Might as well just say, ‘Keep Americans safe.’ The document is much more antagonistic toward the Obama administration, while offering no real criticisms (again, the same thing the GOP has done for eight years).

If I were Ryan, I’d go to the folks that wrote the poverty paper and have them make a new national security paper. The poverty piece wasn’t great, but at least it was more than banal polemic.

The parts where this document make sense still read as too obvious and generally agreed to by both parties. “Our ultimate goal must be to transform developing countries from aid recipients into trading partners.” Yes. Agree. Do you have some new ways to invigorate those efforts?

With four more releases planned for the “A Better Way” policy campaign (on the economy, the Constitution, health care, and tax reform), so far it looks like a middle-Republican effort and about what one would expect. We’ll see if there are any real departures from the status quo.