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The "time tax" — Yang's next acts — Mapbox pacts
"In true Andrew Yang fashion, I couldn't just write a book."
YOU MIGHT REMEMBER that in our interview Friday with Code for America founder and former deputy U.S. CTO Jen Pahlka, she argued against designing public policy without thinking about how will actually work in practice.
“The policy class sometimes misses that implementation is how you learn to get the policy right,” said Pahlka.
Now the Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey is out this week with a big story that takes on the same topic from an illuminating angle: how government in the United States routinely implements programs that require a great deal of effort to navigate.
The “time tax,” Lowrey calls it:
“To make sure that the safety net catches us, to make sure that our social-insurance programs insure us, to make sure that we get what we pay Uncle Sam for, we work as our own health-care administrators. Our own tax professionals. Our own social workers. Our own disability-law experts. Our own child-support advocates, long-term-care reps, and public-housing officials.”
“In my decade-plus of social-policy reporting, I have mostly understood these stories as facts of life. Government programs exist. People have to navigate those programs. That is how it goes. But at some point, I started thinking about these kinds of administrative burdens as the ‘time tax’—a levy of paperwork, aggravation, and mental effort imposed on citizens in exchange for benefits that putatively exist to help them. This time tax is a public-policy cancer, mediating every American’s relationship with the government and wasting countless precious hours of people’s time.”
“The government rations public services through perplexing, unfair bureaucratic friction. And when people do not get help designed for them, well, that is their own fault.”
And it’s a regressive tax, she warns:
“The time tax is worse for individuals who are struggling than for the rich; larger for Black families than for white families; harder on the sick than on the healthy.”
One solution to Lowrey’s “time tax” that’s long been espoused by Pahlka and others in the civic tech world: design everything government does with the end user in mind.
This isn’t about building better websites, says Pahlka: “You actually have to understand the implementation of the law before you write it.”
(Speaking of that interview, we spoke, too, about third-party tax filing companies vis-à-vis IRS.gov. A Slow Build reader pass along background reading: from ProPublica’s Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel in 2019, “Inside TurboTax’s 20-Year Fight to Stop Americans From Filing Their Taxes for Free.”)
Happy Wednesday morning and welcome back to Slow Build.
WHERE ANDREW YANG GOES NEXT
Fresh off coming up short in New York City mayor’s race, Andrew Yang says is “the next chapter of my life” will include something called "fact-based governance empowered by modern technology."
That’s per Penguin Random House, the publisher of his forthcoming book, “Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy.”
The book will reveal exactly what he’ll do now, Yang said the latest episode of his podcast, “Yang Speaks”:
"[I]n true Andrew Yang fashion I couldn't just write a book and be like, 'and there's the book.' It's like, 'and now let's go do the thing.' So what thing are we talking about? You have to read the book to find out, but it goes through my experiences of what I learned on the presidential trail. It goes through some of the things I learned about our political system, the media, the way technology interacts with the media. And then it sets out a path forward and how we can actually solve these problems and I'm going to be doing my best to help solve them."
(Note: Will be control-Fing for the bits on “the way technology interacts with the media.”)
Said Yang to Faye, "This is a very important lesson, and it's something I've learned in different contexts, but it's really tricky to give people money.”
Indeed, Yang’s focus on universal basic income wasn’t enough in both his presidential and mayoral bids, and he’s ready to expand, suggests the book’s marketing language:
"Yang reveals that UBI and the threat of job automation are only the beginning, diagnosing how a series of cascading problems within our antiquated systems keeps us stuck in the past—imperiling our democracy at every level. With America’s stagnant institutions failing to keep pace with technological change, we grow more polarized as tech platforms supplant our will while feasting on our data. Yang introduces us to the various ‘priests of the decline’ of America, including politicians whose incentives have become divorced from the people they supposedly serve."
Yang’s book is blurbed by, among others, Van Jones, Kara Swisher, Larry Lessig, and Mark Cuban, who calls it "a vitally important book."
It’s due out October 5th.
YOUR SOCIALS WILL BE THE DEATH OF YOU
Politico’s always enjoyable West Wing Playbook looks at grumbling about how the White House’s presidential personnel office is processing the people picked to serve by President Joe Biden.
Some of it goes with the territory. “The president appoints and PPO disappoints,” Alex Thompson and Tina Sfondeles note a saying around that office.
But some of it has a fresh twist: one burden is that the modern nominee often has a long and deep digital record.
“The social media accounts have made the vetting jobs much more time consuming,” they quote one senior transition official who is now in the White House saying.
What exactly are they looking at?
“PPO’s vetting team of about three dozen people is tasked with going over someone’s entire history of Tweets, TikToks, Instagram posts, and Venmo transactions in addition to the normal vetting of things like tax returns, a PPO official said.”
And yes, everything is a government tech story: “There are tools for sorting through it all but the official noted that the screening involves a good deal of, well, scrolling.”
THE ORGANIZING SECTION
It’ll be an electronic vote handled via the American Arbitration Association, by agreement between the Mapbox Workers Union and company leadership. That’s thought to be faster than the National Labor Relations Board Process that relies on in-person voting or — more relevant because Mapbox is a distributed company — vote-by-mail.
There’s another tech company’s recent experience in the air: the Medium Workers Union’s failure in March to win recognition by a single vote.
The push is part of the Communications Workers of America’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees launched in January 2020.
Say union organizers, “Mapbox technology is changing the world. As the workers who bring this technology to life, we take responsibility for how it is used.”
In a couple weeks, we should know if this group of tech workers managed to pull it off.
Another online organizing push we’re watching: The National Women’s Soccer League Player’s Association’s #nomoresidehustles campaign.
The hashtag is almost unavoidable if you follow women’s soccer online. NWSL players have seized upon it, and are using their sometimes considerable profiles to riff off the idea and spread it around.
The gist: contracts in the eight-year-old league, where the minimum right now is $22,000 a season, mean that players are also working as personal trainers, home cleaners, and in at least one case, as an Amazon packer.
Why now? The NWSL and NWSLPA are at work on a collective bargaining agreement. But more than that, the ongoing summer Olympics in Tokoyo means “more reporters are focused on sports than usual,” a spokesperson for the campaign told Slow Build.
The league’s in a period of expansion that’s bringing in high-profile new owners — including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who’s the lead investor behind Angel City FC — and the attention that comes with them.
THE FTC GETS A HOMEWORK EXTENSION — The Federal Trade Commission has asked the court to sign-off on more time for it to refile its competition complaint against Facebook, notes CNN’s Brian Fung.
That the agency has to refile at all is, depending on how you look at it, either a setback for the Lina Khan-led FTC or a crisitunity in which it can now redefine the case in its image.
ONE PERSON’S TERRORIST… — Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky has a compelling interview with Erin Saltman of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which was founded by the tech industry in 2017, on the challenges of defining what sort of speech is unwelcome on online platforms.
Saltman: “There is what lots of people call ‘lawful, but awful’ content out there.”
BIRD-IDING — Naturalist Margaret Renkl writes that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s updated and AI-powered Merlin Bird ID app — a.k.a. “Shazam for bird songs” — could help what scientists call the “decline of the North American avifauna.”
“I started seeing the names of birds I’d never seen in this yard before, birds that for me have existed only as undifferentiated sounds in the trees: Kentucky warbler, blue-gray gnatcatcher, yellow-breasted chat. The new bird I’d been hearing but not seeing all summer long, the one whose song sounded to me like, ‘Here, here, do you know my name?’ turned out to be a magnificent summer tanager.”