Our core question? Public goods + open society

I had yet another interaction with co-op type folks who don’t see past club-goods.

That was in context of a discussion around this excellent podcast Your Undivided Attention 36 - [Unedited] A Problem Well-Stated Is Half-Solved which focuses on global coordination as the primary “meta problem”, the dilemma at the heart of all the other problems. If we solve coordination, we can address everything else, if we can’t solve coordination, all the other efforts are doomed.

side note: I think that podcast is possibly the single best I’ve encountered for a global, historical, philosophical laying out of the basic state of the world today

In that context, the key point was made: there are two ways to solve global coordination. There’s the “closed society” (top-down, authoritarian, e.g. China) and the “open society” approach (bottom-up, democratic, citizen-led, e.g. ostensibly Western Europe maybe in principle rather than practice).

These two factors brought me to recognize what I think is the key question, the place where I feel everything must be focused:

How can we support true public goods within an open society?

This is the question we must start with. Neither exclusive club goods nor top-down, totalitarian control are able to bring us to the future we really want. However, they can indeed function in ways that are much harder with public goods and an open society.

We could focus our framing on this space. A first-draft rough table:

club goods public goods
top-down Proprietary corporate publishers Government, tax-funded
bottom-up Most co-ops & indie publishers Snowdrift.coop, FLO movements

Most FLO movements (meaning the ones that are driven by the FLO principles, not the incidental corporate version of using FLO) are bottom-up and public goods, but they aren’t asking about the problem of how to really support and fund the work.

We could potentially define this space more clearly. It should be obvious that the FLO-upstream-for-downstream-club-goods is not in the space. And the FLO activists who don’t recognize the coordination problem at the heart of things are simply not recognizing the issues, even though they have good intentions.

After all these years, the issue is that the open society, bottom up, public goods coordination problem remains unsolved, and I’m mostly not even seeing others starting with this foundational question. I think we have the question and the diagnosis in hand, and we need to get others to recognize this in order to then get them on board with working with us (directly or indirectly) to solve this challenge.

(I’d love to strengthen these ideas and make this a blog post and eventually even maybe a framing we emphasize on the main site, but I’m sharing the thoughts this way first)

This framing could help to more efficiently describe many things out there. Nadia Eghbal’s Roads and Bridges stuff? Top-down (corporate led) and incomplete on public goods (only focusing on public upstream to support club goods downstream). Patreon? Yes for bottom-up, but not effective enough at coordination, and too often club-goods focused instead of full public goods.

Point is, once we get the North Star question set up (fully public goods, bottom-up democratic coordination), it’s easier to simply test any particular case or proposal against that question. Is it aiming at the right direction? And is a proposal or system actually effective at getting there?

One last thought for now: the two parts aren’t really separate because public goods are inherently more bottom-up given they aren’t limited and controlled. So it’s almost like public goods on its own is the only issue. But we do have to grapple with the difference between bottom-up and top-down funding, even with public goods the question is which get funded and who gets to decide and how.

Oh, I had one more note on this:

One claim is that all our global coordination problems relate to the nature of rivalry. Given limited resources, some rivalrousness is unavoidable. But we might frame our focus as getting past rivalry. That’s another way to emphasize coordination/collaboration/cooperation.