June 20, 2003
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, The Ants Are Marching...

My friend David Jay, who lives out in San Diego these days, pointed me to a great story in the L.A. Times about how online technologies have provided the spark that turned free-floating dissatisfaction against Governor Gray Davis into a full-fledged recall effort:

At http://www.RecallGrayDavis.com, the Web site for the recall organization started by former California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, it’s possible to download and fill out the petition form in a matter of seconds. You have to mail it in, but it still means that if you’re listening to the radio at work and another story about the California budget crisis airs, you no longer need to vent your civic frustration at the water cooler. Instead, log on and turn your anger into action.

This is an example of what online technologies do best: reduce the friction inherent in processes, making them more efficient and therefore more likely to be used. In this particular case, however, that power is running headlong into California’s famously dysfunctional ballot-initiative politics, and the result is that people are able to make a very powerful statement without necessarily having thought the matter through.

What’s the lesson from that? It’s that, in the micropolitical age, relying on process complexity to provide inertia and prevent flawed processes from being used isn’t a viable strategy. Now you have to take the time to make sure the processes make sense from the start, or the Iron Law of Unintended Consequences will return to bite you. That’s a valuable lesson for lawmakers — the people who write our most important processes — to learn, assuming any of them are paying attention.

Posted by Jason Lefkowitz at June 20, 2003
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