May 22, 2018

Archives for October 2012

My Work at Princeton: Mobile Technology, Community Building and Civic Engagement

I’m excited to spend my year as a Fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy exploring and testing ideas about how broadband technology – particularly mobile wireless services – can and should be used to build strong local communities.

Patent Diagram ThumbmnailI have always been interested in how seemingly simple improvements to the existing way of doing something can make a big difference. As I was heading off to become an undergrad, I received a patent on new type of plastic bottle for dispensing thick liquids, such as ketchup. I figured that every extra little bit that people could get out of the bottom of ketchup, lotion, shampoo, and salad dressing bottles would save consumers a little money and add a little bit of convenience. For a variety of reasons that I’d be happy to discuss more in person, the plastic bottling industry did not shower me with royalties.
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Unlocking Hidden Consensus in Legislatures

A legislature is a small group with a big impact. Even for people who will never be part of one, the mechanics of a legislature matter — when they work well, we all benefit, and when they work poorly, we all lose out.

At the same time, with several hundred participants, legislatures are large enough to face some of the same collective action problems and risks that happen in larger groups.

As an example, consider the U.S. Congress. Many members might prefer to reduce agricultural subsidies (a view shared by most Americans, in polls) but few are eager to stick their necks out and attract the concentrated ire of the agricultural lobby. Most Americans care more about other things, and since large agricultural firms lobby and contribute heavily to protect the subsidies, individual members face a high political cost for acting on their own (and their constituents’) views on the issue. As another case in point, nearly all Congressional Republicans have signed Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, promising never to raise taxes at all (not even minimally, in exchange for massive spending cuts). But every plausible path to a balanced budget involves a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Some Republicans may privately want to put a tax increase on the table, as they negotiate with Democrats to balance the budget — in which case there may be majority support for a civically fruitful compromise involving both tax increases and spending cuts. But any one Republican who defects from the pledge will face well-financed retaliation — because, and only because, with few or no defectors, Norquist can afford to respond to each one.

These are classic collective action problems. What if, as in other areas of life, we could build an online platform to help solve them?

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Supreme Court to Hear State Freedom of Information Act Case "McBurney v. Young"

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to McBurney v. Young. This case formally concerns the “Privileges and Immunities Clause” of the Constitution. It raises questions about what access rights citizens have to government records and about who counts as a journalist. Oral argument will likely be scheduled for 2013.

Mark McBurney is a citizen of Rhode Island who requested public records from the Commonwealth of Virginia. His request was denied because the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) prohibits requests that are made by citizens of other states. About seven other states have similar limitations. McBurney appealed to the 4th Circuit, claiming that he should have the same rights of access as Virginians under the US Constitution’s guarantee that, “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” McBurney lost in the 4th Circuit earlier this year. However, in 2006, Matthew Lee (a citizen of New York seeking records from Delaware) had won a similar case in the 3rd Circuit. The Supreme Court is now tasked with reconciling this split.
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