Globalization and its discontents

Among the structural cracks in contemporary societies in which Trumpism flourishes is a rapidly growing cleavage between cities and their deindustrialized, more or less rural, hinterland. Cities are the growth pole of postindustrial societies. They are international, cosmopolitan, and politically pro-immigration, in part because their success in global competition depends on their ability to attract talent from all over the world. Cities also require a supply of low-skilled and low-paid service workers, who clean offices, provide for security, prepare meals in restaurants, deliver parcels, and take care of the children of dual career families.21 The white middle class can no longer afford ever-rising urban rents; they find themselves living in growing communities of immigrants, or they leave and move to the small-town provinces.
Geographical separation has deeply divisive cultural and political consequences. Urban elites can easily imagine themselves moving from one global city to another; moving from New York to Ames, Iowa is another matter. National borders are less salient to urban elites than the informal borders between urban and rural communities. As urban labor markets turn global, job applicants from the national hinterlands must compete with talent from all over the world. Globalization creates an incentive for governments and employers not to invest too much in education. Why bother? They can always poach skilled labor from other countries. This is how the United States combines one of the worst school systems in the world with the world’s best universities and research centers.
 
There is an almost insuperable cultural barrier between the city and the country, something long known to city and country dwellers alike. City dwellers develop a multicultural, cosmopolitan outlook. As their values converge on their interests, what used to be social liberalism edges into free-market liberalism. Seen from the perspective of the provinces, of course, elite cosmopolitanism serves the material interests of a new class of global winners. Mutual contempt is reinforced by self-imposed isolation, both sides speaking only to and within their camps, one through the media, located in the cities, the other through self-constructed private internet channels.
 

Wolfang Streck on Trump and the Trumpists (he defines Trumpism as a particular strain of populism).

The primacy of the urban/rural divide resonates. Whenever I chat with friends about where they might move if they left their current home, it's always a list of what most would consider a list of the world's leading urban centers—New York, Tokyo, London, Sydney, Berlin, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Paris, to name the most commonly cited—and rarely the rural regions of the United States, despite the lower cost of living and other potential benefits.

We see how hard it is even for a large company to put the global maximum above the local maximums of various fiefdoms within the corporate hierarchy, it's not surprising that the same problem exists when trying to elevate globalization above nationalism. It's easier to hold to high minded principles of globalization, especially the free movement of labor, when the existing system seems to be working well for you.

On the difference between class and status:

Almost a century ago, Max Weber drew a distinction between class and status.12 Classes are constituted by the market; status groups by a particular way of life and a specific claim to social respect. Status groups are home-grown social communities; classes become classes only through organization. The Trumpist electoral machine mobilizes its supporters as a status group. It appeals to their shared sense of honor more than to their material interests.13 In this, Trumpism follows New Labour and New Democrat neo-liberalism, which deleted class from their political vocabulary. In its stead, they redefined the struggle for social equality as one over identity, that is, over the symbolic recognition and collective dignity of an indefinite number of ever narrower status groups. Neoliberalism had failed to anticipate that the discovery by experts and politicians of ever new minorities may make the demobilized working class feel abandoned in favor of special interests. Their discovery and celebration inevitably demoted the interests of the working class. As the United States was transformed into a polity of status groups, the working class lost its sense of identification with the country as a whole, if only because it is this class, reduced to one identity and interest among others, that is now blamed for a rich variety of social malignancies, from racism and sexism to gun violence and educational and industrial decline.14
 

In many ways, Barack Obama was a unicorn whose election misled the Democratic Party into thinking they had some demographic mandate to push Hillary through. Obama and Trump share one quality (likely the only one), they symbolized change for their supporters. Hillary never clarified what she stood for, but for many she stood for the opposite, a career politician born from and deeply embedded in the status quo. For enough people, that is no longer tenable.

Pareto's two types of elites: lions and foxes

Pareto’s thesis was that elites always rule. There is always the domination of the minority over the majority. And history is just the story of one elite replacing another. This is what he called the “circulation of elites”. When the current elite starts to decline, it is challenged and makes way for another. Pareto thought that this came about in two ways: either through assimilation, the new elite merging with elements of the old, or through revolution, the new elite wiping out the old. He used the metaphor of a river to make his point. Most of the time, the river flows continuously, smoothly incorporating its tributaries, but sometimes, after a storm, it floods and breaks its banks.
 
Drawing on his Italian predecessor Machiavelli, Pareto identified two types of elite rulers. The first, whom he called the “foxes”, are those who dominate mainly through combinazioni (“combination”): deceit, cunning, manipulation and co-optation. Their rule is characterised by decentralisation, plurality and scepticism, and they are uneasy with the use of force. “Lions”, on the other hand, are more conservative. They emphasise unity, homogeneity, established ways, the established faith, and rule through small, centralised and hierarchical bureaucracies, and they are far more at ease with the use of force than the devious foxes. History is the slow swing of the pendulum from one type of elite to the other, from foxes to lions and back again.
 
The relevance of Pareto’s theories to the world today is clear. After a period of foxes in power, the lions are back with renewed vigour. Donald Trump, as his behaviour during the US presidential campaign confirmed, is perfectly at ease with the use of intimidation and violence. He claimed that he wants to have a wall built between the United States and Mexico. His mooted economic policies are largely based on protectionism and tariffs. Regardless of his dubious personal ethics – a classic separation between the elite and the people – he stands for the traditional (white) American way of life and religion.
 

I had no idea Pareto (of Pareto Principle fame) had done so much thinking on politics. A good read on his theory of lions and foxes and its obvious applicability to the world today.

The pendulum is swinging back to the lions. In some respects, this might be welcome, because globalisation has left too many behind and they need to be helped. However, Pareto’s lesson was one of moderation. Both lions and foxes have their strengths and weaknesses, and political elites are a combination of the two, with one element dominating temporarily. Pareto, as he did in Italy in the 1920s, would have predicted a return of the lions. But as a liberal, he would have cautioned against xenophobia, protectionism and violence.
 
If the lions can serve as correctives to the excesses of globalisation, their return is salutary. Yet the circulation of elites is a process more often of amalgamation than replacement. The challenge to liberal politics is to articulate a balance between the values of an open, welcoming society and of one that takes care of its most vulnerable members. Now, as ever, the task is to find the balance between the lions and the foxes.

Moral Foundations Theory

Feinberg and his co-author, Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer, have extensively studied how it is that liberals and conservatives—two groups that now seem further apart than ever on their policy preferences—can convert people from the other side to their way of seeing things. One reason this is so hard to do, they explain, is that people tend to present their arguments in a way that appeals to the ethical code of their own side, rather than that of their opponents.
 
For example, when Feinberg and Willer asked liberals to write an op-ed aiming to convince conservatives of the value of same-sex marriage, most wrote something to the tune of, “Why would we punish these people for being born a certain way? They deserve the same equal rights as other Americans.” The problem is, research on thousands of people around the world, summed up in something called Moral Foundations Theory, has shown that liberals are more likely than conservatives to endorse fairness-based arguments like these. Meanwhile, just 8 percent of the liberals in Willer and Feinberg’s study were able to craft an argument that would appeal to conservatives’ value of loyalty toward your own kind. (So something like, “Our fellow citizens of the United States of America deserve to stand alongside us ... We should lift our fellow citizens up, not bring them down.”) What’s worse, some of them picked an argument that directly contradicted what many conservatives value, with arguments like, “your religion should play no part in the laws of the United States.”
 

From Haidt in The Atlantic.

Bryan Caplan has proposed the ideological Turing Test: if you disagree with something, can you articulate the opposition's case as correctly as if you agreed with it? Whatever your belief in the merits of such a test, I find it a useful test by which to start a blog post. If I'm putting forth a position, have I thought through the counter and advocated for it intellectually? If I have and still feel resolute, I have enough conviction to proceed.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand the feelings of another, but perhaps what we need is a form of empathy of values to bridge the current culture wars. However, as Haidt notes, the challenge is that hopping outside your own value framing is extremely difficult.

So if it’s so easy, why don’t more people—either in studies or in real life—try this strategy?
 
“We tend to view our moral values as universal,” Feinberg told me. That “there are no other values but ours, and people who don't share our values are simply immoral. Yet, in order to use moral reframing you need to recognize that the other side has different values, know what those values are, understand them well enough to be able to understand the moral perspective of the other side, and be willing to use those values as part of a political argument.”
 
Some people just can’t bring themselves to take that last step, he said, even if they know it’s more effective. And perhaps the reason it’s so difficult is because politics is so deeply intertwined with our personal values. When something is important to us, it’s usually for a reason, and it’s hard to break free of those reasons, even for political expediency’s sake. To do so would take an abundance of empathy, and that’s in short supply all around these days.
 

That is, it might be ideologically appealing to have some version of "strong opinions, loosely held" for values, but people tend to only have strong values, strongly held. It's difficult for someone to be against abortion, for example, and say they only loosely subscribe to that principle.

Once we have strong opinions, we're likely to hold them tightly just reflexively, defensively, because that's one of the quirks of human programming. Also, it feels good to be part of the mob, holding a pitchfork. The blood races. Viva la revolution. 

To bridge to the other side, however, it's likely more effective to focus on Trump's general incompetence than his repugnant values, as disgusting as that might be to the opposition. There will be more than enough evidence on both fronts.

Twilight of the liberal world order?

The system has depended, however, on will, capacity, and coherence at the heart of the liberal world order. The United States had to be willing and able to play its part as the principal guarantor of the order, especially in the military and strategic realm. The order’s ideological and economic core order—the democracies of Europe and East Asia and the Pacific—had to remain relatively healthy and relatively confident. In such circumstances, the combined political, economic, and military power of the liberal world would be too great to be seriously challenged by the great powers, much less by the smaller dissatisfied powers.
 
In recent years, however, the liberal order has begun to weaken and fracture at the core. As a result of many related factors—difficult economic conditions, the recrudescence of nationalism and tribalism, weak and uncertain political leadership and unresponsive mainstream political parties, a new era of communications that seems to strengthen rather than weaken tribalism—there has emerged a crisis of confidence in what might be called the liberal enlightenment project. That project tended to elevate universal principles of individual rights and common humanity over ethnic, racial, religious, national, or tribal differences. It looked to a growing economic interdependence to create common interests across boundaries and the establishment of international institutions to smooth differences and facilitate cooperation among nations. Instead, the past decade has seen the rise of tribalism and nationalism; an increasing focus on the “other” in all societies; and a loss of confidence in government, in the capitalist system, and in democracy. We have been witnessing something like the opposite of the “end of history” but have returned to history with a vengeance, rediscovering all the darker aspects of the human soul. That includes, for many, the perennial human yearning for a strong leader to provide firm guidance in a time of seeming breakdown and incoherence.
 
This crisis of the enlightenment project may have been inevitable. It may indeed have been cyclical, due to inherent flaws in both capitalism and democracy, which periodically have been exposed and have raised doubts about both—as happened, for instance, throughout the West in the 1930s. Now, as then, moreover, this crisis of confidence in liberalism coincides with a breakdown of the strategic order. In this case, however, the key variable has not been the United States as the outside power and its willingness, or not, to step in and save or remake an order lost by other powers. Rather it is the United States’ own willingness to continue upholding the order that it created and which depends entirely on American power.
 

Sobering, from this Brookings Institution piece.

I don't know enough about history as a subject to judge the prognostication of historians and think tanks like Brookings. How to assess political realism as an explanatory theory? Perhaps some readers have a better sense of its predictive power.

All of it can seem like macroeconomics, maddeningly theoretical and imprecise. And yet the best of it has the appeal of strong narrative, which we humans love so much. It's too bad the story here, which seems quite plausible, is so bleak.

There is no stable balance of power in Europe or Asia without the United States. And while we can talk about soft power and smart power, they have been and always will be of limited value when confronting raw military power. Despite all of the loose talk of American decline, it is in the military realm where U.S. advantages remain clearest. Even in other great powers’ backyards, the United States retains the capacity, along with its powerful allies, to deter challenges to the security order. But without a U.S. willingness to use military power to establish balance in far-flung regions of the world, the system will buckle under the unrestrained military competition of regional powers.
 
If history is any guide, the next four years are the critical inflection point. The rest of the world will take its cue from the early actions of the new administration. If the next president governs as he ran, which is to say if he pursues a course designed to secure only America’s narrow interests; focuses chiefly on international terrorism—the least of the challenges to the present world order; accommodates the ambitions of the great powers; ceases to regard international economic policy in terms of global order but only in terms of America’s bottom line narrowly construed; and generally ceases to place a high priority on reassuring allies and partners in the world’s principal strategic theaters—then the collapse of the world order, with all that entails, may not be far off.

The expanding Overton window

The ‘Overton window’ is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment. It was the creation of Joseph Overton, a think-tank intellectual based in Michigan, who died in 2003 at 43 after a solo plane accident. His crucial insight, one which both emerged from and was central to the work of the think tank Right, was that the window of acceptability can be moved. An idea can start far outside the political mainstream – flat taxes, abolish the IRS, more guns in schools, building a beautiful wall and making Mexico pay – but once it has been stated and argued for, framed and restated, it becomes thinkable. It crosses over from the fringe of right-wing think-tankery to journalistic fellow-travellers; then it crosses over to the fringe of electoral politics; then it becomes a thing people start seriously advocating as a possible policy. The window has moved, and rough beasts come slouching through it to be born.
 

John Lanchester on the roots of Brexit, emphasis mine. The echoes in the rise of Trump in the U.S. are hard to miss.

Kipling asked a good question: ‘What do they know of England who only England know?’ But there’s a variation which, today, might be more relevant: ‘What do they know of the UK who only London know?’ The answer to both questions turns out to be the same: ‘Not nearly enough.’ England is so small, geographically, that it is easy to forget that it is also surprisingly big. There is no rich country of equivalent size that is more densely populated. The only country which has both more people than England and more people per square kilometre is Bangladesh. What this means, experientially, is that there is a kind of denseness to England and to Englishness; England is both very similar to itself and significantly different when you move ten miles down the road.
 

Related: this Clay Shirky Tweetstorm to his white liberal friends. Forget the internet filter bubble, if it even exists. Far more dangerous is the geographic filter bubble.

When geography is destiny, inequality is a given, but in certain countries the effect has amplified.

To be born in many places in Britain is to suffer an irreversible lifelong defeat – a truncation of opportunity, of education, of access to power, of life expectancy. The people who grow up in these places come from a cultural background which equipped them for reasonably well-paid manual labour, un- and semi- and skilled. Children left school as soon as they could and went to work in the same industries that had employed their parents. The academically able kids used to go to grammar school and be educated into the middle class. All that has now gone, the jobs and the grammar schools, and the vista instead is a landscape where there is often work – there are pockets of unemployment, but in general there’s no shortage of jobs and the labour force participation rate is the highest it has ever been, a full 15 points higher than in the US – but it’s unsatisfying, insecure and low-paid. This new work doesn’t do what the old work did: it doesn’t offer a sense of identity or community or self-worth. The word ‘precarious’ has as its underlying sense ‘depending on the favour of another person’. Somebody can take away the things you have whenever they feel like it. The precariat, as the new class is called, might not know the etymology, but it doesn’t need to: the reality is all too familiar.
 

This is amazing:

The white working class is correct to feel abandoned: it has been. No political party has anything to offer it except varying levels of benefits. The people in the rich parts of the country pay the taxes which support the poor parts. If I had to pick a single fact which has played no role in political discourse but which sums up the current position of the UK, it would be that most people in the UK receive more from the state, in direct cash transfers and in benefits such as health and education, than they contribute to it. The numbers are eerily similar to the referendum outcome: 48 per cent net contributors, 52 per cent net recipients. It’s a system bitterly resented both by the beneficiaries and by the suppliers of the largesse.
 

So much of communicating well is knowing your audience. Some of this is selection bias, of course, but Trump is the last man standing in the GOP because he is the voice of some large segment of America. When he preens and smirks, punctuating his misogyny and racism with finger jabs and thumbs up gestures, he wraps his hands around the id of the angry white working class and squeezes, like a cardiac surgeon pumping a human heart.

Electing one person, or three thousand?

Interview with the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens:

And if you’re obliged to make the choice upon pondering that, who would the choice be?

BS: Well, you’re asking me the same question twice. My answer is the same. The only person who counts in the administration is the president of the United States, Hugh. That’s the only person who counts. When George W. Bush decided to save the American position in Iraq by going against the advice of all of his wise men, of Jim Baker and the whole Iraq Study Group, and 90% of his administration, that was George W. Bush’s decision. So we have to bear in mind that this isn’t an administration we’re electing. It’s a person that we are electing. Who knows better than you what it means to have a commander-in-chief who lived his entire life, who lived throughout the entire Cold War, and doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is? It’s absolutely astonishing. And so it’s terrific to have Joe Dunford and you know, perhaps John Bolton and other people in positions of trust. But you have to have a president who bothered over the last 70 years to gain a cursory understanding of how the world works. And on so many issues, Hugh, on so many issues, I know not all of the issue, but on so many issues, this guy is just the antithesis of what I’d want a Republican president to be on foreign policy. When it comes to trade, when it comes to standing up to countries like North Korea, when it comes to standing up to guys like Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump is not a conservative. If you put…

HH: Bret, you don’t have to, I agree with you on all of that. I know the critique. Nevertheless, what about my argument that civilians owe people who are fighting the war the best of the two candidates for commander-in-chief. We don’t have the option to be conscientious objectors in the one part of the war that is part of our job, which is to pick a commander-in-chief.

BS: Listen, I think that for the United States, Hillary Clinton, as awful as I find her, is a survivable event. I’m not so sure about Donald Trump.
 

I've nothing to add here on Trump, but the idea of whether you're electing 3,000 people or 1 is a relevant question here as it is elsewhere (think about hiring a director, electing a CEO, etc.). Also worth asking if you're trying to hire the 1 person or one of the 3,000.

Trump vs. a Japanese whale

The story of Akio Kashiwagi, drawn from Trump’s memoirs and news accounts from the day, offers a revealing window into Trump’s instincts. It shows that Trump isn’t just a one-time casino owner—he’s also a gambler, prone to impulsive, even reckless action. In The Art of the Comeback, published in 1997, Trump explains that until he met Kashiwagi, he saw himself as an investor who dealt only in facts and reason. But his duel with the great whale in action made him realize “that I had become a gambler, something I never thought I was.”
 
Perhaps just as important, when gambling failed him, Trump didn't quit: He doubled down. But he did it shrewdly, summoning a RAND Corporation mathematician to devise a plan that would maximize his chance of fleecing his Japanese guest.
 
And it worked. Kind of. In Trump’s recollection, which he shared for this story, his showdown with Kashiwagi was another one of his many great wins. Just don’t look too hard at the ledger.
 

A bizarre and nutty tale of the time Donald Trump hired a RAND Corp mathematician to try to win back money a Japanese gambler took from one of his hotels in a hot night of Baccarat.

Before reading the piece, I thought perhaps they had changed the rules of the game somehow to raise the house edge. But no, they just changed the terms under which Kahiwagi to play, counting on the house edge to manifest over the long run.

Behind the trademark bluster, however, Trump grew more calculated. Having looked in the mirror and seen a gambler, he reverted to careful strategy. Trump consulted Jess Marcum, a mathematical probabilities expert who co-founded the Rand Corporation—a government-affiliated think tank then better known for modeling nuclear war with the Soviet Union—on how to maximize his odds in a second showdown with Kashiwagi. Marcum knew the only way to compensate for the house’s very slight baccarat advantage, of just over one percent, was to keep the game going for as long as possible. Time was on Trump’s side.
 
So Marcum and an Atlantic City casino insider named Al Glasgow prepared a report for Trump proposing a “freeze out” agreement. Under the deal, Kashiwagi would bring $12 million to the table and play until he had either doubled it—or lost everything. Even with huge bets, that would take a long time. Marcum simulated the match in detailed hand written notes. Kashiwagi might surge ahead early, he estimated, but after 75 hours at the table – far longer than he had stayed the first time - his chances of winning would fall to 15 percent. The key was to prevent a repeat of Kashiwagi’s first visit, when he had walked out while ahead.
 
Kashiwagi, presumably fuzzier on the probabilities, agreed to the terms. There was no legal way to hold him to such a deal but Trump felt the men were honor-bound. “Gamblers are honorable, in their own way—at least about gambling,” he later wrote.
 

The peculiar thing about Trump is that, as offended as I am but so many of the things he says, I'm not convinced he actually believes half the things he spews with such gusto. Yes, he's a politician, and they're always churning out rhetoric for reasons of positioning, but Trump exceeds even other politicians in his commitment to artifice.

Because of that, when he says something I disagree with, I'm more offended by the casual way he tosses around such damaging ideas than the ideas themselves, and when he says something I agree with—which is, admittedly, rare—I don't give him much credit.

He needs no exaggeration to be rendered a caricature, because he has done it himself, both figuratively and literally, like one of those figures in Pinocchio who becomes the physical embodiment of its own hubris. If you were a cartoonist on assignment to lampoon him, you could just snap a photo and collect a full day's pay.

The false dichotomy of U.S. politics

The Trumpists are our equivalent of Britain’s U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) and France’s National Front, both anti-immigrant, nationalist parties. For the past five years, Trumpists have clocked in at about 20 percent of the electorate, if one tracks numbers of committed “Obama is a Muslim-ists.” This makes them even more powerful than Britain’s UKIP, which won 12.6 percent of the vote in May’s parliamentary election. These numbers put the Trumpists on par with the National Front in France, which in March elections took 25 percent of the vote to the 32 percent that went to the center-right party of Nicholas Sarkozy.

The critical difference between our nationalist faction and the European ones is that their parliamentary systems register them as “parties,” whereas our two-party model makes it harder to see that what we’re confronting truly is the rise of a new party. Provided, that is, the Republicans don’t sell their souls.

If the Republicans can hang on to the convictions that make them the party of Lincoln, we ought to see the party split. For the good of the country, we should hope for it.


Good piece on how the U.S. two-party political system masks the underlying fragmentation of our nation's political beliefs. The incumbent two-party system has been around so long that it has a massive fund-raising advantage over any third party, and that's just one element of inertia working in its favor.

From a voter perspective, a two-party system vastly restricts the granularity of your vote and what it communicates to politicians. It's as if you and a dozen of your work colleagues had to decide where to eat for lunch each day, but despite having dozens of restaurants in the area, could only go to one of two restaurants because there were only two cars available to drive.

The true preference of the group might be split among many more restaurants. It's even possible every person might want to go to a different restaurant that day. But instead you end up with one group at Chipotle, and the other at some salad bar, and tough luck if you're in the mood for Chinese or sushi or something else.

For a variety of historical reasons, and it's a fascinating tale, we've evolved to be a two party nation. And at this point, the structural inertia is significant and not likely to be easily overturned.

But the ability to map preferences at a more granular level is something technology can enable at a scale not possible in days past, and I suspect it will be technology that changes American politics in a deep way over the next two to three elections.

First we'll see an election where technology swings a few key races in a very public way. My guess is that the same social networks that enable many more people to become internet famous will allow those same people to sway a lot more voters by allowing them to endorse at scale. Second, some simple mobile app will solve the voter laziness and voter information asymmetry problems and allow them to more efficiently discover which candidates most closely represent their views.

It's amazing how hard it remains to research how to vote optimally based on your personal preferences. It's easier to find a hotel to stay at when visiting a new city, or the best Mexican restaurant in your neighborhood. Google is of surprisingly little help when it comes to researching your ballot, and so many of us end up in a dark voter stall, staring at a long list of names we've never heard of, trying to choose some local area judge or reading some long pro or con position on a local proposition. Frankly, the heuristics I've turned to when faced with choices like that are embarrassing.

Organizing large sets of information, offering customized searching and browsing of that information using algorithms, user preferences, and social network context, and bundling all of that in good user experience on a smartphone has been the technology industry's hammer of Thor in industry after industry for the past decade. Restaurants, retail, news, music, and travel are just a few examples to have felt the blow.

For a variety of reasons, industries like finance, health care, automobiles, and government have remained somewhat immune. But that's about to change, and I believe politics is going to be one of the most visible to succumb. The killer election mobile app is coming, and the only question is who will build it and whether it will come in time for the 2016 U.S. elections.

Fundamental to that shift is making public what has long been private. I'm referring to not just party preferences but people's thoughts on individual issues and races. What do people you admire think about the issues on the ballot in front of you, and why? If much of this is made public ahead of election day, then suddenly we have a new, more efficient way to debate the issues and understand how and why different voters are going with particular candidates. Making messaging public was the greatest innovation of Twitter, turning the conversations and soliloquies of people into public theater. Making voting intentions public would have as great a social impact.

We already live in a generation where people feel comfortable making their views on everything under the sun public online, so I can't imagine it's a stretch to do so on political issues. The only thing stopping us from aggregating and organizing this information efficiently has been a focused, directed service.

Money has long been a proxy for political influence, but let's say someone Internet famous carries their millions of followers from social media over into the political arena. For example, let's say Marc Andreessen makes his ballot for the upcoming election public, along with a list of his views on all the issues and where he agrees and disagrees with each candidate. Or imagine popular economist Tyler Cowen gives his views on all the random propositions on a ballot, explaining why he thinks they make sense or not. And so on down the line.

On some mobile app, you import all these people you follow on other social networks and have a ready-made ballot based on the collective views of all the people you trust. As the typical lazy American voter, you already feel more informed. If you want, you can tune your ballot by hand or take some simple survey on a variety of hot button issues to tweak your ballot. Now, ahead of the election, you publish that ballot to the app for anyone else, and more importantly the network itself, to see. People who follow you on other networks automatically follow you here, so now you can see whose votes you're influencing. You are, as on other social networks, both consumer and publisher.

Remember, this information is all made public ahead of the election, so the ripples actually begin long before election day. You're a candidate running for office, and you can go look at a list of the people with the most followers in your district. Suddenly, you realize that someone influencing a sizable bloc of voters in your district is choosing against you because of your view on some issue or proposition. The app offers a quick calculation of how many voters you might gain by changing your view to the other side. It could sway the election. You publicly change your view, and the app sends a notification to all the people who were going to vote against you, informing them of your policy shift.

That may sound a bit too precise, and perhaps that level of granularity isn't possible the first go round because the math isn't so clean. At the very least, though, you can imagine looking through the app to see the top influencers in your district and inviting them to a meeting or one of those fundraising dinners. Usually, a ticket to such an event comes at the cost of a sizable donation, but remember, fundraising and money have long been an indirect way of transacting in votes, but an app like this allows you to do so more directly.

Someone smarter than me can compute how dense a network like this needs to be in a region to be predictive, but if political polls based on random samples can be reasonably predictive, we may already be over the tipping point in many parts of the U.S.

Let's come full circle. This began as a discussion of the restrictive nature of a two-party system. A network like this could unlock the potential for a more granular set of options. A service like this might indicate that a candidate coming in with some mix of views from the left and right could capture a sizable voting bloc. That fabled third party could find a more efficient path to reaching that bloc through a set of influencers on the network who share a certain set of common views. But perhaps it's not just one additional party but multiple ones that find a path to relevance.

This is all jumping far ahead down the road, but it's not unreasonable to imagine how quickly change like this can come to a particular space in public life when you compare how we used to shop, search and browse information, find people to date, or navigate from one place to another just a decade or two ago.

We already probably have many more than two political parties in the U.S. Circling back to the piece I quoted at the beginning of this post, the author believes the Republican Party should split because it really consists of two distinct parties.

If we look to Europe, again, we can see the effects of these tools, not only on the right but also on the left. Progressive Internet activists in Germany, for instance, coalesced into the Pirate Party, which has been able to win seats in four state parliaments as well as the European parliament.

In other words, in this country, too, we would by now have Trumpists, libertarians and netizens in government, if we had a parliamentary system. But because we don’t, we have a very weird, historically important presidential campaign. The weirdness comes from the fact that it is unfolding inside the structure of our creaky, 19th-century two-party framework.

The real story, then, is not about this or that candidate but about precisely how the realignment of U.S. public opinion away from the two major political parties will shake out and about who or what the major parties will sell down the river while trying to save themselves as the “big tents” they need to be to win elections. And the burning question inside this story is whether our two-party system can survive the digital era. Or, perhaps better, how to ensure that it doesn’t so that we can save our center-right party, the Republicans, for the center.