Social problems cannot be hacked. The popularisation of ‘Hack Days’ is simply the privatisation of poverty. Technology will never be a supplement for good government. Around the world, elected leaders have abdicated their responsibility for their citizens to the private sector. The only thing worth hacking are parties themselves.

Illustration by Rachael Bolton

I am troubled by the growing popularity of ‘Hack Days’ that have popped-up all over the world in recent years. These include Hack for Democracy hosted by MIT, Hack Oregon (hosted by the Mayor’s Office) to improve disaster resilience, transportation, housing affordability and local elections, and Hack the Police hosted in London by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on the 9th and 10th of December to ‘help police gather evidence, make it easier to give statements and improve the wellbeing of officers and victims’.

In Houston Texas, the Mayor’s office floated the idea of developing an app that encourages citizen donations to charities to provide long term solutions for homeless residents.

Meanwhile, in Australia, members of the Liberal Party have been promoting Hack for Domestic Violence, (a non-government) event hosted by Vibewire.

Almost all of these events had at least one corporate sponsor. These include Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Academy Xi, and Blue Lights Digital.

In almost every circumstance, events were organised and attended by largely white, middle-class, educated, libertarians who believe the private sector is more capable of delivering solutions than the government whose responsibility it used to be to, if not solve, then at least address chronic problems like poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, sexual assault, mental illness, affordable housing etc.

Members of the Australian Liberal Party are attending this event which calls for “hackers, hipsters, hustlers & humanitarians.” But apparently it’s not something the actual government can deal deal with.

Social problems cannot be hacked

While civic-mindedness is always admirable, technology will never be a solution for social problems and should not be the result of private partnerships, appification or incentivising bleeding-hearts to part with even more cash than they already pay in taxes.

(Sidenote: I am not anti-charity. Organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, The Innocence Project, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Lifeline, Wayside Chapel, and The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, do more good in a day than most governments have done in years. It saddens me that so many organisations have figured out how to improve their corner of the world on a shoestring budget with little or no government support).

There are simply zero economic arguments against providing social housing, public infrastructure so people can get to-and-from their minimum-wage jobs, or devoting as many police resources to prosecuting domestic violence, rape or sexual assault as are allocated to road safety operations. Inflation only ever becomes a problem when resources are in over-supply. (Guess what? They’re not. Not even close). Objections to government spending – on anything, but particularly on protecting the world’s most vulnerable – can only be ideological.

‘Hack For’ events is simply another way of privatising poverty.

Ideology over reality

All governments that issue their own currency have had the ability to fix serious social problems almost overnight, but have simply chosen not to.

This comes back to what government is for. Once upon a time, we elected governments to keep us safe, represent our basic financial interests, and plan the local economy to meet the interests of those who live and work within them.

Over the last 30 years, social safety nets have been replaced by rising private debt and selective industry intervention.

Populations have been abandoned by their governments who have completely abdicated their responsibility for the wellbeing of their citizens. But the working poor, the unemployed, the Indigenous, communities of colour and the LGBTIQA have had it far worse, for much longer.

The gender pay-gap keeps vulnerable women in violent situations because they cannot afford to leave their abusive spouses.

Homelessness is a direct consequence of gentrification, and the reclassification of property as a form of income.

Prostitution and sex-trafficking are the result of systemic financial discrimination against the country’s most vulnerable. And the lack of police and public-sector resources to address these problems and the seeming disinterest of the justice system to prosecute offenders on a large-scale keeps this cycle of violence and vulnerability ticking over.

These are all economic problems that could be solved with political will.

The political establishment didn’t want a middle-class. Roosevelt, Wallace, Corbyn, Sanders, and Varoufakis: all punished by their own parties for fighting economic inequality. Nevertheless, they persisted.

Hack parties, not tech

As Christmas approaches, and we take stock of the chaos the year has wrought, remember that whatever financial security we might have achieved, it is the result of a system designed by exceptions to the rule – leaders who defied their own parties to create good government and local economies that served the interests of those living and working within it. If you feel abandoned and effed-off by the establishment, just imagine how much more difficult it is for those who struggle daily to make ends meet.

No hackathon can replace the Roosevelts, the Wallaces, the Corbyns, the Sanders and Varoufakises of this world.

We need better government. And we need leaders who prioritise the needs of their constituents over their political careers.

The only thing worth hacking are parties themselves.

There are 32,807,417 members of the Republican Party and 44,706,349 members of the Democratic Party. As of 2017, the UK Labour Party recorded 570,000 members. The Tory party has not released membership figures since 2013 when their numbers were around 150,000. The Australian Labor Party had 53,930 members in 2014. The Liberal Party had 80,000.

Sign-up even half those numbers as new members, bring them to the next meeting and call a vote, we could toss out bad policy overnight.

Technology will never be a supplement for good government.

Claire Connelly

Claire Connelly

Claire Connelly is the editor-in-chief of Renegade Inc. An award-winning freelance journalist and speaker, she is the founder of Hello Humans, an experiment in subscription journalism starting at just $1 a month.

Specialising in economics, technology and policy, Connelly is working on her first book and podcast series, How the World Really Works*. (*Title may be due to change). You can pre-order a copy here. #shamelessselfpromotion.

With more than a decade of experience under her belt, Claire has written for leading publications including The Australian Financial Review, The Saturday Paper, ABC, SBS, Crikey, New Matilda, VICE & others. She is the co-host of The Week In Start-Ups Australia, and features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio shows including Radio National's Download This Show, ABC's The Drum, Ten's The Project, and more.

How do you spend your days?

I am the editor-in-chief of Renegade and founder of Hello Humans, a subscription journalism experiment. I also freelance & consult for a number of publications of the editorial and commercial variety.I work from home. I am a bit of a work-hermit. I can mostly be found on the internet and at the dog park.

Why is this important to you?

Now more than ever, it is really important to make sense of the world around us. But in an age of information saturation it is becoming harder to distinguish the truth from bullshit. Part of the reason I am doing this is to help people differentiate between the truth and narratives being sold by people and organisations with vested interests.

I want to help people identify rhetorical red flags and immunise themselves against a sea of bullshit.

What drove you to focus on journalism?

I guess you could say my parents played a fairly big part in my becoming a journalist, much to their despair. Watching the news, reading the paper and listening to the radio was a compulsory activity in my household. My parents read me the paper before I could read.

Being engaged in the world around us was the way we repaid our debt to society.

They channelled the last of their politically active twenties and thirties into fostering our curiosity and distrust of authority. It wasn’t until I reached university that I fell in love with economics, politics and international relations.

Was there a particular moment you can remember that led you to this field?

The day Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, (the 4th of November 1995). I was 10. It was a weekend and I was in my winter school uniform complete with pinafor and scratchy tights. I played clarinet in the school orchestra and we were due to play at the old folks home. And I was pissed. And I said so.

The phone rang, and with tears rolling down her face, my mum turned to me and said the concert had been cancelled. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister had been killed.

I threw my stuff down and turned to get changed. But before I could my mum grabbed me firmly. I will never forget the look of disappointment on her face. She made some comment about how Rabin did not die for my convenience.
“You live in this house, you have clothes on your back and warm blankets and three square meals a day. You may not do anything with your education that we pay for, but you will be informed.”
She sat me down in front of the ABC and made me watch eight hours of assassination coverage. Little had I known the world was falling apart.

That day pretty much sealed my fate.

You can read more it here if you are interested.

What drives you professionally?

Justice. Egomania. Curiosity. And the fact there is no other profession more suited to my personality.

In your opinion what are the three biggest problems facing the developed and developing world?

Neoliberalism. Economic and social instability and insecurity. Banking fraud. Climate change. (Ok that’s four things. I never was very good at lists).

If you hadn’t become a journalist what would you have done?

My mum wishes I had studied law.

What led us to this moment in history?

We are living proof of a 30 year operation to permanently reduce the responsibility ofgovernment over the wellbeing of its constituents. You can read more about that here. (Link to neoliberalism piece).

What are the lessons we failed to learn during and since the 2008 crisis?

Austerity is a means of redistributing the profits in of productivity in which we all used to share to the world’s uber-wealthy.

The global financial crisis was one small step for man, one giant leap for the banking industry. It cemented financial crises as a permanent phenomenon and the formalisation of corporate revolution.

It signalled to the world that government exists only to support the private sector, triggering a wave of disillusionment which allowed neoliberalism to complete its task at hand: the complete and utter destruction of democracy, replacing it with a market society in which economics permeates every facet of modern life, from education to healthcare to law & order.

Even the military operates as a for-profit model, conveniently privatising any activity that sits outside the criminal justice system.

Some call the bail-outs of 2008 a failure of neo-liberalism. To the contrary, the private sector attained almost exactly what it set out to achieve: a system with no obligation to true economic recovery, that supports only profits and the corporations which generate them.

We keep voting for wealthy populist leaders thinking the knock-on-effects will put dollars in our pocket when the very opposite is true.

So long as voters continue to accept the mythic propaganda sown over the last 30 years that tax breaks & subsidies create jobs, deficits are bad, surpluses are good and that any instability is somehow the fault of the poor, our economic insecurity will only continue to increase.

Can you list some ‘baby steps’ out of the current economic mess?

A return to full employment.

A royal commission into the continuation of subprime mortgage fraud. (It didn’t go away after the GFC. In fact it was pretty much legalised).

Slash the cost of university degrees & create new pathways for the unemployed and underemployed to attain new skills and education.

Deficit spending to create infrastructure that will create the jobs of the future.

Support local agriculture.

Reduce private debt.

If you were a President / Prime Minister what would your first three pieces of policy be?

A job guarantee.
Re-introduce a price on carbon.
Legalise gay marriage.

Tell us something you have been wrong about?

I didn’t think that in 2017 that gay marriage and abortion would still be illegal in Australia.
Claire Connelly

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