in crazy shit off the top of my head

How to get my nerd vote

I've been thinking lately about a dream candidate for my nerd habits, my nerdy business, and the way I live my nerdy life. Regardless of party affiliation, if you're running for an office from as small as city council all the way up to president, if you hit on any/all of these things, you just might get my vote.

  1. Broadband Everywhere. I want crazy South Korea/Japan style broadband I've heard about for years: 100Mbps (upload and download) fiber connections for less than $50/month with unlimited bandwidth and the ability to run your own servers. I know the US is a big spread out country and it makes this stuff somewhat difficult/costly, but it's an ambitious goal with a ton of payoff. We don't have manufacturing jobs in the US anymore: we don't make things, we don't build things, we don't sew things here, but we do have lots of ideas and inventions.

    The economy of the future in the US is going to be intertwined with the internet and if every man, woman, and child in America has all the internet access they could ever need and could quickly program, build, and deploy their own stuff on their own mega-fast lines, we'd have a million and one programmers and designers and crafters and more contributing to a new vibrant future economy. If fiber everywhere is too much, at least get 3G coverage in more places.

  2. Universal Healthcare. Everyone I know that freelances or works a day job and wishes they could quit and follow their dreams of launching a company complains about the lack of healthcare. Whenever I used to talk about freelancing at tech conferences, the first question was always about healthcare coverage. I've heard that in places like Berlin where you don't have to worry about where your healthcare is coming from or how much it costs, up to 35% of working age adults are freelancers. It may sound crazy and anti-capitalist to consider healthcare for all, but if we flipped a switch tomorrow and everyone had health coverage I swear a million small businesses would launch overnight. I know lots of people that keep a job just to get healthcare that are wasting their creative talents because they had a cancer scare or were born with a defect or otherwise are deemed uninsurable on their own.
  3. No federal taxes on internet purchases. It's worked out well for over a decade, let's just stick with not charging tax on online shopping.
  4. Renew a commitment to Education. Yes, we already spend a lot on education, but it's nothing compared to what we spend on defense. There are loads of possibilities to reform education at all levels with the goals being well-informed kids that love learning in a safe environment and can grow up to attend any college they want to (hopefully cheap or free of charge).
  5. Renew a commitment to Science. Bring back NASA and let's really fly to The Moon and Mars again. Don't let local school boards dictate that it's ok to prevent teaching proper biology (yes, the scientific method and evolution) to students. The US spent the last hundred years being at the forefront of science only to begin abandoning it as we passed into the 21st century. Engineers and scientists will continue to lead innovation in America and it seems silly in this day and age that we even have to defend the basic tenets of science from constant attack.
  6. Real changes to transportation. Increase MPG requirements for all carmakers selling vehicles in the US. Engineers love a design challenge and making a Chevy Suburban get 25mpg may seem impossible today but I'm confident a design team could develop one quickly if given the proper resources. We flew to the freakin' moon 40 years ago on the computing power of today's $5 solar calculators — we can make cars burn fuel more efficiently.

    Regarding alternate fuels, stay away from net-zero energy fuels like Hydrogen and corn-based Ethanol (for now, keep researching them though) and instead focus on what works today using existing technology. Biodiesel could work in many cities and in many cars today given the proper tax incentives to car owners and fuel station owners. Keep researching other fuels (switchgrass ethanol sure would be nice) but it feels like we're ignoring the low-hanging fruit that is biodiesel.

    Decrease foreign oil use by giving tax incentives to people that work at home, to people that ride a bicycle or walk to work, and to those using public transportation. Want to move to be closer to work? Get rid of capital gains taxes on homes sold less than two years after you take up residence if you can cut your commute in half or more.

  7. Allow early voting by mail. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the way Oregon works with regards to voting in all elections. You get voter information packets about 4-6 weeks before an election, then your ballot arrives about 2-3 weeks before the deadline. You can vote at your leisure, using wikipedia, google, and anything else you need to research your vote as you cast your vote.
  8. Revamp Copyright/IP law. Using the internet means you are making a perfect digital copy of everything you ever read, see, and hear, and it doesn't always jibe with existing copyright law. There is lots to say about this, but I wish we were a little more Lessig and a little less Disney when it comes to this realm.
  9. Fund the patent office so it can do a better job. Software patents almost universally suck and stifle innovation.
  10. Open government. Open source voting machines, xml data for every vote on every bill by every legislator. Public Domain dumps of every photograph, recording, film, and publication commissioned by the government in an easy to retrieve place.

These are all pretty much self-serving: I was a science major in college and grad school, I work from home (and am enjoying a fast fiber connection), run a company that is considering employee healthcare, my wife drives a diesel car, and I previously worked at a non-profit cofounded by Lessig. I know there aren't a ton of details and there are downsides to many things I've mentioned but I came up with my own dream list.

I know I must be missing something, what would you throw on the nerd wishlist for candidates?


  1. Hey Matt — I love this list….we’d have to rename the country ‘Nerdvana’
    One quibble with a statement in your first paragraph “We don’t have manufacturing jobs in the US anymore: we don’t make things, we don’t build things” — The US is the #2 or #3 exporting country overall in the world, and in certain industries like heavy machinery (think Caterpillar and John Deere) is far in front of Germany and China.

  2. Ah, I was mostly thinking about how American cars and definitely electronics and clothing seem to have been gone from the US for a long time.

  3. I’d add Renew a commitment to privacy. I’d like to be sure than when I communicate over any network it’s between me and the other party. That would mean no more domestic spying (without judicial oversight) and no more national security letters to ISPs.

  4. I agree with everything you’ve written. And I’ll add: restructure the way we fund public schools. Right now, schools are funded by property taxes, which means that some neighborhoods — usually majority white — have far, far more cash per student to spend than others — usually majority minority neighborhoods.
    A full 45% of 5 year olds are from ethnic or racial minorities. And minorities tend to live in neighborhoods where schools lack books, have aging infrastructures, and just generally suck boulder-sized rocks. We can’t afford to let 1/2 of our next generation get f*cked out of an education simply because their parents lack income and wealth.
    Providing better funding — so you know, there are actually full sets of test tubes in chemistry class and kids can take books home to do homework — would help these kids, these neighborhoods, and our country.
    Believe me when I say that kids know when the education they’re getting is merely prepping them for lead fry machine at McDonald’s. And that’s a big, big reason why so many check out of the educational system.

  5. Just what I’d expect from one of you latte-swilling coastal…wait, that all makes sense. Can’t call it Nerd-nation though, the focus groups will just go nuts…
    Honestly, the downsides to all of these ideas are surmountable, the upsides potentially limitless. Which I assume means we’ll hear nothing comparable no matter who wins, even if one candidate is far more likely to embrace these types of ideas than the other.

  6. I know from personal experience: the minute I set a date for my wedding, I quit my job and started my own business. A few months of COBRA carried me until I could get on my husband’s employer-based health care plan and I couldn’t be happier running my own consulting gig.

  7. I agree with all of this and I’d expand #6 to be bolder and broader: “In ten years 50 MPG for cars, 50% of energy from American-based alternative energy sources (solar, wind, etc.), 50% reduction in carbon.” Or something that crazy. I mean the moon is a great example, and I don’t see why we can’t just demand more changes now.

  8. pb: ditto on the privacy, I forgot to put that in.
    tiffany: I hear ya on the property tax thing. I will forever think of Palo Alto, CA and East Palo Alto, CA with regards to this issue. On one side you have Stanford and the most expensive homes in the area with the best schools but across the freeway to the east you have a completely different story and they are literally right next to each other.
    Liza: that used to be my answer at tech conferences “I’m married and that’s how I have healthcare and it really helps if your partner has a stable normal job with benefits if you freelance”
    Meg: yep, I think we need to aim high and give ourselves a few years to get there. I’d like to see every car company forced to have a system-wide 30-40mpg average, so they could accommodate a large construction truck in their lineup that would get offset by a subcompact.

  9. Universal broadband, universal health care… why not universal cars? Why should some people cars while others don’t? How about universal housing? Everyone deserves a nice house. And.. and.. universal food, why not, and it should be nice wholesome healthy food too.
    There’s a word for this, it starts with a C. (hint: it isn’t capitalism.)

  10. I’m sorry, but there’s a reason why number 3 is two lines and no explanation. If you want to pay for all the fantastic other goals you have, then closing up what is essentially a loophole in tax law is the perfect way to do it.
    As your nerdvana becomes more perfect, ever increasing amounts of custom will be done on the internet. Eventually, you’re either going to have to institute a tax on that or accept that sales tax is a dead idea.
    And given the cost of many of the other things, that’s a bad thing to accept.
    Something working well for 10 years means jack shit. Prohibition worked for 13. Its a loophole, it makes no sense, and it should end now.

  11. Universal broadband, universal health care… why not universal cars? Why should some people cars while others don’t? How about universal housing?
    Couple things. One, I never said universal broadband, I said broadband available everywhere in America so we can be a stronger nation. Remember the highway system post-WWII? Or how about getting electricity everywhere instead of just big cities? Like that, and I mentioned I was fully expecting to pay for it.
    The universal cars and housing are both stupid strawmen you made up so I’m not going to bother refuting them.

  12. Good list, but I don’t know if #1 would be a great idea.
    I think that if the government decided back in 1995 that everyone should have dialup internet service, we’d probably all be using 56k modems today.
    I live in a rural part of Alabama and I have plenty of options for high speed internet. When my former provider jacked up my rates every month, I had plenty of options. That wouldn’t be the case if it were provided by the government (which is why my power goes out on a weekly basis and my water tastes horrible).

  13. I don’t think internet connections should be provided by the gov’t (I think everyone has “socialist!” on the brain lately thanks to McCain).
    I mean there should be broadband available to every American home just as electricity brought us out of the dark ages and move people from working on farms to working in modern industry. You can do that by providing tax incentives or investments or no-interest loans so that telecoms and local utilities can build the infrastructure that is currently too far and/or too expensive to connect.
    There’s a very small rural town about 40 miles south of me. It’s about two hours from any major town, in the middle of nowhere and I’ve always wondered how people can live there since there seems to be no major employer beyond a tiny college campus. It turns out aside from farming and the college, the tiny town banded together and became a co-op telecom themselves and had fiber optic connections to every home almost five years ago, when it was unheard of in other parts of the entire state (most of Portland doesn’t have fiber optic available, it’s only out in the suburbs). People in that town can live in the middle of nowhere and run online businesses and stay connected with the rest of their family and the world.
    Jason Fried’s story also reminded me that it’d be nice if the federal gov’t made it a mandate and provided incentives to get the rest of the country on broadband, because it’d help us move into the next phase of industry and economic development.

  14. while i enjoy/agree most on your list. it’s odd that you want free health care then go on to say no taxes for internet purchases, which based on your comment of no more manufacturing jobs in the states, seems to be how people will make money in the future. so how exactly are you going to fund the health care?

  15. it’s odd that you want free health care
    I don’t consider it “free” since everyone is still paying federal, state, and local taxes.
    then go on to say no taxes for internet purchases
    I only mentioned it because up until now, we’ve never had federal sales taxes on stuff like amazon purchases, and it’s allowed amazon to get pretty popular and I saw no reason to reverse that trend. Local/state sales tax is fine on purchases.

  16. Free health care, not-free health care, I don’t care — I just want *guaranteed access* to health care. I am that guy with bad luck health history in the past, and now that I’ve been rejected for insurance I’m uninsurable. I can’t self-insure, not for McCain’s $2500 a year, not for $5000 a year, not for $20,000 a year with a $5000 deductible. They *will not sell to me*.
    If (when) I start my own business, I’m on COBRA initially and then the state pool I guess.
    This is basically what you’re saying with the broadband. I’ll pay market prices, of course; I’d just like the government to cure the externalities that prevent universal availability. In the case of broadband, it’s the infrastructure investment. In the case of health care, it’s that individual insurees are in a pool of “1” instead of a pool of “300,000,000”.

  17. While I strongly believe in universal health care I don’t think that it necessarily drives a significantly drives small business growth.
    In Canada we’ve always had universal health care and I think it correlates with a higher quality of life and also reduces the gap between rich and poor but I don’t think we’re more ‘entrepreneurial’ than the US. It’s probably because universal health care would yield an increase in taxes to counter the growth incentive offered by ‘free’ health care.
    Still the benefits yield other socioeconomic gains that completely validates the concept. It’s frightening to think that people don’t get treated for their *health* in the US because of cost.

  18. I have no idea where you have heard about about these facts about Berlin. Yes, there may be lots of freelancers but lots of them are freelancing because they have to not because they choose to. Because they are not able to get a job. And who told you that you not have to worry about your healthcare in Germany? Do you have any idea how much healthcare costs there?

  19. 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are solid.
    #1: Move out of the mountains if you want Internet. Or pay a ton of money for it. It’s not fair to penalize people in populated areas so you can bring Internet to the boonies.
    #2: What if I don’t want health care? What if I would rather drink and smoke and die young and happy and save all that money? You’d be surprised how many people who lack health care do so because they don’t think it’s worth it, not because they can’t afford it.
    #4: Not everyone was meant to go to college, and trying to force everyone into higher education takes away resources from those who truly want and can succeed at higher education. You’ve bemoaned the loss of manufacturing jobs in America… many would do better to take an apprenticeship after high school than spend four years in college and two decades paying off their loans by working at McDonald’s.
    #5: With you on getting religion out of science, but NASA? How has your life improved because Americans walked on the moon? NASA is huge, slow, inefficient, and completely unsustainable. Richard Branson FTW.
    #6: Leave it to the market. Oil isn’t getting any more plentiful, and demand is going up. Something has to give, and it doesn’t take government intervention for it to happen.
    And I have a geeky one to add:
    Choice Voting. Instead of choosing the lesser of two evils, you can choose the candidate you really want, and then put the lesser of two evils as your backup. They do it in Ireland. I don’t think that we can break the two party system without this. I’ve had enough of elections between a Left-leaning warmongering collectivist and a Right-leaning warmongering collectivist. Let’s get some new blood into politics.

  20. Well I’m an Australian, so I don’t have much say in how the U.S. overlords effect the rest of the planet, but the main thing I’d find missing from this list would be a commitment to sustainability – and longer term, smarter thinking –
    this is touched on with transport and science, but our overall energy use ( and its impact on climate change ) and a whole plethora of issues like biodversity and extinction rates, water in the 21st century, intelligent agriculture and food production – should need to be addressed for any decent nerd-president worth their seasalt..

  21. Why does it have to be universal healthcare? You could achieve the same results by giving healthcare to people who start their own businesses without also giving it to bums.

  22. Tied in with the healthcare, I would love to see self-employment taxes revamped. The way they are right now is optimised towards small companies, not to individuals who are self-employed. Individuals get screwed over mightily because they don’t usually have all the deductions of an actual business, but are still paying 15% SE taxes. Not only that, but the percentage is flatrate no matter how much you make. This year I scraped by on about $20,000 total self-employed (for me and my unemployed husband) and even though that’s not that much above the poverty level, there’s no escaping the 15%. The US currently punishes people for being self-employed.

  23. HERE HERE! Open source voting is something i have been calling for since 2000. It’s either that, or get the UN to come in and MONITOR our elections./

  24. #7.
    I research the candidates, issues and law proposals BEFORE I decide to vote. I don’t see an advantage of using Wikipedia while I am voting.
    Maybe I’m a little disenfranchised, voting in Florida for the last two presidential elections, but I do not trust the Supervisor of Election enough to feel comfortable in mailing in my vote.
    I did use early voting. Ballot has already been cast!
    Good list! Thanks!

  25. I love this! Especially the part about universal healthcare INCREASING entrepreneurship and small business development in this country.

  26. I think a nerd foreign policy might be in order as well- going after the DDOS gangs and bot herders in eastern europe and china would go a long way to reducing the endless SSH probes on all servers everywhere. While we certainly don’t want the US to be enforcing our laws overseas so much, it would be awfully helpful if the local authorities would shut down some of those aholes.

  27. @Mark Jaquith, Richard Branson’s suborbital ride is no match for a moon mission.
    There’s a good reason why none of the privately-funded spaceships actually go to orbit, much less the moon: it’s really really hard. Exponentially harder, in a very real sense, than a sub-orbital lob.
    The amount of fuel you need is exponential in the “distance” you’re going (measured by delta-v). Since orbit is about 6-7 times further than the minimal sub-orbital spaceflight, you can see the problem. Worse still, more fuel means bigger tanks and eventually you just can’t build fuel tanks light enough.
    Unfortunately, you cannot change the laws of physics. What would help would be a better rocket engine, but we don’t have one.

  28. I agree with Kelvin on the Universal Health Care issue. It terrifies me to think that had I been born south of the border I would literally have to get a job to meet a basic need that is kind of essential when it comes to things like… getting a job. Grace seems to make a better point for economic growth due to personal incentive, though.
    I would instantly vote for anybody who backed these issues and didn’t completely disagree with me on a few other personal issues, but the fact is that with the electoral system the way it is now, politicians are in it as a career, not to actually represent people (unless the people they’re representing are paying for their election). Electoral reform is something that nobody is going to actually go through with once they win, though, because of the uncertainty of winning under a new system.

  29. Yeah, the “we don’t make stuff here anymore” thing isn’t true at all. 85% of the world’s refrigeration and air conditioning stuff, just for example. Cars, engines, airplanes, diesel engines especially, construction equipment, and I could go on and on. Just because it’s stuff *you* don’t buy doesn’t mean it’s not made :).
    Otherwise, a very fine article I’m forwarding to friends. The points about healthcare are generally interesting also, I’d love to see an economists take on it.

  30. I just voted by mail, so obviously I consider it a valid option, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily the best way to have as a default. It has all the advantages you mention, but it also has one big flaw.
    The problem is that nobody knows whether Big Tony was standing behind me with his little piggy eyes watching me fill out the ballot the way Da Boss wanted it filled.
    Considering some of the heavy-leaning tactics some companies already use to fight unions, for example (*cough*Wal-Mart*cough) I’m not sure we want to do away with the secret ballot guaranteed by using polling booths as a standard.
    Mail-in ballots are very convenient, but convenience is not the highest design goal for this particular purpose – accuracy and resistance to subversion are more important.

  31. convenience is not the highest design goal for this particular purpose – accuracy and resistance to subversion are more important.
    Given only ~50% of eligible voters bother to vote, I still think convenience is a main goal of getting more people to vote.
    I know it’s easy to look stuff up ahead of time and there are advantages of voting at a location, but both of those things take significant planning and time, and I know most people are too busy to spend a couple hours doing research weeks ahead of an election and many have trouble taking time off work to hit the polling place.
    In Oregon, I’ve never actually mailed my ballot in using the postal service, you can drop them in special ballot boxes curbside at the county courthouse, or walk them into the elections office itself within the county courthouse and I’ve always done either of those.

  32. I’m with you on almost all of this, but I want to expand on #5. We don’t just need to re-commit to science but to research as well. Congress and the Bush Administration have flat-lined NSF and NIH grant funding now for most of this decade. That, combined with the post-9/11 restrictions on J-1 visas, has resulted in scientific and medical research leaving the country.
    Whenever an American wins a Nobel in any science, it’s more than likely because of something they did on NSF’s dime. American Nobel winners in medicine, same thing, only with NIH money. This year’s Nobel with the jellyfish pigment came from a jellyfish collected at a University of Washington lab funded partially with NSF grants by a researcher on an NIH grant.
    Federally funded research is what drives science and medicine forward in this country. The continued flat-lining of that funding puts us at risk of falling behind. We have to restore NIH and NSF funding — and then promote the hell out of science and research so we can stay on top.
    Maybe someone should get around to forming a high school group for geeks already. Future Geeks of America, anyone?

  33. The problem I see with universal healthcare though is that in America everybody wants a huge chunk of money. So if we boosted the healthcare up to a huge thing, we would be paying the extended costs on top of all of the costs we pay today. But if they made it so everyone paid JUST the federal health care cost, no insurance, no doctors fees, nothing else, you could probably make it work.

  34. We could cut the defense budget by 50%, still spend as much on defense as every other country in the world put together, and have universal health care (plus universal K-12 education and other social programs).

  35. im in, but the whole idea is too efficient and too logical for our governmental structure, it would not fly because theres no mention of special interest groups, lobbyists, payoffs, bribes, no mention of corrupt political agendas, i mean… how would the criminal element that permeates our government be able to profit from this……what am i THINKING!? they would figure out a way. also there is no mention of how all of this will help us destroy, kill or otherwise endanger other members of the worldwide community.

  36. 1. I recommend a pro-nuclear platform. There’s little point in defending technology as long as nitwits can shut down any technology they think will give them cooties.
    2. We must deregulate crippled and lobotomized chemistry sets. Both parties could promise that. The only difference would be in who they blame.
    3. Contrary to what another commenter said, I think we should expand H1-B and similar programs. There’s no reason to limit a pro-nerd platform to those nerds currently hanging around here. Along similar lines, I’d like to restrict “eugenic” abortions as soon as there’s a pre-natal test for Asperger’s syndome.

  37. A lot of these programs would be a possibility if vested interests didn’t have a powerful hold of the politicians who enact and vote for legislation. Think of a few important pieces of legislation that would restrict corporate influence and hegemony in Washington and see the dominos fall after that. Don’t dream it.

  38. Politicos like to promise no new taxes, then tax and give the proceeds to themselves and friends.
    No tax on Internet purchases sounded great to me. Then I was the victim of identity theft and where did I have to go to have investigated fraud.? The local state police station.

  39. Your #1 item is fantastic! It's very much a "Duh" moment for me. I've read a lot lately (Richard Florida, Dan Pink, etc.) that America's new export is ideas….creativity and innovation now rule the day. If we as a country are going to develop those ideas we need a connecting infrastructure. Broadband it is.

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