Civic Hacking

In light of our conversations yesterday about activism to push back against the interface, a couple of articles in today’s news seemed relevant and hopeful to me. Ever the optimist, I want to believe we don’t have to concede to the cultural engine but can push back against it, even if it’s not easy. So, the first article I encountered seems like civic hacking, though it’s the second article that uses that term explicitly. A Seattle CEO who normally takes in a $1 million salary per year read an article about happiness and salary and was convinced by the data that indicated happiness rises with increased salary but tops off at about 75K. So, he reduced his own salary and raised his employees’ salaries all to 70K. it’s the kind of choice people sometimes make that seems to be against self but clearly uses information to make a choice that might be beneficial: his employees are certainly more loyal now and he is still in that sweet salary spot for happiness (and btw, he has been making 1 million per year prior to this. I think he’ll be ok.)

The second article talks directly about civic hacking. Here, professionals of varied stripes come together to make change, often at the local level, not, I think, unlike what we discussed as humanists being on the team to make positive change with more tech-oriented folk.

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3 thoughts on “Civic Hacking

  1. Price is a bit more distasteful for several reasons.

    “There will be sacrifices,” said Price, 30. “But once the company’s profit is back to the $2.2 million level, my pay will go back. So that’s good motivation.”

    And he knows that revenue stream will be realized because,

    “Rather than see this as a charitable offer to his workers, Price sees the pay raises as an investment. In theory, workers motivated by higher salaries will ultimately attract more business and handle clients better.”

    Because, the reality is that “This is a capitalist solution to a social problem,” Price said. “I think it pays for itself, I really do.”

    I concede that I would rather “invest” in people but consider as well the distribution figures at play. The pay increases dramatically affects (doubles or more their income) only one-quarter of the 120 employees — meaning 90 of them were very near, at, or above the $70,000 amount. I also note that stock options and equity sharing are occluded — the “blinded by salary” trick popular amongst techies. If you really want to invest in people, let them OWN the company for which they are working. Diluted profit sharing is not a guarantee, and the inequality has a mechanism to return with boosted performance, as Price himself noted.

    The civic hacking, on the other hand, rouses an optimist even in me (apparently the fatalist of our group).

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    • Oh, Matt, thanks for pouring water on our civic optimism. 🙂 While the Dan Price solution may not be an actual solution, it at least raises the living wage concern, as well as the imbalance of CEO to staff pay. Along those lines, the Presbyterian Church “corporate” headquarters has a policy that their chief officer can never make more than 10 times the lowest paid employee. Efforts like that do, I think, lead to forward movement on the issue.

      This Seattle CEO story came up in a “Vocations in the Health Professions” course I guest lectured in this week. Those students, many of whom are pre-med, pre-dentistry, or pre-nursing, very much had salary on their minds. They wanted to be clear they weren’t going into the profession for the salary, but they also couldn’t pretend it’s not a significant factor. For them, the student loan question, particularly, pushed the salary piece. If they graduate with an average debt level of 38K from Concordia, and then pick up another 100K in medical school, having a salary to help pay off those loans is not an unreasonable concern.

      What they longed for, but felt powerless to do, is this larger hacking question. They’d prefer not to take on the debt and then get the salary of 75K, but they’re stuck with the system we have. It’ll take all of us working together to make a significant shift, but I share Amy’s optimism (for today, at least) that suggests it’s progress with the conversation surfaces.

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