A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Dallas and Tulsa, connect in person with friends and research collaborators, see local sites of “social entrepreneurship,” and meet others who are developing strategies to fight the coming tide of predatory “human capital investment.” For important background on the disruption that is overtaking Tulsa, I recommend you read Julianne Romanello’s feature article in the Tulsa Star, George Kaiser’s Social Impact Philanthropy: How A Billionaire Turned North Tulsa’s Misery Into A Cash Cow.
During this visit I gave several presentations. Below are three of them, as well as a Facebook Live feed from an informational leafleting action held at an Impact Tulsa event. While the Wednesday and Saturday talks are on the same topic, the first has more audience participation while the second gets through the whole slide deck. It’s a lot to take in, but I wanted to put it all in one place for future reference. I believe the importance of the information shared here will become more evident as the takeover of public benefit systems by “stakeholder capitalists” picks up steam. You can access the slide share for the Tulsa talks here.
Tuesday Discussion in Dallas
Wednesday Evening Presentation, Downtown Library, Tulsa, OK, filmed by Green Country DSA
Saturday Morning Presentation, Downtown Library, Tulsa, OK
Leafletting at Impact Tulsa’s Pathways to Opportunity Event at OSU, January 23, 2020
In preparing for my visit I discovered both Dallas and Tulsa are piloting Blockchain high school transcripts. Promoters of Blockchain credentials tout their convenience as well as their capacity to aggregate demonstrations of competencies earned from a variety sources. That, of course, is the infrastructure needed to set up “anytime, anywhere lifelong learning ecosystems.” It will also enable the tracking of people’s economic output against their “education” over time, throwing open the door to widespread adoption of income-sharing agreements. Both are crucial elements needed to scale human capital investment markets globally.
If social impact financiers get their way, future generations will no longer have access to physical school buildings in their communities. It will be in the interests of the elite to suppress social discourse and free idea sharing among the masses as the Fourth Industrial Revolution begins to pick up speed. Instead, we will see efforts to transition to screen-based and wearable technologies that deliver “just-in-time” “personalized” learning content via OER (open education resources). Blockchain will be used to “verify” that individuals, now reduced to raw material for digital processing, have acquired the skills that chamber of commerce executives deem desirable for maintaining their planned regional economies.
As people progress along assigned “cradle to career” pathways, service providers and global investors will collect “impact” payments. Children and older “lifelong learners” will be expected to demonstrate “success,” jumping through the hoops designated by the government officials and investors who set up “pay for success” deals. “Education” will thus be transformed into a grueling, gamified exercise carried out in an augmented reality, surveillance world from which there is no escape, until perhaps one reaches the “gray” stage. Each point along the path is clearly identified, so profit can be continuously harvested as long as some level of “growth” is shown. Increasingly “growth” will entail students and older knowledge workers performing appropriate mindsets. That is why demonstrations of social-emotional competencies have become more and more central to the “educational” process.
For financiers, it is never too soon for children to start building portfolios of badges. Curating a desirable data brand from birth will be key to becoming a successful competitor in the artificial intelligence hiring, global platform, gig-economy Hunger Games. They are attempting to delude people into thinking that if they can log every aspect of their life as a job qualification, they will have a better shot at employment; when in fact, the micro-credential race will enable employers to more effectively pit workers against one another and regulate society using “educational” micro-debt products.
Even though “philanthropists” have put unborn children on Blockchain in Tanzania, and toddlers on Blockchain in South Africa, I expect someone made the calculation that it was not yet palatable to do that in the United States. A better point of entry here is the high school transcript. People would likely question the need to assign a digital identity to a three year old, but by framing it as an “improved” high school transcript, one that could be linked to “free college” no less, adoption of digital identities for workforce development could slip in with few realizing the magnitude of what actually happened.
Thus a generation of children is about to be transformed, on Blockchain, as raw material for the “impact economy,” a system that will run on predictive profiling and real time “smart city” data aggregation. This is what is being discussed now in Davos under the banner of “stakeholder capitalism,” neoliberal poverty management carried out as an extension of the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals. This apparatus is designed to profit the global elite, as refugees and the global poor will be forced to code the geo-fenced digital jails meant to contain them. Offering up their unfree labor will thus become a prerequisite to survive in a world where human labor is rapidly being made obsolete by 5G, robots, and the internet of things.
Union Public Schools in Tulsa, which services 19,000 students, signed on to Blockcerts last April. Blockcerts is an alternative credentialing system refined by MIT spin-off Learning Machine. It premiered in the United States at Southern New Hampshire University, which is led by Paul Leblanc, one of the education advisors to Ridge Lane LP. The district’s ninth graders will be issued full digital transcripts when they graduate.
Dallas County Promise is a “scholarship program” set up ostensibly to combat the “skills gap” and aid students in acquiring post-secondary credentials. In reality it is just as much about creating an apparatus to grow human capital impact investment markets. Last year the program partnered with Manoj Kutty’s Greenlight Credentials and Salesforce.
According to Global Education Futures Initiative advisory board member Tom Vander Ark, this digital transcript will allow Dallas students to “tell their whole story.” Of course we know that means tracking in demand “soft skills” that will inform future investors of a person’s perceived worth as “human capital.” According to a project overview by Salesforce, which provides technical support for the program’s “Education Cloud” digital nudge service, students who sign up for the program are immediately put on a “communications journey.” Thus the digital processing and compliance monitoring begins.
Commit! managed by Todd Williams, a former Goldman Sachs executive, is a partner in the Dallas County Promise effort. It is one of the largest and most influential “collective impact” programs in the country. More background on Commit’s collaboration with DataKind to engineer “gap-closing” “solutions” by deploying social impact finance can be found on Lynn Davenport’s write up here.
There are other big money players in on the game. JP Morgan Chase provided the seed funding for Dallas’s “free college” program. JP Morgan has made numerous significant donations to organizations involved in the privatization of public education, “evidence-based” policies, and the development of “stackable credential” systems. See map below. Interactive version here.
In the spring of 2019 a $1.1 billion bond was passed to expand the operations of the Dallas County Community College District. The bond’s passage was, however, contested by Kurt Launius who filed a lawsuit charging voting irregularities. Launius submitted over 4,500 pages of evidence to back up his claims.
Commit’s offices are located directly across the street from Old Parkland, which I will describe in more detail below. That office complex houses the Dallas Foundation and Tom Luce’s Texas 2036. Human capital speculation is big, big business – a bipartisan business – and it seems a lot of the groundwork is being laid within the leafy confines of that exclusive campus. The futures of coming generations are wrapped up in the calculated conversations going on behind closed doors. The map below shows relationships between Commit!, Old Parkland tenants, and special guests of Harlan Crow. These guests were identified on a framed document seen hanging outside Crow’s fancy Debate Room. Interactive version of map here.
Under the banner of “convenience,” coming generations will be turned into data commodities, their behavioral compliance to authoritarian systems recorded on Blockchain. Thus they can be risk-profiled, their futures exchanged as data in service of global markets. While some still cling to the idea that we’re headed towards a Star Trek techno-utopia, it feels far more likely our destination will more closely resemble the panopticon of Zamyatin’s 1921 novel “We.”
The screen shots below are taken from the education timeline created by the Global Education Futures Initiative.
From Global Education Futures Initiative, see maps and posters tab, here.
During my visit to Dallas I dropped in to check out the Debate Room at Old Parkland, described by the Dallas News as the most expensive, invitation-only office space in the city. Originally a hospital that closed in the 1980s and sat vacant for many years, Harlan Crow bought it from the city in 2006 and developed it as an enclave where the public-private partnership deals of the impact economy and “smart city” development could be hammered out.
It is telling that the architecture and artwork bolsters the mythology of America’s founding fathers as an ideal to be embraced. According to the Dallas news feature:
“This is an American fantasyland created by Crow as an homage to the American Experiment. Towering bronze statues of founding fathers George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin stand as sentinels at three buildings. ‘The idea was to celebrate the ideas of the American founding using specific founders, but also their intellectual antecedents from the Enlightenment,’ says Crow, who’s more than just a history buff. ‘So there’s a lot of John Locke and Adam Smith and guys from the Enlightenment who never came to America but who greatly influenced the founders.’”
But as Tim Scott lays out in his meticulous analysis of The Duplicitous U.S. Constitution published in Dissident Voice in 2017, such myths have always been and continue to be used to mask the ongoing violence that defines our national psyche.
“A nation where private property rights are akin to natural rights, therefore framing capitalism, no matter how brutal, with benevolent intent and thus inviolable. These structural foundations, which are rooted within the barbarism of chattel slavery and the brutality of gender oppression, constructed an enduring national culture defined by genocide, dispossession, white supremacy, anti-blackness, heteropatriarchy, misogyny, social inequity and wealth inequality. Over three centuries later, despite significant efforts by resistance movements to transform it, this underlying national culture persists; entwined within an era where mass surveillance, mass incarceration, unprecedented wealth inequality and unending militarism are perversely justified as imperatives to preserve freedom, democracy and the mythical ‘American Dream.’”
We have arrived at the threshold of techno-fascism precisely because so many cling to myths of “enlightened” white men. Many of these men advanced revolution so they could profit from illegal land speculation. They included men who owned and raped enslaved Black women while issuing statements such as the one featured on an Old Parkland bronze lamppost: “I prefer a rebellious liberty to a peaceful slavery.” That was Jefferson’s letter to Madison in 1787. These contradictions can no longer hold. We are the supply chain, all of us. Once human labor is no longer needed for manufacturing, service and knowledge work, the sole value most of us will possess is our willingness to serve the system as obedient impact commodities. The protections offered by whiteness, professional credentials, and meritocracy will no longer apply.
Now is the time to start acknowledging our long-standing American nightmare. Blockchain identity will usher in neo-slavery at an unimaginable scale. As a society we have never reckoned with the fact that our wealth and power as a nation was built on genocide, land theft, enslavement and forced labor. Soon many more people will be staring into the great maw of late stage capitalism, our futures foreclosed as robots and algorithms are trained to replace us.
So, how will we proceed? Will we begin to address our brutal history? Will we strive for right relations with one another and the planet? Will we build a world where ALL people enjoy self-determination and equal opportunity for fulfilling, life-sustaining work? Where resources are shared in a spirit of abundance, turning our backs on imposed scarcity and brutal competition?
Will we push back against oligarchs who meet in sumptuous basement rooms festooned with Greek inscriptions and inscrutable coins inset into the paneling? Where bad art and bronze plaques extoll the idea of people as private property, targets for debt collectors who seek to profit from mass dispossession?
Now is the time. Given the disturbing Ides of March painting that presides over the Old Parkland Debate Room, we should be very concerned about the extent to which their plans are already in motion.
Images of Old Parkland
A painting depicting The Ides Of March dominates the debate room. The Ides of March was a time for debt collection. Following the assassination of Julius Caesar, Rome was plunged into a period of civil war.
Exterior View Coming Up Oak Lawn Avenue
Map Showing Debate Room, Dallas Foundation, Texas 2036, and Commit! Offices
Guests of Old Parkland 2006-2016
Freedom’s Charge Statue In Interior Courtyard
Consider this plaque at the entrance to the building that houses the debate chamber within the context of Blockchain identity and global human capital impact investing.
Debate Chamber, 75 Seats
Atrium at Debate Chamber Entrance: DNA, Steve Jobs, Nixon, Churchill and FDR with Eisenhower. Note lamp posts.
Statements On Lamp Bases Speaking to Protection of Private Property
Allegory of 9/11 With Founding Fathers
References to Antiquity In Debate Room
Homage to Steve Jobs and Technology