Pointed critiques of Bloomberg’s egregious behavior and the damaging policies he advanced as mayor of New York have filled media feeds for months. Many progressives are heartened by the results of the Nevada primary. Bernie Sanders’s star is rising, and Bloomberg, despite deep pockets and support from centrist insiders, seems less likely to be the Democratic nominee.
Even so, the power Bloomberg holds over national public policy should not be underestimated. It is vital to connect his past activities, ones that were incredibly harmful to the Black community and low-income people, to his current efforts that aim to transform government into an extension of transnational global capital using a combination of innovative municipal finance, data analytics, and smart city infrastructure.
In a recent MSNBC clip, Anand Giridharadas, said his book Winner Take All was written to expose “dance moves” executed by the super rich to distract people from what is actually happening. He noted Bloomberg made a fortune selling data terminals to global finance, whose activities have contributed to the economic misery of many, many people. Anyone who reads my blog knows poverty is THE raw material for pay for success finance. Bloomberg has been in on this market from the ground floor.
Bloomberg Philanthropies acted as guarantor for the first social impact bond in the United States at Riker’s Island. In 2012 he prepared a briefing paper titled “Bringing Social Impact Bonds to New York City.” In 2018, Tracy Palandjian at Social Finance lauded his “What Works Cities” certification program, noting her hopes that participating cities would be able to more quickly scale pay for success finance using new tools like outcomes rate cards. The post housing-crash decade of austerity and precarity has teed up social impact investing as the new growth sector for Bloomberg’s oligarch network. No one in mass media is openly talking about THAT part of the story.
Privatizing social services using “evidence-based” programs that extract human capital data to facilitate performance contracts is the next phase of this brutal game. The “pay for success” game is not, however, exclusive to Bloomberg. It has advanced with broad bipartisan support. Federal legislation including the Foundations for Evidence Based Policy Making Act and the Social Impact Partnership Pay For Results Act paved the way for this agenda. FEPA passed the House with a 95% approval rate! While Giridharadas shines a spotlight on some of the dance moves, for now pay for success finance remains back stage. It seems no one is eager to unpack Moneyball government. Far easier to simply close with “rich-splaining” than complicate the narrative. Listen to the clip here.
With Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “What Works Cities” operating in over one hundred communities and counting, the billionaire class is poised to spread the trauma he inflicted on New York across the nation and around the world.
The partners in Bloomberg Philanthropies “What Works Cities” program include:
Behavioral Insights Team: Spin-off of the UK “nudge unit” that advances behavioral economics research to shape public service delivery.
Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab: Successor to the Social Impact Bond Lab. Provides technical support to scale pay for success projects nationally.
Johns Hopkins Center for Government Excellence: Established in 2015 with a gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies to transform government operation through data infrastructure.
Results For America: Administrator of “What Works Cities” and intermediary between “evidence-based” policy implementation and social impact investors.
Sunlight Foundation: Tech and finance funding think tank promoting use of technology to advance transparency in government spending.
The Davos crowd knows more poverty is coming, and that poverty will be monitored in ever more sophisticated ways (cue food stamps on Blockchain). Smart city surveillance was refined in lower Manhattan by Microsoft and the New York City Police Department with Bloomberg’s blessing and homeland security funding. Domain Awareness System has been adopted in numerous cities and by the governments of Brazil and Singapore. One of my recent posts examines Trump’s Operation Relentless Pursuit policing program and provides insight into the target cities along with Bloomberg’s ties to urban surveillance.
In the data-driven future of Bloomberg’s dreams, stop-and-frisk will include hive-mind drones and robot police dogs; education privatization proceeds with digital vouchers, stackable credentials, and teachers transformed into gamified avatars; gentrification forces unhoused folks into Blockchain identity systems and “smart” cargo containers where their every move is tracked for “impact.” Add brutality to his previous policies and plug them into a world of Big Data where targeted individuals are valued for their compliance to pathway programs as bits and pieces of global investment portfolios.
It will be a surveillance society beholden to corporate interests where public services are aligned to UN Sustainability Development Goals (UN SDGs) and efficiently measured to maximize profit for impact investors. A majority of the UN SDGs are framed as “anti-poverty” initiatives that allow billionaires to make money from micro-management of the misery of the poor. Bloomberg served as special envoy to the United Nations for Climate Change and was a global ambassador for non-communicable diseases to the World Health Organization. He chaired the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board, which is part of the Impact Management Project and partnered with Credly, a digital badging software company.
He has his pulse on how the very real social welfare concerns of progressives can be twisted by his fellow bad actors to turn a tidy profit. It’s all in how the deals are structured, and how the data is harvested. Bloomberg made his fortune creating innovative financial products and collecting and analyzing data. If you’re unfamiliar with how the UN SDGs interface with global finance, read this post.
Michael Bloomberg UN SDG Map here.
With the advent of 5G and quantum computing, the visions of technocracy advanced nearly a century ago by Howard Scott may be coming to fruition. Government run by industrial engineers, technocrats, was a premise first investigated by Columbia University in the 1930s. Now Neil Kleiman and his colleagues at the NYU GovLab are advancing a similar approach branded this time around as “open data” and “civic tech.” GovLab,based in the Tandon School of Engineering, hosts several programs that support social impact finance. These include the Google and MacArthur Foundation funded Research Network on Opening Governance, the Data Labs project, and Innovations in Open Grantmaking.
Kleiman, a liberal, and Stephen Goldsmith, a conservative former mayor of Indianapolis who briefly served as Bloomberg’s Deputy Mayor of Operations and later led Harvard’s Data Smart City Solutions, are members of the “What Works Cities” standards committee. The two men published a book in 2017 titled A New City OS. The new “operating system” they pitched embraces distributed governance as a way to “restore public trust.” In reality that “openness” will usher in a wave of public-private partnerships intended to unlock public data so companies can pillage communal assets and develop products like predictive policing software.
The video below is a gathering Kleiman participated in at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Policy Research Initiative in the winter of 2018. It gives you a sense of the scope of data-driven government. I ask a question about pay for success finance at timestamp 57 minutes.
While not specifically identified as technocracy, algorithmic governance aligns with the ideals popularized by Thorstein Veblen and later stewarded by Zbigniew Brzezinski and members of the Trilateral Commission, of which Bloomberg is a member. Tracking the exact input and outputs of a nation’s economy was not possible with the technology available in the 1930s or the 1970s. Advances in ubiquitous computing and digital identity make it seem those challenges could eventually be addressed. Today global finance has embedded itself firmly into most government operations.
Cadres of technocrats are being lined up to service this industrial government vision. A new effort, Public Interest Technology – University Network, is being led by New America with financial support from the Ford and Hewlett Packard Foundations, both major players in global impact investing. Twenty-one prestigious universities have signed on to deliver the interdisciplinary training that data scientists will need to manage operating systems designed to engineer “living cities,” humans and infrastructure, to meet the financial expectations (impact) of Bloomberg and the Davos crowd.
Interactive map of Public Interest Technology – University Network here.
Harnessing the people of the United States to “What Works” government policies would be a crowning achievement for this electrical engineering major who used his expertise and a Harvard MBA to create a name for himself in bond sales at Salomon Brothers. Bloomberg leveraged that experience to become one of the largest purveyors of data analytics in finance. He pivoted to government “service” where as mayor of one of the world’s power centers he created a test-bed for data-driven policies. As a “philanthropist,” this billionaire is collaborating with finance and technology interests to hijack what remains of the social safety net, transforming it into a digital containment system to wring a few last drops of profit from the masses that will be thrown out of work by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Even if he’s not able to set up shop in the Oval Office, Bloomberg’s extensive partnerships indicate he’s not likely to quietly exit stage left if he loses his bid for the presidency. He’s working with Harvard Kennedy School to train hundreds of civic leaders; has tapped Results for America to oversee national implementation of “evidence-based” programs; and partnered with Living Cities to expand the network of change-agent Innovation Teams (iTeams). Cities, apparently, are the most attractive “unit of change.”
Bloomberg Government Innovation interactive map here.
Bloomberg has billions to burn, and his plan is to bring global impact investing to scale. If his A-game doesn’t pan out, you can be sure there’s a Plan B. Imagine a truly progressive candidate wins the election. How likely is it that state and local governments will turn their backs on innovation zones, predatory public-private partnerships, and “pay for success” performance-based contracting? It seems far more likely that leaders groomed by Bloomberg whose communities have accepted Bloomberg Philanthropies’ largesse will continue to play along, even if it means vulnerable citizens are put on Blockchain and turned into profit centers for social entrepreneurs.
What gives me hope is that there are more big-hearted people out there than technocrats. People of diverse backgrounds are uniting to demand wealth inequality be addressed, to demand people’s needs be met, to demand an end to violent systems of state control and police brutality.
My concern is that the very real needs for which these people are fighting have been set up as social impact markets.
So, will those of us who see the bigger picture be able to expose all the oligarchs’ sneaky “dance moves?”
Once we do that will we be able to come up with alternative sources of finance that do not require toddlers to be put on surveillance tables; veterans suffering from PTSD to be assigned text-bot therapists; or diabetic patients to have IoT sensors in their shoes to access the public service so desperately needed?
Can we convince people that Blockchain identity and 5G won’t offer liberation, but is instead a way for capitalism and private (digital) property rights to jump into virtual reality? That augmented reality is the next settler-colonial frontier?
Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, more here.
Can we strive for right relationships and banish technocracy once and for all?
People know the countless terrible things Michael Bloomberg has done in the past, but not enough people are talking about “what works,” data-driven, technocratic government. I’m not holding my breath for mainstream media to sound the alarm. There are too many hands in the Moneyball government cookie jar. We must do it. Please, share this information and broaden the conversation. If technocrats are able to redirect public demands for progressive public policy into the predatory architecture of pay for success finance, it will be a terrible loss for humanity and the planet.
PS: If you haven’t read my post in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people, check it out here. Freda Huson and those around her are a perfect antidote for the toxicity of Bloomberg and his ilk. This is where hope lives.