The Network Revolution

global-network

By Mike Cronin

Every so often you come across a book that leads you to multiple epiphanies.  “The Seventh Sense” by Joshua Cooper Ramo is turning out to be such a book for me (I haven’t finished it yet). Ramo’s theme:  Networks are the next revolution, are you ready to capitalize on that?  This post is not quite a book review – it’s more a chronicle of some of the thoughts it has prompted so far.

Historians, archaeologists, and geologists like to describe history and pre-history in terms of epochs, periods, and ages, such as the Cretaceous Period, the Jurassic Period,  the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Space Age, etc.  In human history, the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, and the Enlightenment brought Western Civilization out of the Dark Ages and mark the beginning of the increasing pace of change. They signaled the advancement from superstition to science.  Those who best understood the power of reason over tradition were best –positioned to become the elite.  The Industrial Revolution marked a similar point – those who best understood the promise of industrializing were best positioned to become the elite: Getty, Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.

Since that time we’ve had the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, the Space Age, and the Information Age; and again, those who could best foresee the advantages of the advancements of their time became the elites. Howard Hughes. Bill Gates. Michael Dell.

The next historical paradigm shift may very well be centered on harnessing the power of networks. Human networks started small with clans and tribes, and then grew into cities and nations and empires…which built physical networks of trade routes and roads.  Trans-oceanic shipping started to tie the nations, cities and empires together across and around the globe, but the connection speed was very slow – weeks or months, or even years.

Steam power shrunk that time to days or weeks across the oceans…and continents, on rail networks. The telegraph and radio and television accelerated message transmission to the speed of light, but the bandwidth was still very narrow.

Along came computers and the internet, and advanced us to the current state of affairs: instant, high-bandwidth communication to almost anywhere on the globe.  Here’s where Ramos comes in: We are nodes in networks, be it human, mechanical, or electronic.  The people who best understand networks and how to leverage their advantages are becoming, or are poised to become, the next generation of elites. Jeff Bezos. Mark Zuckerberg. Sergey Brin.

In my view, such a radical paradigm shift could lead to the replacement of the nation-state (i.e. country) as the model for organizing human geopolitical affairs.  Instead of a world divided into hundreds of countries with hundreds of governments, imagine two global entities: The connected world, and the isolated world. The so-called Globalists may be onto this concept, but they generally have been going about achieving it the wrong way.  Some of them were (or still are) putting the cart before the horse.  They had already attained some measure of “elite-ness” in the existing Space Age and Information Age paradigms, then anointed themselves as our betters and purported to tell us how we were to usher in their vision of things – with themselves on the top, people like George Soros.  Many such globalists miscalculated badly with the US election, while President Trump’s campaign team represents an effective example of the new paradigm.  Trump’s message may smack of nationalism, but his campaign strategists still shrewdly demonstrated a facility with the power of networks that eluded the globalist elites.  The Trump campaign spent half as much money as Hillary Clinton’s, yet it harnessed the power of social media networks to connect “nodes” the Clinton campaign ignored and to bypass the mainstream media.  This strategy was at least partially responsible for Trump’s electoral win.

Time will tell whether his Cabinet and other advisers will show the same prescience as his campaign strategists.  Meanwhile, you and I and our children must learn to harness the power of networks if we are to remain relevant in the coming Network Revolution.

Trolling by Polling

funny_hillary_clinton_vs_donald_trump_election_postcard-ra42557157e2745d582361c25dfe3b9db_vgbaq_8byvr_630

By Mike Cronin

Now that the presidential campaign season is in full swing, we are being treated to the usual inundation of “demographic” polling results (i.e. how are “soccer moms,” Hispanics, gays, white men, etc. going to vote?)  Taken individually, as they are usually reported, the vast majority of these polls tell us nothing useful.  Piolls that tell us how a state will vote are getting closer to valuable.

Consider: This page at Real Clear Politics lists numerous polls with entries similar to this one:

Race/Topic: State X:         Poll : Qunipiac                Results  Trump 44, Clinton 38                            Spread: Trump +6

Trump is up by six points over Clinton in State X.  Sounds dire for Clinton, right?

You still might be getting “trolled.”

Regardless of how you’d like the race to go, we need to remember how presidents get elected: by winning the Electoral College vote.  The popular vote heavily influences the Electoral College, but the nature of that influence is determined by state laws. As we’ve seen as recently as 2000, it is possible to win the popular vote but lose the electoral vote and the election. In terms of polls: It means that generic surveys of this or that demographic, such as the one cited above, are almost useless by themselves for telling us how an election might go, especially in “solid” red or blue states. It makes no difference if a candidate’s poll numbers go up in a state that was already going to vote for them.  It makes a great deal of difference if a candidate’s numbers change in a battleground state with a lot of electoral votes, such as Florida or Ohio – such a shift could move electoral votes from one column to the other, perhaps enough to get to 270.

Thus, even taken in aggregate, “demographic” polls aren’t much of a barometer.  A much more instructive product would tell us how every state is currently trending, with caveats for the states (Nebraska and Maine) that are not “winner take all.”  Such a tool would give us a much better predictive assessment of the electoral college votes likely to go to each candidate.

Such a beast exists: http://www.270towin.com/. They have broken down the race several ways.  If we look at their map that “kluges” current polling data with expert forecasters’ opinions, Mrs. Clinton already has 272 votes in her camp, two more than are needed to win.  But  if we look at their chart that displays the accumulation of polling data only and omits “expert opinion,” then Clinton has about 200 electoral college votes in her camp (out of 270 needed to win), while Mr. Trump has 163.  Either situation sounds much more troublesome for him than “Trump up by six” sounds for Clinton, doesn’t it?

If “demographic” polls vice “electoral vote” polls do little to predict the outcome of the Electoral College race, why publish them? At least two possibilities come to mind:

  1. There’s nothing like stirring the pot in order to keep you tuned in and watching advertisements.
  2. To shape voters’ behavior in some way favorable to whomever commissioned the poll. Example one: Clinton’s current lead only translates to victory on Election Day if enough voters actually go to polling places and pull levers.  If you want Clinton to win, maybe you paint her as losing ground in the polls in order to generate a hint of doubt. Maybe that will motivate folks to go vote that might have stayed home if they felt comfortable she was going to win. Example two: If you want Trump to win, you might commission such a poll in order to generate enthusiasm by painting him as an underdog coming from behind and pulling ahead – a narrative that always does well in America.

Manifestly, Donald Trump still has an uphill battle.  In his best case scenario, he has to take 107 more votes and keep Clinton from gaining, while in his worst case he needs to take at least three of Clinton’s existing votes away!

Despite being much more instructive than run-of-the-mill poll reporting, even such tools as the “270towin” charts are not infallible, nor is the sentiment recorded today going to be the same on election day.  Clinton’s recent bout with “pneumonia,” clumsy messaging regarding her overall health, and “deplorable” commentary on Trump supporters certainly helped Trump’s polling tick up a bit, but did it affect the electoral vote trend?  Time will tell – and we still have to get through the “October Surprise.”

While such and event or revelation may yet upend the race, there is sure to be a battle over the next few weeks for the remaining available electoral votes. Poll results that don’t tell you how that aspect of the election is going are probably not worth your consideration.