The Dark Horse Campaign is about supplying a vision of the future. But that vision is rooted in a rethink of the theoretical framework underpinning our understanding of the economy, society, government, and their interactions.
Long economic theory story short, in the wake of the Great Depression we adopted Keynesian economic theory and applied it to policy making. During the Keynesian period the world experienced perhaps the greatest stretch of sustained economic growth globally in human history (not that statistics are great pre-20th century). That ended with the energy shocks and the end of Bretton Woods monetary system which helped send the world into a slow growth and inflationary tailspin for roughly a decade.
This period of Stagflation more or less came to an end with the adoption of Neoliberal economic thought (yes, neoliberalism is a school of economic thought, not just a political epithet) and the loosening of government regulations and controls on the economy. Under neoliberalism growth resumed but nowhere did it come near reaching the rates of growth seen under Keynesianism.
You can have endless arguments about the effectiveness of these schools of thought in practice, whether or not the post-war boom years are attributable to robust government intervention or to a general liberalizing of world trade and unprecedented peace. If neoliberalism truly helped restart the world economy or if it was merely a coincidence that neoliberal politicians (Reagan and Thatcher) were in power when the economy rebounded as part of the normal business cycle and freer flowing oil.
It might actually be easier to argue the point that Keynesianism became suffocating to the economy by the 1970s, particularly with the implementation of price controls. And that the deregulation and financialization of the neoliberal era led directly and undeniably to the 2008 Financial Crisis and Great Recession (which is inextricably linked to the rise of populism and national and demagogic figures on the Far Right and Far Left).
Whatever the case, what is to be understood is that economics is a dynamic and evolving school of thought and that for good or ill its ideas hold great sway over business, politics, and society as a whole. And politics and economics, whether it should or not, are inextricably linked. Politics advances economic theory in academia as much as economic theory advances the political parties who adopt them.
The Dark Horse Campaign draws on complexity science to build its new political-economic framework. Complexity, evolution, and innovation economics provides a very different perspective to understand the economy and society allowing for the creation of new policies and new ideas that the old, neoclassical and neoliberal theories could not begin to imagine.
So that’s pretty cool, we’re working with much more than the Democrats and Republicans, something they could not begin to understand. It is so alien to their understanding of the world they reject it out of hand. The problem is, voters will also tend to reject it out of hand and struggle to understand.
It is on this campaign to explain and for now we’re just suggesting there might be an economic framework out there that’s maybe a little better than the one that produced both Marxism and Neoliberalism.
When we teach history we tend to give it a narrative structure because stories are something we inherently understand. Stories require protagonists, we oftentimes exemplify a particular period or theme from history by following an historical figure whose life appears archetypal. While compelling, this has unfortunately created the impression among many that history is made by great people fighting heroically against all odds, that history turns on a dime, that the choices and struggles of these great people brought the world kicking and screaming into the future. (There is also the parallel, the antagonists and villains of history who are similarly posed as great, remarkable, and terrible people.) This is not a commentary on historiography.
History is a torrent. It is made by the many and not the few. The collective and often uncoordinated efforts of millions. It is from this torrent and not the minds of singular geniuses that ideas, invention, and innovation emerges.
Economic theory recognizes innovation (or productivity increases) as the source of real economic growth. But mainstream economic theory tends to view technological growth as an exogenous factor, something difficult to predict and outside the scope of most economic policy making. This is a mistake. Innovation is what prevents us from settling into a stagnant equilibrium. Innovation is endogenous to the economy, it is a product of the standard functioning of the economy. Because innovation is so important it should be a primary focus of economic research and policy rather than hand waived away.
There is no singular clear path to fostering innovation. Innovations function and are generated at many levels from the individual to the corporate to the societal. It is the product of determination but also of apathy. It is a combination and recombination of ideas. Ideas are shared and spread through networks. Denser networks make for faster and more diverse spread of ideas but can also hamper innovation under some circumstances.
At its most basic level we believe innovation is facilitated by free exchange in an open society where the most people have at least some basic resources (time, money, access to markets).
A factory shutting down production taking a few hundred to a few thousand jobs with it and absolutely devastating a city and community is nothing new in Ohio. That story, in fact, is probably the most consistent and defining feature of Ohio culture over the last fifty years. And it’s absolutely insane.
Where we’ve allowed our economies to become so sickly, ailing, and topheavy that politicians from mayors, senators, governors, and the literal fucking president are begging a single corporation not to close one factory we’ve got a huge problem. Lordstown here is the obvious recent example. That’s absolutely pathetic and every single one of those politicians should be absolutely sickened by their feckless and demeaning behavior, as representatives of the people of Ohio they prostrated themselves for a car company. That’s humiliating for them and it’s humiliating for us and it does exactly no one any good. You want to throw a bunch of tariffs and tax breaks and subsidies to one giant corporation so everyone in the town can be in a state of dependency for that corporation’s good will? No, that’s insane. A frail, undiversified, monopolistic economy is destructive, demeaning, and totally unsustainable.
It is a failure of imagination of our politicians that they still see value in the company town, in huge multinationals acting as not just the industrial backbone of the economy but as the economy. That the closure of one factory, the financial troubles of one industry, can be devastating to a community and an economy is totally unacceptable. And it has been a tremendous waste of resources and thought that our public officials have placed so much focus on keeping or luring these goliaths to town. What we want instead is a robust economy.
In a robust economy we don’t care when a business fails or a particular industry is hit with an unexpected supply or demand shock. If a factory closes, workers should be able to go across the street and find a comparable job at another factory. In a robust economy, the churn is natural and even desirable. It is the nature of creative destruction, of competition. Uncompetitive businesses fail and exit the market while more competitive businesses enter and grow and expand. Workers have options and can move between businesses and begin their own.
That’s a good economy. No, it doesn’t provide some of the security older politicians wistfully pretend to be nostalgic for. One is unlikely to work for a single employer all their lives and retire with a comfortable pension. But there would always be opportunity and employment and the means to sustain and improve one’s condition.
Governments and politicians should strive for the robust economy. They should not live in fear of the conglomerate and the multinational, of the major employer. They should enforce competition, prevent monopolies, and foster economic growth and new entrants. Businesses will and must fail, but the good they create, the capital they accumulate, the ideas they produce, and the employees they train should live on and be absorbed and reabsorbed into a vibrant and diverse market. Do not beg. It is the market, not the corporation, that is the strength of the economy!
Take a moment to think about the great centers of innovation and culture throughout history: Athens, Florence, Baghdad, Vienna, Edinburgh. These were not the largest cities in the world, they were not the wealthiest (well, not at first), they were not imperial centers or militarily powerful (caveats, caveats), they were not known as great places. But they produced great things, works of art and thought and technology that last to this day.
What allowed these cities to produce such great things? That’s not entirely clear, their situations were all significantly different. Some benefited from financial flows, some from trade, some were more products of desperate times than anything else. But consistently these cities were fairly open to the world, allowing people and ideas to flow in and out. The “geniuses” that emerged from these cities did not do so in a vacuum, they worked closely with many people, they challenged and competed and cooperated, they were influenced and influential.
Even small, modern Ohio cities dwarf these cities in wealth and population and wellbeing. The people of Ohio are just as capable of achieving great things. Our cities and communities are diverse, interconnected, and beginning the process of recovering from decades of economic hardship and decline. All factors conducive to great innovations. There is no reason Ohio cannot become a center of a new renaissance.
There is much to do to invest in growth and innovation, to open Ohio up to the world, to build its infrastructure and interconnections, to build up Ohio’s industry and resources. We will invest in centers of learning, to build an integrated educational system that allows for seamless transition and communication between our public universities, technical and trade schools, community colleges, and high schools; to create lifelong learners and a skills ecosystem unparalleled in the modern world that fosters free exchange of ideas. We will develop open source resources and open intellectual property rules systems that are both profitable to rights holders and easy to build on for society as a whole to enhance the knowledge commons (not buzzwords, just not thoroughly explained yet).
We will invest in our energy infrastructure because energy is a major limiting factor of growth. We will develop cheap, reliable, and clean energy sources so that our industry, our cities, our innovators can always strive for bigger and better and bolder. We will invest in transportation and communication networks within the state and to the world because we want people to have no limitations to their ability to move and speak and to learn and share.
We will invest in construction and housing so that it is easy to move to and build in Ohio and ensure that no one is without sufficient housing in the state. We will make new structures energy efficient and sustainable while finding ways to transform and preserve older structures for the 21st century.
We will invest in agriculture to bring down the cost of food and eliminate food insecurity while improving nutrition in Ohio. We will develop new farming techniques, alternative sources of fertilizer, new crops with traits for resilience and yield. We will develop a new model for profitability in agriculture in the wake of peak corn (when the 38 million acres of corn grown for ethanol in the US are rendered redundant by the death of the internal combustion engine). We will reforest and rewild some parts of the state as demand for farmland declines while seeking new crops for a changing climate and growing global population. Ohio will always be an agricultural hub and we should lead agriculture into the 21st century.
We will diminish and streamline the bureaucracy, we will lower barriers to entry into the market, we will make Ohio the easiest place in the world to start a business and to access all the resources necessary (accounting, legal, supply chain, export/import, capital, labor market analysis) for businesses to thrive. We will provide a personal safety net (a guarantee that no one shall ever live in poverty in Ohio) and venture capital to allow entrepreneurs to take the risks necessary to make Ohio a hub of small businesses, startups, and invention. We will not coddle and subsidize big corporations, we will embrace creative destruction and provide for a level playing field with transparent, simple, and straightforward laws. We will have a robust economy.
We will foster, fund, and embrace art, literature, music, and creative and free expression. We will provide for the arts in our schools, communities, and public spaces. Ohio will become a net exporter of culture. We will embrace and confront our history, our full history, and the legacy it leaves (“what is art but the struggle to come to terms with who we are?” -the guy who wears a top hat and mask and runs for governor). And 100% we will make Rust Belt Punk a subculture of the 20s.
We will protect, preserve, and restore Ohio’s natural beauty and ecosystems. Our many forests, rivers, and lakes will be cleaned up and allowed to flourish. We will foster tourism, especially along Lake Erie and in Southeast Ohio. We will have the cleanest air, the safest water, and diverse and healthy ecosystems. We will green urban spaces and ensure every Ohioan is able to connect with nature and enjoy walking anywhere in our state.
We will provide for the health, safety, and well being of all Ohioans (not necessarily directly via the government, you understand, but by building an economy that makes those things accessible to all). We will invest in hospitals and doctors and nurses. We will invest in medical technologies and medicines to cure and prevent disease, to address the challenges of an aging population, and to provide for a longer, happier, more active life.
We will develop a robust economy that provides income, jobs, and reduces the cost of living. We will strengthen our safety net and guarantee a minimum standard of living so no one in Ohio must ever act in desperation, so every Ohioan always has somewhere to turn. We will reform policing to have a higher clearance rate, a more meaningful impact on reducing crime, better resources, and a better relationship with the communities police serve. We will expand crisis support, provide for domestic violence shelters, and guarantee timely access to the resources and legal help necessary for protection and wellbeing. We will foster a culture where people speak up and look out for their friends, neighbors, and strangers. We will foster a culture in the public service of good works and determination to live up to the tasks entrusted in them. No cry for help unanswered in Ohio.
We can do these things, we will do these things and the state and local governments have a significant role to play in making these things happen. Ultimately though, it falls to us. Ohio is a great state with great potential but we don’t believe it. In the minds of Ohioans and Americans Ohio is that state where people come from, it is a state of industrial decay and rural alienation, it is the past and not the future. And that’s absolutely true but it’s also what allows us to be so much more.
Time and again the most amazing things rise from the ashes of ruin and decline. Our greatest asset might genuinely be how terrible things have gone in Ohio for the last few decades. Ohioans are all over the country and all over the world. Through them Ohio is deeply connected to the world. We have the people, we have the communities, we have the resources. We can make great works of art and music and writing and philosophy. We can build great works, invent great technologies, develop an influential economy. We can feed the world, power the world, heal the world. We can make the Ohio versus the World meme more than just a dream. We can do these things but the first step is to try. I ask nothing more of you Ohio but to try.