Economic growth: inclusive, green, no-cost.

Precision government

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POEMs (Pubic Official E-Markets) gives any government unique data, policy levers, new models for services and resilience. But it’s also a counterweight to politicians.



In a typical government currently, the Agriculture ministry might be planning a system tracking cattle transfers while colleagues in Education invite tenders for an upgraded registry of classroom assistants, as their counterparts in Vehicle Licensing model a better way of interfacing to insurers while trying to trade clerical staff with other departments in line with fluctuating needs. Perhaps a cross-departmental initiative like New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget is disrupting everyone’s planning?

POEMs would bring sophisticated tools for small transactions and its huge capacity to all these issues. Companies winning a concession would have a business need – and a legal right – to bring public agencies up to the standards required for a Modern Market in any goods or services. Even if POEMs’ implementation fails, the foundations remain; so databases are up-to-date, interoperable and secure. Civil servants have been trained and public expectations of digital services shaped.

And government will be ready for information POEMs creates. How far are people traveling for economic opportunity? When? What was today’s utilization of skills needed to build windfarms? How many foreign tourists used POEMs to book a room last night? As ever with POEMs, we can’t say how this micro-data will get used. But the new markets, will push options through officialdom.


Responsive services

Centrally controlled, 9-to-5 workers based at City Hall may be a poor way of meeting residents’ needs. Perhaps City Hall should act more as a certifying authority. So individual farm inspectors, child support workers, leisure assistants, landscapers and social care drivers are vetted and supervised but sell their hours as they wish around their community. As ever, each of them might sell multiple skills across several employers. City officials might agree a fixed pay rate for each role.

In parallel, budgets could be devolved down to local level. So the councilmember for a ward might be allocated $25,000 a year to be spent on street wardens, youth group leaders and street cleaners. A panel of locals authorized to make bookings is appointed. If teens are being rowdy outside the shops after school, a couple of wardens in high-vis jackets patrolling for 90 minutes over the next three days could head off trouble. Parking abuse expected during Saturday’s big match? Twenty City Hall approved enforcement officers for the afternoon should keep traffic flowing. And so on.  Each booking, its cost and authorizer is publicly displayed to any interested resident.

Individualized services could be devolved through vouchers. Some residents with developmental disability might prefer visits from a homecare provider affiliated with the gay community. Others will want a Jewish group or educational charity. If providers are using POEMs they can sub-vendor, within the rules of each, to ensure depth of service. Service users can be incentivized to shop around for value, by allowing extra care to be booked with savings for example. POEMs does all the calculations and admin. of course.

This atomization of provision could have wider impacts. The “Preston Model” of buying public services from the most local contractors creates a multiplier of funds recirculating through local economies.

A parallel economy within POEMs could act as a form of transferrable voucher. A man might provide home painting for disabled people in return for electronic parallel tokens he transfers to his, elderly father hundreds of miles away, who uses them to pay for support when he wants to swim.

And challenges like homelessness could be partly eased by POEMs’ ability to attract resources. Buildings empty even for a few nights could be rented to government, inspected, insured, equipped and staffed in a couple of hours.

There are big questions here about protecting jobs and institutions, versus on-tap services. Those are for elected officials to grapple, although our briefing on POEMs and Jobs might be helpful. POEMs is simply the plumbing to strip out; overheads, inefficiency, any corruption and unresponsiveness.



Fires, mudslides, floods, epidemics, earthquakes; all require a sudden influx of people and resources. Marshalling them inadequately costs lives. As can failure to source secondary services such as childcare that allows firefighters to stay on the job.

Legislation enabling POEMs might mandate readiness for a geographically defined, officially declared, state-of-emergency. Once this is activated POEMs’ instantly starts pre-empting bookings; re-routing travelers away from the disaster zone, bumping minicab riders so the driver can immediately be directed to pick up then deliver medical equipment and booking every available vehicle into an orderly queue. Validated users living or currently booked to work in the zone might be assigned a seat, pick-up points and times for evacuation with the elderly and parents of small children prioritized.

This, plus pulling in every available trained emergency crew-member, even if that means springing them from bookings for their other forms of work, would be triggered by an authorized official completing a template of what was needed. That should take about a minute; with continuing modification as the crisis unfolds. When Typhoon Hagibis hit, Japan’s government agencies had to mobilize 110,000 rescuers. POEMs could prioritize skills that made for good searchers; ready to start booking sellers who have them, their transport, equipment and support services as soon even before the winds arrived.

And, of course, POEMs is there for prevention strategies. Weatherization of properties? Building up levees? Fire warden patrols? Tax incentives to have a builder replace concrete fourecourts with water-absorbing grass? All made uniquely efficient in such nimble markets.



Policy levers

POEMs allows any market intervention by policymakers to be trialed incrementally. Some obvious implications of that:

  • Tax: If a user wishes, deductions could be calculated, transferred and immutably recorded as each payment by a buyer was transferred to a seller. That allows for micro-targeting of tax breaks. Solar panel fitting on properties listed in the land registry as built before 1970? Minicab rides to school from isolated areas by certified childcare drivers? Shopping collection for anyone discharged from hospital in the last week? Cheaper instantly.


  • Welfare: POEMs could easily administer any model of Universal Basic Income using its validation of users, access to official databases and payment transfer machinery. But it would be a crude scheme with such precise targeting, validation and calculation is available. Likewise, the system could distribute welfare, perhaps with enhanced validation of each recipient to deter fraud.


  • Investment in human capital: A program like Italy’s Citizen’s Income Scheme, topping up wages of people genuinely available for work but not getting ahead could flow through POEMs. But Universal Guaranteed Work could tap a reservoir of assigned wages for socially useful tasks while ensuring a minimum number of hours’ paid-work each week became a right after means testing. Unlike a Federal Jobs Guarantee it can’t be accused of creating sinecures. Negative Income Tax to tackle in-work poverty simply requires the funds plus a formula for allocating them and any conditionality the system must impose. Bolsa Familia, which rewards Brazilian Families for sending the kids to school would require only a link from class registers to POEMs to bring all the system’s protections, opportunities and gossamer overheads to bear.


Stimulus could be targeted through any combination of the schemes above. If the 2008 financial crisis is set for a repeat, as some suggest, POEMs would offer an immediate alternative to bailing out financiers. Funds could be channeled straight into wallets in the poorest areas, producing public works or support for the vulnerable. Rules for this could be fine-tuned constantly while subject to constant public scrutiny within POEMs. Auto-stabilizer rules that tweak tax and spending to head off a boom or bust could be equally granular.



A counterweight to politicians

POEMs should be democracy-enhancing. It creates a new institution; the operating consortium, made up of multi-nationals big, and brand-sensitive, enough to stay above any political coercion. The kind of robust independence they should aim for is exemplified in broadcasters’ reaction to 1988 UK legislation banning the voice of leaders of Irish republican groups from the airwaves. Public and commercial stations, each dependent on a government license, quickly subverted the ban by having actors lip-synch a banned speaker’s words.

A well-run POEMs will be driven by a similar need to retain customers’ trust and offer them every facility of which it is capable. If they want to draw on its comprehensive identity validation to vote on their phone on election day, legislation should permit that. Polls might also be set up by individuals, perhaps seeking neighborhood agreement on Sunday road closures to give children a place to play. The concession might stipulate that anyone achieving, say, 50% positive votes on such an issue is guaranteed a hearing in front of local government.

Voter suppression now becomes harder; campaign groups simply need to get target populations trading on the platform in a way that requires counterparties to constantly confirm the identity of the account holder. They would do this inherently in many sectors when accepting the booking has completed and payment does not need to be withheld.

Corruption could be minimized. If kickbacks are enabling sweatshop labor, well-behaved manufacturers can start booking validated workers through POEMs. The system can also run a market for independently approved, randomized, inspectors. Because of these factors, some governments may need POEMs forced on them. That is covered in our briefing about other economies.


Regional competitiveness