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Getting political the right way: The Mark Shuttleworth example

Tim O'Reilly and Mark Shuttleworth both have political endorsements on their blogs, but only one manages to avoid getting political.

Tim O'Reilly recently defended his decision to put a political endorsement on his blog (spoiler for those who don't know how Sonoma County votes: He's for Obama), and did a reasonably good job of supporting the decision. Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, however, does a much better job in a post of his own.

Mark's secret? Stick to principles, not parties.

Mark doesn't talk about politics at all, per se, though they're hiding just behind his words. Instead, he talks about the value of regulated capitalism, and gives testimony of his time living in post-Soviet Russia as a reason for believing in capitalism...but not unfettered capitalism:

The leaders and decision makers in a centrally planned economy are just as fallible as those in a capitalist one--they would probably be the same people! But state enterprises lack the forces of evolution that apply in a capitalist economy--state enterprises are rarely if ever allowed to fail. And hence bad ideas are perpetuated indefinitely, and an economy becomes dysfunctional to the point of systemic collapse. It is the fact that private enterprises fail which keeps industries vibrant. The tension between the imperative to innovate and the consequences of failure drives capitalist economies to evolve quickly. Despite all of the nasty consequences that we have seen, and those we have yet to see, of capitalism gone wrong, I am still firmly of the view that society must tap into its capitalist strengths if it wants to move forward.

But I chose my words carefully when I said "regulated capitalism". I used to be a fan of Adam Smith's invisible hand, and great admirer of Ayn Rand's vision. Now, I feel differently. Left to its own devices, the market will tend to reinforce the position of those who were successful in the past, at the exclusion of those who might create future successes. We see evidence of this all the time. The heavyweights that define an industry tend to do everything in their power to prevent innovation from changing the rules that enrich them.

Mark then goes on to explain the attributes of successful regulators. It's well worth reading, and serves as a poignant reminder of how to get involved in politics without getting political.

I don't fault Tim for wanting to get the vote out in behalf of his preferred candidate. But I think public figures like Tim and Mark have a duty to use their influence with caution and care, and I think Mark's promotion of right principles is a better way than Tim's declaration of right candidates.