Monday, April 23, 2007

America the Bootstrap

I was recently in DC over my birthday weekend, which also happened to coincide with the second anniversary of my becoming a US citizen. Walking around the Capitol I was reminded of how the US itself is a Bootstrap.

A couple of aspects are particularly striking in this analogy. First, "version 1.0" (or was it the demo?!) under the Articles of Confederation, was a disaster, giving states too much power and leaving a weak central government. This became evident as the "United States" were not quite so united and instead found themselves on the brink of economic disaster just ten years into the grand experiment. It took version 2.0 - the Constitution - to get it right. And even that first version was unsatisfactory, with the Bill of Rights quickly introduced as the first amendment. The founding fathers, contrary to our general mythologizing of them, did not know if their first attempt would work. The US, like great products, did not come out of the womb perfectly formed. However, it was the lessons learned from the first version that showed what didn't work. This is akin to the bootstrap entrepreneur starting with the demo and then based on feedback from the customer, improving it till it works. We can therefore call the founding fathers excellent bootstrappers! Furthermore, it is precisely the fact that they built in the process for how the document could be amended that also makes the Constitution like a Bootstrap product - always subject to change as new input comes in.

Second, it is interesting how the Evangelists of "America the Bootstrap," take center stage while the Mavens stay in the background. Walking around the various monuments, we see the towering figure of Jefferson in his grand rotunda. In sharp contrast, George Mason's Memorial sits off to the side and is much smaller. It was Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights which served as a blueprint for the US one. Similarly, James Madison is another unsung Maven, with no monument of his own. He not only saw the failure of the Articles, but almost single-handedly organized the Constitutional Convention, convincing Washington to preside. It's good there's aBlogger: Bootstrap Austin Blog - Create Postll that space around the Mall to correct that in the future!

If we ever forget that the US is an ongoing bootstrap venture, we have only to examine the Star Spangled Banner, the nation's anthem. It ends not in a declarative statement as seems when sung, but in a question:

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

And the moment any venture stops living in the question, it's goodbye time.

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