To me, the most exciting concept in the crypto space is using a decentralized autonomous organization to run a nation state.
I believe such a system, executed well, could exceed all of our benchmarks by which we judge the effectiveness of governmental systems. With the right meta concepts, it could bring about a governmental system which is less corruptible, more cost effective, more scalable, and more just than any traditional system.
The rise of cryptocurrency that we’re witnessing now tells me that the march of communication technology is simply progressing from the least serious human communication — sending quick messages and phone calls — to our next most serious form of communication — sending money — and finally to our most serious form of mass communication — the administration of law.
The rules for making rules
One of the things the founders of the United States really focused on was using the concepts they had available to effectively decentralize power within a federal government. They set up three branches of government, gave them specific powers over each to each other — like a serious game of rock, paper, scissors — and they tried to capture a cross section of civil interests from around the country in the legislative body.
They also tried to hedge against populism with an executive, a tiered legislative body, and the wisdom of experienced judges.
These are the core tools for chasing the virtue of decentralized power.
As for the input of regular citizens, we were given a rather narrow means of political communication: voting. Voting is an overly reductive way to capture the will of the people in policy, and it was a reasonable compromise because the thought of accurately capturing the intent of millions of people and synchronizing their communication was just unimaginable any time before 1990 or whatever year you count as the start of the internet.
Voting is very 1-dimensional, the choices are limited, and the means of influence is incredibly indirect. The result is mass feelings of disempowerment and political polarization.
Law Should Probably be More Like Wikipedia
Wikipedia is an interesting study in emergent properties. Following a simple rule set or process, individuals can asynchronously work together to create robust, complex, and complete bodies of work.
Technically anyone can edit a Wikipedia article, and a cynic would likely conclude this would result in mass amounts of unreliable information and nonsense. And on a micro timescale, I’m sure this is true. But over the long term, the sheer volume of contribution, peer review, editing, and armchair historians besting each other with slightly better explanations for things has resulted in this incredible information resource that is categorically better than any encyclopedia that ever came before it. It’s completeness comes from having as much of everyone involved as possible. Out of chaos, order.
We see a similar dynamic in open source software communities. Projects like Ubuntu and Ethereum have roadmaps that are notoriously difficult to predict. Every development cycle influences the priorities of the next cycle after that. Some challenges end up being much bigger than anticipated and take longer, others smaller. An “Ah ha” moment within the community can change priorities overnight.
The people who concern themselves with building these systems are free to write code in any particular direction they choose. When someone happens across a particularly good idea, it gains traction, it gains contributors, and it gains priority, sometimes significantly altering the structure of the system.
What keeps these projects sailing along is an orderly process of version control where individuals can branch off of the main body of work, create a feature, submit that feature for inclusion into the main body of work, and then deliberate the inclusion of that feature with the community.
It seems fairly obvious to see that this same communication feedback loop, taken seriously, could be used as the corner stone of a legislative process.
Given the seriousness of law, figuring out how to go about the “deliberation” step leads to lots of interesting questions:
What are the conditions, and what is the process for enacting an individual’s proposal into law? Do we take a simple majority vote with some arbitrary level of quorum? How do we decide if a law is national, regional, or local? Does the egalitarian concept of one-man one-vote fairly represent the influence of individuals with respect to each other? Or should different individuals have different influence on different subjects depending on measurable expertise and prior experience? And if so, how would we measure reputation or expertise on a subject like “infrastructure management” or “defense spending” such that most people had 1 vote, but some had 100, 1000, or 10,000 votes depending on their level of reputation? What about repealing laws? Should we incentivize repealing lines of law to keep the legal code more general?
These are the types of questions I want to explore in this series of articles. I believe modern communication tools make it possible to create new form of nation state governance that go beyond traditional paradigms like socialism, authoritarianism, republican democracy, and direct democracy. I think we can leverage software to write an operating system for government that captures nuance, and balances the interests of individuals and institutions cheaply, effectively, and with less friction.