In Code We Trust: the C++ Democracy

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THE ONE where we envisage government simply becoming another app on your smartphone.

What is truly revolutionary about Bitcoin is not the currency itself but how it has served as the proof-of-concept for something much, much more more profound: it is the world’s first platform that operates according to a given set of rules in which no-one is in charge but yet in which everyone can trust each other.

In the case of Bitcoin, the rules relate to the behaviour of a currency and how parties transact with each other over the network. That is a very limited use case.

But the underlying concept of the blockchain protocol is one that allows for the creation of a network of participants in which it is impossible for a single authority to exercise control, all of which is underpinned by open-source code that allows those participants to verify that no-one else is in a position to cheat.

That concept, which we have now come to summarise with the term Blockchain, could arguably serve as a substitute for the definition of Democracy itself.

Political Will

So it is no coincidence, then, that Bitcoin – or some of its derivative technologies/crypto-currencies – has attracted a hard-core anarchist following. And given its association with significant appreciation in value, it’s no surprise either that a large subset of this anarchist following is libertarian in outlook.

We now possess a technology that allows us to essentially code up platforms of governance that can be rendered immune to the darker aspects of human nature

But away from Bitcoin – and the concept of money in general – we know that we now possess a technology that allows us to essentially code up platforms of governance that can be rendered immune to the darker aspects of human nature that have traditionally sullied democracy in practice.

The playwright of Ancient Greece, Sophocles, once said that “A city that belongs to one man is not a true city.” Thanks to Satoshi Nakamoto’s ingenuity, we now have a way to create platforms of governance where power is shared equally among each of its individual citizens.

Sophocles Quote

But there are a number of obstacles. Firstly, getting the political will to get those platforms up and running in the first instance – no mean task.

Secondly, a decision needs to be made about how much responsibility we delegate to the Blockchain. What elements of government could or should be managed by DLT is a debate all of its own – for every single one of those elements.

Thirdly, how do you implement governance at scale? Implementing a platform which facilitates decision-making on thousands of issues amongst potentially millions of network participants is not something that we now how to do yet – although there are some projects out there that are exploring a range of creative solutions to address these limitations. Some of these are discussed in some of our other posts.

Government on the App Store

There is, then, no guarantee that we will ever see anything like this implemented in practice.

But let’s just suppose that, on the other hand, one it does turn out that Buenos Aires’ city council, for example, decides to delegate some of its governance directly to the city’s residents via a mobile app. They may get asked, for instance, on which days the local authorities should be organising its waste disposal.

If such initiatives do arise, then they will likely serve as a springboard for creating governance platforms with a more ambitious scope. And at that point, it is not beyond the conceivable to imagine future generations associating their citizenship with the corresponding app on the Google PlayStore.