The sovereign nation-state, as we know it, is a relatively modern invention in the human history. Of course we cannot pinpoint a single historical moment when the nation-state was invented (great background reading), but the Peace of Westphalia, which happened in 1648, is a great starting point. That’s less than 400 years ago, and I believe it’s a mistake to presuppose that this system will, should, or could be with us forever. This begs several questions:
What role does the nation-state play in society and organizing human endeavor today, and how might that role evolve over time?
What does the proliferation of blockchain, smart contracts, and distributed ledgers/consensus mechanisms mean for the nation state?
Can we do better? What are some options?
Can the system be reformed from the inside? Can we have evolutionary, non-violent change?
Hey gang, this forum seems like a good initiative, and I’d like to add some concerns that I think are being glossed over way too often when talking about socio-political systems at large, particularly in this community, and hopefully add a bit of a different perspective on things.
I’ve seen Radical Markets being discussed in the open. I’ve been listening to the audiobook of it and have found it to be a grind. Not because the book is boring (it’s not), but mostly because I find it rather naive, either due to having seemingly obvious attack vectors, or simply due to assumptions that seem naive to me (we are not, after all, Homo Economicus).
I was born in '85, 4 years before the fall of the Berlin wall, and before Poland, after 40 years, managed to free itself from Soviet oppression due to civil unrest that lead to first truly legitimate elections and the decline of Communism. I grew up in parallel with modern Polish democracy emerging from the broken system that preceded it, and it was the modern liberal democracy and economy that uprooted the country from poverty to what is now a vibrant country, NATO and EU member. We’ve had our radical solutions before, the generation of my parents had their revolution, the fact that we don’t have to have one today makes me more than happy.
I know this might be hard to swallow in this age of Trump, but things are actually, still, pretty good. It’s also way more reasonable to incrementally fix issues with systems we have, than to start new, radical ones from scratch that might have problems we’ve not even considered. After all, if there is any group of people that should intuitively understand that meddling with complex systems is more likely to break them than fix them, it should be engineers.
I’d recommend anyone to read or listen to Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, the books is relatively recent (post Trump elections), which makes a good stance for maintaining the Enlightenment traditions that brought us where we are today. We should be very careful not to throw the baby away with the bath water. If there is any group of people that should intuitively understand that changing things in complex systems is more likely to break them than fix them, it is be engineers.
This tech we are all building here does have its place. The obvious use case I can think of is to facilitate blockchain to make national elections transparent and accountable. Before we even go anywhere with radical ideas, like quadratic voting, just having a straight forward popular vote that people can understand (US election system really is an outlier here) and trust.
I’m still around at DevCon for the couple next days, so hit me up if you want to talk about this in person.
I think one of the responsibilities of the civically-engaged engineer is to be aware of mounting social problems and to build potential solutions before politicians are forced to create their own “solutions”. There frequently come demands for change, motivated by real harm caused to real people, that become so pressing to a person in power that he or she feels the need to address the harm immediately, or face political consequences. As an example, take for instance the GDPR, which is legislation whose intent I appreciate, but whose implementation is a bit scary because I worry about its effect on small companies and innovation. If technical solutions (or options) are available before political crises, there can be better laws via better technology.
There was a fantastic presentation by Estonian, Kaspar Korjus, “How will nations remain relevant in the 21st century?” He and his government have been working toward modernizing the nation-state–for instance, by introducing the concept of “e-residency” where people around the world, regardless of physical location, can become e-residents of Estonia (to have access to a business license, identity, bank account for instance).
Kaspar talked about 10 stages of progress in moving the nation-state from analog to digital. Some of the most intriguing ideas I took away include the use of embassies as data centers (rather than human bureaucracy centers) in order to facilitate fast and resilient nation-state data services, as well as the possibility of a future in which people can choose to “shop around” for e-residence or e-citizenship among a handful of nations that either provide better services or better ethical alignment.
I’m really of two minds about this. I’m all for incremental change, for “evolution not revolution,” and said so in my talk.
On the other hand, not every corrupt institution can be reformed incrementally. Not every broken system can be improved from within. Sometimes, rather than trying to fix a broken system, we need to create a new, better system - ideally modeled after the previous system. I consider this good engineering as well.
This is all very vague and high-level. To give two concrete examples:
I’m totally unconvinced that Bitcoin governance can ever be fixed. I’m not sure if Bitcoin will ever have a hard fork again, except to fix a bug. Would you argue that Vitalik & co. should’ve attempted to lobby for change from within Bitcoin’s existing governance and community rather than building Ethereum? (I suppose, in the case of blockchain, we always have a third option, the fork, which is unfortunately unavailable to us today in meatspace governance.)
I’m totally unconvinced that the US healthcare system can be fixed. I speak as an entrepreneur who ran a health tech startup and spent three years wrestling with a system that’s corrupt, inefficient, and has completely the wrong set of incentives.
This is an interesting conclusion. The implication for American people who need healthcare is that they will need to find it outside the US–or perhaps in some decentralized way? I have a hard time believing that pressing needs will forever go unmet.
We find ourselves at a point where individual liberties are at a maximum relative to the states. This is a consequence of computing technologies and the Internet, as well as the relative stability offered by an efficient and highly integrated market system. New technologies carve a space for themselves outside of the state, and thus its influence has been in decline in this respect, but the state keeps growing. We may stand at the crossroads of radical implementation of a new state, built on cryptographic and economic incentives, or subsuming our role in history to watch the unfolding of the status quo.
New technologies challenge the state’s traditional notions of Westphalian sovereignty over the territory, as their territories are now in direct link with all others. Control over that which may flow through fiber optics is near-impossible, and those technologies that through cryptography protect themselves will proliferate. Yet the state grows too within this new medium, seeking to expand its sovereignty over the data flows within it and abroad. Surveillance and cyberwarfare are two sides of this expansion of the state into this new field. Any freedoms we wish to retain must be sought after and secured before the state grows comfortable in their absence. This is the chief struggle of modern times.
Of course we can do better. Our naive implementations of currencies do not solve the major issues of banking systems, namely liquidity crises. Issues abound in UX, business design, etc. which will limit the widespread adoption of Bitcoin until properly addressed. In the case that a broad swathe of people become dependent on Bitcoin due to a shock to their monetary system, a whole financial system framework must be developed, otherwise Bitcoin will not help them and will likely be dismissed in future occasions where there is need to secede from a nation’s monetary system.
Unlikely. Bitcoin will only be adopted as a revolutionary or desperate measure. Moneys don’t coexist, they compete voraciously until only one remains. History shows this. Frictionless exchange is possible, but unlikely to assuage peoples’ intuitions driving one money to supremacy. Evolution is only possible with competition.
I agree that Radical Markets are a naive starting point. But I view it differently. Instead of positing the ideal end-state, I see it as a call to action. For those who’ve pined for change but haven’t seen a path to get there, Radical Markets acts as an illuminated trailhead. Most of the path needs to be forged along the way, but the Radical Markets thought experiments give hope for those who find all centralized solutions inherently corruptive and suspect.
At the same time, we shouldn’t be naive that a new sandbox we build will be free of human peccadillos — ICO scamminess belies that flicker of a thought. But blockchain communities are the very sandboxes where we can experiment with governance, economic design and other components that can bear fruit in the messy meatspace of daily life. Especially for those who aren’t lucky enough to be born into a stable democracy-ish nation state.
Unfortunately, the legitimacy of nation states has become a dead man’s switch of sorts for nuclear weapons.
Let’s say Ethereum (or any blockchain) succeeds in replacing the dollar with a stable coin as the reserve currency, public goods are cryptoeconomically financed and governed by DAOs. Full fledged mainstream adoption of systems that directly compete with nation states.
If the Full Faith And Credit of the world’s tax payers go elsewhere en mass it will have a dramatic impact on global stability. If national governments become crippled economically because they can’t collect taxes, who is financing the defense of the thousands of nuclear weapons deployed all over the world?
Are governments going to eventually transfer custody and control to a DAO?
Is decentralized nuclear armament is the kind of decentralization we want?
To be clear, I see enormous potential for Ethereum (or something like it) to improve governmental, economic, and information systems.
But I feel ambivalent about the prospect of these systems gaining widespread adoption without causing serious harm to nation states, and as a result, weakening obstacles to access nuclear weapons by malevolent non-state actors.
So if anybody has any ideas or reading about how nuclear weapons fit into a post-nation state blockchain world, or even better, how blockchain can promote denuclearization/nonproliferation in way that nation states can/will not, feel free to message me or reply here.
In the discussions about governance/state/nation/decentralization/and so (and this one is not an exception) I am constantly missing a broader view on the topics.
Working in tech I often find myself caught in kind of a “bubble” - meeting mostly highly effective, educated, functioning and intelligent people, upper class, white males from the West. Working specifically in blockchain and crypto-related industry often makes that bubble of mine even smaller and more “privileged”. This actually bothers me a lot - I feel like we don’t really realize that we are (a very specific, of course) but still a minority. And the most of our activities actually appear to me as an attempt to export our values and structures, but forgetting about the fact, that the rest of the world might not really be interested. When was the last time when we tried to do such thing and succeeded? This was one of the reasons why I had to leave Katherine Wu’s talk about International Law at Devcon: how can we be so self-centered, that we are not even thinking about the fact, that the major part of the world does not even understand the concept of state, nor international law?
I see Middle East as a great example of such a behavior (not really focusing on a State of Israel, which I consider to be a highly effective structure): we drew lines in the map and told various groups of people who share no common interest, that they are supposed to be one state now. Then, ~70 years later, we tried to export democracy there - which in such context is even more ridiculous. I’ve travelled all around the region and almost never seen anyone identifying himself based on a concepts of a nation-state (maybe with a rare exceptions among Lebanese people). Instead of that, I was meeting people identifying themselves in relations to their clan, tribe, or family. Yes, on the first sight, you are meeting Iraqis, but try to come closer: you are meeting Kurdish people, or Sinjaris, or Al-Sheikhs Tribe members. What was the most interesting part for me: as far as the state is failing in these areas, people are actually independently self-organizing and in the end of the day living much more decentralized as we are You can even see PoA or PoS consensus offline, but in practise
This is something that would never happen to me or my friends from Western world - we are not our families (clans, tribes,…), nor cities, nor states, we are identified by our jobs, our achievements, our strengths and our weaknesses. In the end of the day, being from Prague, I have much more in common with @lane from USA than a person living 400km in a village in the south of Czech Republic. Who of you guys repeat to the question “Who are you?” with a state-related answer?
On the one hand, we have structures, which were forced to operate as a nation-states (and are failing again and again) - i.e. in ME, Africa, Asia - but never developed into the state where the particular members of such structure would share the same interests. On the other hand we have western society operating far beyond the understanding of a nation-state.
What I am trying to say here: we should stop trying to find the ultimate platform, protocol, solution… based on our minor understanding of the world. Our understanding of the tools we develop should be much wider, allowing people to do what is the most natural thing to them: self-developing and self-organizing in the structures, where members share the same interests.