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Blockchain as a tool for political transformation

Blockchain is often touted as a means for disrupting and improving existing financial, supply-chain, and technology models, but one of the most important and necessary institutions in need of revamping is politics.

If we’re going to tackle the biggest problem we’re collectively facing today—climate change—we need policies that address economic incentives being distributed to the largest offenders. Lobbying power, concentrated in Washington, D.C., does not allow for actual regulatory progress to be made in the time we have left to address climate change effectively. That is why we must build an alternative system while simultaneously working within the existing system, challenging as that may be. It’s a lot like building a new freeway. The alternate road is built while the cars go over the old one, for good reason.

It is no surprise that a majority of the elite fight for the current system, as it favors their interests. Howard Schultz’s concerns about a proposed tax increase on billionaires is one recent example, but not every billionaire is on board. Overstock CEO, Patrick Byrne, has long been skeptical of the current financial model. Recognizing the system as irretrievably corrupt, he was one of the earliest cryptocurrency adopters on a billion-dollar platform.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

A financial restructuring would require an overhaul of business and banking models, one blockchain is equipped to handle. In the coming decades, we’re going to witness massive population displacements. Take the Syrian refugee crisis and multiply it by all coastal cities on the planet to understand the scope. Yet it won’t just be coastal. The consequences of a recent heat wave in Australia portend this. America’s Midwest recently experienced record-setting cold, which claimed the lives of twenty-one citizens. No one will remain untouched by this quick-moving tragedy.

Without a solution like blockchain many more than the billions of people that are currently unbanked and unaddressed will become unbanked without a means to verify their identity or qualifications. Blockchain allows us to address this looming crisis while simultaneously decentralizing the financial and computing infrastructure.

To understand how this can happen, consider the recent political dialogue focused on a response to the “deep state.” The deep state is feared as setting up an inertial resistance to the pace of change necessary to address the rapidly progressing consequences of climate change. Yet a deep structure for human organization is not necessarily to be feared. The real question is whether a shift to better organization and a reboot of social coordination is possible.

We need look no further than our own biology to see that such a social coordination reboot is not only possible but necessary. The human nervous system has multiple levels of organization (such as the three layers of the human brain) to carry out complex behaviors. There need to be corresponding levels of organization to ensure the coordination of large communities of humans. The crucial point is that these layers can be constructed and composed in such a way as to self-assemble in a manner similar to biological systems. This requires a fundamentally different coordination technology, one which blockchain provides.

Photo by William Bossen on Unsplash

This political rebooting would wrest power away from centralized sources such as Wall St and Facebook. Financially transacting without large banking institutions and owning our own data instead of giving it away free to social media companies is possible with blockchain. It might feel new, but public accountability and transacting is how we traded and bartered for most of history. In the case of the use of public funds, for example, transparency is the taxpayers’ most desired feature. In the age of the Internet, the Pentagon’s $21T accounting failure is simply not acceptable. The financial industry’s “too big to fail” bailout would fit in that gap with $18T to spare.

We can achieve this new accountability in a manner resistant to systemic manipulation. You can’t control what is built in terms of autonomous, self-assembling units. It’s like trying to control all the bacteria in the world. You could try to hack their DNA, but they evolve so rapidly that it becomes a dicey attack vector.

Humans, built in part of bacteria, operate under the same principles. There is simply no way to manage top-down control of over 7.5 billion people (or even 325 million Americans) in a way that’s fair and equitable to everyone. Power simply cannot be centralized in this manner, for it will always favor the elite, and the elite will almost always look out for their own interests first. In top-down social systems, the 0.01% can afford luxury underground bunkers and foreign citizenship as an escape hatch. The rest of us cannot.

Now, one serious critique of the blockchain is the distribution problem and its potential to exacerbate market inequality. Concerning market inequality, it’s clear that the current system creates and maintains dramatic disparities. Almost anything that moves the needle on this will be better than what we have today.

With better tracking and transaction pattern information, the entire market can monitor inequities and respond. This goes beyond blockchain explorers which people use regularly to track and analyze global transactions and even networks of transactions on the Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other popular blockchains, but extends to the application of machine learning and AI to ferret out deeper patterns. Think of the analysis currently done on SEO and social media feeds, and apply it to a public record of transactions. So, again, blockchain proves to be miles beyond the incumbent system.

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To understand this in more detail note that the relationship of agency—who’s performing the transactions—to the transactions themselves is independent of blockchain. You can make blockchains that explicitly keep track of agency, explicitly obscure it, or anything in between. Tracking transactions and patterns of transactions, on the other hand, is infinitely better on blockchain than in centralized models filled with gatekeepers. This is because the blockchain keeps an immutable public record.

Using the banking analogy, think of transactions as being between virtual “accounts” which are ultimately represented by numbers. It is entirely possible to track transactions between these accounts without knowing which people or institutions are associated with those accounts. In fact, the transactional history can be public without necessarily making the association between an account “holder” and account public. This association is completely independent and can tailored to comply with policy regarding acceptable financial behavior.

The problem with current models is that transactions are hidden behind firewalls. This allows, for example, Swiss institutions to conceal all kinds of financial behavior. Deutsche Bank is likewise empowered to deal in shady or even illegal transactions, often without penalty. Piecing together financial behavior, especially if that behavior spans multiple transactions involving multiple different financial institutions, is extremely difficult not just because of technical challenges, but in no small measure because of jurisdictional difficulties. This is one reason the Mueller investigation is taking so long, to cite one prominent case. Blockchain addresses all of this in one sweep.

Of course, when considering such sweeping changes in the financial and political landscape, the question of oversight is valid. Who will oversee this new decentralized infrastructure? Can it even be overseen? These turn out to be practical questions with pragmatic answers.

Specifically, cooperatives provide a time-honored democratic model for everything from energy distribution to the sale of outdoors and camping equipment. Cooperative governance makes oversight the domain of members. These can be, and often are in today’s market, international organizations. RChain Cooperative, which oversees the first publicly owned and publicly operated scalable blockchain, has members all over the world, including China, Europe, Singapore, Africa, and the United States.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This kind of scope is vital because, like it or not, the blockchain runs orthogonal to existing jurisdictional boundaries. Smart contracts on Ethereum and Bitcoin mining run on servers across the planet. That fact is precisely their appeal: take a server down in one part of the world, two more pop up in another. This is one of the principal reasons why blockchain upsets existing systems. It is next to impossible to provide regulation within a single jurisdiction.

This does not mean blockchain is tantamount to anarchy, mind you. It’s also not that blockchain is ungovernable; it’s that the existing regulatory structure doesn’t fit blockchain. Instead, the revamping we envisage will require that new regulatory structures are developed. For example, these regulatory structures will have to follow the community contours of the network stakeholders, who may be spread around the globe, rather than geopolitical boundaries.  Further, these new regulatory structures would need to be hosted on the blockchain.

If we are proactive about this reboot, we don’t have to suffer the ravages of climate change nearly as much as we are expected to. With massive economic inequality and environmental devastation at our doorstep, we’re already paying too steep a price. We need our leaders to mitigate the damage now.

As an example, one might have faith in Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to put into place regulations that would lead to this type of transformation, yet current Washington State governor, Jay Inslee, might prove to be a better representative. In December, he put forward an ambitious climate plan that included moving the entire state to renewable energy by 2045 and spearheaded a state-level response to the ill-considered FCC Net Neutrality ruling. These kinds of proposals—add in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal—represent the sort of ambition, we need to make a real change inside the current system.

Photo: Jay Inslee / Wikimedia Commons

Whether or not these politicians and policy makers follow through remains to be seen, but they are moving in the right direction. More importantly, the real responsibility lies with us. With the planet at stake, we have to assume as much power as we can in governing ourselves. Blockchain provides fundamentally new approaches to governance. That’s why we set up our blockchain platform, RChain, as a Washington State Cooperative. At our foundation is the most fundamental democratic principle: one member, one vote, regardless of your financial background. In this setting, the community provides the oversight. The community drives the process, which is how we need to operate if we are going to survive the consequences of climate change.

The road ahead won’t be easy, but the further we walk down our current path, the more we’ll collectively suffer. Constructing new infrastructures demands a never-ending dialogue. People will always find new exploits, and we’ll respond by improving existing architectures. The time for hoping for such a change has passed. We must now demand it, which begins by creating it.

Here are some simple steps anyone can take in order to help create political transformation through blockchain technology. Firstly, vote for representatives that are prepared to tackle climate change and corruption. Hold them to their promises and support their efforts. You might be surprised to find that many forward-thinking politicians are already interested in exploring blockchain technology to tackle climate change.

Next, become engaged in a blockchain community that means something to you. There are thousands of dApps, think tanks, online communities, and local meetups happening all around the world. Engage with groups that care about building alternative, equitable, decentralized systems. It’s not too soon, but in a few years, it could be too late.

Most importantly, never give up. There is no limit to what we can achieve when we work together. Decentralization is an essential component of this process. When no one is in charge, everyone has a voice.

With contributions by Derek Beres and Nora Germain.

One thought on “Blockchain as a tool for political transformation
  1. And a beautiful and inspiring piece.
    I just recently bacana a blockchain enthusiast as now I see the enormous potencial it has to fundamentally improve the economic and social state of our world. So I appluadyand admire very much the RChain project for its pioneering and unique concurrent execution protocol…

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