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Democratic and digital governance

Hi folks. I’ve been trying to fill in some gaps in my knowledge about blockchains and along the way learned a bit about how they work so gonna share some high level takeaways in case others find it useful.

The main benefit of blockchains in my opinion is the immutable codification of governance by using programming languages and mathematically rigorous cryptographic primitives for attestation of various claims with “smart” contracts. So far they have been only applied in financial contexts where attestation simply comes down to verifying that some parties agreed to transfer digital tokens from one set of accounts to some other ones. This is all well and good but the ecosystem has just been structured around speculative trading and arbitrage between the different types of currencies because the focus has mostly been on market making DAOs where trading and returning profits to members of the DAO is the main function of the smart contracts supporting the DAO.

Happy to fill in more details about what I’ve learned but my general impression is that it is possible to use forums like OGM to perform all the functions of DAOs without the overhead of the associated blockchain technology for solving consensus problems because simple majority voting for making decisions is a good way to record what was decided and what actions were associated with the decision. More concretely, forum avatars are probably a good enough proof of identity (avoiding the need for cryptographic keys) and adding new members can involve a voting process to make sure that reasonable precautions have been taken to avoid Sybil type scenarios.

Happy to hear thoughts from folks here as well about the types of governance and economic models they have thought about. I’m currently thinking through a concrete project but my economics knowledge isn’t great so I haven’t yet thought through all the implications of an open and digital governance model of politics and how it interacts with economics.

there is a chapter on using the ‘currency’ of evaluated merit points in an account of contributions to the planning discourse for purposes related to governance and the control of power of people in major decision-making positions that may be on interest in this connection.

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Thanks for the reference but my current thinking is to avoid hierarchical power imbalance issues by stipulating that every person gets 1 vote in every decision. In digital contexts direct democratic participation scales much better than in real world politics. A virtual space like a discourse forum has no practical limits on the number of participants and their geographical distribution. If someone has a mobile phone and an internet connection then they can directly participate in every decision without delegating their vote to a representative.

I agree with the one vote for every person principle, for well-defined constituencies.The problem with many of the challenges we are facing is that they transcend traditional governance boundaries. So when the constituency of people affected by a problem is not defined: how will we determine the decision? Majority rule does not work any more for such situations. Thus, I think it is necessary to develop different decision modes – for example, based on the principle of basing decisions on the weight or merit of the pro and con arguments offered by participants in the planning conversation, in addition to the weight of concerns of people affected. It also requires some distinctions between the kinds of decisions to be made. When we are on a ship heading for an iceberg, somebody has to make a decision about whether to change course to port or starboard – fast. This means that for some decisions a kind of ‘hierarchy’ is needed – but of course not for all. There is some research and discussion needed for how new technology can help developing new agreements for these issues.

The constituency for a decision is the set of people that decide to vote on the issue. This seems like it is pretty well defined. More concretely, if someone is working on a factory floor to build cars then it is fair to say that the factory workers are the constituents for any and all relevant decisions related to the operations of the factory. As in, if I have opinions about how the factory should be building cars then voting for a 3rd party politician and then lobbying them to implement some policy about how cars should be built is much more ill-defined than direct participation by the workers. If your argument is that this does not scale beyond factories to more geographically distributed and diffuse problems like global warming then I’d probably disagree with that as well. Global warming is a result of undemocratic decision making processes that favor the accumulation of wealth and power to those that are in higher positions of ill-defined hierarchies.

Contemporary communication tools like discourse enable direct participation so intermediating power brokers and the associated hierarchies are becoming less and less relevant. Maybe my local government should use a platform other than discourse but at the moment they are not using anything and it is hampering their ability to make good decisions because the local residents have delegated all their decision making to a board of directors (presumably because they were convincing enough as politicians and not because they were any good at doing their jobs).

So I agree that discussions and arguments (and their associated merits) are a good way to figure out which policies to implement but the the folks most affected by the decision should be the ones that have a final say in the matter by default. This does not preclude them from delegating that responsibility if they decide that it is in their best interest to do so.

Davidk0, Are things really that well-defined and simple? Isn’t your determination of the — appropriate? legitimate ? — constituency for decisions as ‘the people that decide to vote on the issue’ open to some potential controversy? For one, many people who will be affected by a decision now are not contributing or voting simply because they do not feel their vote will make a difference, or because there are obstacles to do so. Should the workers in a competition factory be considered part of the constituency? Arguably, they might be very much ‘affected’? But so would the folks who have made investments in the companies, the citizens of the area whose governments are expected to provide infrastructure, — roads, utilities, schools, hospitals and so on — for the workers and their families, all of which will impact the ecology of the area. For all ‘direct democracy’ arrangements, is the assumption that everybody casting a vote does so on the basis of being ‘adequately informed’ a realistic one? Just asking these questions, I feel, makes it necessary to look at the issues as being somewhat more complicated. And calling for different solutions — solutions that may now be feasible due to new technology. Starting with the exploration of how new technology might work on known arrangements is a valid approach, – I appreciate what is being done in that respect – but I think it’s necessary to look at the issues outside of that box as well.

Well @thor if your solution is to continue keeping people powerless at their workplaces then you’re not really in favor of democracy. It’s pretty simple. If you are opposed to giving people the ability to vote about how their work gets done because of previous monetary investments then you are putting monetary concerns above democratic ones. Which is the point I made previously about why we are in the mess we are in right now. The hierarchical structure of corporate governance favors the interests of those with money and leads to the destruction of planetary resources because the people with money want to continue to make more of it and accumulate it in their bank accounts. This is clearly not a sustainable approach. The status quo does not work and it’s pretty obvious to anyone willing to look closely at the current state of affairs.

I think some of your concerns are valid but they’re not real obstructions to rethinking corporate and general business governance to allow more direct participation from their workers. Similarly for local governments and how they go about implementing and enacting local policies. More direct participation from people that live in the areas where the policies are applicable can only improve their effectiveness and compliance.

David, I am afraid that y ou are seriously misunderstanding my comments. I certainly am not advocating to ‘keep people powerless at their workplaces’ — where have I said anything that even remotely implies that? Nor am I opposed to giving people the ability to vote about how their work gets done. I am concerned about the fact that simple majority voting — the vote — does not work as well any more as we’d like it to, especially for many decisions we are now facing. Which facilitates some of the entirely unjust, undemocratic and otherwise dysfunctional consequences we deplore.

One difficulty may be that your ideas seem to be focused on workers for distinct company factories — and I am very interested to learn more about the technical tools y ou are applying to that task — while I am working on governance issues that transcend traditional governance boundaries.

My point is that the traditional democracy tools relying on majority voting are no longer adequate for several of the situations that need better decisions, for several reasons. So they need substantial improvement, not just more of the tools that don’t work. One major issue is to get decisions based on the quality and importance of information and arguments (including those of factory workers, of course), not just votes that, as we have seen, can be bought and overridden by financial forces. One of my suggestions is to introduce a different ‘currency’ for public decision-making to counteract and perhaps replace money and hierarchical power relationships.

One suggestion for your work may be to look at how this issue has been dealt with in some European countries, where worker / employee representation on company decision-making boards has been achieved for quite a while already. The issue is whether that is sufficient to safeguard worker concerns, and how it may be improved.

Thanks for the clarification but you have not explained why simple majority voting is inadequate. It’s pretty clear to me that representational democracy has been subverted by monetary and economic concerns at the expense of local ecological, political, and economic stability because the representatives are too far removed from local concerns and don’t have the same incentives. The same issues come up in any hierarchical arrangement where the work being done is not improved by worker feedback but is instead informed by 3rd party experts that are good at putting together powerpoint presentations and convincing those higher up in the managerial hierarchy that their suggestions are good ideas.

So what you’re suggesting seems to me unworkable because it is what is currently implemented and if the improvements you are suggesting do not work in workplaces then why would they work on a larger scale?

David, Sorry, more misunderstanding. I suggested that the remedies you seem to propose have some precedent in other countries. What I am exploring in my articles is quite different. It has not been implemented anywhere yet — I believe the technological tools you are working on, — (that I would like to learn more about, is there material I could study?) — are also under development? So quick judgments about whether they may become workable are somewhat premature. Perhaps looking at my papers might clarify things. If you don’t have access to I could send excerpts — don’t k now if I can send them to this site, if you are at all interested. By the way, I will be traveling for the coming week or two, with internet access uncertain so I will not be able to devote much time to this exchange.

That’s fine, we can close this discussion then because I don’t think we will reach a resolution. I’ll answer your question about why new technology is not necessary for better workplace and local city governance. The point I am making is that discourse and other forum software like it that support versioned documents and basic polls are already sufficient for implementing direct democratic processes in workplaces and local city governments because they reduce the barriers to providing feedback for policies and their implementations by those that will be most affected.