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Building Online Democracy: Part I
Navigating the world through the potential collapse
For two and a half years, I've been deeply exploring meta-governments, network states, decentralization, blockchains, and online democratic governance (ODG). These tools could address global issues like social inequality, climate change, and disease eradication. Opportunities include online voting, optimized funding, and blockchain for public trust and privacy.
I founded a research company to delve into these concepts a year ago. My aim is to offer insights into the international scene, avoid politics, and appreciate thoughtful critique. This article discusses the issue, while the following piece will focus on potential solutions.
My mission is to "release humanity from the matrix", viewing AI and online democracy as key. This is crucial in addressing challenges posed by superior AI, fostering self-sovereign individuals, and amplifying talent and ambition.
Three weeks before this tweet, I wrote a blog post titled "Human: The Ultimate Solution for AGI Safety and Major Human Challenges"” Funnily enough, I argue on the same topic.
The problem with this tweet isn't about finding the best solution to the AGI control issue but addressing the potential consequences of allowing Twitter users to vote by paying $8. This specific method is arguably the most unfavorable outcome we could envision. Fundamentally, it fails to solve the underlying problem.
Let's consider a hypothetical yet highly plausible scenario where Elon Musk determines user verification status and subsequently open-sources the voting protocol to gain public trust. Although this may improve existing options, the entire voting process remains susceptible to manipulation. Confidence in the system is fragile, as it relies solely on one individual's approval of the voter list. Since an $8 fee grants voting rights, it would only take a few million dollars or less for any government to exert undue influence over the voting process, ultimately undermining its integrity.
For instance, let's consider the 2016 presidential election and apply it to this platform. We must consider the popular vote difference and the potential for flipping Electoral College votes. With that in mind, we could estimate how many votes Twitter could theoretically influence to alter the election outcome. The three states with the smallest margins of victory for Trump that could have changed the work were:
Michigan: 10,704 votes
Wisconsin: 22,748 votes
Pennsylvania: 44,292 votes
She would have won the electoral college if these states had gone to Clinton instead of Trump. So, adding up those vote margins, you'd need to "buy" approximately 77,744 votes.
At $8 per vote, that would theoretically cost about $621,952. That is just a theoretical simulation; obviously, there would be more competition from both sides in real life if such a mechanic existed.
With all due respect to Elon, he uses his public image to sway opinions and consolidate his power rather than focusing exclusively on projects that significantly benefit humanity.
The importance of online democratic governance
As we stand in 2023, we find ourselves at a critical juncture where traditional methods rapidly become obsolete, and we have yet to develop suitable replacements.
The ongoing information wars among nations and the challenges of implementing leadership changes through fair elections have contributed to crises like the war in Ukraine. The onset of the U.S. recession in 2023 can be attributed to sluggish policy adjustments by the Federal Reserve. This situation underscores the potential value of enabling public propositions and votes on policy changes, extending beyond the confines of appointed officials.
AGI control problem and crypto regulation are definitely the most visible in the present moment, and ODG is “the least bad solution”1
Online governance offers numerous advantages and potential applications:
Global democratic inclusion: Enhancing political participation through online voting2, digital petitions, transparent decision-making, and real-time policy feedback and adjustments. It will help accept direct responsibility for each individual for the impact of their decisions.
Improved public goods funding, much more efficient capital allocation: Facilitating efficient resource allocation and redistribution using data-driven, real-time feedback mechanisms.
Streamlined taxation systems: Promoting transparency, efficiency, and goal-oriented tax collection and administration approaches.
Diverse policy experimentation: Encouraging the exploration of various governance models and creating new virtual states.
Cross-border collaboration: Fostering cooperation and idea-sharing among citizens from different countries.
Governance-led network states: Establishing communities centered around shared values and interests rather than geographic location or place of birth. While the existing notion of "Network States" is tied to a particular definition coined by certain online personalities, I believe this term and description don't fully capture the essence of the concept. I plan to delve deeper into this subject in the future.
Citizen-led initiatives and social innovation: Empowering individuals to develop and implement solutions to local and global challenges.
Combating misinformation and corruption: Enhancing online trust and accountability by addressing misinformation and reducing opportunities for corruption.
Universal basic income: Fair distribution of economic benefits between system “citizens.”
Although these ideas are promising, the potential of online governance is vast. As new technologies and methodologies arise, more applications will undoubtedly be uncovered.
Applicable example: Ocean Cleanup & Capital Allocation
Ocean pollution and the necessary cleanup efforts are significant global issue. As of 2023, the Ocean Cleanup project, a non-profit organization, has impressively extracted over 206 tons3 of plastic from the ocean with a supported ~$50 million known investment.
The Ocean Cleanup estimates that their technology could clean up ~50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within a 10-year timeframe4 at an approximate cost of $500M. Let’s roughly say that in order to do the same within a 5-year timeframe, they’d need $1B. However, this figure merely scratches the surface of the total cost of a global ocean cleanup, which would undoubtedly be significantly higher. It's also crucial to note that this estimate only covers the cost of removing existing waste, not the cost of measures to prevent further pollution. What would the cost be to clean up 98%-100% of the global ocean? $50 billion? Perhaps even $100 billion?
The comparison between the U.S. government's healthcare spending, which is partly aimed at increasing average life expectancy, and the funding for the Ocean Cleanup project reveals a striking disparity. In 2022, the U.S. shelled out an estimated $4.3 trillion on healthcare. This funding is devoted to enhancing life expectancy through disease prevention, treatment, and research initiatives. This amount is a staggering 86,000 times greater than the funds allocated to the Ocean Cleanup project. While it's clear that healthcare encompasses far more than just improving life expectancy, the significant difference in financial investment is worth noting.
Over the past few decades, the average lifespan in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, roughly by ~2 years every decade. While this is undoubtedly important, it does raise questions about efficient capital allocation. Many of those in government are older, with voting rights, and may naturally prioritize their immediate concerns over the needs of future generations.
Imagine, for a moment, that approximately 5% of the global population—around 400 million people, roughly equivalent to the population of the United States—holds a deep concern for ocean pollution and environmental issues. The U.S., for context, amasses an annual tax revenue of about $3.5-4 trillion.
Now, envision a novel form of society or governance (ODG), one that is not bound by geographical borders but is instead formed around shared beliefs and values. In this society, taxes are leveraged as a powerful tool to address pressing global issues.
In this context, the goal of amassing $1 billion to tackle 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over a span of five years wouldn't seem like an unachievable feat. In fact, it would translate to a mere contribution of $2.5 per individual.
If we propose that $100 billion is required to cleanse the global ocean, this would also represent a relatively reasonable contribution from 400 million people, especially compared to the revenue of economies with similar population sizes. Moreover, capital allocation doesn’t require raising the whole $100B right away since it requires time to clean the global ocean within a few years timeframe. This thought experiment underscores the potential of collective action and resource allocation in tackling some of the world's most pressing environmental challenges.
Ideal solution. Core Principles.
An ideal online governance system should embody the following core principles:
Human-centric design: The system should prioritize individuals’ needs, experiences, and well-being while respecting cultural and social differences.
Decentralization: Trust is a critical component of effective governance. A decentralized system, based on consensus among multiple parties, can help establish a more robust and resilient trust model.
Collaboration: While traditional capitalism emphasizes competition, fostering cooperation can lead to more efficient outcomes when appropriate economic incentives are in place. Online tools can enable new, collaborative models of governance and resource allocation.
Pluralism: The system should allow for the peaceful coexistence of diverse perspectives rather than a majority imposing its will on a minority. This approach promotes inclusivity and can lead to more balanced decision-making.
Public good orientation: The system should be designed and operated as a public good, like the internet, ensuring its benefits are accessible to all members of society.
Equality of votes: The system should ensure that each participant's vote carries equal weight, regardless of their social or economic standing, like age, gender, or nationality, promoting fairness and representation.
Credible Nuterality: The system doesn’t discriminate against any specific people or group of people and treats everyone fairly, to the extent that it’s possible to treat people fairly in a world where everyone’s capabilities and needs are so different.
Privacy and anonymity: To protect individuals' rights and ensure their participation, the system should prioritize privacy and anonymity, safeguarding sensitive information and minimizing potential misuse or manipulation.
Adjusting to the rapidly evolving global landscape: This applies to the swiftly transforming world and existing legal frameworks. It is vital to incorporate online democratic governance systems into the current international context. Collaborating with other well-established democracies is important, but care must be taken when dealing with autocratic governments. They could perceive the system as a menace rather than an instrument for progress.
By embracing these core values, an online governance system can effectively address the challenges of the digital age and create an inclusive, collaborative, and responsive environment that benefits all members of society.
Pluralism: In-Depth of a Principle
While all principles are essential, feedback suggests they may seem too abstract. Let's ground one in a real-world example.
In today's political climate, if 51% vote for Democrats, the other 49% of Republicans must live with the results for the next four years, and vice versa. Despite its flaws, the US stands out, though corruption remains an issue globally.
Here's a simple illustration: in a "democratic" group of three, a decision is final if 2 out of 3 vote for it. Hence, the majority could vote to divide the third member's wealth between them, which would still be deemed a "legitimate democratic process."
This scenario can be extrapolated to the entire US economy:
Take the topic of taxation and wealth redistribution, a mainstay in U.S. politics. Certain policies advocate for taxing the wealthy more to fund social programs, essentially redistributing wealth. Proponents argue this is democratic since elected officials propose these policies and most citizens back them.
Critics, however, might say this mirrors the situation where 2 out of 3 individuals vote to split the third's wealth. The wealthiest, a minority, may feel unfairly targeted even though the process is democratically sanctioned.
Keep in mind, this is a simplified representation of a complex issue, and individual perspectives can vary.
I'm not expressing a personal stance on this proposal, merely highlighting the minority's plight and their inability to opt out.
This brings us to pluralism: you decide whether or not to participate in a particular democracy, and only then do you face the majority's decisions. If you're dissatisfied in the future, you can opt out and seek a better alternative. Rather than enforcing uniformity, this principle allows multiple democratic systems to coexist without the minority suffering due to the majority's decisions. This would necessitate a novel approach to how these democracies interact, but that's a topic for another discussion.
We're falling behind.
In the race to develop effective online governance systems, adherence to core principles like decentralization, privacy, and human-centric design is paramount. However, there's a risk of falling behind if users continue to use centralized or privacy-abusing platforms, such as Twitter, out of unfamiliarity with decentralized technologies. A single company leading this initiative could lead to a dangerous concentration of power that surpasses any existing government or major tech corporation.
We need to proactively address these concerns, but the task is difficult, as solutions that simplify the process may compromise core principles. The design should aim for integration with democratic countries, excluding autocracies and ensuring compliance with legal frameworks and participant rights.
In our increasingly digital world, the priority should be on building robust, inclusive, and efficient online democratic governance systems. We can overcome the significant challenges ahead by embracing principles like collaboration, pluralism, credible neutrality, public good orientation, vote equality, and privacy.
The clock is ticking; Our collective responsibility is to ensure democracy's evolution benefits everyone. Let's innovate, avoid centralization threats, and empower global individuals and communities.
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Acknowledgments to Libermans, Will Depue, and reState.global for reviewing the early drafts.
I firmly believe that majority rule isn't always the best approach. This was a fundamental flaw in the initial concept of DAOs. What's often required are smaller groups of fresh-minded outsiders with deep insights into the subject matter to make critical decisions. While voting is a crucial component, the initial use of ODG should be to elect a 'Congress' of sorts. However, this introduces new challenges, such as avoiding conflicts of interest and bias from media campaigns that may not necessarily favor the most suitable representatives. We're yet to fully explore solutions to these complex issues.