Posts tagged "democracy"

Wanted: precise terminology about democracy

In the previous blog post I presented one example of a confusion when talking about democracy: we use democracy for both “one person, one vote” and “one dollar, one vote” approaches to voting. But the issue is much broader. Saying that something is democratic does not really tell much, because it can mean anything from a majority voting, consensus (unanimity), voting based on shares, a system with representatives and one where we vote directly. Democracy is used to wage wars, topple dictators, but also topple democratically elected people. We use democracy to say “you cannot argue with it”. And we use it to position ourselves as morally superior. As such, the term democracy became almost useless.

We need to start finding more precise terminology for all aspects of democracy. What does it mean that a cooperative is democratically run? That workers can elect board members? That they do not have votes based on shares? Or that they can directly influence business decisions through a democratic process? Which process exactly? Does it matter? Are all the same? I do not think so.

Let’s start building terminology. Collectively.

One person, one vote or one dollar, one vote and blockchain

We live in times of a hidden war between “one person, one vote” and “one dollar, one vote” ideologies. The reason why it is hidden is because we use the same terms for both: democracy, voting, consensus, etc. We govern our governments each having one vote, but in our companies shareholders commonly hold votes proportional to their share. Some people are claiming that the latter is a better approach and everything should be decided through markets and power. I believe that using power (physical or monetary) to make decisions is barbaric and that our civilization progress was to introduce a more true democracy, one person, one vote. But I do not believe even that is the end of our developments in this respect and we should continue developing our collective governance. Moreover, I do not believe that these two positions are necessary the only possibilities, and some combinations might also exist. In some way we might even already have that: using “one person, one vote” to decide the rules under which we operate, but using “one dollar, one vote” to decide how to split the profits.

Anyway, all this could be a topic of some other longer blog post. Here I wanted to explain this existing tension between these two ideologies to present how they have existed in decentralized technologies as well and why Bitcoin’s blockchain is so innovative.

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Futarchy: Vote Values, But Bet Beliefs

An interesting idea how to aggregate knowledge for decision making.

Peer-to-Peer voting scheme

The following was a class report done together with Valkyrie Savage where we compared my idea for voting described in the previous post with others similar ideas we found around. This idea is envisioned as a backend for the massive online collaborative decision making system already described. Please comment below if we missed something or understood something wrong.


We designed a voting scheme which allows a group of people to better decide on a common opinion about an issue. Currently, the most used approach is to simply count number of votes against and for, while not taking into account people who do not cast a vote. Our approach is to have each person define delegates whose votes will be counted when he/she does not vote him/herself. In this way we get a social network, a trust network, between users which can be used to transitively compute missing votes. We believe such a result better represents the will of the group.

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Towards a better group decision-making

One more old document explaining technical background of the voting system presented in the previous post. Historically it was made few years before the ideas of the previous post, so it does not describe all the properties needed for it. But it does explain how to achieve that just a smaller number of people have to vote and you can still have some understanding what is the opinion of the whole population of a group. This is a necessary property when you want to vote often and on many different topics. We cannot assume that all members of the group will have time and/or knowledge to decide on all those questions, but we believe that they at least know who in their social network is capable of making such a decision and at the same time share their values. So they can delegate voting on this particular questions to them.

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Massive online collaborative decision-making system

I am publishing a longer document describing one my idea of a massive online collaborative decision-making system. I worked on this idea last year, but for now I put it on hold focusing on other projects. Still, I think there is some value in sharing it.

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Plato's Idealism by J. B. S. Haldane

And just as there is a best size for every animal, so the same is true for every human institution. In the Greek type of democracy all the citizens could listen to a series of orators and vote directly on questions of legislation. Hence their philosophers held that a small city was the largest possible democratic state. The English invention of representative government made a democratic nation possible, and the possibility was first realized in the United States, and later elsewhere. With the development of broadcasting it has once more become possible for every citizen to listen to the political views of representative orators, and the future may perhaps see the return of the national state to the Greek form of democracy. Even the referendum has been made possible only by the institution of daily newspapers.

An essay by J. B. S. Haldane from 1928.

Effective democracy

What exactly is effective democracy? What exactly is effective participation in democracy? Some people complain that other people do not participate in democracy enough. Not enough people vote. Not enough people sign petitions. Not enough people go to riots. Why?

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Questioning democracy

Why it is not allowed to question democracy? Why this became a taboo? An idea you do not question? A human artifact you do not want to improve? We wage wars in the name of the democracy. It is a stop word for any discussion: “This is not democratic.” Yes? Maybe? It is good to recognize this, but not to stop discussion because of that.

How many of you can count how many times democracy went wrong? How many of you can count how many times a dictatorship turned good? Do you even know about benevolent dictators from our past? Do you believe that there have been none? Or you just have not learned about them? I agree that we have come far in our search for a good system to govern ourselves, but we must not stop our search here. We should be able to look in all directions for clues to guide us to the system which would really have people at its core. Not just in the name.

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