Democracy has been a pillar of Western civilization since around 500 BC. In its many shapes and forms, democracy has evolved with societies to serve a political structure. As possibly all political theories go, democracy promises greater merit on paper than in practice. Just the element of democratic voting poses some serious challenges. For example, just to name a few, it is hard to predict consequences of the majority vote. Secondly, it can be problematic to decide who is eligible to vote, and whether all votes are of equal weight. Thirdly, it is required that voters are knowledgeable about the topics on which they vote, which is difficult to control. Finally, the issues which require a vote are often more complex than a black and white decision, making it harder for voting to have meaningful input.
The revolutionary development of blockchain technology is a game-changer for many industries, but it also changes the practical possibilities of democracy. Blockchain innovates on the existing democratic framework and facilitates a solution to some of the problems, through the inherent qualities of decentralization, transparency and incorruptibility. Democracy.Earth is an organization which deals with exactly this, offering “free, sovereign and incorruptible governance.”
Santiago Siri, the founder, sees what is so-called Liquid Democracy as a part of the inevitable evolution of democracy, one which is designed for the Internet Age. “Democracy is not an absolute idea, it’s a work in progress. It will never be complete,” he says. This month, Democracy.Earth is just celebrating its first implementation of quadratic voting (explained in the interview below) in the state of Colorado, on May 16th 2019.
Maria Sofía Cossar Lambertini is an ambassador to Democracy.Earth, with a background in Political Law of International Security. Maria is a “democracy disruptor, incremental revolutionary, hacktivist and creative non-conformist.” In our interview, she answers some of the most imperative questions about the revolutionary connection between blockchain and democracy.
What are the current pitfalls in democracy?
“The dilemma that democracy faces is four-fold, and it is linked to its current design: representative democracy combined with party politics.
- Rampant centralization of power. This includes “formal power” (due to institutional and bureaucratic barriers like regular elections) and “real power” (due to an uneven influence in decision-making in benefit of privileged groups like lobbyists).
- Very weak interest aggregation mechanism, since our only option is to directly vote for candidates with pre-settled, rigid, overarching political platforms, with the hope they get elected and their policies implemented, instead of voting directly on particular issues.
- We are victims of deliberate manipulation of the public opinion and sentiment through emotion-abundant speeches and unverified statements. Legitimization in the public sphere usually resorts to evoking anger, fear, and hope instead of making use of mature, rigorous debate.
- We cannot effectively dismantle the lack of transparency in the government. Secrecy is an intrinsic feature of most governmental operations.
- We cannot effectively hold our representatives accountable for poor or repudiable performances in a timely manner, since our votes are “kept frozen” until new elections.
Of course, democracy has been an improvement when compared to autocracies and dictatorships. But it continues to be unethically advertised as the “government of the people, for the people.” That is the equivalent of arguing that free market capitalism is a meritocratic market of perfect competition. Those might be idealized end-points, but we are still far from turning them into a reality.”
The innovation of blockchain technology changes the rules of the game. What does it enable (politically) that was not possible before?
“What blockchain technology ensures to civil-tech, in general, and e-voting platforms, particularly, is transparency and inviolability when recording peer-to-peer transactions/ transfers of information (votes). Depending on the protocol, it can also ensure anonymity, meeting the requirement, for example, that the vote be secret. Altogether, it adds a layer of trustability to transactions in the political sphere, including for policy and lawmaking within democratic systems. In a world where the level of political engagement of the active population is in sharp decline, it certainly becomes a game-changer.”
How are decentralization and democracy linked?
“By default, decentralized decision-making schemes are democratic, but not all democracies are decentralized. Lack of delegation leads to a “polyopoly”, or extreme fragmentation of the voting power. Abundance of delegation can lead to a “monopoly”, or extreme concentration of voting power. In theory, we should aim for a trusted environment of decentralized governance that is both stable and based on a high level of legitimacy. For that reason, Democracy Earth combines liquid democracy with quadratic voting.
In quadratic voting, the number of votes spent increases quadratically with the number of votes sent. That is, if Alice wants to send one vote to a proposal or delegate to a person, she can spend one vote on that issue. But, for example, if she wants the proposal to receive two votes (i.e., voting twice), it will cost her four votes. Thus, through quadratic voting, participants can express how strongly they feel about an issue without necessarily falling into a polyopoly.”
How does Democracy Earth innovate on the philosophy of democracy?
“Sovereign is Democracy Earth’s unique proposal – a blockchain-based liquid democracy platform which innovates in four key points: identity, liquidity, voting, and representation.
User-citizens are able to participate after their self-sovereign identity is validated by other members of the network, ensuring data privacy and ownership while claiming back a role that has been historically delegated solely to public registries in national jurisdictions. Once validated, each of them gets a certain number of tokens that can be used to vote, which are dripped over time to his wallet following a UBI mechanism. This guarantees an equal starting point and liquidity for all participants, irrespectively of when they join the network.
Additional votes may be delegated by another user or granted by the respective Organization. Private and public Organizations of any size can be set up through a Constitutional Smart Contract, which lays out the governance rules in terms of membership, issues, and ballots. The possibilities are endless: from a time-limited, one-man/ one-vote, and simple majority type of scheme; to a never-ending, plural voting, voter’s reputation counting method configuration.
However, the truly innovative feature pertains to representation: who casts the votes? Both representative democracy and direct democracy work within a binary option-spectrum participation / abstention. Under representative democracy, one “participates” when voting for a candidate. Under direct democracy, when deciding on an issue.
Liquid democracy, as envisaged by Democracy Earth, involves a different social dynamic streaming from a wider and more fluid sense of individual freedom: participation / delegation / revocation / abstention. If the Organization decides to operate under a liquid democracy scheme, user-citizens can freely decide whether to directly cast a vote on the issue or delegate it to anyone within his or her social graph based on trust, expertise, or any other quality. If they feel that their representative voted incorrectly, or if they change their mind on the issue, they can revoke that vote at any time.”