Tribal, Feudal, Monarchic, Autocratic, Theocratic, Oligarchic, Communist & Democratic, just to name a few. Throughout the arc of history so far it feels like we’ve already seen a lot of ways people can organise themselves. Like Thomas Edison and his extensive list of what doesn’t work as a light bulb filament. Through trial and error, testing all these systems in various locations around the world we know which ones work and which ones don’t. We have very recent first hand experience proving Communism doesn’t work, in every place it has been implemented it has created more human suffering than the systems that went before it. We know that Democratic Capitalism so far has produced the largest increase in human well being and prosperity than any other system before it. But if one were to look at the United States of America, the poster child of Democratic Capitalism, between 2015 and 2020 you’d be forgiven for not believing it. Something still doesn’t feel quite right. You get a nagging sense that there’s something better, something we’ve not yet thought of, that could not only solve the problems we are currently facing but provide yet another step change to a better future.
Could that system possibly be a Voluntary Government? An idea put forward by John Palmer back in this 2016 essay.
Currently in our democratic system we are governed by a majority vote of the people. Politicians campaign on the things they promise to do to improve our society, people vote for what policies they want, and once in office the politicians implement them. A process of slow and steady change with checks and balances to prevent one political party running roughshod over the dissenting voters in the country.
However over time this has devolved into a reality where governments are increasingly voted in on razor thin margins, barely a vote over the absolute minimum of 50% required. Making the entire process of implementing the new laws they campaigned on all but impossible. The political process has ground to a standstill, and it feels more like sitting in peak hour traffic than at the dawn of a new age.
Meanwhile within this ecosystem is a thriving, competitive marketplace for ideas in our business community. New startups rise up and overtake incumbent businesses with such regularity that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up. It’s like AFL players competing to take a mark, just when one player thinks they’ve got it someone comes up behind them, stands on their shoulders and launches up into the air above them and snatches the ball from right in front of their faces. There are so many instances of this happening, everyone has a different example: Apple>Nokia, Facebook>MySpace, Canon & Nikon>Kodak, the list goes on.
As John points out, this has to do with the speed at which competing businesses have to come up with new ideas to survive. Business is such a competitive landscape that firms are constantly trying to innovate in a way to give them an edge over their competitors. When compared to the political environment which more resembles an Oligopoly, the exact opposite of competition, rife with collusion and a distinct lack of innovation.
Take Xero, an accounting software system that started in a tiny coroner or the world called New Zealand, it pioneered the use of API data feeds between banks and accounting software providers, an innovation enabling it to devour the local incumbents before they knew what was happening, with its proof of concept in hand it expanded into the Australian market also devouring the incumbent there too (MYOB), caught completely off guard, but by the time it got the the USA, the incumbent there (Intuit) had witnessed the carnage and prepared itself, not suffering anywhere near the same result. Had Xero not arrived on the scene Intuit would have done nothing, but precisely because it saw this new threat approaching it was able to adopt these new innovations and thrive.
If it were not for the flood of wealthy capitalists abandoning their high tax welfare states and flocking en masse to Singapore, taxes would still be going up in all welfare states, but they are slowly starting to take notice of this exodus and change course. If there were multiple Singapore's it would be even better, giving people more choice, and exerting even more pressure on the high tax welfare states.
We need a way to test more systems of government in less time, so we can work out which ones are better and which ones are not, without waiting generations to find out which is which.
What the future could look like
Imagine a Government that instead of only having the support of 51% of its constituents has the support of 100%. One where joining or exiting is as easy as opening or closing a bank account.
This is what John is referring to when he says Voluntary Government. Only those who volunteer to uphold the pre-programmed conditions of membership need to follow the rules, and those that don’t are under no obligation to stay, but they also don’t receive any of the benefits that abiding by the rules affords its members.
These Voluntary governments would act more like businesses than today’s current governments. They would enact policies that benefit those who pay, not those who receive but don’t contribute. A system where the vote you get could even be proportionate to the value you bring to the collective.
This new idea of government is now made possible with cryptocurrencies. They will form the backbone of this Online Voluntary Government. It facilitates the smart contracts people agree to when joining, records an unchangeable evidence log of transactions, obligations met and unmet, is a currency with which to transact between members, and when it eventually materialises into the physical world, a record of all physical assets held and by whom.
John’s suggestion is to base this on the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain, but my thoughts are there are better ones to use or create (Note: I’m a tax accountant not a software engineer, and I’m aware this might not be possible yet, but some smart person with coding skills could make it a reality) In my opinion the Zcash (ZEC) block chain has features that would make it the best to build an online Voluntary Government on, you could use the t addresses for things within this society that you might want some level of identifiability and a z address for those you want total anonymity. Imagine aggregating health data for the entire population without having to worry about anyone's personal identity being compromised. Or voting for a controversial political candidate without ruining family Christmas because your parents disagree with you. And on the other end of the spectrum say you're getting married and you are declaring to the world the commitment you are making to each other, one that you want the accountability of the entire community, so they can help you keep your vow in the face of opportunity to stray. You might choose to disclose everything to everyone and by using your t address for everything, or use your z address for everything, the choice is as it should be, totally up to you.
In the same way the USA is the combination of taking what was working well in Britain, discarding what was not and adding what was uniquely theirs, the next iteration of Government will be the same. There might be many failed attempts to achieve this or it might work right out of the gates. It might get built on ETH, ADA or ZEC, or all three. But none of these things are knowable until we try.
One further stepping stone
The only thing i think is missing from the timeline proposed by John is the idea of Seasteading, this i see as an intermediate step between a virtual government operating in VR and it materialising in the real world. When you skip this step and go straight to the physical land based world you end up being bound by 2 separate governments, one dictating by virtue of where you are and the other because you agree with its policies. Yes you may be able to move enough people to a sparsely populated area to take control of the incumbent government and replace it with the new one you've moved in, but that would mean it is no longer voluntary, and is democratic, taking you back to where you started.
Seasteading takes this conflict out of the equation. It allows you to move your online community to a physical place, where they can live and interact and their laws are the only laws of the (floating) land. Free to come and go as they want, in a Governance Beta test that will either validate or invalidate their laws and give a blueprint to be copied.
Once they've proven their concept is viable it may eventually expand its territory onto the mainland if an existing government decides to implement it's ideals. They'd in essence be like R&D labs to test future governmental changes.
Want to legalise drugs, watch a seastead do it first, and see what happens, if it goes well then legalise drugs in your nation state. If it devolves into anarchy, cross it off the list.
There could be literally hundreds of separate seasteads, some their own sovereign floating islands, others experiments by and extensions of mainland governments (Similar to the China's 'Special Economic Zones'), to test any number of things all at once, a seastead with high taxes, one with low taxes, one with no drugs at all, one with all the drugs you want, one with a UBI, one with no income support at all.
In a similar way to China and how it used Singapore as their blueprint for reform, looking across and asking themselves, why are they doing so well while we're still here struggling, lets copy what they're doing and maybe we'll end up as successful as them.