tl;dr: how public blockchains reduce the cognitive tax on assessing system credibility and why that’s important.
It was my dad who first pointed out the unspoken societal danger of terms like “rigged,” “swamp,” and “corruption” in US public discourse.
And it’s not just happening in the US.
“You can no longer trust this system. It’s not fair and it’s against you. Take my word for it.”
Now, you have a choice.
You can agree or disagree with these statements. Accept them or reject them.
But what you can’t do is prove them right…or wrong. It’s not like you can inspect the system to prove that it’s fair or not, can you?
You don’t know whom to trust.
Is the system actually ‘rigged’ or is it just a politician bloviating?
Incentives and Penalties in a Rigged System Scenario
Now it’s a game theory situation.
If you think the system isn’t rigged, but everyone else thinks it is…what happens?
If you think it is rigged, but others don’t…what happens?
I haven’t worked out all of the scenarios, but my gut says that the game theoretic optimal position to take is to behave as if the system is actually rigged.
Here’s how I break it down.
If others think it’s rigged, they have no incentive to be honest, so, they will start cheating (fake voters, multiple votes, etc.)
In their mind, “hey, it’s rigged anyway, so this is the game we have to play.”
Then others have no choice but to respond. “Well, they are cheating, so we have to do it as well.”
Pretty soon, with no penalties for dishonest behavior (the judges and juries think the system is ‘rigged’ anyway, so they are understanding), the system of trust for elections and governing is completely eroded.
No one trusts the system any longer.
Why should they?
Working on a book about the impact of public blockchains is very frustrating and tiring. It’s not like we know what will or won’t happen in any direction. All we can do is speculate.
But we can make somewhat educated guesses. These guesses are based on guiding principles of public blockchains and the benefits that they provide for citizens of decentralized societies.
One of these principles is “Credible Neutrality.”
The founder of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, has a long post called “Credible Neutrality As A Guiding Principle’ that, like all of his writing, is dense and packed with tremendous insight. Not light reading. You’ve been forewarned.
I think the summary does a nice job of providing the gist.
as the number of software-intermediated marketplaces of different forms that we rely on keeps increasing, it becomes ever more important to make sure that these systems do not end up giving power to a select few – whether the operators of those platforms or even more powerful forces that end up capturing them – and instead create credible systems of rules that we can all get behind.
This is one of the grand promises of public blockchains.
Due to its native transparency and open-source software, it has the potential to support underlying systems of trust that can (relatively) easily withstand allegation of “rigging.”
The Superior Alternative that Can Emerge
My bet is that these systems ,when deployed and when the interfaces/user experience are better, will offer a superior environment for trust.
Instead of the mental and emotional tax we all pay when forced to determine “rigged” or “not rigged” when choosing a system of trust, we will have the option to decide between “provably fair” or “not provably fair.”
The friction that is removed when you KNOW that a system is fair provides a competitive advantage to marketplaces that come with “credible neutrality” standard.
When trust comes standard and all the other boxes get checked, people will move.
I think about the anxiety and stress that the comments from politicians put on everyone else. It concerns me on many levels.
Soon, and maybe now, we’ll get to a point where we just look at these “rigged” discussions and the doubt that comes from them as “pains we just have to live with.” It’s like chronic back problems or migraines.
One day, hopefully sooner rather than later for the sake of civilization and democracy, we’ll have a medicine that reminds us that life doesn’t have to be that way.
Until then, take the crypto maxim to heart: Trust, but Verify.
P.S. Today is President’s Day in the US, when we celebrate the all-time greats of Washington and Lincoln. Perhaps this can serve as a motivator for restoring belief and desire for a transparently fair, credibly neutral system that avoids allegation of “rigging.”