Identities of the future run on iden3


Why decentralizing identity is key to fixing our democracy

Posted by Sacha Saint-Leger on September 12, 2019

A system is corrupt when it is strictly profit-driven, not driven to serve the best interests of its people.

 — Suzy Kassem

Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.

 — Adam Smith

All forms of governance are failing their citizens — dictatorships and communism failed in the last part of the 20th century, and in this century democracies are not meeting citizen expectations. No matter which leaders are chosen, the systems themselves are failing.

 — Yaneer Bar-Yam

Complexity rising

Our modern power structures are failing us miserably.

No matter how well meaning, it’s becoming clear that our leaders are no longer able to solve the increasingly complex problems facing our society.

Why is this?

There’s a good argument to be made that the complexity of the world has surpassed the ability of any one individual to assimilate it.

To quote the words of the complexity theorist, Yaneer Bar-Yam:

Leaders, whether self-appointed dictators, or elected officials, are unable to identify what policies will be good for a complex society. The unintended consequences are beyond their comprehension. Regardless of values or objectives, the outcomes are far from what they intend.

The solution begins with decentralizing the systems which underpin society.

In the words of Yaneer again:

It [system change] begins with widespread individual action that transforms society — -a metamorphosis of social organization in which leadership no longer serves the role it has over millennia.

Power and responsibility

You can think of power and responsibility as synonyms.

And governance as responsibility to people.

Viewed through this lens, decentralizing governance is key to decentralizing power.

One of the most promising models in decentralized governance is known as liquid democracy.

The promise of liquid democracy

Imagine if you could vote every two weeks to express your political sentiment regarding interest rates.

Imagine if you could have a direct say in any decision, rather than relying on elected politicians to represent you.

Imagine if those in power were held accountable in real-time, rather than once every few years.

This is the promise of liquid democracy.

Liquid democracy exists somewhere in the sweet spot between direct and representative democracy.

As with direct democracy, everyone has the opportunity to vote on every issue. However, unlike direct democracy, you also have the choice to delegate your vote to someone else.

You can even choose to delegate your votes on different issues to different people.

For example, on environmental issues you might choose to delegate your vote to your favourite environmentalist. Whereas on issues concerning government debt and taxation you might choose your father.

This ability to delegate is recursive. Meaning that if your father in turn chooses to delegate his vote on financial issues to his favourite economist, your vote will also be delegated to that economist.

If you’re unhappy with your father’s decision, you can take that power away from him/her and either vote yourself or re-delegate to someone you deem more trustworthy.

Under such a system, those with the most delegations become our representatives. Except unlike representative democracy, they are held accountable in real time.

A system like this addresses the uninformed voter issue that a direct democracy creates by allowing voters to allot their votes to experts in their fields. It also addresses the corruption issues of a representative democracy because citizens can rescind their vote from someone instantly, forcing delegates to vote in the best interest of their constituents. It is the best of both worlds that truly gives the power of influence to the voters. Source

This sounds too good to be true. A fair, transparent and corruption-free government… why haven’t we implemented this before?

Since there’s no central government under this form of democracy, we first need to figure out how to allow citizens to vote in a secure, private, and decentralized way. It turns out this is a pretty hard problem to solve.

It’s actually been impossible to solve. Until now.

This is the first time in our history that the technology – public blockchains – exists to turn this dream into a reality.

Right now we’re very much still in the experimentation phase. There are still some hard challenges that need to be overcome.

The three main ones revolve around scalability, privacy, and Sybil attacks.

Scalability is important because we need millions of people to be able to use these systems.

Privacy is important because it ensures voters can’t be discriminated against for the decisions they make. It also makes it harder for them to be bribed/coerced into voting for something they don’t believe in.

But perhaps the hardest challenge is to ensure one person is not able to vote multiple times (what’s known in the jargon as a Sybil attack).

The key to solving these last two is a voting protocol that requires some basic verification and reputation for each user while still protecting their pseudonymous identity. In other words a voting protocol with a built in decentralized identity system.

Put another way, decentralized identity is the big unlock that’s needed to turn liquid democracy into a reality.