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You can't beat politics with new technology all the time (wired.co.uk)
157 points by pkallberg on Nov 18, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 151 comments



The actual quote is: "You can't beat politics with new technology all the time."

This is very different from the current HN headline! After all, sometimes technology changes everything so much politics can do little more than try to catch up.

People like to say "you can't solve social problems with technology". It's a statement that's true enough of the time to be common wisdom but not enough to be a natural law. Sometimes technology does help with social problems.

This isn't to say that politics is unimportant. It is still central. But I think dismissing technological solutions out of hand is also shortsighted. I particularly think this of BitCoin, which feels like a monumental change. BitCoin could, ideally, liberate transactions between individuals and significantly reduce barriers for anything from microtransactions to donating to fringe political causes. It certainly won't solve all our problems, it might even solve none, but I think it'll definitely make for a better world.

I really liked Balaji Srinivasan's speech on "Voice and Exit". BitCoin was an example of "exiting" the existing financial system and providing an alternate means of conducting transactions. Viewing it as such, just using and supporting BitCoin is inevitably a political action, limiting the absolute power of the government. To me, this makes BitCoin one of the technologies to really watch for future social change.


If we're going to be accurate, it's - "You can't beat politics with new technology all the time. Sometimes you have to actually make sure that politics are in line with what people want. A lot of people are giving up on politics and thinking they can solve issues with technology. These kind of arrogant behaviours towards the rest of the society are a bit disgusting," - which isn't so far from the "You can't beat politics with technology" sentiment, and retains the color of the statement.

Ultimately, technology can empower us to do amazing things, but to achieve it's full potential we've also got to be involved in society as a whole and push to bring the various ideas we believe in into the public's sight. Technology can be a powerful embodiment of a set of ideas such as free-culture, privacy, a decentralized financial system, or what have you. Making people take interest in those ideas and bringing the debate outside the technology sphere can only lead to a better outcome for all.


This seems silly to dig this deeply into this text but in what you quoted he clearly is also stating that it is possible to 'beat politics with technology'. The color of his statements are not that politics always "wins". Whatever "wins" means in this scenario.


I liked Balaji's speech but I don't see his example with the diagram of a bunch of people shouting "A" in one box then if you don't like that moving to go shout "B" in another box as really being an exit. What if I don't want to live in a world dominated by legal monopolies who draw arbitrary lines based on military conquest? Bitcoin can be a real exit because it is a paradigm shift. One dimensional views of politics where maybe A or B wins and we define the whole society by that isn't.

I don't think that participating in electoral politics is an effective means in reaching my desired ends. I'm not lazy Mr. Sunde, I'm smart. I know that I have a greater chance of dying in a car wreck on the way to the polling station than my single vote changing an election. I know that once the popularity contest is over, the fundamentally flawed incentive structure of "democratic" systems will take over and the political elite/lobbyists will be in charge again.

I think we need to start viewing law and political ideology as "technologies" themselves rather than something separate and just accepting the status quo. One parliament member who is just going to get outvoted by the majority who tow the line with the IP monopoly lobby is nothing to get excited about. I want to see people demand zones for political/legal/economic experimentation like was suggested recently by Larry Page. Maybe you and I don't agree on the best way to do things, but shouldn't people have a right to innovate and try new systems? True democracy is the ability to secede down to the level of the individual.


> I don't think that participating in electoral politics is an effective means in reaching my desired ends.

And then I read from Peter Thiel:

> Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.

And then I think that there are waaaay too many people in the tech industry who have gone completely out of their minds.

The anti-democratic rhetoric seems to be growing louder and it is starting to get pretty worrisome.


If you think of democracy as being majoritarian, the U.S. Bill of Rights is explicitly designed to be anti-democratic. Just read the language: “Congress shall make no law.” “Shall not be infringed.” “Shall not be violated.” “Nor shall be compelled.” “Shall be preserved.” “Shall not be required.”

These are rights that individuals — not societies or governments — possess. Even if a majority of the population wants to infringe them through the democratic process, that’s not permitted under the BoR. (You could also say that these rights are natural rights that predated and were merely recognized by the BoR, but that’s not necessary to make my point.)

We’ve already recognized that some aspects of life, including free speech, torture, and so on are too important to be left to the democratic process. We’ve explicitly blocked, or at least tried to block, the democratic process from interfering with those rights. That’s because the democratic process is imperfect: it’s subject to the day’s political whims and foibles.

Given that we already have a fine example of one anti-democratic mechanism at work, it’s hardly ridiculous to contemplate others. This is supposedly HN, not Status Quo Anti-Innovation Political Curmudgeonly News. Right?


I'm not sure where I ever argued for "pure democracy". I've got a ragged copy of the Federalist Papers sitting on my bookshelf and I re-read #10 a few times a year.

What I'm worried about is the anti-American, anti-democratic bullshit that is starting to pour out of Silicon Valley.

I think there is plenty of room within the existing framework to deal with the issues that we're facing. It may take a lot of work and may have to involve some serious restructuring of things like the House of Representative and the Senate, but I feel like it is worth it. What IS important is that we decide to do it together, with a plurality of voices, and not by building some sort of fucking space ship to hide away in like where everyone in SV seems to be heading.

The people who set up this system of government were true supporters of the Enlightenment. They were willing to compromise and willing to admit that "freedom ain't free", to put it in a common parlance. They had love in their hearts and the proof is that they were willing to listen and willing to compromise.

I don't see a lot of that these days. I see a lot of hate, misunderstanding, and self-absorbtion.


Sorry, just saw this response now. There's plenty of bullshit that's pouring out of Silicon Valley, sure, but it's generated by marketing departments or startup CEOs hoping to be the next billion-dollar-Instagram.

I honestly don't know what you mean by "anti-American, anti-democratic bullshit." If anything, it's the Washington congresscritters and assorted legions of hive-minded bureaucrats who are pushing anti-American and anti-Enlightenment regulations on us out here. I lived for a decade in Washington, D.C. before moving to SF and the peninsula, and can assure you that congresscritters and hive-minded bureaucrats and don't have "love in their hearts."

To respond more directly to your point about compromise, at some point people will recognize that the system is broken and suffers structural barriers that mean it is exceedingly unlikely to be fixed. So political compromise inside a broken system becomes not only difficult, but in the end futile. Some folks like the seasteaders are at that point already.


>If you think of democracy as being majoritarian, the U.S. Bill of Rights is explicitly designed to be anti-democratic.

Yes, and look how well that turned out!

(Spoilers: Not very well. The USA has thrived when it has been more democratic and stagnated when less. We are currently in a 40-year period of less and less democracy. Strangely enough, stagnation and crisis have become more and more common during this time.)


You could just as well argue:

"Look how well the expansion of FedGov worked. Spoilers: Not very well. The USA has thrived when it has been more free and stagnated under more government. We are currently in a 40-year period of more and more government. Strangely enough, stagnation and crisis have become more and more common during this time."


That's, er, the point of constituational democracy. It's not 100% pure democracy.


Yep (though it's a constitutional republic, not a constitutional democracy). My point is that discussions about moving the slider even more away from 100% pure democracy should be within the realm of reasonable discourse.


Why are you worried? Don't you think it is even possible that some other form of societal organization will upend democratic majoritarianism? Have you actually read any books on the subject like Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter or Hoppe's Democracy: The God that Failed?

There's real arguments behind being anti-democracy, so rather than just complaining about me like a bother, insta-downvoting, and declaring it "simply wrong", maybe you should tackle the issue in a substantive way. It's very "anti-hacker" to just accept democracy as the pinnacle of perfection and think it will last forever.


I'm worried because there is nothing in your voice that speaks to love, art, or beauty.

All I'm hearing is hate, distrust, and of failure.

If you and your technocratic visionaries really want to build a new future you're going to have to do it with love in your hearts. We need a system that expresses compassion and acceptance of all walks of life.

The rhetoric of Thiel and Page if of escapism. Of leaving the system behind. Well, guess what dude, the only system in the known universe capable of supporting life is Earth. Any sort of idealized community in the desert or floating around on a barge is going to need an umbilical chord to the rest of us. You can't leave and start your own brand new world.

It is also "anti-hacker" to not engage with the system in place. An important quality of hacking is to learn the system and how to work within its constraints.


>I'm worried because there is nothing in your voice that speaks to love, art, or beauty.

Give me a break. Nobody talks about such things during a crime in progress. All political programs promise to be the best way of bringing about what its adherents want. I'm not even talking about A or B or C being better. I'm saying it is undemocratic to be forced to choose option A, "democracy".

>Any sort of idealized community in the desert or floating around on a barge is going to need an umbilical chord to the rest of us. You can't leave and start your own brand new world.

This could have been said by an 18th century British bureaucrat too. The US was a noble experiment but it has failed, and, no, it's existence today doesn't contradict what I am saying. Tyranny was supposed to be kept at bay by a unique system of checks and balances + democratic representation. History shows that the US political elite has continually aggrandized itself instead. It's like a piece of software that is going to have terrible memory leaks no matter what. If you want a blazing fast app, you can't keep working with this setup.

Hacking can certainly be making the best with what you have but totally ignoring the possibility of the best option being to scrap it all and start over. I'd think that the startup world would be comfortable with at least considering such ideas.


Have you really looked at nothing besides America in order to draw this conclusion? America is easily one of the worst of the functioning democracies in the world. (Russia would be an example of a non-functioning democracy.) It's great to talk about how the US was a noble experiment and how it's all tyrannical and how it has a political elite, but keep in mind that the world learned from the US and then moved on.

Poke through this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6661282

It's not democracy that's broken; it's the US.


There's a large US audience here, many of whom still worship the nation as a "functioning democracy". I see you are talking about liquid democracy and I think that approach might not be perfect but would certainly be an improvement, maybe a very big one. If there is something else specific, point it out to me.

What country is using liquid democracy though? What country is a "good/functioning democracy" right now in your opinion? I assume some European country will be pointed to, then I can still find slews of examples where the structural incentive problem is taking place and causing harm. Liquid democracy is the type of radically different idea that we ought to be able to experiment with.

Introducing a web of trust and having a mechanism for recall or direct representation by individuals is an improvement over the popularity contests we hold in the US every 2/4/6 years. If you slap liquid democracy on the idea of geographic monopoly, you still have an inferior system, because it only outputs one thing, the A or B in a box. If I want A but the chain of delegates chooses B, I am still losing out. What if we could have a way to have both A and B as well as all minority opinions C .. Z be expressed? (as long as they don't break the code so to speak)

Well, we already have this and it is called free markets. If I want soda, I go to an entity I and a bunch of other people have largely turned over power to control picking the best sodas: one of my local supermarkets. That is like the concept of handing over my votes to someone who can in turn give all those to someone they trust to represent them. Coke and Pepsi dominate as people's favorite choices, so they and their flavor variants occupy a lot of shelf space (think Earth's territory for the analogy). What if I want some guava soda or Jamaican ginger beer? Well, there might be some if there is enough demand in the area to make it profitable to carry it.

Obviously, I expect people to have all sorts of objections here to comparing laws to flavors of sodas. I think the availability of all sorts of niche things though is a great example of how markets make the individual consumer "king" whereas "typical democracy" only has the empty promise that anyone can rule.


I'm pretty impressed that you managed to reduce an entire discussion but several dozen parties on a large variety of topics down to "liquid democracy".

I am not a fan of liquid democracy. I think it's an interesting idea, but I don't think it's the silver bullet solution that its proponents have made it out to be. Thus why I didn't bother to even explain it when it was pointed out; I helped make fun of it. (It was never clear to me if the upvoters realized I was doing that.)

If you really want my opinions, then you can read https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4493663 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4658896 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5998145

I don't spend time on liquid democracy or first-past-the-post or cumulative voting because I think that focusing on the mechanism is useless. It might be part of the change, but making it the centerpiece of any kind of reform fixes a symptom, not a root cause. As you say, "it only outputs one thing, the A or B in a box". It's not a solution to change "How would you like to die, by rifle or pistol?" to "How would you like to die, by rifle, pistol, or machine gun?"

I've spent the last three years learning about how democracies are supposed to work. And you know what? Everything I was taught in school is wrong. Everything people are taught about democracy in school is wrong. To build an analogy, we've been taught that "if you double-click on the spinny E icon, you get the Internet". That's not technically false. It's just woefully misleading.

Of course we're disillusioned with democracy. We were never told what it was; we were told it was awesome and good and we should be very happy about it. We weren't told anything of substance. Our school senates have no power to speak of. Our leadership organizations are only capable of teaching us management skills. Our community service programs teach us about charity.

Where do we learn about civics? Where do we learn about jurisprudence? Where do we learn about legislation? Where do we learn about opinion-gathering? Where do we learn about journalism? As adults. If we're interested. When our biases are fully formed.


To be pithy, Americans live under a managed democracy, a system that is noted for not really being democratic, actually. So when that system tries to teach its young about democracy, it teaches about the rituals and mechanisms used for confirming which branch of the preexisting elite will rule this time around. Actual democracy, in which the people exercise real power over their own lives through both parliamentary and devolving mechanisms, simply doesn't get brought up.

Americans then go on to decide that democracy has failed and should be replaced with futarchy or neo-monarchy or technocracy, ignorantly presuming that they've even tried democracy.


Markets are where money votes, not people. The distinction is important, and creates the pathological behavior we witness in real capitalist systems all the fucking time.


>History shows that the US political elite has continually aggrandized itself instead. It's like a piece of software that is going to have terrible memory leaks no matter what. If you want a blazing fast app, you can't keep working with this setup.

People aren't software running on a machine! The point isn't for an idealized system of government that functions like a "blazing fast app".

You know who you sound like?

"Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power."

"Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy."

"The truth is that men are tired of liberty."

> This could have been said by an 18th century British bureaucrat too.

And yeah, maybe it fucking should have been said, and really loudly as well, because the real shitty thing about the USA is that it WAS built on top of the remains of an existing people, but the colonial setting is mainly tautological and I don't think it is a very strong argument against the tenants of the American Enlightenment.


> undemocratic to be forced to choose option A, "democracy".

oh?


Yes exactly. I mentioned that true democracy includes the ability to secede down to the level of the individual. What happens at our local knitting club? We take a vote on whatever and if I don't like it I can leave. I don't have to uproot my family and really leave because the knitting club has influence over only a very limited sphere.

The "democracy" option besides moving to an authoritarian country is what I actually call "democratic majoritarian rule", so yes this contradicts what I really believe democracy is. There's no options besides this except taking another step backwards to some dictatorship or whatever.


You can "secede down to the level of the individual" by leaving the country. Irrespective of whether the scope of territorial monopolies tends to go too far, it doesn't seem possible to have a civilized society filled with people who, having "seceded", refuse to accept the existence of any laws restricting their actions.


There's nowhere to go but the middle of the ocean if I don't want to live in a place that is either authoritarian or democracy-worshiping though.

>refuse to accept the existence of any laws restricting their actions.

I was trying to focus on our lack of ability to choose, not so much what I advocate, but I do not advocate a lawless society. A corollary to "right to secede down to the level of the individual"—which is a law/rule BTW—would be that other people can't arbitrarily take control of you and not let you secede.

But what if there are disagreements? I try to approach this in a way that I feel is scientific. I think that we can discover an eminently "human" law but then still have a lot of variation in politics, maintain peace and prosperity with having a few fundamental rules dominate popular acceptance like democracy does now. I don't have time now to get into all of that but if you are genuinely curious I could help you learn.


If you want to live as if you're the only person in your own little world, I recommend you find another planet. This one is kind of inhabited.

Perhaps Solaria?


>"You can't leave and start your own brand new world."

Of course people can, and will. Humans have endured great hardships and mortal peril many times for political or religious or other reasons. For Americans, the Puritan emigration to a harsh new world is the most familiar. Hundreds of African migrants, almost all reportedly Christians, died last month when their boat sank during an attempt to escape to Europe. An excellent New York Times article last weekend described a harrowing crossing by refugees from Indonesia to Christmas Island; the reporter was told by Australian officials that "if we had left a few days earlier, the boat would have capsized."

The moon and Mars and the rest of the solar system can and will be colonized eventually (barring an existential event that Stephen Hawking and others have warned of). Yes, it's rather more difficult when there's no free atmosphere or radiation shielding. But it's a question of economics, not will, and every generation in the west is wealthier than the last.

The interesting thing, and this is what apparently alarms folks who would prefer HN to be Status Quo Anti-Innovation Political Curmudgeonly News, is that there's no guarantee that the political systems that emerge in the diaspora will be democratic. Some, I imagine, will be non-democratic and worse than our current system. And some will be far better.


No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend's

Or of thine own were:

Any man's death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.


What I find depressing here is the notion that rather than actually learn to live with each-other, we should all just isolate from each other as thoroughly as we can, to the point of moving to other planets (and thus eventually covering the galaxy in virally-reproducing humans each claiming Sovereign Rights) just to get away from everyone else.

Sounds like a species of massive assholes, and I see some ethical problems with letting them off their home-planet.


No, it sounds like a species of killer apes. Which is what we are; Raymond Dart was right.

If you're serious about "ethical problems" letting our species of killer apes off of our home planet, how exactly do you propose to stop it? (Remember: Once you try it, you've just made these killer apes very mad at you.) Seems tricky, once the economics line up for space, unless you're talking mass genocide or mandatory doses of soma.

Transcending the millions of years of evolution that turned us into killer apes is the task of civilization and culture. But the megadeaths of the last century caused by wars between democratic governments actually dwarfed the prior century's wars between non-democratic governments. Maybe, to go back to the upthread discussion, there are better alternatives that don't involve the straw man of "isolat[ing] from each other as thoroughly as we can."


Of course there are better ideas than isolating from each-other as thoroughly as we can. We could just, you know, learn to live together without being assholes, and thus have no actual need to "start my own planet, with blackjack, and hookers!". That, in turn, makes things like population control for sustainable resource usage a lot simpler.


We will start with the oceans.. http://www.seasteading.org/

And we will gladly conduct free trade with the rest of the world. But I don't think that means we have to accept the status quo in governance or social systems.


The question is whether the arguments behind "anti-democracy" (bad terminology: not all non-democratic forms of government have anything in common with each-other other than their lack of democracy) are value arguments or effectiveness arguments.

There's a huge difference in saying, "We have a system that serves the people's values and interests better than democracy does", and "You proles don't deserve a voice." Unfortunately, the vast majority of anti-democratic rhetoric right now is of the latter kind.


If a system works well, how does having a voice add anything? If a system is broken, how does having a voice matter?

In the United States, "Voice" is just rhetoric used to make people accept the status quo.


>If a system works well, how does having a voice add anything?

It's entirely possible for the system to work well at doing something people hate. Hence why the people need a voice.


The sentiment that democracy is perverted by economic interests seems legitimate. I don't think the solution is throwing out democracy with the bath water, but I can understand where they're coming from.


I don't think there is any question that democracy is an absolutely awful system of government. You might that it's the best system we have, like I do, but it is terribly inefficient and full of problems.

There are incentive problems, like people having no incentive to do in depth research on all the political issues before they vote. There is the problem of respecting minority rights since only the majority has any control. And psychologically it's a terrible system since it creates "Blues vs Greens" type situations and needlessly polarizes everything. Any kind of rational discussion gets drowned out over a thousand voices cheering on their "team" against their hated rivals.


Tianming. If some other system governs better than democracy, then we should use it.

As Moldbug points out, the current US Govcorp is structured as an employee collective[1][2], which no competitive corporation chooses as a system of organization in the free market. As Mancur Olson points out, bureaucracies tend to get more inefficient over time[3].

I know we've all been raised to believe that democracy is love and rainbows, but maybe it's time to rethink that.

[1] http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/07/why-whe...

[2] http://foseti.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/on-government-employm...

[3] http://www.amazon.com/The-Rise-Decline-Nations-Stagflation/d...


>As Moldbug points out, the current US Govcorp is structured as an employee collective, which no competitive corporation chooses as a system of organization in the free market.

That's doubly inaccurate.

* Worker cooperatives don't give membership votes to non-workers, and the vast majority of American voters are not government employees.

* Many firms choose worker cooperative organization and thrive on it. The fact that many districts don't have laws for chartering cooperatives is what holds them back, not some innate untenability of the form itself.


I edited my comment with a Moldbug link. From the essay:

"So Fedco, while it still has a bit of the cooperative flavor, is mainly organized around the other model of bad corporate governance: control by contractors (essentially, employees). To be exact, most of Fedco's decisions are made by its civil service.

As a general rule, an employee-controlled enterprise will never, ever be profitable. In fact, even its bondholders are lucky if they see any payments. The primary interest of contractors is, first, if they can get away with it, in distributing profits to their own pockets; and second, if they can't, in expanding or at least protecting their own power bases. They will make as much work for themselves as they can get away with.

Of course, even the CEO of a company is a contractor. This is why corporations have boards, who work for the shareholders. (In my opinion, it's an abuse to have any corporate employees, even the CEO, on the board.)

If you combine a shareholderless governance model with an enormous revenue stream, you have the perfect recipe for massive and permanent inefficiency and incompetence, and an enormous overgrowth of pointless, self-serving tasks. This is exactly what we see in Fedco. Of course, it could just be a coincidence."


The notion that the US Federal Government is overwhelmingly inefficient and stupid is popular wisdom. However, outside the fat-and-happy military, which is eagerly overfunded beyond even its own desires by a Congress looking to make war jobs in their districts, there is an astounding lack of evidence for the proposition.


400 million dollar websites that don't work?


Compare to, for instance, Microsoft Bob.

The high-profile failure of one project (particularly when so much of it was carried out by private contracting, a process known to be more corrupt and wasteful than just using federal employees) is not, in and of itself, evidence that the federal civil service is abnormally wasteful or corrupt when compared to other organizations of similar size or scope, or when compared to combinations of organizations forming an interlocked unit of similar size and scope.

Basically, the federal government can trivially be labelled suboptimal, but calling it abnormally bad requires evidence that you can do better. Overwhelmingly, this is not what we see people bringing forth. The claims we see made are, "This organization is suboptimal for the job it currently does, therefore we should destroy large parts of it entirely. The important jobs done by those parts don't need to be done, because we say so."


It's amazing what the complete inability to fire anyone will do to an organization over time. All government projects have cost and time overruns, just some are worse than others.

You should click that foseti link a few comments up.


I think [BitCoin will] definitely make for a better world

Bitcoin is inherently deflationary, which would be economically disastrous if it supplanted the dollar. Granted, I think bitcoin supplanting the dollar is unlikely, but it does make me question how beneficial bitcoin really is.

On top of that, bitcoin erodes transaction privacy. Is this really a step forward?


Bitcoin doesn't have to become the currency of daily use to change the world. In fact, to my knowledge, it would function better as a Bretton-Woods reserve currency in the style of gold or the "bancor". A healthy economy would mean most transactions take place in unpegged fiat currencies, but financial shenanigans would result in people hedging into Bitcoin.


> deflationary, which would be economically disastrous

Citation of deflation caused by an increase in productivity or population has caused an economic disaster?

I've searched and came up empty. Thanks in advance if you find something and reply.


There are a lot of economists that would argue that deflationary spirals don't actually occur, mainly Chicago and Austrian School economists.


In which case those economists are simply wrong.


Seriously, anyone who thinks deflation is good is either short sighted or stupid. Fundamentally, if my money is worth more tomorrow, I won't spend it today, and you halt the entire economic system like that.

I like peercoin, which is a bitcoin that can maintain wallets without the full block chain, do less expensive proof of work problems when the network is computationally competitive enough, and has a fixed inflation rate of 1%.

The only improvement I'd like to see is a currency that uses a coin generation algorithm based off recent monetary velocity, so that if exchange slows the inflation rate increases to stimulate more exchange, and if a lot of money is changing hands the inflation rate is slowed, with a targeted turnover ratio of the entire economy that is whatever is most economically healthy, it would require research.


How will we live if people aren't artificially pressured to consume their wealth as quickly as possible? And we know those 8,000 years of civilization using metallic money were not all "economically disastrous".

History gives us plenty of episodes of deflationary growth, such as America after the civil war during resumption of the metallic standard. Yes, a sudden collapse in a money supply is bad, but economies work fine under slow deflation.

Economists are the worst intellectuals. Their predictions are always wrong and their growth advice is ineffectual. I wouldn't take what you read from an economist in a newspaper op-ed page at face value.


"History gives us plenty of episodes of deflationary growth, such as America after the civil war during resumption of the metallic standard."

You're referring to the period known as "The Long Depression", from 1873 to 1896?

It had an extremely high unemployment rate during the quarter century that it lasted. Ten states went bankrupt. The US manufacturing output virtually stagnated, with periods of significant decline.


I find the "8000 years" claim in the parent comment to be interesting. My understanding is that it is false, and that metallic money is a way, in which armies impose themselves over populations. This talk by anthropologist David Graeber illustrates my point http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZIINXhGDcs


America during the resumption of the metallic standard underwent overall growth, but with frequent financial panics in which thousands of people lost everything, went bankrupt, and in quite a few cases starved to death cold and alone in a ditch.

That sounds like a great model /sarcasm!


Statistically, the American economy has not been more stable since the invention of the Federal Reserve. I think George Selgin has a paper on it.


Luckily, there are more things in Heaven and Earth than "Federal Reserve vs Ron Paul".


I think you just proved Sunde's point.


Yeah its not like we have to have a man with a red flag walking in front of our cars any more.

Technology does change society and politics the widespread introduction of the bicycle is supposed to have reduced the instance in inbreeding as you could more easily go courting in a nearby village.


There is a tendency for people successful in a particular domain to believe that their brilliance mean they have something insightful to say about politics. Mr Sunde is a brilliant technologist but this interview reveals that he has a high-school level naïvety about the democratic political process.

His ideology is mainstream statism (there is no particular evidence of communism or socialism imo) and his general, overarching idea is the exact same as every other young, idealistic candidate, from every mainstream political party (give or take a couple of slogan-sized marginal political differences): That everybody who already got elected are complacent about changing the system, and if you'll only elect me, I won't become complacent then everything will change.

The root problem, of course, isn't that we should just elect better politicians, it's the iron law of bureaucracy.

And this is where I disagree fundamentally with Mr. Sunde: Technology is exactly what we can use to beat the bureaucracy. Uber and AirBnB is doing more than 100 Peter Sundes running for office to reform taxis and rental systems, Bitcoin is a powerful and plausible agent of reform in the banking sector. There are tons of community owned banks and while they do some things differently on the margins, at the end of the day, on the broad lines, they're just like the big, commercial banks.

Finally, this: "This includes setting up cryptocurrencies that are difficult to monitor and tax (Sunde is a firm believer in taxation, since it allows communities to build shared infrastructure)". This is rich coming from a guy who made his name helping people avoid the taxation of Hollywood through a hard to monitor technology.


You're grossly overestimating the effect of Uber and Bitcoin (AirBnB is different from the other two, and is far more interesting, IMO, and far bigger to boot). Currently, the two are little more than blips on the radar, and it is far from certain that either will ever become more than that. Uber is a service for affluent, impatient people. It reforms (if it reforms anything) the system by letting the rich play by their own rules. Bitcoin, let's be honest, is currently regularly used mostly to facilitate illegal transactions (not necessarily "bad" transactions, but illegal nonetheless). If it ever does becomes widespread, Bitcoin cannot reform the banking sector or the economy. In fact, at least in western countries, it can do more harm than good because it takes away the freedom to manipulate the currency in favor of the people.


Taxis are services for affluent, impatient people. UberX is cheaper than a black cab in London.

I said Bitcoin has the potential, not that is was actually there. Already being used for "not necessarily "bad" transactions, but illegal nonetheless" transactions is a powerful endorsement already. I see the potential of Bitcoin, not as a savings currency, but as a transaction currency. Right now, making an electronic, verified transaction is the exclusive domain of banks and fraught with annoyance and danger. In Denmark, an electronic bank transfer takes a day. If you need to real-time transact with someone without credit (ie. trust), you need to use cashiers cheques (which are expensive and have a fixed amount, so no haggling) or cash. Or you need to buy into the ridiculously expensive and painfully over-regulated credit card network. And still deal with charge-backs. In the US, someone can more or less trivially steal all your money if they get your account number. The UK is mostly sane, there's even a mobile app for doing instant account transfers (PingIt), but then add international to the mix and all bets are off.

Bitcoin is a plausible infrastructure for secure, almost instant peer-to-peer transactions without getting the banks involved.

Also, it's a neat technology for people who don't appreciate having their savings "manipulated" for their own good (in reality, mostly other peoples' good).


I don't see how banks lending out my savings at fairly low risk in order to earn me a small sum of interest means my savings are being "manipulated".

Besides, if I really want to run the hell away from banks, I can always take all my savings out as cash and either bury it in my backyard that way, or buy its worth in some fixed commodity and bury it in my backyard that way.

Of course, that presumes I have a rather large backyard and a rather large time horizon for savings! When I don't, a bank is very useful, actually.

And of course, let's not forget that bitcoins can be lost forever if my dog eats a scrap of card on which I kept my wallet.


Is there really such a thing as "other people" when we talk about society?

Also, Uber's attempts to battle Taxi drivers is a perfect embodiment of preferring the consumer experience over the worker's dignity. Personally, I find this appalling but realize it's the natural result of American consumerism.


> Is there really such a thing as "other people" when we talk about society?

Are there only ever not "other people"? A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

> Also, Uber's attempts to battle Taxi drivers is a perfect embodiment of preferring the consumer experience over the worker's dignity.

I'm not sure how having an exploitative monopoly is dignified for anyone. I've met plenty of cheerful and dignified Uber and Kabbee drivers (and rude and undignified black cab drivers).


Uber is degrading to which worker's dignity? Why?


If he's engaging in naive statist technocracy, you're engaging in naive proprietarian minarchism: "Just get the state out of everything except property and contracts and it'll all work out fine somehow!"


The problem is an entrenched system that has nerfed the ability to impose change at the ballot box, and it is the same problem for everyone looking for substantive change. Statism, fascism, the military industrial complex, corporatism... call it what you like. Voting, or even engagement with the political process, is not the starting point.

Obamacare is the recent high water mark for change. Woo! Right? We have to solve that problem first.


Ok, let me state very clearly my problem with the term "statism": it is a negative. Not a negative in the sense of having a negative emotional connotation, but a negative the way a piece of photographic film is negative.

"Statism" doesn't tell me anything about the position being labelled statist. It only tells me that the person doing the labelling is a ~~libertarian~~ proprietarian minarchist. Left-anarchists don't even use the unvarnished term "statist", not even as a term for policies they oppose.

I want people to stop using terms that tell me about their personalities and start using terms that tell me about the politics under discussion.


Oh, it's a good thing that all of your comments are so constructive and engaging with the subject, then.

FWIW, in my usage "Statism", is a reference to the assumption that by default, a problem should always be dealt with by the state, and when a problem isn't dealt with correctly, the default assumption is that it's a symptom of the state holding too little power and too few resources.

I think that these assumptions are not always false, but they are false often enough that the possibility that they are warrants careful discussion.


>FWIW, in my usage "Statism", is a reference to the assumption that by default, a problem should always be dealt with by the state, and when a problem isn't dealt with correctly, the default assumption is that it's a symptom of the state holding too little power and too few resources.

These are "assumptions" that almost zero real people actually assume.


These are "assumptions" that almost zero real people actually assume.

No, that's pretty much the default assumption of the statist. It sounds like you just don't like the term.


Find me the set of people who self-consciously refer to themselves as statists. Not the ones who say "statist" if asked explicitly, "Are you statist or anarchist?", but the ones who actually wave the word "statist" as their own flag for an official ideology of Statism.

You can't. The word is used solely by anarchists to mean "everyone who's not an anarchist", except that the left-anarchists decided they had more common cause with non-anarchist socialists and dropped it. Thus, the only people using the term "statist" of their own initiative are minarcho-capitalists, who use it to mean, "Everyone who's not us."

There is no such party as the Statist Party. There is, however, such a thing as Every Party But the Libertarian Party, which is what "statist" actually means.

The word is thus empty of specific semantic meaning, and is simply a smear-word used by minarcho-capitalists.


Almost nobody self-consciously refer to themselves as sexists, racists, bigots, exploitative capitalists, corrupt, selfish or greedy. So those things don't exists. And if you happened to think that they might exists, after all, you certainly can't use these terms, because you would only ever refer to people by the terms they self-consciously refer to themselves by.


Yeah, obviously statists don't refer to themselves as statists. You leftists hate the term obviously, but his definition was pretty accurate.

And you're wrong about only anarchists using that term. But I find your minarcho-capitalists usage pretty amusing.


I say "minarcho-capitalist" because it's the accurate terminology (though you guys tend to prefer "anarcho-capitalist"). The problem being that anarchists as a whole are against property as well as anti-state; most anarchists are left-anarchists.

Hence why leftists aren't called "statists" by the way: because the Left includes anti-state, anti-property leftists (who see no contradiction there: they hold that it's the state which creates property in the first place and property arrangements which create the superstructure in which the state acts!).


Statism is the analog of Satanism for libertarians. It's basically made up by the libertarians in order to have a straw man to attack. To the extent people identify as statists, it's in order to mock libertarians and celebrate their freedom from libertarianism, just like LeVey's Satanism.

It's one of those things that make it abundantly clear that libertarianism is a form of fundamentalism.


Bakunin used the term in "Statism and Anarchy" (a literal translation from Russian). If the left doesn't talk about statism, I think it is a testimony to either their pragmatism or their shortsightedness. If one sees the state as the wielder of the monopoly on "legitimate" violence, then conceding to its existence makes it rational to expect that such violence will be used in the interest of one's self within the vaguely agreed constraints of moral conventions. Thus the poor can expect the taxing of some real estate as a way to keep housing affordable, while the rich can expect the police to keep the homeless off their property. True anarchists see a compromise in both instances, and a form of short-term progress in the first one.


Please quote the bit where I said that? No? Ok, then.

My position is that we do need the state, but we need to inject a lot more realism (ie cynicism) about what what government can realistically do (not to mention, do well) into the debate in order to get to a better place.

EDIT: I suspect that you might be referring to my comments on different posts. I find that arguing the libertarian point of view is a useful method of injecting the mentioned realism. Do I find the stateless society appealing? Yes, in theory, as a construct to debate the extreme consequences of ideas. It's a rewarding intellectual exercise to consider how justice might work without the state. But I'm no utopian and I have no illusions about the extreme dangers of revolution. So my "real world" political contributions is in the space of injecting more cynicism into the democratic process in the hope of inspiring more people to avoid reflectively turning to the state to mend their ills and consider, for an example, technological solutions instead.


And I would say that if you think there is a one-dimensional battle, "State: for or against? Pick a side, we're at war!", then you're ignoring most of real politics.


You're right! Most 'real' politicians only pick the 'for' side. ;)


In high school I learned that the government passes laws and has many tools to enforce them, like fines, arrest, and imprisonment. Tech folks would do well to remember that. You can't disrupt a market if you are bankrupt or in jail.

Uber and AirBnB have faced and will face serious threats from the government. The reason they are continuing to succeed is explicitly because individual people have engaged in the political process to defend their business models.

Or look at Tesla. It seems ludicrous that buying a car online should be illegal, but in many states it is. No matter how awesome Tesla's website and cars are, it won't matter if they're not allowed to sell. The only solution there is a political solution.


When someone outside the political sphere has paved the way for a legal change to happen by clearly demonstrating the need for the change on a large enough scale, that change can typically happen fairly easily. This is an example of the realism I'm talking about in a parallel thread. The folly is thinking that you can pave the way from inside the political sphere.


Nobody, including Peter Sunde, is saying that tech or cultural changes should begin in the government. The point is that technology alone is not sufficient.

> that change can typically happen fairly easily

Now who is being naive about politics? No significant changes to the law are easy.


I don't think we disagree that much then. I'm opposing the idea that we would effect change by electing better politicians or otherwise "getting involved in the political process", or that a prospective politician announces that he wants to be elected so he can change things, or people organising to protest or petition the government for change.

Yes, all of these activities can help tipping the scale at the moment of decision, but gay rights and gay marriage wasn't brought through by politicians, it was brought through by a social change (that politicians - or technology, for that matter - however much they'd love to, can't take credit for) that helped the broad masses realise that they know several gay persons and that they are perfectly normal people. Once THAT happened, and opposition to gay rights became the untenable position, the scale tipped "fairly easily". My point is, the political bit of the process was "fairly easy", the rest absolutely wasn't.


I think you need to research the tremendous effort and money that has gone into political activism on behalf of gay rights. I think you're succumbing to hindsight bias, where things look easy and inevitable after they have happened.


He's probably more optimistic about democracy as a force for good, because the Western European governments he's familiar with have attained a closer approach to democracy than most of the rest of the world. In the US for example, the two-party system, most media being controlled by a few corporations, and general corruption make 99% essentially powerless to change anything.

The internet itself is a counterexample to his thesis, but does not disprove it in general. This technology took off before government could seize control, and it has taken 20 years for the forces of suppression to get a grip. And even today, secure communications are still (barely) possible despite the state efforts to surveil everything, because of technical workarounds of state/corporate power.


It's quite clear he does not think he himself will change everything. He clearly calls out for people to start participating in the political system in a more active way. He also doesn't say that technology doesn't have a place in change. He's saying that a lot of people think that technology on its own will fix things.

Using a war metaphor. Technology is an attack on the rear, politics is a frontal attack. He is merely saying that basing your whole strategy on rear attacks is misplaced.

Not saying anything about the truth of what he's saying, but it's clear that you're misrepresenting him here.

And using Sunde's now quite distant past together with a rather stretched out notion of tax to discredit this message is pretty weird.


Thanks for expessing my thoughts eloquently. Technology changes so many things to the better in our lives all the time, where as politics don't make a lot of difference, imho. All idealistic parties in politics tend to move towards the middle - that's where the power is - until you can't tell them from one another in the end.


Since the internet(and sophisticated algorithms) are relatively new, it's too early to judge the positive/negative impact.

But if we look through history to the industrial revolution, powerful technologies we're created, but new political tools we're created in order integrate those technologies in society in a positive way. We had the rise of democracies,wage laws and the labour movement, the social safety net, the geneva convention, etc. Without those ,we might have seen a far more negative contribution from technology.

I believe the same applies for internet technology and smart algorithm. In the wrong political context, it could be turned into a living hell.


People successful in a particular domain do tend to have a new found say in politics. Like Ronald Reagan.


To be fair, democracy seems to work fine in the Nordic countries. America is bad at it.


> Much of his time has been spent dealing with "haters" from the encryption community.

Hahaha! Oh wow! Let's see what "haters" means:

> One of the main criticisms [...] is that [...] it doesn't allow individuals to connect their own trusted servers [...] ("even though controlling the network is currently the only thing you can do to keep from being spied on," says Sunde)

I would say a controlled network creates a single point of failure and a narrow target for espionage (e.g. Lavabit).

> and that there are no plans to release the source code

Security through obscurity? Who wants audits from the community, when you can just call them haters, right?

> Sunde sees these critics as elitist. "We want to give decent encryption to everyone -- not just tech people. But the tech people are the ones who are really upset that they can't connect their own server. We decided quite early on to stop listening to them."

Who's the hater here? Is closed source/optional personal network really going to hinder massive adoption outside of tech circles? Does it matter at all?


The interview makes clear he has a communist/socialist mindset.

Community owned banks? We have those in Spain, and those were the main culprits of Spain's banking crisis because they were just politician's toys both on left and right wing communities.

It's not that we distrust politicians: people just can't be trusted, not even the people with good intentions! Economy can't be regulated effectively and public banking demands high levels of regulation to prevent bad behaviour... which is very hard (impossible?) to do right. People with money will always be able to go around good legislation, while the common citizen still has to fight against the system's errors.

He proposes fighting the State with the State instead of with techonology. My opinion is that more State won't fight the State, it will just make it a bigger monster to fight against.


jbooth's axiom of internet comment sniping:

Anyone who accuses an article of being (insert ideological label) actually has a much harder ideological bias in the opposite direction.


I don't accuse the article of being socialist. It's not only obvious, but also the article itself points it: "He's actually more of a socialist and would be more likely to vote for the left-wing parties".

So I have a bias because I point at what happened with "community owned banks" in my country?


I was just taking a drive-by shot. It was jbooth's axiom of comment sniping, not jbooth's axiom of carefully reasoned article analysis.

Regardless of the guy's politics, strictly speaking, you can't fight the law with technology because the law can make your tech illegal. You need to either engage the existing power structures or have a complete revolution in order to make change happen. That's without getting into policy preferences or details, it's just the basic ground zero of the situation. That's what I got from the article.. it's facile, maybe a lazy conclusion, certainly not a great article but also not incorrect.


> you can't fight the law with technology because the law can make your tech illegal

But you can. Napster launched, what, 13 years ago, and desperate upon desperate law has not even put a dent into the explosive growth of piracy.


Sure, you can subvert copyright law by making file sharing easier, just as you can subvert drug laws by making it easier to buy drugs.

The actual problem for most people though isn't that copies or drugs are especially difficult to obtain, but that they might find themselves in a courtroom for procuring them. Technology hasn't changed that; arguably Napster and SilkRoad made it easier for vested interests to generate moral panics around pirating and drug use, and to ensnare people attempting to download music or mail-order contraband. You didn't get children facing lawsuits for making mixtapes in the 1990s.


At the same time, Napster et al. haven't made a dent in copyright laws..


Napster's been dead for over 10 years, and music sharing, while rampant, is far enough underground that the music companies are making a ton of cash selling digital music.


It's probably hard to directly change the law, but you can definitely fight it. Napster has been dead for 10 years, but to quote fictive Sean Parker in The Social Network, "Do you want to buy a Tower Records store?", and plenty of services, not least Pirate Bay, has risen to fill its void.

It's hard to argue that low-friction, even non-DRM, digital music sales wasn't brought around (or at least, brought around much faster) by piracy-induced pain. The RIAAs would have been more than happy to use the law to shut down piracy (in effect, their competition), but even tough the law obliged them, the customers didn't.

I'd call that fighting the law.


music sharing ? rampant ? I dont know a single person that actually doesn't download music. Even my grand-mother does it. I live in France, and it may be different in other countries, but music (and other cultural stuff) sharing is not really underground here.


You do realise there is a huge huge difference between "actually more of a socialist" and communist right?


You do realise I said communist/socialist (slash included) because it is a wide spectrum and I can't place him in a single spot from a few comments in an interview?

Also: communism sees socialism as the transition from capitalism to communism. The only difference is the long term.


That's not just a pithy saying, it's a demonstrated truth. If you show the same article, or the same piece of TV news, to people with opposite partisan orientations, each of them will think the article is unjustly biased towards the other guy. Republicans will always see a bias towards Democrats, Democrats a bias towards Republicans, in the same material.


Politics and economy is not a thing of 0s and 1s - there are no clear and easy solutions that will work perfectly in every country - it's always about finding some middle-ground, where pros outweight cons.

E.g. banking regulation - sure, it won't prevent all the bad behaviour, but it will help (see Poland where state control over some banking regulations prevented banks from getting into bad mortgages). Does that mean that government should control everything? of course not! It can be somewhere in the middle (think Keynes instead of Friedman) and where's that middle also depends on the local environment and such - what worked in Poland won't necessarily work the same in Spain.

Also, I disagree with the notion that he proposes fighting the State with the State - he wants people to be the State and I agree with that to a large extent. People like to complain about politics as if they (the politics) were some aliens from the different planet. Spain is a good example here, 2-3 years ago thousands of people were protesting with slogans like "no nos representan". Yet no one from the protesters had the guts to take that movement and actually do something with it, become a leader, a politician, take a responsibility, try to change something for real. Instead they preferred to shift that responsibility back to the politicians they were protesting against. Year later people went to elections and voted the same people as before, the ones that supposedly "no les representaron".


The 15M situation was a catch-22.

- When they proposed solutions they were called out as being "politicized". Both left and right-wing saw them as biased (in the other direction of course).

- When they didn't propose anything, they were called out as being gutless (as you said), lazy, whiny...

- When leaders tried to step out they were criticized as opportunists trying to kidnap the movement for their personal interest.

- When assemblies were formed, they were criticized as slow and not effective (which they actually were).

Of course all these criticism were promoted from the media to form mass opinion. In case you didn't like a statement, you had the contrary to criticize 15M as loud as you wanted.

In the end nothing happened.


Yeah, I might have gone too far with that gutless thing, but the important thing is the final outcome on which we both agree: in the end nothing happened.


I disagree. In the end, nothing was made to happen. If you look at that list of messages propagated regarding the protest movement, blend out the trees, and see the forest, what do you get?

"THIS PROTEST MOVEMENT SUCKS." Nothing more, nothing less. A variety of particular reasons are given for why, many of which are mutually contradictory. From this we can infer that the point was never to have a civilized discussion about the protest movement, its goals, and its methods, but instead to just flame it to death.

This is the mainstream media equivalent of sitting there going "lolol dumb faggot" until the tripfriend shuts up and goes away.


So you agree with me!

We're back where we started: 15M didn't succeed because it tried to fight State with State. It's counterintuitive, but you can't vote politicians out voting some other politician in. Different dog, same collar. And if you become a politician yourself (and follow the system's rules in the process), you're fighting the State with State (which IMHO is pointless).

Also: you focus on politician's blame which I think is not the problem. I think it's not the person to be blamed, but the State. The institution itself.


I'm interested to hear more about the problems with community owned banks. Actually there are a lot of people that are really hoping more of those will solve many problems in the US. So I would like to know specifically why they don't help and turned out so bad in Spain.

Sure, the State generally won't fight against itself, but I think that he makes a good point though about not just completely giving up. I mean I have given up on politics like a lot of people, but when I was reading that article it made me think that if enough people tried, we _could_ make some improvements and help at least ease the adoption of technologies that solve structural/political problems.

There are a lot of people, especially in the US, that are really looking toward social democracy (socialism) as the light at the end of the tunnel. I think that its unfortunate that there isn't a better perspective for these people on the realities of social democracies in Europe or of the historical context of socialism. However, with such extreme inequality, its hard not to lean in that direction in one's thinking.

I actually think the key problems are over-centralization, which occurs both in capitalistic societies and socialist societies to a high degree, as well as a lack of social and physical science being incorporated into decision making. The communist/socialist ideal especially overcentralizes although it does a better job of incorporating hard science into decision making. In that case the main problem is lack of distribution of decision-making and diversity of solutions which stifles evolution of the system.

The capitalistic ideal especially lacks the input of hard social and physical sciences although it does provide a diverse set of solutions, at least until monopoly takes over. We need to measure human and ecological well-being and incorporate different scientifically motivated attempts to improve those holistic measurements into our various enterprises.

Technology is going to be incredibly powerful in moving away from centralization which should directly impact human well-being and inequality.


Italy had banks controlled by politicians - and still does to some degree. What does not work is that loans are handed out on a political basis, rather than for economic reasons.

I'm pretty happy with the credit union I have in the US - that seems to be a pretty good solution to me. It's beholden to its members, not to local politicians.


The main problem with banks isn't their ownership, it's the extremely complicated regulations they have to comply with. This means that there are immense economies of scale which means that small, independent banks will typically be more expensive.

Most banks are already community owned by virtue of being largely owned by institutional investors, ie. pension funds.

The benefits of being community owned implies that the "community" takes an active part in the management of their bank. In Denmark, community owned just meant that banks gave benefits to customers that put their savings into the bank's shares, they did not generally take part in exercising diligence as owners, and the few that did, struggled to get heard while the going was good. For me, my bank is a simple service provider. To the extent I'm going to be a part owner of one, I'll delegate the responsibility to people who know better than me what they're doing, ie. my pension fund.


>There are a lot of people, especially in the US, that are really looking toward social democracy (socialism) as the light at the end of the tunnel. I think that its unfortunate that there isn't a better perspective for these people on the realities of social democracies in Europe or of the historical context of socialism. However, with such extreme inequality, its hard not to lean in that direction in one's thinking.

Just because social democracy has its own set of problems doesn't discredit the view that it's demonstrably better than American neoliberalism.


> I'm interested to hear more about the problems with community owned banks. [...] So I would like to know specifically why they don't help and turned out so bad in Spain.

Spain is organized as a top-down centralist state where the central government lends power to the Comunidades Autónomas (Autonomous Communities). These are somewhat like USA's states but the other way around (the state is divided into Communities instead of Communities uniting as a federal state).

The central state lending power to communities is because of political instabilities during the transition out of Franco's dictatorship with peripheral territories (Catalonia, Basque Country, Galicia...)

To put things in perspective, I like to think of Spain as a social democracy. Our right-wing (Partido Popular, People's Party) would be considered left-wing in the USA (regarding economy, though it's very conservative in the social sense).

Communities regulate Cajas de Ahorros (literally: Savings Boxes, I guess Savings Banks is more appropriate), which are like banks but non-profit (although still businesses), and must spend part of their profits in social purposes in exchange for taxing benefits. Each community's government controls these cajas and elect their executives.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Of course these cajas were used for political purposes in both left and right-wing communities, with BIG loans to the communities government to build airports (deserted of flights), Formula 1 circuits (which only report losses), etc. The purpose of this was to lure voters into thinking the economy was buoyant. A famous case was Caja Mediterráneo, which (as we knew after the crisis started) had people like a ballet dancer in its board of directors (of course designated by politicians).

Fortunately the real estate was growing in Spain and these cajas could more or less make it to the end of the year... until the real estate bubble exploded. Our cajas' economy relied on it and collapsed like a house of cards. Suddenly lots of loans were being defaulted (especially loans to real estate agencies, construction companies and consumers) and a closer inspection on caja's economy revealed a lot of toxic assets (just like in the US) covering the losses from the loans to the communities.

To clean the toxic assets, cajas were taken over by private banks (in exchange for huge amounts money, which of course the State paid) or forced to merge and nationalized. Out of 45 cajas in 2007 only two were left untouched.

Of course the nationalized cajas had to be cleaned too and the central goverment pulled a (blatantly obvious) trick: a bad bank was created (SAREB) which bought (overpriced) toxic assets from the cajas. This bank assumes losses, while the not-entirely-public cajas continue having profits and distributing dividends. Many cajas managers were "retired" with millionaire severance payments and that's it.

Of course this was all paid with EU's 125$ billion loan which the citizens will have to pay (with interest of course).

> as well as a lack of social and physical science being incorporated into decision making.

I don't know your situation, but Spain's politicians are mainly attornies. Unfortunately politics is thought to be a law problem, not a scientific one.

Of course, throwing laws at bad laws didn't help at all.

> I actually think the key problems are over-centralization, which occurs both in capitalistic societies and socialist societies to a high degree.

I agree a lot with this and the rest of your post :)


> The interview makes clear he has a communist/socialist mindset.

Mmm. "Firm believer in taxation" opposes crypto-currency. Film at 11.


I think state owned banks would be a drastic improvement to handful of old rich guys owned banks. And that's my ultimate qualm with this. I love that Sunde (and Dotcom) are entering politics more as a means to legitimacy, but in all honesty- politics is a game for the masses to shield the actual decision-making. Democracy has never worked, because the greed of the few will always win out when the authority to instigate necessary change is left up entirely to those who would lose power in the doing. Playing the game within the system wins no battles.


State owned banks make it too easy for politicians to pass laws that will enable them to do whatever they want to do.

Granted, private banks have the possibility to corrupt politicians to the same effect.


Sure! It went really good for Spain. Check https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6754390


Personally, I don't see a need for banks at all though. It is legalized theft and nothing more. I gave up my account at the start of the 2007 bailout and have survived just fine ever since. I have never been in debt in my life either, which I do not see as being unrelated.


In the U.S. we have credit unions, which are community-owned banks. They generally work very well. Community-owned does not have to mean government-owned.


We have cooperative banks in the US and even the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. There are many organizational structures apart from the investor-owned model.


Word, given the fact that privately owned banks had no problems at all... oh wait! O jeez... they had a few...


Are you making this up? Which private banks had problems? Unless you mean the same problems that worldwide private banking faced during the world crisis.

Cajas problems were related but they couldn't make through because they were already ill. The financial crisis was just the final blow.

In case you're unaware of what happened to public banks, check https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6754390

Please, name a single private bank that had to be intervened during the spanish financial crisis.


It's weird you say people can't be trusted. Do you really think that's true? Some people can be trusted. Some can't. People tend to follow based on charisma more than anything else. Unfortunately I think charisma is a really poor indicator of trustworthiness.


Read that again: you couldn't even trust people with good intentions because economy isn't something you can control or predict.

You can't even trust people with good intentions AND knowledge (why do economists miss their predictions SO much?)

And especially you can't trust people when they're not risking their own money. They're just not going to put the same effort, even subconsciously, because... well, it's not their money.


Translation: it is not popular knowledge which variables in the economy are stiff variables (where changing the variable effects a large change in the economy as a whole) and which ones are sloppy (changing them doesn't affect anything else, really).

Some people might know; certainly, some few people have managed to do better than chance at investing, or at macroeconomic policy. However, it is not popular knowledge.


To those arguing that his politics are bad, or that he is too small to make a difference: you have missed his point.

The point is that geeks need to start doing politics collectively. No, we don't need to be in the same parties. No, we don't need to agree on everything. But yes, we do need more software engineers in our parliaments, calling out stupid stuff, and more geeks in there listening and voting against the stupid stuff.

He's not calling for you to all give up your Libertarian views (in my opinion, equally as naive as his Socialist ones). He's calling on you to care about politics enough to organise and stand.

And maybe, one day, win. Maybe.


This is purely a response to the title.

There is a popular line of thought that goes something like this:

1. Owing to politics ("ethical considerations"), working with human stem cells is, at best, quite difficult.

2. That doesn't apply to nonhumans.

3. If the technology appears, people will start to wonder why rich people can get (hypothetically) anti-aging treatments and limb regeneration for their dogs, but the same processes aren't available to humans.

4. Politics loses, technology wins.

That example is quite specific (and suppositional), but I'd say the principle is sound.

Another example might be the Japanese suppression of guns. Technology won out. (Yes, it took a while. I'm comfortable with that.)


it's important to not think that we can solve problems with better technology

I'm surprised he says this. Effective solutions often come from a side angle, not a frontal attack. Why would a frontal attack in politics work?


In a similar vein, one of the things that's worried me is the technology community's blind faith that helping the government automate is a good thing. It is not.

For most western democracies, the government operates by a byzantine layer of legal and regulatory mumbo-jumbo operated by a overworked civil service class. This sounds bad, and it is to some degree, but what it means in practice is very important: not every law is enforced.

People do not understand how critical to civility that statement is. Every day people go too fast in their cars, drink and drive, skip out on toll booth fees, spit on sidewalks, pay day laborers under the table, and participate in all sorts of other non-violent, yet technically criminal activity. And the world keeps spinning around. In fact, I'd argue that this rampant lawlessness is a good thing. People can skate by without car insurance for a month or two because they're getting a second job. They can have the roof fixed by cousin Joe who is on disability because they can pay him under the table at much less cost than hiring a contractor. All sorts of really good things get done because there's a lot of wiggle room.

We start automating everything, and suddenly the system of inconsistent and unintelligible laws become some sort of social operating system. One that is tremendously complex, covers every aspect of our lives, and has never been ran before at any level of completeness. That's a nightmare that any technologists should be intimately familiar with.

So nope, you can't beat politics with technology, and in many cases you can't even fix politics with technology. Politics is about relationships between people, fuzzy arrangements, and structures to facilitate that. Technology is about machines, rigid structure, and boolean logic. The two do not go together naturally.


Perhaps we ought to try it, and then ditch the laws that don't work. To me that's way better than partial and/or selective enforcement, where laws are wielded as weapons by police, lawyers, judiciary and politicians to stamp down on whoever they don't like.

I always thought there should be a one-in-one-out rule. Want new legislation? Cool. Find something to repeal!


This is exactly right. There is so much give in the system, and there has to be, because enforcing all laws as written would be a truly dystopian scenario.

We don't want to live in the a world where it is impossible to get away with a 'crime'.


Instead, we are left in the world of selective enforcement, where most individuals are fine with ridiculous laws, because they are unlikely to be enforced against said individuals.

Unless they, to quote a Japanese proverb, stand up. The nail that sticks out gets hammered, and all that.

The result is a brutal, repressive system, that is very precise in its brutality - typically against minorities, troublemakers, or pretty much anyone who ends up on a bureaucrat's hit list. And nobody has a problem with this state of affairs.


Reminds me of some of the arguments from "Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions" by John Gray

"The core of the belief in progress is that human values and goals converge in parallel with our increasing knowledge. The twentieth century shows the contrary. Human beings use the power of scientific knowledge to assert and defend the values and goals they already have. New technologies can be used to alleviate suffering and enhance freedom. They can, and will, also be used to wage war and strengthen tyranny. Science made possible the technologies that powered the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, these technologies were used to implement state terror and genocide on an unprecedented scale. Ethics and politics do not advance in line with the growth of knowledge — not even in the long run."


   "We need a revolution instead of a technology evolution."
I think we need a system that pays more attention to the reality and results, and less to ideologies and ideas. And whether that improved process is based on technology or not is secondary.

I mean, improve the process itself, try to add explicitness, hard data. Not another this-seems-like-a-brilliant-idea-lets-try revolution, followed by oops-maybe-not.

Some time ago, I made a fun sketch of how the feedback process works in politics vs technology: http://radimrehurek.com/2013/10/technology-vs-politics-round...


I suppose part of the difficulty is that no matter how good your process, you still need an 'objective function', and that will always be defined by ideology. I agree that having the measurement of results at least partially based on hard data would be better though. Using measures that are less crude than simply "Is GDP higher this year?" might help as well.

Unfortunately in politics you are unlikely to get any kind of consensus on what this 'objective function' ought to be. Perhaps this is partly why smaller more homogenous societies like the Nordic countries are often considered to be better governed [0], it is much easier for them to come to a consensus about what society's goals should be, and therefore it is easier to strive efficiently towards those goals.

[0] http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21570835-nordic...


Fuck that guy. HE of all people is talking about people being arrogant bastards for trying to solve problems with technology?

If all the people in the Pirate Parties wouldn't have tried for years to get their foot into the proverbial door of power but instead worked on technologies and organizations to solve the problems they see in society, we'd be way, WAY farther along the way.

It's not too hard to realize that changing things politically in any major way benefitting humanity is improbable, if not completely impossible. But apparently trying (pointlessly as well as fruitlessly) to get into power to tell others what to do means being less of an arrogant bastard.

The thing is, in politics you can only make changes the public won't be rioting too much over. And while this is true in the positive sense that they can't just go full oppression at once, they also can't make things much better at once - even if they wanted to (which most of them don't, being corrupt and all that). Big changes scare people.

As for gradual change - You probably know how long politicians usually think. You should be able to extrapolate from there…

All too often 'nerds' like Sunde see their surroundings as being average - they're not. The average citizen is much more okay with what the state does than you'd think.

Summarizing, I can only say I'll pick someone working on an open technology meant to make people more independent any day over any 'politician' who thinks he's moving the world.


To Peter's point, yes, people need to engage in the political process to get what they want.

However, he forgets that we can use technology to make it much, much easier (and enjoyable) to engage in the process.

Technology (computer technology) is just a tool for making communication more efficient. A lack of communication is what is hurting our political process right now. Come up with an engaging tool that makes the process easier and more enjoyable for a large audience, things will change.


It's naive to think either politics or technology, by themselves, will change anything.

Sunde nibbles at the solution when he advocates a fundamental declaration for digital rights. But he fails to mention that fundamental rights emerge from the ashes of the "old order" and require years (or decades or centuries) of commitment and pain.


You can't trust technocrats half as far as you can throw corrupt politicians. If you don't recognize the add-nothing-greed-crowd within the start-up community as a different arbitreur looking to supplant one unfairly unbalanced system with another where all bitcoins flow to them instead... you are missing the bigger picture of humanity within a single system inspired drugged up on egalitarianism or subverting the hegemony.

Politics, even when done behind closed doors or in the woods requires real people to commit real acts. Technocrats alter reality in ways, which to most people, which are equivalent to black magic inside an incomprehensible device connected to an incomprehensible network of related devices...


Please make sure you read the article to understand the context of this title (which I find misleading).

While I don't agree that you can't beat politics with technology, I do agree with what Sunde is saying, in the context he is putting it.


One quote that I haven't seen any discussion of:

"'We are centralising everything on the internet,' Sunde says, pointing out that Facebook is the dominant social network, Twitter is the dominant microblogging site, Skype is the videophone chat service of choice. 'All of them are based on central servers owned by an American company, which is giving me a really bad vibe when you consider the revelations about the NSA,' he adds. 'It would be impossible to have as much surveillance if we didn't all use these centralised services.'"


> "The distrust of the political system is unhealthy," he says.

Tell that to the dead souls of the Jewish, Russian/kulak, Native American, Cambodian, Central American and hundreds of other communities that were beneficiaries of these State-centered political systems that Sunde supports.

Trusting politicians and political systems is unhealthy. Healthy behavior is antithetical to politics.




There may be truism that the wierdo playing with fire and rocks in the cave may not experience any returns if his new steel can't manage the hordes of club thugs.


This seems like a story with interesting points which are worth thought and discussion, both of which will apparently not appear on Hacker News.


Not just governmental politics.

Internal corporate politics are also something that people try to bandage with technology - and it seldom works there either.


Technology might be the only thing that can drive lasting (as opposed to cyclical or chaotic) political change.


a law once called Ranum’s Law: “You can’t solve social problems with software.”




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