Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

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.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: