The Limits of Imagination and The Freedom Frontier: Note on “Voluntary Government” by John Palmer

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

In a now well-known wager from 1980 between the business professor Julian L. Simon and biologist Paul Ehrlich, we learnt that the ultimate resource (and limitation to our progress at the same time), is the human imagination and ingenuity. Even the concept of natural resources itself is fully dependable from our understanding and knowledge of the human needs and technology to satisfy them. As Donald J. Bordeaux here explains:

It’s true that nature created these [natural] materials, but nature did not transform them into resources. This all-important transformation was the product exclusively of human creativity, intellect, and effort.

…a material’s character as a resource is instilled in it by human ingenuity.

In essence, our progress — especially in governance and liberty — is limited only by our imagination. Oil was no resource at all in Ancient Sparta.

We should have this in mind when reading John Palmer’s recently re-published thought provoking essay Voluntary Governments and his discussion on “the way[s] crypto could enable new forms of political governance”.

His main idea is quite simple actually [and it’s part of the the core of the cypherpunk movement since early 90s]:

New technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, and cryptocurrencies are providing powerful digital infrastructure with the potential to topple political structures. That potential comes from the ability to bypass the geographic world’s structure and test new systems in the networked world.

More important, it lowers the entry-cost of introducing new ideas of governance and politics in the digital realms (at first). Open competition. DAOs, blockchain-based political parties that may have whatever structure and governance model you choose. The opportunities are limitless.

Imagine the first digital political party. Supporters contribute money on the Ethereum blockchain, and as long as their donation is more than ten dollars, they receive a voting token. If you join any other parties, you lose your token. Voting controls all decisions of the political party, and the money supports those decisions. Majority vote controls presidential candidate and VP. Majority vote hires campaign manager and sets salary. Majority vote decides campaign trail. Majority vote chooses best logo design.

Think that’s the worst way to set up a political party? Okay, you should build one too. Write your own rules into your party’s code. Let’s see who gets elected.

And with the development of the VR (which as other reviewer pointed out, the most inspiring idea of the essay), we have “a new testing system in the networked world…hundreds of governments could be tested online simultaneously”. Which today with our current political systems is not possible due to the rule of one-ruler-per-territory.

One important question here is what would be the “bridge” between the VR blockchain-based political models and what we have today. How the governments will react? Would they integrate the successful models? Or ban them? Or…

Let’s end this note with a question: what is needed for the human ingenuity to flourish? Is brilliant technology enough? Hardly, but Palmer is optimist:

People will rapidly overcome the challenges of making this a reality. It will be difficult, but not nearly as difficult as actually changing the government.

I agree.