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Bitcoin is not evil: transitive delegation voting and voluntary microtaxation

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Jan. 25th, 2014 | 02:48 am

Charlie Stross recently argued that Bitcoin is evil because it enables transaction without taxation. Without taxation, society cannot afford public goods. So Bitcoin will cause the sky to fall and should be banned.

But it can't be banned! That's the whole point of Bitcoin. (The fact that cryptocurrencies cannot be banned, and the social implications thereof, are explored in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men.)

You know what else can't be banned? Bittorrent. Peer-to-peer filesharing of music and movies.

But P2P networks didn't cause the death of Hollywood. Actors and musicians still show up for work and make movies and albums. (The very same actors and musicians go home at night, go online, and listen to music without paying for it.)

P2P filesharing caused innovation: now we have the iTunes Music Store, we have Spotify, we have Pandora. We have innovated new business models for people to keep making music and movies.

If P2P filesharing didn't destroy music, but rather created Spotify, then Bitcoin won't destroy taxation. What will it create? I have a guess. Let me explain.

First, imagine a world where voting happens through transitive delegation rather than traditional representative democracy. (There are many voting systems. I'm proposing a new one which relies on computing social graphs.)

In traditional representative democracy, one decides independently among a fixed pool of candidates. One votes for one's preferred candidate. This model assumes that one is conversant with the issues. No cheating! Voting booths are designed to keep anyone from peering over our shoulder – and they keep you from peering over anyone else's.

That's fine if you're an educated voter, but educated voters are the exception, not the rule. The fact that most people vote a party ticket shows that most voters don't bother to acquaint themselves with the issues and optimize their vote; they satisfice, so they can get out of the voting booth and go home for a beer.

In fact, I suspect that many voters just call up the friend they know who (a) is more of a politics geek than they are, and (b) they trust to represent them – or at least to resemble them.

Transitive delegation voting acknowledges that reality, and lets you basically hand your vote to your politics-geek friend. That friend collects your vote together with any other delegates, adds it to their own vote, and decides how to pass on the resulting pool of votes. That pool can get split up and handed on, multiple times, like tributaries joining a river, until the votes find their way to someone who decides not to delegate the votes to anybody else, but rather to count them directly in a bid for election. That someone, in the traditional world, would be your Congressman or your Member of Parliament. Here, they're just the root node of a directed acyclic graph – a giant tree, arbitrarily deep. If multiple candidates are vying for the single electoral seat, then the man with the biggest tree wins. (You can implement coalitions this way too, if you want.) And the candidates can at any time drop out of the race and concede their pool to their nominee.

This voting model would not have worked before the Web 2.0 world. Just counting ballots doesn't work in this system. It's fundamentally a social graph, and it needs computers to tell you who won.

Why add all this complexity? Because we're still trying to solve the Bitcoin problem. Bear with me: the votes aren't one-man-one-vote. Rather, they're one-dollar-one-vote. "Dollar voting" has been criticised in the past as an implicit artefact of capitalist democracy. I'd like to make the situation explicit, with a twist: the number of votes you get to cast is equal to the number of dollars you paid in taxes.

In fact, delegating your votes is equivalent to delegating your tax dollars. You put your tax dollars into a system over which you exercise only limited influence. (That's the definition of a tax: if you could choose how to spend it, it wouldn't be a tax: it would be a donation.) If your candidate loses the election, your tax dollars go to the guy who won. So public policy still reflects the will of the majority – and societies still get revenue to pay for public goods – but the process by which we achieve these objectives is a little different from the current setup.

In this world, people have an incentive to pay taxes even if they're using Bitcoin. The more taxes you pay, the more likely it is that your candidate will win, and the more likely that your plan for public spending will be followed, not someone else's. The less you pay, the more likely you won't get your way.

How can societies compel a minimum taxation rate? Easy: everyone could define, as one of the rules of the game, that if you didn't pay a minimum percentage of your audited income, then your vote ratio would suffer a discount: instead of one-dollar-one-vote, you get one-dollar-half-a-vote. Smooth to taste.

That restores all the characteristics of taxation revenue through a voluntary scheme that works with Bitcoin, not against it.

If the Internet begat P2P which induced Spotify, then the Internet begat Bitcoin which may one day induce transitive delegation tax-dollar voting.

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Comments {4}

Greg Connor

(no subject)

from: gconnor
date: Jan. 25th, 2014 03:55 am (UTC)

Regarding democracy and voting, I do think you are on to something important here. Voting systems are stone-age and mostly pretty bad at discerning the will of the people.

I like the idea of "pooling" voting power by joining votes together, either through a smart friend you trust, or through a group.

I wrote about something similar here:
Metademocracy: Governance is not a game. Yet.
I am curious what you think...

I am also fascinated by Bitcoin and I want it to succeed as a currency and payment network. Though I don't share the view that Bitcoin will allow people to avoid taxation in a meaningful way--I think if that were true, people would already be doing it with cash. In fact they already are using cash to avoid taxation, but I don't think of such tax evasion as meaningful, certainly not detrimental to the state. Once the law catches up to the new technology, tax cheats will likely get caught the same way they always do: police work.

I'm not as enthralled with the idea of voting with one's tax dollars. Setting aside whether it's fair, I don't like the idea of equating dollars to votes, because even if you can logically prove it's fair, it still "feels" wrong at a gut level. And, people who are comfortable with the status quo and don't want to vote shouldn't be able to avoid paying their taxes.

I wish there were a forum to talk about great ideas like these--transitive/pooled voting appeals to me a lot and I would totally go work for a startup that's working on inventing it.

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The Gox Party

from: anonymous
date: Mar. 4th, 2014 08:22 pm (UTC)

It is hard not to be snarky considering the Bitcoin parallel you draw, but believe me, I'm trying. Forgive me if I slip.

There are two parts to your thesis: one-dollar-one-vote and delegated voting. Both are solutions in search of a problem, since neither addresses the core problems of our process: tax avoidance and political corruption by big money.

One-dollar-one-vote is a perfect way to cement disenfranchisement of the poor and eliminate the last vestiges of grassroots political activity. Call it what it is: no-dollars-no-vote. It is also ideal for reducing government income, since in many elections a majority of the population already does not vote (including disaffected voters, the currently and former incarcerated, under-18s). It is hard to see why they would continue to pay taxes. For people who do vote but feel burned by those they have elected, this would be a great motivation to stop paying taxes altogether.

The people who now pay little or no taxes already have influence - corporations and the super-rich. Many of them are spending a lot of money trying to defund and privatize government now. Since this plan does nothing to address lobbying and campaign spending and puts in some vague and naive shaming mechanism against influencing policy directly ("That's the definition of a tax: if you could choose how to spend it, it wouldn't be a tax: it would be a donation."), it is hard to see how this would not be bending over and passing them the butter.

One-dollar-one-vote implicitly endorses corporations having even more political influence than they already do. They are already people; they are already supposed to be paying taxes but have successfully bought so many breaks, exemptions and writeoffs that the most profitable among them often pay nothing or receive a rebate. This would hand political control over to them, in total, for good.

For the second part, the problem you identify is the solution you prescribe. People are already delegating their votes. Voting privacy is voluntary: anyone who wants to can post their slate on their blog, Facebook page or the corner telephone pole. Newspapers and advocacy groups have publicly endorsed candidates and measures for over a century. No legislation is needed because we already have voluntary delegated voting.

What you propose is not amplifying the power of the single vote by wadding it into a bunch with others, it is eliminating the power of the individual to vote outside that block. We have enough candidates who completely betray the platform on which they ran - the platform their supporters voted for - once they are in office. By extending that down to a friends-n-family plan, this virtually guarantees that the biggest node in a social network (because that seems to be the person you are authorizing to vote that block) will do the same. They will be just as corruptible as the pols, for exactly the same reasons. It just eliminates the individual citizen’s authority to withdraw their support by casting a contrary vote in the privacy of the booth.

And we won't even get into the difference between being in a person's network and trusting that person. That is like assuming that every lj page visitor agrees with that blogger and every Facebook friend is your bestie.

We already have a very clear history of campaign funding and lobbying which exchanges dollars for influence - including big spenders who donate to both viable candidates for an office to ensure a compliant officeholder. This would do nothing to change that. Indeed, it would legitimize it further by funding the government itself in exactly the same way and allowing the direct purchase of legislation. It is cosmetic in the worst sense, like Greta Van Sustren getting one more botched facelift and expecting to look like Megyn Kelly.

While I appreciate your effort, this proposal is misguided. We need to reduce the influence of money in politics, not increase it. We need to support individual involvement and political literacy through the kind of real trust that can only come from accountability, not from "likes" or "pins." We already have a de facto corporate plutonomy; turning into an explicit corporate plutocracy is hardly a step up.

Thank you.

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reintroducing the poll tax?

from: anonymous
date: Mar. 13th, 2014 02:56 am (UTC)

How can societies compel a minimum taxation rate? Easy: everyone could define, as one of the rules of the game, that if you didn't pay a minimum percentage of your audited income, then your vote ratio would suffer a discount: instead of one-dollar-one-vote, you get one-dollar-half-a-vote.

that assumes that people really want to vote.
i believe many people would rather give up voting if it helps them pay less taxes.

greetings, eMBee.

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represent.me might be doing this

from: mengwong
date: Jun. 20th, 2017 03:57 pm (UTC)

represent.me might be doing this – their website says "delegate your vote to people you trust".

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