WSJ Reports on the Megatrend of Decentralization


In May, 1787, delegates from the 13 states began arriving in Philadelphia to fix the Articles of Confederation, which had proven too weak to allow the national government to operate effectively. After the War for Independence, the states were all wary of too strong a central government, and so the articles were written specifically with the idea that the central government would remain weak � but in the event the articles were too successful.

The convention in 1787 was called merely to fix the articles � to strengthen the central government enough to make it effective, but not to create a whole new government. The convention went rogue and we got the system that we have today. Even still, a lot of effort went in to making sure that the states retained a lot of autonomy and that the federal government would not become the main focus of our political life.

But of course, the federal government now is the focus of our political life. What happened? Quite simply, central power tends to consolidate over time. Time and again, congress or the president would assume powers in times of crisis or for specific purposes, and then never relinquish those powers. In a smaller, less diverse country, this might not be so much of a problem since there would be ample opportunities for people to participate or take power back, but in the context of the US, it is too difficult to get one’s voice heard for decentralizing forces to have much of an impact.

Why is this a bad thing? Quite simply, in the US today, the only people who have access to power or a real say in our public debates are those who with the wealth to pay for that access. The rest of us are treated as workers, consumers, or threats who must be surveilled and controlled. The vast majority of the population have few rights that cannot be reasoned away through legal technicalities � so now we see an NSA that can invade our devices and ‘collect it all,’ a police force that can confiscate cash on routine traffic stops where no wrong-doing is alleged other than people don’t carry that much money, and if you want to protest peaceably, you can do it from the confines of a ‘protest cage’ located out-of-sight of anyone with the power to affect policy who might be disturbed by the opinions being expressed.

The trend towards greater centralization has been in the making for the last two-hundred hears, but there is still hope. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on the ‘megatrend’ of decentralizing technologies and the effects they may have on our society.

They mention how the mesh network of cellphones powered by Bluetooth connections allowed the protesters in Hong Kong to circumvent government monitoring and control of the Internet in order to keep the protest going.

They mention how Bitcoin and its underlying protocol are going to revolutionize P2P money and provide a plethora of other capabilities to people, including decentralized contracts. They then go on to mention a number of projects underway to take advantage of that capability:

Decentralized voting�(e.g.�Agora), where voters pay using a crypto-currency into an account representing their choice, with the winning candidate being one with highest balance.

Decentralized Domain Name Registration (DNS)�(e.g.�Namecoin) would be based on a crypto-currency model, and operate independently of ICANN (so technically immune from Internet censorship). Namecoin uses the .bit top-level domain.

Decentralized storage�(e.g.�Maidsafe�and�Storj), where trustless nodes would work together (using crypto-currencies as means of payment) to exchange storage space and bandwidth.

Smart self-validating contracts�for real-time revenue sharing (e.g.�Secure Asset Exchange); helping artists secure and verify their digital artwork by logging it in the block chain (e.g.�Monegraph); and even decentralized Twitter-like P2P asynchronous messaging platforms (e.g.�BitMessage�and�Twister).

Document certification�(e.g.�Proof of Existence) is a clever use of the block chain as a publicly visible and authenticated timestamp.

In fact, asset registries/keys that could theoretically be implemented in a block chain model are endless � land titles, private equities, mortgages, vehicle registries, passports, birth certificates, voter ids, gun permits, wills, escrows, degrees, car keys, house keys, patents, trademarks, coupons, genome data and even nuclear launch codes!

Companies like�Ethereum�and�BitShares�are now building their own, new block chains, platform and programming language to help developers build next-gen decentralized apps.

And just last week, a couple at Disney World had the�first block chain marriage, recorded forever within the block chain!

It’s fantastic that the Wall Street Journal, not exactly known for its progressivism, is reporting on this trend, and with a positive tone. Many of these technologies, if and when they achieve maturity, are going to be very discomfiting to the main readership of that paper. We are at the start of a revolution that may, just may, fix some of the most challenging problems of our society.

The decentralization of finances, communications, and government could return control of people’s affairs to the people. People can control their own finances without the need of banks or other institutions, the can communicate what’s going on without the supervision of large corporations more interested in pressing their own interests than presenting the truth, and they can contribute directly in both local and national politics in a way that makes sure the government represents their, and the broader population’s, interests.

Bring it on.

By Editor @ 10/13/14