The Democracy of the Future

Tomas Pueyo in Uncharted Territories: In The Internet and Blockchain Will Kill Nation-States and The End of Nation-States, I explain how communication technologies created the nation-state, and why the Internet will replace it with something else. But what will emerge in its wake? This month, I will continue this series of articles. Today, we’ll cover what democracies born from the Internet will look like. The next articles will cover: over what will Internet-native governments rule? What will they rally around? And how will they emerge?

Twitter: In brains, individual neurons are pretty dumb. Intelligence emerges from the whole.
It comes from how neurons are connected.
On Twitter, we’re the neurons—each of us is pretty dumb. Society-level decisions emerge from the whole of people’s interactions.
In brains, each neuron sends to a bunch of other neurons very simple messages called action potentials: they fire up or not.
On Twitter, we send pretty simple messages to other neurons (people): 280-character tweets.

Fish don’t realize they’re swimming in water.

We don’t realize what alternatives to democracy will emerge because we’re submerged in the current system.

When you look at ideas to improve democracy, you find things like alternative ways to vote for your leaders or delegating your vote altogether. These are nice ideas, and can change the party in government like they recently did in Australia. But they’re superficial. The Internet is a bulldozer. It will uproot democracy and grow something new from scratch. To understand what will blossom in its place, we need to reprogram our brain first1. We’re too used to the current system to realize there are alternatives.

Better Decision Systems

1. Field Marshal von Moltke

Gentlemen, I demand that your divisions completely cross the German borders, completely cross the Belgian borders and completely cross the river Meuse. I don’t care how you do it, that’s completely up to you.―Oberst Kurt Zeitzler, Chief of Staff Panzergruppe Kleist, 13 May 1940

Napoleon shattered and humiliated Prussia’s army in 1806. For decades, Prussians would obsess about it. What went wrong? What should we have done differently? How can we make sure this never happens again? What Prussia discovered led them from victory to victory for nearly a century, until it conquered nearly all of Europe. 

It would take six decades after Napoleon humiliated them for Prussia’s army to face another battle, but when it did, it obliterated the enemy. It was Germany’s2 turn to conquer Paris.

The world had changed. Mass conscription drafted hundreds of thousands of soldiers to serve in monstrous armies. Trains could move them quickly across large distances. Telegraphs could send new information from the front almost instantaneously. New rapid-fire guns and artillery required much faster and organized logistics to supply their ammo. The head of Prussia’s army, Field Marshall von Moltke, realized the ramifications of these developments: you can’t tell everybody what to do anymore. There are too many decisions to make. You need more people making independent decisions, and those people need to be closer to the action to make these decisions. 

But if leaders on the ground are making independent decisions, how can you ensure they are all fighting together, towards the same goal? The answer von Motlke came up with was Mission Command.

While Napoleon controlled and directed all his forces in battle from a central headquarters behind the front lines3, von Moltke gave each leader very clear missions, but didn’t tell them how to achieve them. These leaders, in turn, were meant to do the same with their subordinates.

The result was a much more dynamic system where large numbers of people could be efficiently coordinated without a central planner telling everybody what to do. They just gave them their operating principles. In the wake of World War II, NATO in general and the US in particular studied these principles and adopted them. To this day, mission command is the US Army’s main approach4, and its principles are taught in MBA programs across the world.

In other words, when there are vast numbers of people to coordinate, and they have access to most of the information about the problem they must solve, decision-making should not be centralized. A better information management system is to give people close to the problem the mission—the why and the what—, give them the right incentives, and let them figure out how to achieve the mission.

Crucially, pulling that off a thousand years, or even a century, earlier would have been hard or impossible. No railways or telegraph, no way to make this new information technology work. Decentralization was enabled by faster communications.

2. Management by Results

Business managers love seeing themselves at war. They have officers who like following the line of command, dream up strategies and tactics, gather resources, run campaigns, including guerilla marketing, have frontline employees, which they fire, and spend their evenings reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu. They couldn’t pass on von Moltke’s lessons.

Management by results is the idea that decisions should be pushed down as much as possible in the hierarchy. One of the most famous examples of this is the system of OKRs.

Created by Intel and popularized by Google5, it stands for Objectives and Key Results. It’s a management system where the top leadership of a company decides what it wants to achieve, and split these goals across their team members. They, in turn, break down their goals into smaller goals, and distribute them across their own reports.

This principle of subsidiarity keeps the high-level strategy and direction at the top, but most decisions are made at the bottom by the people. It’s as if the leadership designed the mechanism, the substrate, and everybody else filled in the specifics.

More here: 3. Capitalism; 4. Ants; 5. Your brain; 6. Elon’s Twitter; 7. Neural Networks; 8. Wikipedia; 9. Open Source; 10. Peer Reviews; 11. Prediction Markets; and The Democracy of the Future >