It seems like the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated trends and forces within society that were already happening. It revealed a lot about the government, the media, “scientists”, social media, the networks we’re all in, our weak spots as a society and as a country, and perhaps what we should do moving forward.
I think the most acute issue that I experienced was the failure of my society to respect and value rights and freedoms. This was made most evident by the government of Quebec bringing in a curfew to fight against COVID on the winds of populace yearnings for immediate and swift action against COVID. In response to my reasons against the curfew, my friends would say “but did you see how case numbers dropped during the curfew?” or “but did you see how nobody lingers in the parks anymore?” Their comments made me deeply sad. How on earth can I have something in common with these people? What shared values do I possibly have with them such that I’d be willing to die for them under a common flag?
They don’t seem to have the historical education that I have about how terrible and cruel governments and societies can become when rights and freedoms are tossed aside in the pursuit of “goals”. Nor do they seem to have the fear that comes from knowing how societies collapse. They don’t seem to have an understanding of how economics or law work, or the ideas which animate our society, all of which would have made them more appreciative of the fortune that we all have to be living in such a peaceful and productive and free society compared to the rest of the world, and to the rest of history’s experiments.
It feels like I live in a society where I am more closely connected to the people who built it than the people who live in it. I feel alienated, like a foreigner in a strange land, but the only land he knows to call home. 74% of Quebecers supported the curfew, even though only 57% believed that it’d stop the spread of COVID. What about the other 17% who supported the curfew but don’t believe it’ll stop the spread?! What care do they have for the violation of freedom that the curfew poses? And then 70% to 86% of Canadians support vaccine passports. I don’t, and quite ardently. Now, New Brunswick is moving to let grocery stores discriminate on the basis of one’s vaccine status, which means that people won’t even be able to go shopping for food anymore! And seeing that public policy is now driven by the will of the majority, as expressed through polling, we can safely assume that most New Brunswickers want this.
It was his response to problems like these that made Balaji’s case for crypto on Tim Ferriss’ podcast so persuasive. What am I experiencing? 51% vs 100% democracy. The Treaty of Westphalia which created nation states in 1648 assumed that citizens who lived with each other would generally agree with each other more than they would with citizens from a neighbouring country. But the opposite is the case today. I share more of my fundamental values with a bitcoin maximalist in Spain than I do with a social justice warrior in Toronto. But because I live alongside the SJW in Toronto rather than the bitcoiner in Spain, I must share power with the Torontonian. And that has come to mean that we wrangle for power every election cycle at best, or that one dominates the other every election cycle at worst.
This is “51% democracy”. The government and its mandate is legitimate insofar a majority of society supports it, but a minority of citizens still remains that opposes it, and feels oppressed by it. Democracy has many flaws, primarily among them that it’s tough to distinguish between democracy and a mob. It seems like the United States is more of a 51% democracy, where the country is more evenly split between partisan lines. But here in Canada, it feels more like a 90% democracy, where 90% of the country stands against 10% of the country. I’m part of the 10%. This is also what Ryan Handlarski pointed to as a guest on my podcast, Letters from a Contrarian. There’s just oppression from one end or another.
What is the solution to 51% democracy? 100% democracy, of course! This is a hypothetical group of people who all agree with the laws which they all must follow. If they don’t like them, then they can leave. This is a deeply liberal position, as Balaji noted. John Locke, father of the enlightenment, first put forward the idea that the consent of the governed was what gave a government legitimacy.
“Locke used the claim that men are naturally free and equal as part of the justification for understanding legitimate political government as the result of a social contract where people in the state of nature conditionally transfer some of their rights to the government in order to better ensure the stable, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty, and property.”https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke-political/
Political philosophers have grappled with Locke’s social contract theory for centuries because of one missing piece: when did we all sign this “social contract”? Well, philosophers have done their best to justify this idea of a social contract by referring to free and fair elections, along with the tacit agreement with the social contract that is implied when using public services. But Balaji put forward two different solutions to this issue: voting with your feet, and competing with governments for legitimacy.
In a democracy, you can vote with your ballot (in elections), with your money (advertising and lobbying), and/or with your feet (by immigrating). Voting with your ballot isn’t very effective because your vote is rarely the tie breaker. Voting with your money isn’t possible if you’re poor, like me. That leaves voting with your feet, which is costly to you, but also to the government/polis that you’re fleeing. You rob them of your tax dollars if you don’t believe that they’re being spent properly, and you rob the community of your talent, personality, and contributions. I believe that it’s the greatest indictment possible that you can make of a society.
One problem that voting with your feet can solve is the problem of 51% democracy! If you feel oppressed and stuck with the laws of a jurisdiction, then you can move to another jurisdiction whose laws and community better reflect your values. This lets people who share a common vision of the future and how to get there live together. That 51% slowly starts to creep up to 55% and then 60% and then 75% and then 99%, as more people want to join the jurisdiction for its values and mission. One way this can happen is with city-states. Another is in federations like the US and Canada, where different states/provinces can optimize for certain values. Want a welfare state? Move to Quebec! Want to max out liberty? Move to Alberta!
So voting with your feet is one solution to this problem of 51% democracy. The issue with it is that it’s still quite early. I moved from Montreal to Calgary because I didn’t want to live in a province which would implement a vaccine passport – Quebec was the first to declare its intention to bring one in by September 1, 2021. But then 15 days after I had bought my one way ticket to Calgary, signed a lease for a place in Calgary, and was already in talks to find someone to replace me on my Montreal rental lease, Jason Kenney announced that he had changed his mind and that he would be bringing in a vaccine passport system in Alberta after all. And while I love the name and assumptions behind Alberta’s “restriction exemption program” (compared to a “vaccine passport” system), Calgary added insult to injury by bringing in a vaccine passport system. That didn’t work out very well for me. I loved my life in Montreal. The friends that I had were of the highest caliber, the communities I was starting to join were meaningful and fun, the architecture was so damn beautiful, and the dating pool was far, far bigger. Perhaps voting with your feet is more prevalent in the United States in startup and tech circles, who do in fact move from San Francisco to Miami, or Los Angeles, or Austin.
I guess that I’m now sick of running away from my problems, and am going to start creating the world I want to live in, instead of waiting for it to arrive. I’m going to create a community of people who share a similar vision of the future, and who are focused on problem solving rather than on politics and arguing. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself! Balaji had two solutions to the problem of 51% democracy. One is voting with your feet. I tried that, but it doesn’t actually work in Canada. The second is to organize a shadow government – one that starts to compete with government as the best provider of public goods and services. I think I’m going to try this next.
Founding vs. Inheiriting for legitimacy. Scientists and politicians inheirit, therefore they are fragile. Founders and entrepeneurs create from scratch, therefore they are robust or anti-fragile. That’s why they were so terrible at managing this pandemic. That’s why they cower behind “the science” and behind polling. They aren’t capable of leadership and of risk taking. But entrepreneurs are. Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos are at the level where they could rebuild the US government if something wiped it out. Entrepreneurs are more legitimate AND are more competent.
Coercion vs. Persuasion. Politicians use coercion primarily. Entrepreneurs must convince and persuade every single person to go along with them. Persuasion > coercion. It’s more ethical, it doesn’t have enforcement costs, it’s fun. Persuade people to take a chance on your idea, and on your services.
Organize. First, connect the people who think alike so you can build a network of people to call upon and to organize projects with. Do this by networking and by running your crypto conference. Second, seek out problems that the city faces, try and solve them. Third, try and build your political capital.
Crypto and the blockchain are the platform on which the Rule of Law, Freedom of Speech, and property rights are best preserved. If you believe in those values, then you should help to grow crypto. I’m starting to realize that crypto fixes a lot of the problems I’ve noticed with our current institions. Policy by vote – proof of stake as a soltuion to this.