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Glen Weyl is not Vitalik, but it's his next best hope


Dr. Glen Weyl speaks with the calm of a man who has a story in his mind.

With an uninterrupted look and an unmistakable delivery, the author, the economist and the Microsoft researcher calmly embrace a clear and revolutionary vision: that the hierarchies of the world can be challenged and reconciled with the power of the markets.

But if his theories were trapped in the pages of the academic world, in 2018, Weyl captured the imagination and devotion of the main minds of ethereum and, by extension, what is probably the largest community in the world of cryptocurrencies . So far he has been the perfect partner for the co-author of "Radical Markets", whose collaborations with developers may soon allow his ideas to escape the page in ways he has never conceived.

It was no surprise then to see Weyl at Devcon4, the annual ethereum conference in Prague in October, where he was running for three hours of sleep.

At the time, Weyl reported that he had given 73 speeches in just the previous six months. As soon as he arrived from the UK, his trip had taken him to Belgium, Denmark, Norway and France – a series of joking dates compared to a Rolling Stones tour.

However, not everyone gets the fanfare of his speech Devcon – which he defined as a "rally cry"Against individualism, here is met with contemptuous applause from the audience As a speaker, Weyl has no charisma shortage – a trait that sweeps away as" an unfair advantage "among developers.

This charisma is undoubtedly useful given the sometimes obscure ideological inspirations of Weyl. It is seen as trying to resurrect a nineteenth-century liberal tradition; combining it with a modern mechanism designed to move entrenched power structures. According to Weyl, this allows his favorite school of thought – sometimes referred to as liberal radicalism – to break the left and right dichotomy that sees as a stagnation of change in the most essential systems of the world.

In place of traditional hierarchies, therefore, Weyl promotes new democratic structures, different, inclusive and decentralized markets.

Some of his ideas go even further. In an e-mail to the founder of ethere Vitalik Buterin, who republished on Medium, Weyl came up with a fee to penalize "using the standard white English". Elsewhere, he tweeted on "tax[ing] masculinity to subsidize femininity. "And following his speech at Devcon, he explicitly asked questions first from female or minority groups.

"I'm sorry for not being a woman," said a male audience member who took the microphone.

Within ethereum, however, enthusiasm for Weyl's ideas is sometimes evangelical. Even in communities that espouse the benefits of decentralization, there is a tendency to elect icons – and Weyl has undoubtedly become one of them.

His work has inspired blockchains, works of art, science fiction, game design and political programs. When he spoke to CoinDesk in September, he said billions of dollars in capital were stimulated to explore ideas around the world. He was also asked to design the social rules for a potential Mars colony.

"It is becoming difficult to keep track of what is happening," Weyl said in Prague, "I receive five requests every day".

Point of no return

To cope with the growing hype, Weyl and others created a non-profit foundation as a meeting point for their ideas.

Under the name RadicalXChange, the foundation will culminate in a conference in March that seeks to bring together the various thinkers who transmit Weyl's methods. According to Weyl, the conference is the site of an entire social movement intent on saving the world from an imminent political crisis.

"If you ask me for one goal, I think we were on a trajectory where we were heading for the global conflict and the totalitarianism of 1930, and I think RadicalXChange as a movement can stop it," Weyl said.

The story takes shape in bobblehead at the Glen Weyl office in New York.

But if Weyl is revered for his attention to macroeconomic problems, he is also a product of the conditions in the smallest world of cryptocurrency.

In a sense, the enthusiasm for Weyl's ideas can be said to stem from a lack of purpose that had been palpable since ethereum was trading at historical highs and had generated viral applications at the end of 2017.

At the time, the individual CryptoKitties were traded for hundreds of thousands of dollars – yet the blockchain itself was burdened by the shells of failed or abandoned projects. With ethereum facing new technical and social challenges, the market craze has been coupled with a nauseating tension.

"The public clearly has very high expectations on us, and this makes me feel worried and uncomfortable inside. We have to work harder to make it work really," Buterin tweeted in December 2017.

In this atmosphere, the ideas expressed by "Radical Markets" seemed to introduce a renewed confidence in the fact that a positive social change could be achieved with a system like ethereum, whether it took months or years. Armed with this emphasis on a bright and remote future, Weyl's ideas gave the project a sense of regenerated direction.

Weyl sees it the same way, although he claims that his ideas may have helped to free the project from the belief that money was an indicator of its success.

The successes of Ethereum are the case and the Weyl point. He gave Blockchains L.L.C., a startup run by a leading ethereum investor Jeffrey Berns who is trying to build a blockchain utopia in Nevada, as an example of this.

"I do not think Blockchains LLC people are ill-intentioned, but I think they do not really know what they're doing, and if you drop a lot of resources completely arbitrarily on someone who does not know, it's not really a good social experiment" he said.

Since decentralization is, in Weyl's words, "the fundamental principle that animates what happens in the blockchain space", the enthusiasm for its message derives from the framework it provides to protect it.

"There are people like Blockchains LLC where there is all this power that has landed on someone in a completely arbitrary way and people are like," This is weird. "And so they ask. , "Will it really lead to a liberal society? A decentralized society?", "Weyl said, adding:

"I think that's what people are looking for an answer, they're looking for an answer to" How do we build institutions that will reach our values? "

Power bubbles

The arguments of the present, however, are not always in Weyl's mind; he has a tendency to flutter between different periods of time when he speaks.

In our conversation, he traveled from 600 BC to the age of the Enlightenment, and circulated constantly in the 1930s, believing that his proto-fascist political climate is not unlike ours.

The historic figurines are lined up on Weyl's desk.

Hitler, Weyl said, "had no power".

"All power is a bubble," he explained. "Everything Hitler had was other people's beliefs about other people's beliefs about other people's beliefs."

Yet the power and its mechanisms, according to Weyl, are usually hidden from view. Distinguished from this, ethereum and other blockchains are distinguished by their transparency, which shows the verifiable legitimacy of the system in real time.

"It's as if you felt legitimacy or illegitimacy, you can almost measure it, of a system.There is no historical period in which it was so palpable," he said.

According to Weyl, therefore, ethereum can be seen as having encountered the pitfalls of centralization. The sell-off, through this lens, is an opportunity, an opportunity to get it right the next time, an opportunity that perhaps systems like the Web have never had.

With this second possibility, Weyl believes that the project must overcome its attitude towards private property. In particular, he believes that since ethereum combines a formal notion of private property – immutable and cryptographic property – with informal governance, it risks leading to dire consequences.

"The problem is that they formalized private property in an incredibly rich way, yet they did not formalize democracy, and private property without democracy is an incredibly dark and frightening thing," Ben said.

He pointed to Mencius Moldbug, the infamous neoreactionary author, to illustrate the extreme view of what happens when private property exists without the democratic protections in place.

In Moldbug's vision, democratic structures are replaced by omnipotent corporations, elected by property owners. And Weyl has a word for the government of this kind when paired with ethereum: Skynet, referring to the evil artificial intelligence from the Terminator film series.

"The existing system formalizes private property and does not formalize human beings, and if property exists but human beings do not exist, you will get Skynet," he said, adding:

"This is exactly the opposite of what people want, we built this to avoid skynet, but if you do not formalize human beings and do not just formalize ownership, Skynet is the only thing you go out with."

Hope for the eternal

Weyl's ideas are about what he called the crisis of the liberal order – the abandonment of democratic liberalism at the global level in favor of new forms of nationalism, conflict and economic secession. To protect itself from this, Weyl argues that ethereum – and the ideology of its leading figures – can play a crucial role.

In his words, ethereum allows new forms of "social technology" that can reinforce unimaginable democratic structures. Coupled with the powerful ideology of its community, Weyl says, ethereum can help society to evade emerging totalitarianism.

"What is a good application of ethereum? Avoiding nuclear winter," he said.

Yes you can actually buy this encrypted card and you have it forever.

And with a new problem to face – one that was not purely due to its negotiating price or immediate technical goals – the word on Weyl began to spread.

Vitalik Buterin, the creator of the same ethereum, publicly discussed Weyl's work in April.

Writing in a blog post, Buterin interrupted the reach of "Radical Markets" and cited the "multifaceted" crossovers between the book and the ethereum community. Buterin predicted that "blockchain could be used as a technical backbone" for ideas.

Later in May, Buterin and Weyl made their first written appearance together in a blog post titled "Liberation through radical decentralization", written in the style of a manifesto.

With a strong emphasis on quadratic voting, the post urged to combine the ideas of the "Radical Markets" canon with blockchain technology could help to challenge oppressive power and generate a "free, open and cooperative world in the 21st century".

In fact, the quadratic vote is Weyl's response to the informal governance system of ethereum. What it does is redesign democracy "a person with a vote" imagined by bitcoins so that minorities have a higher voice, obtained using an intelligent mathematical technique called quadratic scaling.

Collaborations between the two culminated in a research paper created together with the research doctorate. of economics Zoë Hitzig, entitled "Liberal Radicalism: formal rules for a neutral society among the communities", which provides a distilled description of the quadratic voting mechanism.

Entitled "Liberal Radicalism" (LR) after the emerging social philosophy of the duo of the same name, the document has expanded the notion of quadratic vote towards the outside, in such a way as to be able to apply it to financing.

Speaking with CoinDesk, Buterin said that what Weyl achieved was the reactivation of some of the most politically aligned blockchain applications that were being promoted in 2014 – ideas such as blockchain based universal income base.

As Buterin said:

"[Weyl] he arrived and offered some really interesting and original ideas supported by a solid mathematical reasoning that could actually be a substantial improvement of the status quo ".

"So naturally, there's a lot of interest," he added.

Science fiction

In fact, it was a common theme in the interviews conducted by CoinDesk, with supporters of "Radical Markets" who regularly cited Weyl's work as the best hope in a world that sees growing inequalities and atomization.

For example, Mark Housely of the quadratic voting policy platform WeAreThePeople told CoinDesk that "no one has come up with a better way" to address the growing income gap and the increase in populism and democratic participation in general.

However, beyond a narrow circle of star-eyed enthusiasts, there is evidence that for some, Weyl's ideas remain too risky, and perhaps even too esoteric, to be implemented in the future. immediate future.

To find out why, it is useful to look at the April Buterin blog post, which for the most part has been structured as a criticism.

"I love this vision, so let me be a good intellectual citizen and do my best to try and argue against it," Buterin wrote at the time.

Buterin argued that some of Weyl's ideas, perhaps, required too much complexity to become livable market structures. He cited the "mental transaction costs" involved in transferring people to such models, arguing that although well designed, the complexity of ideas could make them less feasible to implement.

Giving an example from inside the blockchain space, Buterin has warned that some of Weyl's economic models may not be able to sustain the hostile landscape and fueled by the crypt of the cryptocurrency sector. In addition to these criticisms expressed by Buterin, there have also been other reactions philosophically rooted in Weyl's thought – in particular, his belief that the economy can cure all social ills.

And this is because, according to Weyl, the rise of movements such as right-wing populism is fundamentally an economic issue – rooted in the inequality of wealth – and not, as others might argue, the result of more slippery and irrational inclinations, such as the romance.

Faced with this observation, Weyl defended his position, stating that at its center the economy is not unlike disciplines such as sociology, philosophy or politics.

A library in the Weyl Microsoft office.

"We all love the same god," he said. "These are just ways to allocate resources."

However, Weyl differentiates this point of view from the traditional economic community, which is full of chat "weenie supremacy" – in his words, "the idea that any form of intelligence not perfectly correlated with a SAT score does not contain any value" .

To correct the ills of his community, therefore, Weyl incorporates the opinions of other disciplines, working regularly alongside post-colonial philosophers, artists and theorists who complement – and sometimes contradict – his vision of the world focused on the economy.

Artists and writers are announced by Weyl as a way to provide critical feedback before implementation. For example, blockchain researcher Primavera De Filippi is accumulating a science fiction anthology of ideas on the radical markets intended to speculate on the outcome of the models if applied.

"It's harder to do it in the real world right now, so instead of trying something in practice and then having to wait and see what happens, science fiction gives you the opportunity to discuss the different ways it could be implemented," called CoinDesk.

Another project that critically extrapolates Weyl's ideas is "Radical Bodies", a concept conceived by the developers of Ethereum Lane Rettig and Dean Eigenmann during a hackathon in Prague, where rotating rods are applied to advertising space on people's clothes. .

Based on an idea of ​​"Radical Markets", advertising space, like t-shirts, would be in permanent auction. At any time, an owner can be beaten by someone else – an action that would force a sale.

Rettig described the idea as a political statement, telling CoinDesk that "Radical Bodies" exposes the dynamics of the market that are already active in much of the data-driven economy.

"We are always selling to Google, Facebook and others, so why not be explicit about it and get compensation?" He said.

However, the idea caused some criticism of Devcon4. Weyl himself described the idea as "dystopian". One participant, who wished to remain anonymous, speculated on what would happen if the same market logic had been applied, not for clothing, but for parts of the body.

Understanding that there are areas of life in which such market structures can be dangerous, the participant asks, "How much do you appreciate your eyes? And what if you value them more than you?"

Change the world

Yet, despite the philosophical differences, Weyl claims that his ideas are attracting a serious dialogue between governments and politics at the international level.

For example, he is optimistic that some of his ideas will be tested in Europe over the next two years. Within this, Weyl states that ethereum – and blockchain in the broader sense – have the opportunity to acquire a level of legitimacy that technology has yet to achieve.

"This could be a way to explain to the wider community and create links with artists and real politicians and politicians, and so on," he said in the interview.

But there are other ways in which the two disciplines can reinforce each other. Blockchain, for example, is often touted as a way to test Weyl's ideas in small environments that will not cause any harm if the experiments do not go according to plan.

And this is remarkable because, perhaps predictably, ideas such as rotating auctions as an alternative to private property have met with some negative reaction, with many arguing that the model fails to offer the stability demanded by some members of society, such as families.

And there are also other ideas that have been received with suspicion.

For example, every idea proposed by Weyl requires digital identity, perhaps one of the most coveted and contested ideas in the cryptocurrency sector due to the potentially totalitarian consequences that such information could have if concentrated.

"It is absolutely dangerous to try to build political and technical systems that require a single identity," warned Harry Halpin, Panoramix's scientific advisor.

However, Weyl is aware of the problems involved in creating identity solutions and is taking steps to address the idea directly. Today he is in the process of designing a solution that he believes can circumvent some of these concerns. Inside, Weyl exchanges the idea of ​​self-sovereign identity for a new type of community-based identity systems.

"We are basically social beings," Weyl noted.

According to Weyl, a distributed identity system with a strong collective concept could minimize the inherent risks of technology. The specifications of this solution are still under consideration and should be published in a white paper with Stanford professor Matt Jackson and Microsoft researcher Nicole Immorlica in the coming months.

Probably, the strong dependence on identity demonstrated by "Radical Markets" is emblematic of the unique mating of human beings with Weyl's market structures.

And while the combination is unpleasant for some, it is worth noting that it is this mixture, and its ability to connect technology to social justice, which appeals to the ethereum community.

"We are building what we are building to make the world a better place, to correct many of the wrongs we perceive, but most of us are engineers, not economists or social scientists, so it can sometimes be difficult to understand how technology can actually change the world, "Lane Rettig told CoinDesk, developer of ethereum.

Rettig concluded:

"& # 39; The Radical Markets" presents a vision on how the ethereum can change the world, and why our work is important – it can be the connective tissue between technology and society " .


Art by Chibi Fighters (@chibifighters)

Photo by Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk

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