A brief history of governance
According to historians, the timeline of governance systems spans millennia. In prehistoric times, ancient hunter-gatherer societies had decentralized rule structures, with decisions made by a consensus of elders or tribal councils. During the Bronze Age, monarchical systems developed across various parts of the world and held firm for centuries. The advent of the first major empires during this period saw an increase in more structured forms of governance.
The first monarchy was formed in ancient Mesopotamia, sometime around the 18th century BCE. This form of government was typically headed by a king or queen and featured centralized rule with an absolute leader at its head. The first recorded monarchy is traditionally ascribed to Lugal-Anne-Mundu of Uruk, who united Sumerian city-states into one empire under his rule. Other monarchies soon followed throughout the region and eventually spread to other parts of the world such as Egypt, China, and Europe. These early monarchies were largely characterized by strict laws, centralized power structures, and strong military forces. They are sometimes seen as precursors to modern nations, although they had some distinct differences that set them apart from current-day governments. There was no concept of a nation other than the extent of land a monarch could control with his army. The hereditary nature of monarchies meant that they seldom lasted for more than a few generations leading to a very fluid state where government rose and fell frequently during an average person’s lifespan
In ancient Greece and Rome, democracy was pioneered as a system for citizens to decide governmental affairs collectively. Over time this model formed the basis for modern democracies throughout Europe and North America. Early Greek democracy was a fascinating phenomenon that formed the foundation of modern democracy. One of the most interesting aspects of early Greek democracy was its emphasis on citizen participation and direct involvement in government. Citizens could vote on laws, elect representatives to government positions, and hold political office. This direct engagement in decision-making created a new level of power for citizens, who were no longer reliant on kings or rulers for their governance. Additionally, Athens’ open platform for discourse and debate is seen as contributing to the development of Western philosophy and culture. Overall, the impact and influence of early Greek democracy still resonate today as its principles continue to be reflected in democratic governments around the world.
Despite this, democracy largely disappeared until the French Revolution in 1789 due to the rise of authoritarian regimes and monarchies around Europe. After the fall of Rome, absolutist forms of government emerged as a way of unifying new lands and empires. This led to a period of oppressive rule by kings or emperors who had absolute power over their states. It was not until the Enlightenment ideals echoed through Europe that democracy began to take hold again and sparked the French Revolution. Following this, many countries adopted democratic practices, but it would be well into the 19th century before true democracy was realized on a European-wide scale.
The Greek/Roman democratic experiment showed democracy struggles with scaling due to the difficulty in ensuring that representatives, laws, and decisions are made equally among all citizens. As populations grow, it becomes more challenging to ensure each person has an adequate voice in decision-making. This is because a larger population presents logistical difficulties and makes it difficult to represent everyone’s interests. Furthermore, as a population grows, it can become more difficult to guarantee that laws and decisions are representative of the entire society. This can lead to a lack of trust among citizens and lead to a breakdown in the democratic process if not addressed adequately.
The Pax Americana, which refers to the largely peaceful and prosperous period since the end of World War II, was seen as a stabilizing force that allowed for democracy to thrive throughout the world. This period saw countries cooperating with each other to promote and strengthen human rights, international dialogue, and free-market economies. An important part of this was the establishment of international agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 or NAFTA in 1993 that aimed to improve economic growth and ensure stability between nations. However, recent reports suggest that this period could be coming to an end due to factors such as increasing authoritarianism in some regions and rising geopolitical tensions. As a result, some sources have warned that democracies are increasingly under threat and may need new strategies if they hope to remain stable in an ever-changing global landscape.
As time goes on, technology has become more advanced and new tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and distributed ledger technology(DLT) aka Blockchain are now available to be adopted into modern governance models in order to increase efficiency and accountability. Today, we need to explore new forms of organizing a society in order to scale democracy to a planetary level. This is imperative to avoid another period of conflict due to the breakdown of the social contract.
The Smart Social Contract
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the social contract declared that humans are intrinsically free and equal, and come together to form a moral society in order to protect their rights. However, modern life has diverged dramatically from this vision in several ways. Economic inequality continues to be pervasive, with an increasing number of individuals struggling to make ends meet while the wealthy few amass even greater fortunes. Additionally, widespread criminalization and incarceration disproportionately target people of color and further exacerbate gender-based disparities in income and opportunity. Moreover, citizens often feel powerless in influencing the decisions that their government makes on their behalf due to limited representation among elected officials. All these issues have contributed to a sense of disengagement between the state and its citizens, instead of the unified society envisioned by Rousseau’s social contract theory.
The social contract is an implicit agreement between a society’s citizens and its government. The contract is meant to ensure that both parties act cooperatively for the benefit of all, protecting each other’s civil rights and providing services such as healthcare and education. Unfortunately, this agreement has been broken in many societies around the world, with citizens feeling neglected by their governments and struggling in areas such as poverty, corruption, inequality, and lack of opportunity.
Trust is essential for the social contract to work because it is the glue that holds individuals and groups together in cooperative relationships. When individuals trust each other, then they are more likely to cooperate and work together towards common goals. Without trust, people are less likely to believe in others or make any kind of effort or compromise to help one another out. Furthermore, without trust, it is much harder for members of a society to communicate and come together on important issues. To put it simply, trust is necessary for the social contract to function properly; without it, societally-beneficial cooperation would be nearly impossible.
Despite this, trust in government is at an all-time low, with a 2020 survey conducted by Pew finding that only 20% of Americans trust the government in Washington to do what is right. This marks the lowest level of public trust since the sentiment peaked at 77% in 1964. Several studies have suggested that this decline has been driven by factors including economic inequality, which leaves many feeling neglected and disenfranchised; intense partisanship and polarization between citizens, which leads to mistrust of those who are perceived to be on “the other side”; and persistent corruption scandals, which shake the public’s faith in elected officials. Additionally, recent epidemics such as the coronavirus pandemic have revealed systemic problems with government responses that further erode confidence in their efficacy and intentions.
The consequences of a broken social contract cannot be underestimated; without trust between citizens and governing bodies, there can be no equitable progress toward a more inclusive society where everyone can feel safe and secure in their rights as citizens regardless of race or economic status. It is therefore essential that governments take urgent measures to address these causes so that social contracts are not further undermined but instead strengthened through greater trust, accountability, transparency, and equity between different parts of society.
The social contract is not simply an agreement between citizens and their governments; it is also a set of expectations that every individual has towards one another. It is a mutual understanding that each person will behave in accordance with the laws and values of the community, while at the same time adhering to principles of respect, fairness, and inclusivity. A strong social contract ensures that everyone is treated with dignity and equality, enabling people to work together in pursuit of common goals such as economic security, affordability of basic services, improved quality of life, and meaningful representation within society. This is crucial for creating an environment where citizens can flourish without fear or prejudice, enabling them to contribute actively to their societies rather than feeling like passive bystanders.
The breakdown of the social contract is widely recognized as a primary cause of the epidemic of despair currently plaguing many countries. In a 2018 report, the United Nations noted that “the erosion and weakening of the social contract due to rising inequality, pervasive poverty and insecurity leads to feelings of despair among much of society.” This feeling can often manifest in symptoms such as depression, loneliness, increased use of drugs/alcohol, anxiety, and suicide.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2018 found that more than half (66%) of Americans felt worried about the future, with lower-income citizens reporting even higher levels (77%). Additionally, nearly one-third (32%) had difficulty affording basic needs such as food, housing, and healthcare. This suggests that economic hardship resulting from a weakened social contract has taken a substantial toll on many individuals’ mental and physical health.
Having a broken social contract can have far-reaching consequences, as it undermines many of the principles considered essential to creating a fair and just society. Without these safeguards, those with less power or resources are denied the same opportunities and protections as those at the top, leading to even greater inequality and poverty. Furthermore, when people feel their basic rights are not being respected, they often become more likely to turn towards extreme ideologies or violent protests in order to challenge what they perceive as unjust. This creates instability both domestically and internationally, further increasing potential divisions among societies.
Historical examples of how a broken social contract can lead to instability abound. For example, the French Revolution in 1789 was spurred on by citizens’ discontent with the draconian policies of their monarchy and the wide-reaching inequality that it created. This unrest eventually led to a complete overhaul of the nation’s political systems and social order, driving sweeping changes that are still felt today. Another example is Russia’s 1917 revolution, which was similarly caused by citizens’ dissatisfaction with how unequal life had become under Tsar Nicholas II, leading to massive societal and economic reform. In both cases, disparities between different classes had eroded the social contract to such an extent that citizens’ fundamental rights were disregarded, ultimately resulting in dramatic change driven by public protest.
In recent times there have been many events that suggest that the same process of a broken social contract leading to instability is repeating itself. In the US, for instance, huge disparities between rich and poor have created unrest, as highlighted by the 2011 Occupy movement and more recently reflected in the Black Lives Matter protests that emerged following the death of George Floyd. Similarly, ongoing issues with inequality can be seen in countries such as China, Russia, and Iran, where rising levels of poverty and limited opportunities for those most disadvantaged have caused a public outcry. In each of these cases, it appears that citizens’ fundamental rights are not being respected or honored and this has led to a sense of disaffection amongst certain segments of society which could ultimately lead to further unrest or even revolution over time.
The Forcers Eroding the Social Contract
There are a number of forces that are eroding the social contract in modern times. One of the most important is economic inequality, which has been highlighted by some of the biggest names in economics such as Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz. Inequality can lead to an erosion of trust between citizens, as those with lower incomes become increasingly disaffected and feel that their voices are not heard. Another factor is the rise of technology, which has meant that traditional forms of work and employment have been replaced by automated processes or new digital platforms that don’t offer the same security and safety nets as traditional jobs. These changes can cause tension within societies, leading to further distrust or the breakup of social contracts. Finally, globalization has led to increasing competition both domestically and internationally, resulting in an environment where individuals must be more competitive in order to survive.
Globalization has had a considerable impact on national sentiment, particularly when it comes to the erosion of trust in social contracts. The advent of global markets has allowed businesses to take advantage of lower labor costs and cheaper resources than would normally be available within one country, thus causing a shift away from local production and solidarity and towards a system that puts profits first. This kind of competition can also lead to a decrease in job security in places where these multinational corporations are operating, further eroding trust between citizens and their governments. Additionally, global communication networks have opened up international societies to the influence of foreign powers, creating a sense of insecurity about which values should be prioritized by any given nation. As these processes continue unchecked, citizens become increasingly distrustful about what their government’s true intentions may be - leading to an overall decline in trust in the social contract.
Corporate interests are often at odds with the social contract and the concept of the common good. Corporations prioritize their own profits and interests over those of society, which can lead to a decrease in the quality of life for everyday citizens. Corporate interests are often driven by short-term gains and have been known to interfere with important public policies such as environmental regulations or labor laws - all in the name of increasing corporate value. This behavior leads to a widening inequality between those who hold economic power and those who don’t, which creates an environment where it is difficult for people to trust that their needs will be taken into consideration by those in authority. Furthermore, this kind of unlimited corporate power has resulted in an erosion of the general public’s faith in government institutions and damaged our collective sense of justice and fairness, negatively impacting our social contract.
Multinational corporations are playing a major role in destroying the social contract. These large companies often prioritize their own interests over those of citizens and nations, exploiting legal loopholes to avoid paying taxes or adequately compensating workers. This has caused an erosion of trust between the people and their government, as citizens become increasingly disillusioned with the lack of care for their socio-economic well-being or protection from multinationals that take advantage of local resources without paying into the system. Additionally, multinationals have contributed to a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ in terms of wages and labor conditions as they can move production to countries with looser regulations or lower labor costs - leaving those affected feeling powerless against these larger forces. As long as organizations such as these continue unchecked it will be difficult for any nation to maintain a fair and equitable social contract for its citizens.
Big tech has long been seen as one of the main drivers behind the breakdown of the social contract in the US. Companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are often blamed for amplifying certain voices over others and spreading false or inflammatory information. This can lead to increased partisan divisions between people, with certain extreme opinions becoming pervasive through these platforms. Additionally, big tech also has a hand in controlling which information reaches individuals by curating their feeds and algorithms. This can lead to an overall lack of understanding of various issues, thus making it more difficult for people to come together and find common ground on important matters. Thus, it is clear that big tech plays a major role in the erosion of trust that is part of the breakdown of the social contract in American society today.
Another way Big tech companies have been increasingly accused of eroding the social contract is by undermining competitive markets and abusing their power to drive up profits. According to a 2020 report from NYT, five American tech firms account for 20% of the world’s stock market value, leaving little room for smaller competitors. Moreover, the entire field of behavioral psychology aims to leverage the quirks of our cognition to maximize screen time and make ad space more valuable. This is further exacerbated by the companies’ global reach, which allows them to often escape serious attempts at regulation due to their ability to operate beyond the borders of any single government’s jurisdiction. Consequently, this creates an uneven playing field that directly undermines the principles of fairness held up by the social contract.
Social media has become a powerful tool for connecting people, but it is also having a negative effect on the social contract. The proliferation of online platforms has resulted in a culture of echo chambers, silencing different voices and tribalizing individuals and groups through their beliefs and opinions. This has led to an overall sense of distrust between citizens as well as between citizens and their governments. Additionally, it has created an environment where misinformation and disinformation can easily be disseminated and accepted as true, undermining public perception of established facts and blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Ultimately, these behaviors chip away at trust within society, eroding the foundation of the social contract.
The business of selling user data is one major factor that accelerates the breakdown of trust in the social contract. By tracking people’s digital activities and collecting their personal information, companies are able to form profiles and deduce a great deal about individuals without their knowledge or consent. This data is then used to target users with ads, shape public opinion through political campaigns, or even sell for profit - all of which undermines citizens’ trust in society. Furthermore, this kind of data monetization also erodes individual autonomy by forcing people to act as consumers rather than active participants in the decision-making process. As users become more aware of how easily their personal data can be commodified, it becomes harder for them to trust any company or entity with intimate information about them.
A prime example of how user data can be misused to undermine trust in the social contract is the case of Cambridge Analytica. The political consulting firm used data harvesting techniques to collect information from Facebook profiles without their users’ consent. The company then used this data to target specific groups and influence their behavior with personalized messages, thus manipulating public opinion and breaking down public trust in the process. In a similar vein, companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple have been found to be engaging in questionable practices that involve collecting and selling user data or exploiting people’s vulnerabilities for profit. All this serves to further erode people’s sense of trustworthiness as they take into account these examples when deciding how much faith they should put in socio-political systems.
The need for a Post-Trust Society
It is impossible to create a fair social contract when the authority needed to implement this contract relies on trust in humans and corporations to act in the name of the common good. This is because, by nature, humans are flawed and prone to making mistakes and exercising biased judgment while corporations are focused on profit margins and short-term gains. Time a time again we have seen cases where power-holders abuse their authority or make decisions that are not in line with the values of the people they should be serving. Furthermore, authorities can often act to protect their own interests and can be bought by corporate interests while the public goes largely unheard, leading to an environment of inequality and oppression for some members of society. It is clear, then, that as long as there is human error built into any system of governance or decision-making process, it will be difficult for us to achieve a truly fair social contract.
Trusted systems, as their name implies, rely on some form of trust between two parties, such as a government or financial institution. Transactions are typically monitored and enforced by authorities, and information is often stored centrally in one location. This means that users must place their trust in the hands of a third party when making decisions or entering into agreements. On the other hand, trustless systems use distributed ledgers and encrypted data to bridge the gap between two parties without requiring them to trust one another explicitly. This type of system allows for greater transparency and security, as all participants in the network can see the details of any transaction. Trustless systems have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their ability to facilitate secure transactions with minimal risk.
The development of Blockchain technology has the potential to play a central role in the post-trust society. The main property of distributed ledger systems is that they create a neutral platform where no participant has more power than the rest. All users must abide by the same rules which are immutable and can be verified by anyone with an internet connection. blockchain can provide complete transparency and accountability for all participants in a post-trust social contract. By bringing together people, businesses, and governments on a shared distributed ledger where every participant is on the same level, blockchain can create an environment where everyone’s interests are taken into account when making decisions. Additionally, by removing the requirement for a trusted third party it allows for enhanced trust between the remaining participants as all transactions and activities are stored on the blockchain and visible to everyone involved. This increased trust will help foster collaboration between stakeholders, furthering the post-trust society.
Smart Contracts are the New Social Contracts
Smart contracts are the tangible representation of what Jean-Jacques Rousseau envisioned with the social contract, a framework to ensure fairness and justice for all. Smart contracts use distributed ledger technology, such as Ethereum, to create an immutable, public record of agreements between two or more parties. This ensures that those involved in an agreement are bound by the terms and conditions set forth in the contract, thereby eliminating any chance of fraud or deception. Smart contracts also serve as an enforceable way for governments to distribute resources and services to citizens in a fair and transparent manner, thus living up to Rousseau’s vision of an equitable society. The goal of such contracts is to facilitate social interactions without relying on explicit trust between participants, thus allowing for greater freedom in creating agreements and exchanges. Smart contracts allow for the execution of contractual obligations autonomously, ensuring that neither party can manipulate the terms unilaterally or break the contract without consequence.
Reimagining society around smart contracts could have a profound and positive impact on society by providing an autonomous, secure and reliable way for people to enter into agreements without having to be subject to the whims of central authorities. In addition, these contracts would offer enhanced privacy, allowing parties to interact without disclosing their personal information. This could allow for greater freedom of association and exchange between individuals, businesses, and governments. Ultimately, smart contracts have the potential to revolutionize interactions between people by boosting efficiency, reducing costs associated with traditional forms of communication, and fostering more trust-based relationships.
Adopting smart contracts could potentially make the government in its current form obsolete by replacing its need for policing and enforcement. Such contracts allow for autonomous agreement execution, ensuring that all parties abide by the terms of the agreement without requiring external oversight. This would minimize reliance on bureaucratic procedures and paperwork, reduce expenses associated with enforcing laws, and ensure that individuals are held responsible for their actions without government intervention. Additionally, this technology has the potential to provide greater transparency in governmental decision-making processes and allow citizens more direct access to justice.
This doesn’t mean that there will be no government at all. A smart contract-based government would operate as a series of smaller-scale decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) with discrete goals. A DAO is an organization that is run and managed by the rules defined in the smart contract rather than any one individual. This means that it’s free from political influence, making it more transparent and efficient than traditional government systems. The goal of each DAO would be to manage a specific area of responsibility, such as taxation or infrastructure, using blockchain technology to ensure accuracy, security, and accountability. Instead of having one central governing authority, this system would have multiple independent DAOs all working together in harmony to create an effective and self-sustaining government structure.
Smart contracts offer a secure and automated way for parties to enter into agreements, allowing them to enforce their own rules and regulations without relying on external authorities. This technology could revolutionize decision-making by providing citizens with direct access to justice while reducing the costs associated with enforcement and paperwork. These trustless systems have the potential to give people greater autonomy over how they interact and exchange with others.
Smart social contracts have the potential to blur geographic lines and enable a worldwide government that represents everyone, regardless of nationality or location. Blockchain-based smart contracts are borderless and trustless, which means they can be used to facilitate direct peer-to-peer transactions regardless of distance. This eliminates the need for third parties, reduces associated costs, and makes cross-border agreements much simpler. Additionally, with decentralization as its core principle, a trustless social contract enables governments to serve citizens without any form of discrimination or prejudice – thus opening up opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to participate in the decision-making process. This could lead to fairer legislation and social policies on a global scale, allowing us all to benefit from a more equitable and democratic world.
A trustless-based society could create a more efficient and equitable system, as all interactions will be based on predetermined protocols that would be enforced without any need for external authority. This would minimize reliance on bureaucracy and paperwork, ensuring that individuals can safely enter into agreements without the fear of an outside force canceling or modifying their agreement. Plus, with blockchain technology, users could rest assured that their data is secure and immutable. The use of smart contracts also ensures that each party abides by the terms of the agreement without external oversight, meaning no third party needs to arbitrate conflicts between individuals or organizations. With greater autonomy and transparency in decision-making processes, citizens will have more direct access to justice while eliminating the need for costly enforcement measures by the government.
DAOs up close
Despite the promise of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) as a way to facilitate peer-to-peer digital transactions and activities, there are several shortcomings associated with current DAO structures. Most current DAO structures rely on a multi-signature wallet controlled by the funding team to manage the resources for the project. This is coupled with a forum and a voting platform that allows for the creation of proposals. However, this is a trusted system that relies on the goodwill of the development team, as there is no real force that can hold them accountable for the result of a vote other than the temporary backlash. There are several examples of teams ignoring the results of a snapshot vote which leads to the same issues currently plaguing legacy systems. Most notably, the lack of accountability can lead to issues such as malicious actors taking advantage of loopholes in the system for their own financial gain, or even censorship and manipulation of election results. Additionally, without the proper accountability framework in place, it can be difficult for members to agree on decisions or hold each other accountable for actions taken. As such, many more iterations must be made before DAOs will be truly capable of living up to their potential.
A delegation-based system could greatly improve DAOs. This type of system would enshrine democracy in the organization by allowing members to delegate their voting power to trusted members or representatives. This would allow for smoother decision-making processes and greater accountability among DAO members since the delegates can be held responsible for their actions. Additionally, having a structured delegation-based system allows for greater flexibility and scalability as more members can join without having to personally vote on every single issue. As such, this system provides a more democratic and transparent way of governing DAOs which better aligns them with Rousseau’s vision of fairness and justice for all.
A blockchain-based government could look more like an alliance of guilds than a traditional government, as the decentralized nature of the technology allows for greater self-governance and autonomy. In this type of system, individuals (or groups) would form their own organizations and build a network through which they could interact with each other and access shared resources. The benefit of such a system is that it would be much less vulnerable to corruption or external interference due to its distributed nature. Furthermore, it would allow citizens to make decisions based on consensus rather than relying on a central authority to dictate policy. This type of structure would provide a more equitable environment where all citizens have an equal say in the direction their government takes.
One example of such a system is EthereansOS (EthOS). EthOS is a DAO platform built on the Ethereum blockchain. The platform uses a delegation-based voting system which allows members to use their voting rights to determine the treasury allocation for different delegations that campaign for funding. This enables smoother decision-making processes, as well as greater accountability among members since the delegates can be held liable for any actions taken. Furthermore, the DAO has built-in incentives for delegates to act in the best interest of the organization and its members by creating a feedback loop where value added increases the funding available for delegations. As such, Ethereansos enables a more democratic and transparent way of governing decentralized organizations while remaining in alignment with Rousseau’s ideals of fairness and justice.
In conclusion, the future of governance is bright and with the emergence of blockchain , we have a unique opportunity to reimagine how our governments are structured. By looking to the past for successful models of guilds and alliances, we can start building a decentralized government that is far more equitable and transparent than what currently exists. However, in order for this system to be successful, it will require continuous iteration and refinement as we learn from our mistakes and build a better form of governance for the future.