My Response to Vitalik Buterin’s “Change the Incentives, Change the World”

Social Justice

Ethereum inventor and crypto-God Vitalik Buterin recently published a fascinating article called “Change the Incentives, Change the World,” presenting a concise summary of his views on a topic very dear to my heart: political engagement. I’ve been interested in politics since I realized the smart, attractive girl sitting next to me in seventh grade social studies was into politics, and the most consistent complaint I’ve had about politics since then centers around how difficult it can be to feel like your opinion matters.

Listening to that young woman talk about politics helped me realize that politics apply to me whether I like it or not, and therefore my opinion on those subjects matters whether I like it or not. I’m also keenly aware that for various reasons, some opinions get to matter more than others. It can crush a person’s spirit to have to face situations every single day in which their opinion is belittled by others, and to the extent that their pain keeps them from contributing to society, our collective livelihoods are diminished.

In his article, Buterin proposes that we focus on building social systems and institutions as activists in pursuit of a better society. Instead of lamenting our inability to create drastic, worldwide changes overnight, we can all contribute our skills toward efforts to decentralize the systems that frustrate us. How do we work on decentralizing systems? Let’s look at an example.

Decentralization

As a kid in grade school I remember what a controversial experiment Wikipedia became; kids plagiarized it for a while and then teachers and professors got mad and insisted it couldn’t be accurate, so some people finally conducted a study and discovered that an online, crowd-sourced encyclopedia actually had less errors than physical encyclopedias, and people eventually stopped questioning it. In many places it may be far easier to get online than to get your hands on an encyclopedia, and thanks to Wikipedia, if you can get online, you don’t need one.

Nobody had to burn any books or sue any publishing companies or fight anyone to get more encyclopedias into the hands of more people; they simply had to decentralize the encyclopedia, both in terms of its construction and distribution. Generally speaking, people want to help people. If you give them the opportunity to help with something important enough, they’ll be willing to do it for free.

What does a decentralized future look like?

  • For democratic republics, it means being able to securely vote on your phone.
  • For refugees, it means anonymous access to information and financial services.
  • For those whose jobs will be displaced by automation, it means new opportunities for work.

We talk about manufacturers and fast food workers losing jobs to automation but few have considered the extent to which blockchain technology will render notaries, stock brokers, administration, and middle management obsolete.

Why pay a broker to buy stocks if you could do it cheaper from your phone? Why pay a big conglomerate for insurance when you can do it cheaper over a peer-to-peer system? Why pay a cut to the ride-sharing or any other kind of sharing services when you can use a service that lets users pay providers directly?

A New Future

The prospect of massive job losses can be maddening and I have no doubt that good workers will suffer the growing pains of automation far worse than the decision-makers, but the prospect of decentralized earning should be a guiding hope for all of us.

Let’s face it: it costs a prohibitive amount of money for most people to start a business. It doesn’t necessarily cost a lot of money to create an app or a dapp. Not a programmer? Use your talents in other capacities to help promote decentralized services or contribute just by using them yourself!

I’ve spent long, frustrating years in food service being disillusioned by the way the incentives enrich those at the top while purposefully keeping those at the bottom poor and dependent but at the end of the day I had to realize that my job and my business can be two different things: I work a job to take care of myself but if I don’t have any say in how the business is run then it’s simply not my business. Knowing what I know now about blockchain technology and decentralization, I can’t imagine running my own business with the same archaic incentive structure most businesses currently operate on and their choice to do so, whether I work for them or not, has no reflection on how I do business.

If you’re interested in decentralization, I’m interested in writing for you. Let’s avoid being disillusioned, stay engaged, and change the world! What will you incentivize first?