Note — Jul 11, 2021

Positive Sum Worlds: Remaking Public Goods

New research coming out of Other Internet, written by Toby Shorin, Laura Lotti, and Sam Hart. They consider public good historically, a couple of meanings of “public” (as in “a public,” for example), the potential of blockchains, and where the two might intersect. Or rather, if public good can be fostered, created, supported, and directed on top of a blockchain, if that could be inclusive and diverse enough, what kind of things might make sense, how they might be decided upon, and more.

Central to this of course is the current “lowest common denominator: profit.” Can a group circle around those incentives and work on something greater?

One thing that came to mind: a critique of blockchains is often something like “but why crypto, it could’ve simply been a database?” In the context of creating “positive externalities” (as the authors call it) on such a scale, perhaps here, more than in simply tracking transactions, there is the need for a decentralized, trust-less, relatively speedy and low-maintenance platform like a blockchain? (Of course, it’s neither of the last two, but compared to other options for local—but also planet-wide—consultation, action, transparency, and traceability, it kind of is. (And of course there’s always that pesky energy issue.))

[B]y considering the effects (positive and negative) that we might have on groups at the margins—whether nocoiners, non-technical family members, or simply future participants in this public domain—we increase the potential for greater public upside and decrease the risk of negative externalities. […]

[T]here's even a popular meme that "crypto allows communities to encode values into money." But in practice, little space has been made for different values to be discussed or enacted. Which is why, in the absence of ways to enact our shared values, we default to the lowest common denominator: profit. […]

[D]iscussion and consensus-building is a necessary precursor to voting. Likewise, discussion of values is as important, if not more so, than the act of voting itself. A value system is fostered through storytelling and negotiation in forums of public discourse. […]

Public goods enacted by Web 3 communities should strive to produce exactly the opposite effect. Greater scale should mean greater good as valued by an increasingly wider set of people: the creation of positive externalities. […]

Crypto has managed to build infrastructures that exist outside the nation state, but we still live our lives embedded in places, communities, and nations.