Ethereum Q&A: Governance trade-offs in decentralised systems


[AUDIENCE] I was wondering if you
could say a few words on governance.
One thing that has happened a lot in both
ecosystems in the past year have been…
We have allowed skeptics in the media to latch on to
the failures in decentralized systems in public debates.
People say, “If it is decentralized, how come a few
people in China and some developers make decisions?”
[ANDREAS] But are they?
The question was about governance problems…
and how governance problems within this space
give critics the opportunity to point and laugh.
Is it really decentralized or not? Well,
decentralization isn’t a boolean value.
Decentralization is a range. Is it more decentralized
than any other system we have built before? Yes, it is.
Including its governance. The fact that there are a bunch
of developers who write codes, and miners who mine,
doesn’t mean they have control.
You may not notice that until something goes wrong,
until there is a highly contentious issue.
Then you discover how little power both
developers and miners have to affect change.
They find themselves in a situation where they want
to offer a straightforward, direct, and simple solution,
but the system won’t let them do that.
Governance in these systems is tricky
because we are making trade-offs.
We won’t get simple, easy, and quick solutions.
We will get liberty. That is an explicit trade-off.
If you want simple, easy, and quick
solutions, you should elect a dictator.
The trains will run on time,
[but there will be consequences].
If the biggest criticism you can make for these
decentralized systems is that trains don’t run on time,
then you are missing the point.
Sometimes the trains run on time,
but their destination is a death camp.
Some of the most efficient operations
that you can build is for killing people.
Governance is a tricky thing.
Democracy is incredibly inefficient.
We practice it anyway because we
appreciate the trade-offs it gives us.
Self-expression, self-determination, freedom of
association, religion, and consciousness. Liberty.
Governance in these network-centric systems
[has] trade-offs. We can create systems that are…
open to innovation and access without permission,
systems that exhibit a high degree of autonomy…
and censorship resistance.
The price we pay is that our debates are
loud, messy, and sometimes don’t end.
There is no one in the room who can say
“I have now heard everybody’s opinion.”
“Thank you so much for participating.
Now, what we will do is…” [Laughter]
That is how corporations and governments are run,
how many things are run. We have tried that before.
If we wanted that kind of money,
we already have that kind of money.
We can all get in a room, express our opinions, and then
Janet tells us what the interest rate will be. [Laughter]
“That is the bottom line. If you don’t like it, opt out.
I don’t know, [buy some] crazy magical internet money.”
This is not an accident. It is an explicit trade-off.
Efficiency is the price we pay for liberty.
I will pay that price every time. Guess what?
I can engineer and optimize for efficiency.
Bitcoin is the first time I’ve been able to
optimize for liberty, and that is awesome.
So is Ethereum, for the same reason. That is the
promise of the open, decentralized blockchain.
[AUDIENCE] There is still a lead developer,
though, who can make final decisions.
[ANDREAS] Not really. They can make limited decisions
about what to include in the code [releases].
But if you don’t like it, you don’t run their code.
Which lead developers are in charge in any of
these systems? [AUDIENCE] Well, you can have…
a lead developer over Core, for example.
Certainly, what happened with Ethereum and the hard
fork [involved] a lead developer making a final decision.
[ANDREAS] To change their own code.
Gustav was up here just a second ago…
showing us that the loyalty miners were willing to give
to the lead developer of the Go version of Ethereum…
[lasted] about an hour; once the price started
dropping, they all suddenly became Parity fans.
In open blockchains, you can have [unpopular]
opinions or you can continue to make money.
That is the game-theoretical model.
If your [unpopular] opinions are too strong,
you will stop making money,
and then your opinions may become very soft indeed.
[AUDIENCE] You can say that about fiat currency too.
If Janet Yellen makes a decision that people
don’t agree with, you will go to [round two].
[ANDREAS] Maybe you and I can,
but ask an Argentinian if they can.
For 5% of the population, under very limited
circumstances, they have that option.
The other 95% of the population on this
planet simply does not have that option.

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