Quadratic Voting: “the Intensity of Preference”
Blockchain world has much to offer besides last year’s rocket profits of early adopters of main cryptocurrencies. Probably, the most impact will be beyond our pockets. For example, according to Glen Weyl, the ideological father of the idea of Quadratic Voting (QV), “Ethereum can help society sidestep emergent totalitarianism” because the ecosystem “enables new forms of “social technology” that can enforce previously unimaginable democratic structures. Due to blockchain unprecedented advances, the potential impact of implementing the QV idea seems to be able to reach the blockchain community earlier than others. There is no doubt that a new way of making collective decisions influence the state of any community.
The inspiration behind the QV idea
Modern economists and philosophers are trying to come up with alternative economic systems that would not lead to growing inequality as capitalism does, or to bureaucratic decision making with central planning. Quadratic voting is part of the radical economic ideas, which were presented in 2015 in the book by Eric Posner and Glen Weyl “Radical markets”, alongside with such ideas as Common Ownership Self-Assessed Tax. The goal of the authors is to create a new system “that would create… a truly radical democracy”. The team radical, most probably, derives from the name of the movement that has started in the 18th century to drive democratic reform to the electoral system.
Commonly used voting mechanisms have their drawbacks. The one that we are particularly used to is based on the simple formula: “one individual – one vote”. And It has been with us not so long in history and has many alternatives, in spite of the common misconception. But even alternatives had proven its flows. According to Weyl, “common voting reforms, such as approval voting, may improve in some ways the status quo but they are not close to optimal and in particular, do nothing to protect minorities”. Moreover, most democracies “lack the ability of individuals to express the intensity of preference”. The idea of protecting minorities and being able to make decisions for good by voting inspired authors in their fundamental research.
In his earlier article on Spectator, Wyel, referring to the biologist’s Thomas D. Seeley research dedicated to the bees’ decision making on new food sources, highlighted that “bees perfected the hexagonal honeycomb long before we understood geometry” and “they seem to have discovered democracy when the ancestors of Cleisthenes were swinging from trees”. The bees-explorers show their findings in a form of dance, expressing a different level of “preference intensity”, after which the bees reach a consensus on where the “grass is greener”:
“Seeley’s research shows that the time they spend on dances grows not linearly but quadratically in proportion to the attractiveness of the site they encountered”
Main idea: the rule to produce the greatest good for the greatest number
In quadratic voting, the participants express “the intensity of preference” by allocating the votes, instead of putting votes just for or against a particular solution. Opposed to the traditional “one individual – one inseparable from an individual vote”, the authors of the “Radical markets” propose to allow to sell and buy votes (“voice credits”). In other words, the participants have “a voting budget” that they can allocate, according to their preferences:
“Every citizen could choose how many votes, up or down, she wants on any given issue or candidate, as long as she has enough vote credits to afford it. Crucially, the costs of votes would be quadratic in the number of votes acquired”
The logic behind the usage of quadratic cost is based on the mathematics, as the solution has proven that” is the only one under which citizens have in theory an incentive to and in experiments in practice do vote in proportion to how important issues are to them”:
“It is thus the only rule that leads to social decisions that produce the greatest good for the greatest number” For more information on theory, please refer to the source or answers for frequently asked questions on the book webpage.
Why QV is relevant for the blockchain community
For the traditional financial system, big corporations and governments the ideas of Quadratic Voting might seem too radical to test right away. Moreover, the current deficiencies in data distribution might simply not allow it. As Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, put it in his review of the idea:
“The greatest challenge will be finding progressively larger and more meaningful places to test it out and show that the model works. I particularly welcome the use of the blockchain and crypto space as a testing ground”
Blocksult consultant Simanovsky Sergey also believes that blockchain could be “a good testing playground”, but remain cautious about scaling, highlighting that “a testing ground doesn’t always show how something will behave itself when in action”.
In the blockchain community itself, there might be a pool of use-cases for new ideas. According to Sebastian Gajek, ““it should be of utmost relevance for the community to take insights from the past elections into account for the design of decentralized, democratic blockchain applications (eg. DAO, DAICO, etc.)”, naming a sybil attack as one of the examples of problems faced by blockchain world:
“The one-voter-one-vote scheme may not be the right process in crucial decisions that decentralized blockchain project face”
According to Vitalik Buterin, “[Weyl] offered some really interesting and novel ideas backed up by solid mathematical reasoning that could actually be a substantial improvement on the status quo.” The interest has been shown by various thinkers of the field, forming the ground for new economic school, that has been looking for theoretical advances and practical use-cases.
Building on the idea: QV in the context of public funding
Vitalik Buterin has not just expressed the interest towards the idea, but went further to co-publishing with Glen Weyl and Zoë Hitzig an article named “Liberal Radicalism: Formal Rules for a Society Neutral among Communities,” , where authors proposed “a design for philanthropic or publicly-funded seeding to allow (near) optimal provision of a decentralized, self-organizing ecosystem of public goods”. Broadly speaking, the authors put the idea of Quadratic Voting to the context of “funding mechanism for endogenous community formation”:
“Examples of these contexts include campaign finance, funding open source software (such as blockchain communities, public or charitable support for news media and the funding of intraurban public projects). In this paper we propose an extension of the logic of QV to this setting”
QV use-cases: a step to test the solid mathematical logic in real life
The authors of the idea are convinced that “by making collective institutions that are thus truly responsive to the general interest and not just the prejudices of the majority or special interests, QV could restore faith in and thus a greater role for public institutions”. in spite of philosophical differences, Weyl claims “his ideas are attracting serious dialogue among governments and politics internationally”. He is positive that “ some of his ideas will be tested in Europe during the next couple of years”:
“It is already being used for governance and to elicit opinions in polling using software created by our start-up [RadicalXChange]”
The blockchain structure together with QV makes more visible the idea of treating “Data as Labor”, as another example. This idea addresses the issue of big corporations like Google, using user data for building AI-systems, without paying a user for providing the company with plenty of data. As AI or machine-learning mechanism can only exist with the user data, it could be only fair if users could receive a “piece of the pie”.
The idea of quadratic voting has been undergoing testing in many platforms, among which there is an open-source bounties platform Gitcoin. According to the company a blog post, over 130 different individuals participated in this experiment, a total of $38,242 across 26 different projects in the Ethereum space has been distributed using the recent idea.
The company Collective Decision Engines “has embodied QV for market research as an algorithmic mechanism in an intuitive user interface” in a mobile tool called weDesign. Democracy.Earth projects test the idea in the context of building “free, sovereign and incorruptible governance”. Open source coin project puts in the programming context. Moloch DAO might serve as an example of the Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) that tries to implement the principle of QV.
A room for improvement: the problem of voting cannot be solved leaving out the social behavior
Strictly speaking, like most of the ideas that the blockchain sphere “awakens”, is not completely “new, out of the box” ideology. “It has been tried to be implemented in a certain way in a number of projects, one of such is the social project – Steemit, where people earn rewards by writing and upvoting content”, pointed out Blocksult consultant Simanovsky Sergey.
The project used similar to QV model: part of the voters’ stake was frozen during the upvote of certain content, and the more stake the voter had, the more his vote was worth. The results of this experimentation were mixed, explained Sergey:
“The facts showed that any system can be “milked” by byzantine users, that follow in self-interest only, and are not interested in the final success of the system as a whole. QV showed flaws, where the total allocation of “shares” wasn’t spread out evenly, or fairly, amongst the users”
On the other hand, the expert is convinced that it does not imply that QV will not work, highlighting the importance of taking into account the social psychology aspects in any model design:
“Something as important as voting, cannot be solved by obscuring and leaving out, out of the picture – social behavior. After all, humans as beings, are merely social creatures”
These aspects lead to ongoing research and developing new design mechanisms that take into account social human behavior. Bitcoin enthusiast and expert Stepan Gershuni named Vitalik Buterin’s idea to introduce an additional coefficient for solving the problem of potential collisions, as an example of the ongoing research.
The Quadratic Voting idea is yet an idea to be tested. But the democracy ideas too did not come to reality in one day. In fact, it took about 1000 years to properly test them and face currently obvious flows. “More so, when talking about such important aspects of human behavior, like voting, one must always remember that the original implementation of democracy wasn’t what we know of it today – it was a mechanism that proposed to give voting rights by birth to certain types of individuals”, points out Blocksult consultant Simanovsky Sergey.
This being said, according to Moore’s law, the adoption of new technologies happens at a constantly growing rate. Therefore, even is the change might not happen tomorrow, it might be closer than one would expect. More importantly, the idea has already served as an accelerator for dialogue, that could lead to fruitful philosophical and economic insights and practical use-cases deemed to improve the current state of affairs.