Think Bigger. Aim Higher. Go Further.

Month: October 2015

Municipal Governance On The Blockchain

treesviewAs a member of the City of Edmonds Planning Board, I hear a lot about what the public wants and what they do not want from their local government.  As a seaside town, property values can be greatly impacted by water and mountain views.  As such, there is an incentive to remove trees blocking views.  In other parts of town, the urban forest is extremely beautiful and there is great incentive to preserve trees from high density developers. So what happens when a town wants to regulate trees?  In our case, it was NOT an Edmonds kind of day. Perhaps it’s time to try municipal governance on the blockchain. 

Problem:

Many municipalities are adopting laws which may restrict the cutting of trees on private property in response to factors such as canopy loss, erosion control, wildlife protection, urban forest management, development, view amenities, climate change, etc.; or to enhance tree cutting to make way for new development and associated tax dollars. However, most models for tree regulation are unpopular with their imposing fines, permit fees, high density development, and government regulation on private property. Yet, these fines and permit fees are required to fund a bloated top-heavy tree code in the first place!!

Proposal:

Incorporate cryptographic and/or block chain technology to create a web-based public ledger and tree inventory that everyone can see and anyone can audit. By adding simple gamification features, the tree code may become self-regulating as players interact with the game. This may minimize government involvement, except in the most exceptional circumstances.

Discussion:

Think of it like a huge public accounting ledger that everyone can see, but can only edit their own data.  Instead of accounting for money, the ledger accounts for trees.  The game starts when a property owner registers his or her own trees on the ledger.  The city will issue cryptocurrency based on the number of tree units the property owner claims. These tokens would go into an electronic wallet on a blockchain associated with the property parcel number.  Each year, the resident will be issued more tokens by the city as their trees grow – the value of the tokens is derived from climate data or LIDAR surveys.  Some years may increase token values, some years may decrease token value based on estimated growth rates.

When a person wants to cut down a tree, they need to spend tokens to do so. Ideally, A property owner would not cut down more than they can grow. If they don’t have enough tokens, then they need to buy them from adjoining neighbors who are also trying to grow more than they must lose. If trading is restricted to adjoining properties (not commoditized like carbon credits), then community actions must be agreed upon by neighbors to settle any difficult situations.

The city would rarely get involved except to peg the value of the tokens on climate data. Algorithms programmed into the public ledger would manage the token values and electronic wallet exchanges automatically.

Shifts incentives

This sounds innocent enough.  But in reality, it changes all of the incentives that we are now attempting to manage with convoluted linear rules and imposing government regulations on private property.

For example,

  • It rewards tree preservation.
  • It rewards early and active registration,
  • It is self-enforcing because neighbors have a vested interest, and the ledger is public.
  • It is self-governing because neighbors need to agree on price.
  • It is self-limiting – an area cannot get rapidly stripped without progressive costs.
  • If a developer tries to take out a lot of trees, the neighbors can make it very expensive to do so – or negotiate concessions, etc.
  • If an arborist is needed, then the business case exists to hire one.
  • The municipality is able to referee disputes and establish coin allocations based on canopy quota or weather conditions, etc.
  • It provides tree liability (or asset) disclosure at property sale.

Business case

Today, proposed tree code regulations expose the citizens to cutting fees as high as $1000 dollars per tree. Violations for unauthorized cutting can approach $3000 dollars per tree. This money is required to fund a tree department that may consist of up to 3 arborists (for a small seaside town in Washington state; pop. 50,000), a permit reviewer, an enforcement arm, and possible court challenges. It could cost a million dollars per year to have an effective tree code for a city under 100,000 people, or 10 dollars per person per year just to regulate.

A price point of 1 dollar per citizen per year would therefore not be an extraordinary amount of money for a city to resolve a difficult social problem with modern technology.   Several thousand small cities dot the American coastline making this a strong candidate for private entrepreneurial partnership simply to maintain and audit the public ledger.

Conclusion:

A new generation of web applications and cryptographic technologies would allow this activity to happen autonomously. No new labor is required. No regulators are needed, no special penalties or enforcement mechanisms are required.  The city can stay out of the private property tree business completely.

Technically, this is called a multi-agent algorithmic game on a decentralized autonomous platform.  The difference is that today, these things can be made to look and feel like a game that is fun to play – people may play it. How many other Municipal Governance functions can be self-governed on a blockchain such as motor vehicles, animal control, gun control, schools, parking, water rights, energy, executive power, or any intrinsically valuable shared community asset.

 

Gun Control On The Blockchain

The following discussion related to Gun Control On The Blockchain is a thought-exercise only inspired by new and emerging technologies for decentralized self-governance and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the author. It is not intended to favor any single political position. it is not presented as a comprehensive solution to all scenarios. This article is intended to invite readers to imagine new approaches and constructs to resolve complex governance issues using blockchain technology on public ledgers.  

Gun Control On The BlockchainProblem: According to some sources, 280,000 Americans have died from guns in the last decade.  Even opponents of gun control acknowledge that there is a need to assure that a gun owner is qualified to operate each specific type of firearm that they possess. Even proponents of gun control acknowledge that registering a gun with a central authority (government, insurance, gun schools) constitutes a loss of civil liberty. Everyone knows that “blanket legislation” accomplishes little more than punishing a large number of responsible people in order to deter a relatively small number of irresponsible people.

Proposal: A person who seeks to acquire a gun may create an anonymous Curiosumé persona that includes their training, qualifications, mental health record, police record, and personal references from other qualified gun owners, etc. This anonymous information can then be encrypted and time stamped on a blockchain. Any changes in these conditions must be added to the persona by one-way edit.  The identity of the persona remains on a private key held by the owner.

Gun dealers would be able to sell the level of armament commensurate with the threshold of competence evident by a quasi-anonymous persona. In the event of a disputed gun discharge, the actual identity of the person and their gun becomes known, therefore, their private key can be revealed without loss of civil liberty.  If the gun owner’s persona is accurate, then they will be protected under the 2nd amendment and receive an isolated incident judgment.  If the person lied on their persona, they forfeit some protected under the 2nd amendment and receive broad penalty and liabilities.

Alternate: Gun Owner Insurance:

Without revealing identity, the gun owner’s Curiosumé persona may act as a proxy identity for the person. The proxy would then be assigned to a risk sharing cooperative pool based on similar Curiosumé personas of the other people in the pool. The gun owner would pay insurance premiums commensurate with their persona – i.e., corresponding to the correct risk pool of their persona. In the event of a claim, the identity is unencrypted and revealed. If the person cheated on their premiums, they would not be covered. If they were truthful, they would be covered for accidental discharge.

Discussion:

Disciplined and experienced owners will pay a trivial amount for gun insurance while beginners would pay substantially more. This is an incentive to become educated in the rules of firearm ownership. If an individual has demonstrated severe shortcoming of responsibility, judgment, or prior convictions, then they will be pooled with others possessing the similar characteristics. As such, their insurance would be exponentially more expensive, perhaps prohibitive. Therefore, they would need to pay more to own a gun and or complete a rehabilitation program.  The market will reach a new equilibrium of relative safety.

This type of arrangement applying a Curiosumé layer to a blockchain effectively preserves the identity of the gun owner while also providing essential data to a public ledger that may be assessed by gun dealers, gun trainers, insurance companies, mental health professionals, personal references, legislators, and the public at large.

Again, in the event of a shooting, the gun owner and their gun are discovered anyway, therefore privacy no longer exists. Only at that time may the public ledger be reviewed.  There is a negative incentive for all people in the chain of possession in a community to allow an unstable person to possess a gun.

In the event of a worst case scenario intended by our founding fathers requiring for a protection by a trained citizen militia, then the blockchain can be shut down until such civil order is restored.

The Curiosumé layer on a blockchain satisfies the 2nd amendment on all points while protecting the public by filtering incompetent owners without punishing competent owners through fair market forces.

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