New York congressional candidate Jonathan Herzog hosted a live YouTube broadcast with Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin on Monday, along with author and activist Glen Weyl.
These three white men talked about the protests erupting across the United States. To his credit, the Russian-Canadian Buterin spoke broadly instead of attempting to comment on inequality in American politics. He said the current generation is facing a global “crisis of legitimacy,” concerning both corporations and “many types of governments.”
“The challenge here is can we create systems that allow some groups of people to cooperate without that downside of a centralized or trusted actor having to be in the middle,” Buterin said.
Buterin skillfully framed his software project as it relates to the current economic and political crisis. Yet this YouTube broadcast on Herzog’s campaign trail was hardly Buterin’s first brush with politics.
Buterin met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 because the Ethereum movement is – as a threat to incumbent systems – inevitably political (as Ethereum developer Vlad Zamfir often tweets). Former Ethereum Foundation employee Virgil Griffith, Buterin’s American mentor, is even on trial for allegedly violating sanctions related to North Korea. Token evangelism is a type of diplomacy, for better or worse.
None of this is to say these men will achieve their vision, nor that they have the “right” vision for political reform. But as this underdog democratic candidate in New York revealed, it would be naive at this point to overlook how crypto pioneers have gone from trading magic internet money to influencing politicians around the world.
Herzog literally asked for Buterin’s perspective on policy issues as part of this campaign broadcast.
Buterin’s philosophical compatriot, Glen Weyl, is the Ethereum community’s latest ideological godfather (after both Griffith and Ethereum co-founder Joe Lubin).
Weyl charmed diplomats and bankers at the World Economic Forum 2020 and inspired an activist movement promoted through the RadicalxChange Foundation. He takes Ayn Rand’s hyper-individualistic ideology and reshapes it to fit liberal morality. Equality can be achieved through free market auction, he argues in his economic manifesto “Radical Markets.” An organizer said more than 900 people are signed up for the upcoming RadicalxChange virtual conference starting June 19, where Buterin is also a headliner.
“More than ever, in the time of COVID-19, the problems we face are collective, not individual. And if we each try to protect ourselves, rather than some notion of the public,” Weyl said on Monday. “It’s like trying to replace the military with a bunch of guards protecting individual buildings.”
The key, he continued, is distribution mechanisms that come from pre-determined, historic hierarchies, aka structural bias. Together, the charismatic economist and crypto pioneer joined forces to argue in favor of quadratic funding and Ethereum governance, which Herzog compared to opportunities for American legal reform.
In short, quadratic funding means a certain amount of money is committed to a cause or project then future donors can vote on how money is spent while increasing or matching funds. The donor engagement vehicle is seen as a way to encourage online donations.
For example, Weyl said, a government or philanthropist can match smaller donations, or eventually even an automated smart-contract managing funds. (CoinDesk experimented with quadratic funding during Consensus: Distributed, raising more than $107,000 for COVID-19 charity efforts.)
Buterin said he was interested in ideas like socialism, libertarianism and bitcoin, which initially inspired his continued work on Ethereum.
While he remains an active member of the bitcoin community, Buterin said he is moving Ethereum away from proof-of-work (PoW) mining to reduce the environmental harms of electricity consumption. Ethereum critics would argue there are environmentally friendly ways to mine bitcoin. Either way, the Ethereum creator uses both bitcoin and ether tokens as part of his activism. He’s experimented with quadratic funding, both academically and diplomatically.
Buterin’s Ethereum Foundation donated $150,000 to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2019. During the broadcast on Monday, Buterin said he’s fascinated with the quintessential question of politics: “how to fund public goods.” So far, the UNICEF donation is one such answer.
As for Herzog, he asked the crypto pioneer to recommend a “path forward” in the “context of liberal democracy.” Regardless of whether Herzog wins a congressional seat in New York, Buterin’s political influence doesn’t appear to be fading any time soon.