The Common, the Wizard and the Blockchain by Zach Cope

‘A tragedy, that’s what it is John,’ Bill moaned into his pint.

‘You upset about the Common again?’ John replied. ‘Can’t you just get used to it? So it floods for half the year, and our sheep don’t grow so fat, and the kids keep getting trench foot, but at least it’s ours again – we’re free!’

Bill sighed, ‘I suppose so, but I hoped freedom would be better than this. Obviously it’s better than when the council existed. I mean they were ok at first, with that caretaker Phil they paid for with our money. Most people didn’t mind paying, and grouchy Fred soon paid up when they called in their tax collector to rough him up a little.

 

© Peter Craine

© Peter Craine

The problem was that once Phil retired, the new caretaker wouldn’t work as hard, so they replaced him with two caretakers. And when that skinny one went off sick we ended up paying for three caretakers, and the yearly drainage repairs still took months to be done.’

‘I’m glad we threw them all in the well,’ mused John, ‘they had been telling us what to do for too long,’

‘Of course the next lot weren’t much better,’ John continued. ‘That company we hired seemed ok at first, with their flashy brochures and those presentations at the donkey racing track. ‘Let us use the common for 10 years and we’ll do the work and charge you to use the common,’ seemed a good idea at the time. They did a great job in the first few years, and we were all happy to pay them the fee to use the common. It was sad they were bought out and they had to send round that guy with the abacus.’

‘Yep he was a real magic bean counter,’ Bill replied. ‘I think the tipping point was when he decided they would focus the use of the common on hut owners only, increasing the charge so that the hovel owners couldn’t use the common. I wasn’t surprised when they threw him and his abacus in the well.

To be honest I’d be happy to pay more than my fair share to keep the common drained as it’s worth it to me. I just wish others would contribute a little.’

‘I remember that meeting we had to find out what people would pay,’ John said, ‘Only a few of us turned up. I later found out that lots of people didn’t want to reveal how much they would pay, particularly if it was less than others might pay, and they didn’t want to give up their groats until they were sure the maintenance project was going ahead. I don’t know what the answer is.’

A deep voice boomed from a corner of the Rose and Crown, ‘I have the answer.’

The two friends turned to the man they knew as the Wizard, who sat in front of several empty beer glasses and seemed to be lit by a small book that emitted a flickering light.

Bill shrugged, ‘We’ve tried everything else, what do you suggest?’

‘Payment first,’ Wizard growled, ‘do you have a Node?’

‘What’s a Node?’

‘A Connection then, do you have a Connection?’

‘What’s a Connection?’

‘Sand then, any Sand?’

‘Wizard I don’t know what a Node, Connection or Sand is!’

Wizard sighed, then his eyes narrowed and he tapped the empty beer glass. Bill nodded and signalled to the barman, whereupon the Wizard’s eyes brightened and he exclaimed:

‘I suggest an application of blockchain technology and escrowed anonymous contracts in order to create an algorithmic blind auction, based on the maximum amount each villager would be prepared to pay to prevent the common from flooding. If the required amount is not met this shortfall is announced and the villagers have the opportunity to increase their contribution until the required amounts are met. Payment is only released once the full amount is met, otherwise the groats are returned. Donators may implement rules, such as their donation only stands if a certain percentage of villagers contribute certain amounts, and these rules can be announced so that individual villagers can make decisions based on this. All rules and bids to donate money are entirely private in origin, reducing the incentives for villagers to throw low donators into the well.’

There was a loud silence for some time. The Wizard, apparently noticing the friends’ confusion, seemed to retreat into a fugue, and a solitary tear rolled down his muddy face. John did the only thing he could think of, and pushed a fresh ale across the table to the Wizard, whose sparkle seemed to reappear.

‘Never mind the detail chaps, just whisper the amount you would be happy to pay towards the maintenance on the Common into my magic book here, and make sure the rest of the villagers do the same.’

And so the magic book was used, and surprisingly to John and Bill, the villagers managed to pay for the maintenance of the common that year, and in subsequent years. Occasionally agreement would take some time but everyone seemed happy with the process. The Wizard never had to pay for drinks in the Rose and Crown, although still muttered about Connections, Nodes and Sand. Even the water tasted better as no one was thrown in the well.

15 years after the Wizard’s magic hat was instituted there was a significant shortfall in the amount raised. The community agreed individually and anonymously to increase their donations. The Commons were maintained, and everyone realised that the biggest donator, once he could do it privately and without compulsion, had been grouchy Fred, who had died earlier that year.

Zach Cope

My pieces are personal comments on politics, economics, health, cryptography, technology and liberty. This is not medical or health advice! 

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  22 comments for “The Common, the Wizard and the Blockchain by Zach Cope

  1. Paul Marks
    Apr 18, 2014 at 7:38 am

    An important point to remember is that increasing money does NOT increase wealth. Say that silver is the money and suddenly (by a magic spell) everyone has twice as much silver – has wealth doubled? No it is has not – in fact people are no better off that they were before.

    It is the same with fiat (government “fiat” – command, order) currencies – or with “crypto currencies”.

    If someone in Africa has got the resources to pay for their education in Pounds or Dollars they have not got the resources to pay for it in “Bitcoin” either (and anyone on “Russia Today” who tells them that BC is the route to easy wealth is lying to them).

    And if people in Somerset (or wherever) have not got the resources to drain the land – playing with crypto currencies (block chains and so on) will not change that.

    • Zach Cope
      Apr 18, 2014 at 8:20 am

      Oh dear, it seems my story hasn’t achieved its aim. This is meant to be about how blockchains and crypto technology can be used to arrive at distributed consensus, in this case allowing the villagers to pledge funds towards the common as long as a certain proportion of the village joins in. Thus it sets the rules and incentives so that public projects can be agreed without coercion among large numbers of people. Game theory with this type of smart voting would lead to more cooperation and less incentives to free ride from those who would otherwise be happy to pay for the good.
      I see this as a potential model for a self organising society as large goverment fails.

      With regards to Bitcoin I would suggest it can increase wealth as it reduces the mal investment caused by money printing, zombie banks and theft by inflation, but that’s not the subject of this story!

    • zardoz
      Apr 19, 2014 at 9:02 am

      To the extent that bitcoin provides a service which doesn’t currently exist, it does create wealth. That service seems to be the ability to transfer wealth between distant people anonymously.

  2. zardoz
    Apr 19, 2014 at 9:02 am

    To the extent that bitcoin provides a service which doesn’t currently exist, it does create wealth. That service seems to be the ability to transfer wealth between distant people anonymously.

  3. Apr 20, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    If people in a village want to donate money (or time and effort) to drain things they can, just as they can (and do) donate money to the RNLI.

    Crypto “currencies” have got naught to do with the matter (positive or negative).

    • Zach Cope
      Apr 20, 2014 at 10:02 pm

      The problem is that all is not for the best in this best of all possible worlds and that humans don’t always succeed at managing common goods. Thus people put faith in governments as an improvement over feudalism. My suggestion is that this problem can be solved by emergent technology, thus reducing the need for a third party, such as a state or corporation, to be involved.
      Bitcoin is the first example of this approach, and I fully expect this and related technologies to undermine the power of governments by bypassing their authority as well as providing healthy competition.
      Note the above piece isn’t about Bitcoin, rather it is about the power of cryptographic technology to enable consensus by reducing the information gap regarding what individuals would pay to used the common.

  4. Apr 20, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    As for banking – money lending should be with REAL SAVINGS.

    On “game theory” and all that stuff – I have no time for it.

    For example, the “Prisoner’s ……”

    “If you tell on the others you will get a reduced sentence – but if none of you confess you will all get off”.

    I reject the whole set up.

    If one has committed a violation (violated the body or goods of someone else) one should confess – and NOT for a reduced punishment.

    “Game theory” assumes away everything that makes human beings worth caring about.

  5. Apr 21, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Zach you may the common mistake of thinking that “feudalism” is an ECONOMIC system – it was not (Karl Marx was wrong). “Feudalism” is an legal and military system (not an economic one).

    For example one can have serfdom without feudalism (there was de facto serfdom in the Roman Empire after the Emperor Diocletian forbad peasants to leave the land).

    And one can have feudalism without serfdom – all of England had feudal law but in some areas of England there were no serfs.

    As for a book on “feudal” law – I would suggest John Dundas “A summery of the feudal aw, with the differences of the Scots law from it” (1710) which will show you the advantages and disadvantages of “feudal” law over “modern” law. For example under “feudal” law land could not be take to build a new road (not without the consent of the land holder) or to “perfect an estate”.

    As for who should drain land…….

    I am sorry for not giving a plain reply – I am ill (a throat inflection) and I am very tired (work).

    The OWNER of the land should have it drained (if the owner wants to have it drained) and if the owner has not got the money (and no one will give or lend him or her the money) then they should (if they want to) sell the land to someone with greater resources.

    It makes no difference whether one operates under “feudal” law or Roman land law in this regard.

    As for land ownership by a “corporation” – say a church or a village voluntary trust, I have no objection to such corporate land ownership (as long as the land was bought voluntarily – or left to them voluntarily).

    Zach I simply do not see what you mean by a “third party”.

    The land belongs to the land owner – whether it is an individual, a family, or a corporate owners such as a church, or charitable trust, or a for-profit trading company.

    If some “villagers” or other “people” do not own the land it is none of their business.

    Talk of “block chains”, “game theory”, “crypto currencies” (and on and on) is all utterly irrelevant.

    The land belongs to the land owners (land “holders” under “Feudal” law – but actually this de facto private land OWNERSHIP was more secure under “Feudal” law than it was under Roman law).

    If you want to drain some land that belongs to you – go right ahead.

    If you want to advice someone else to drain their land – fair enough.

    But please stop going on about “game theory”, “block chains”, “crypto currencies” and all of the rest of this utterly irrelevant stuff.

  6. Apr 21, 2014 at 7:54 am

    I certainly support the end of government ownership of drainage systems – after all the “Environment Agency” was only set up under the last Labour government (yet, dementedly, people talk as it is has always existed).

    Before the creation of the Environment Agency drainage (including in Somerset – naturally a vast area of lake and marsh during the winter, “Somerset” means “land of the summer people” who went to high ground during winter time) was in the hands of local Boards dominated by the LANDOWNERS.

    It is the LANDOWNERS who should be in charge of drainage – and they should finance it from their own resources

    Of course the state taxes away those resources – and should not.

    Naught to do with crypto “currencies”, “game theory”, “block chains” or the Emperor Ming of the Planet Mongo.

    As for borrowing money…..

    A money lender should first have the money they are lending (either their own or the money of other people entrusted to them to be lent out).

    If bankers (or others) lend out “money” that is not REAL SAVINGS (i.e. the SACRIFICE OF CONSUMPTION) then a credit bubble is created – and a bust will happen.

    Some people deny that the banking system creates credit bubbles – but they can not answer the simple question “if the banking system does not expand lending beyond real savings of cash-money what form of money-supply collapses during a bust such as that of 1929-1933?”

    I repeat that introducing a new currency (“crypto” or other) changes none of the above.

    Also that whether land is drained or not should be left to the landowners (individual owners or corporate owners such as churches) to decide.

  7. Apr 21, 2014 at 7:58 am

    By the way talk of “the common” implies “common land” that belongs to nobody (neither an individual or a corporate body such as a charitable trust).

    The idea of “common land” is (normally) very stupid.

    Like forests (and, contrary to Roman law, rivers) land should have clear owners – either individual ones or corporate body ones.

    Trying to divorce liberty from LARGE SCALE PRIVATE OWNERSHIP is a blunder.

    • Zach Cope
      Apr 21, 2014 at 10:44 am

      150 villagers own it after throwing enough people in the well !

  8. Apr 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Paul, I think you are taking the post rather too literally. It is a work of fiction, so take what you want away from it, but what I took was that blockchain technology offers solutions to the free-rider problem. Emperically there have been many work arounds of that problem (Stephen Davies gave many examples at LLFF14) but a forward looking modern option that addresses the problem directly is a useful thing, even if you don’t necessarily know what it’s useful for yet.

    I will also repeat the point that blockchain != bitcoin. Bitcoin innovated the blockchanin method and proved it works, but the approach has many uses, e.g. uniquely naming things, running auctions, keeping public records etc.

  9. Apr 21, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    Simon – I think that Free Rider problem is over stressed. People give money to the RNLI even though its lifeboats will save them whether they give money or not.

    And people give money to such organisations as the National Trust or the RSPCA even though they do not benefit by giving such organisations money.

    As for land drainage – if a land owner wants land drained, good luck to them. And if they do not want land drained – then also good luck to them (perhaps they want the land as a sanctuary for birds – it is up to them).

    Zach Cope.

    “150 villages own it [the land] after throwing enough people down the well”

    Your words reveal you for what you are – a thief and a murderer.

    May all your hopes turn to ashes in your mouth, and may you choke to your death upon them.

    By the way – only a cretin puts the bodies of his enemies down the well (it poisons the water).

    • Apr 21, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      Paul. Calm down. It’s just a funny story.

  10. Apr 21, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Simon it was not the story that inspired my comment (the story is just irrelevant stuff) – it is Zach’s comment. The comment where he advocated theft and murder – and then dishonouring the bodies after murder.

    If he does not mean such things he should do not say them.

    And if Zach “just” means government officials (not the owners of private estates – whether individual owners, or the people of corporate owners such as churches or trusts or trading companies) his comment should have made that clear.

    I do not say things I do not mean.

    I am not un calm – if someone plans the death of private land owners and the theft of their estates (“village communities” did not own the land in Somerset, or any other flood plain – so saying they can own it “AGAIN” is false) then I wish them (those who plan theft and murder) dead.

    I assure you Simon that one does not have to get excited to wish enemies dead. At least not at my age (after all there are vastly fewer days between me and the grave than between me and birth – in a way I already look towards death, if not as a friend, at least as not as an enemy).

    However, I would not throw Zach’s body down the well.

    Throwing bodies in the well one relies upon for water is truly stupid.

    • Apr 22, 2014 at 6:15 am

      The story is not irrelevant, it is the source of the notion you found disagreeable. Zach assumed you had read the story and made a joke that alluded to it in order to lighten the mood. If you had read the story, or reminded yourself of it, before describing the author in such terms then you will not have come across as quite so mad.

      ALL: can we keep the rest of the thread a bit more focused on the OP, thanks.

  11. Apr 22, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Simon to what joke do you refer? Which of Zach’s comments was a joke?

    Was the stuff about murdering people and throwing their bodies down the local well, the joke?

  12. Zach Cope
    Apr 22, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I don’t believe in violence, verbal or actual, and the violence in the story is a representation of the violence that seems to continually occur when societies can’t respond to internal or external stresses or change.
    As man kind hasn’t stopped killing each other over political systems this allegory is meant to represent a way people might be able to come to consensus without violence. The villagers in this case are tired of violence and are willing to accept new ways of interacting. Perhaps if I stated they own the land lawfully and the Wizard is a management consultant brought in by the villagers it to help advise them how to run it as a charity the story might be more accessible?
    I will not make any further comments in this thread, as I don’t wish to be subjected to further verbal threats which detract from the original point of the story. I wish for a world without violence and hope improved political systems can help to achieve this in time.

  13. Apr 22, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Zach if I misinterpreted your comment (about murdering people and throwing their bodies down a well) I apologise.

    If you are loyal supporter of private landed estates (and oppose some sort of communal village communities being set up in their place) good for you.

    However, I have certainly not threatened you either “verbally” or in writing.

    For example, if were to write “I wish the Social Justice supporting dictator of North Korea dead – that al his hopes (of theft and murder) turn to ashes in his mouth and choke him” in what way have a “threatened” Mr Kim?

    • Apr 22, 2014 at 11:09 am

      Oh Paul! It’s just not very welcoming is it!

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