Smári McCarthy on Liquid Democracy

“So in the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about methods to increase the ability of groups of people to make decisions and there’s so many decisions that needs to be made and everything gets a bit complex and all that complexity is managed on a lot of different levels from the home to cities and countries by … But throughout all of this mess people are trying to decide things and representative democracy is how we make most of the biggest decisions in a society. There’s ample evidence that this is not a very good way of making decisions because it leads most people to be unsatisfied most of the time. On the flipside people might talk about direct democracy. So the idea of everybody contributing in making every decision and it’s been criticised as being too slow, too inefficient and of course that everybody cannot possibly know everything. But if we zoom out of it a little bit then we notice that there are two formal systems that make decisions in society. One is the democratic system where we vote on things which expresses the will of individuals towards their society. But then on the other hand we have monetary systems which signal value, intent and individual will. So money and votes turn out to be two sides of the same coin so to speak. But when we talk about money we also talk about poverty in that context. Poverty is essentially the inability to make personal decisions at a certain time. It’s a certain way of eliminating individual choice or will. And poverty in monetary terms limits our ability to buy nice things. We try to battle poverty but we never really talk about democratic poverty. So poverty in democratic terms limits our ability to live in nice societies and that seems like a good thing to battle in my opinion. So with money we aim to constantly increase our liquidity. Why not aim to increase our democratic liquidity while we’re at it. Our societies are currently suffering a major democratic liquidity crisis. Our ability to make personal decisions on the future of our societies is limited by the fact that all of our democratic purchasing power is limited to one vote every four years given to a perspective government and if we don’t invest it in a political party on that ballot then we lose our vote. And regardless of what we end up choosing, the return on the investment is going to be negative. So I think we can do a lot better than this. There is a lot of good projects out there aiming to make it easier for groups of people to make decisions together. The idea would be to allow everybody to participate to whatever degree they see fit and beyond that put trust in their friends and family to whichever degree they wish. So direct delegation. So you can vote, you can abstain, you can select your representative for general issues, particular topics or individual issues and generally everybody gets to participate to whatever degree they want. But there’s still the problem that the traditional poverty politics still has a stranglehold on our societies and we cannot currently wrest that authority away from our parliaments and our governments because they do have a lot of legitimacy. So there’s a couple of things we can do. One is we can get in there. We can get in the parliaments, get in the governments. Start to convert the legislative changes that are needed to move away from this poverty politics model. The alternative is to simply start using liquid democracy systems to help us make better decisions than our representatives could ever hope to and slowly replace the norms of our decision making inside our clubs, inside our societies and you know maybe sometime we may be able to organise our societies without deference to authority other than the authority that each of us have.

So for online activity it very much does (occur) but for formal decision making, things like deciding the tax level or building an overpass or any kind of thing which has an affect on our physical reality. This is all deferred to parliament which is still operating under this poverty model.

First thing we need to do is actually accept that the old western system of parliament is not actually very efficient and much less is it the representative of the will of the people. What we have there is representatives of representatives representing each other and not really us. So maybe we can slowly do away with that. Maybe by doing things such as collaborative budgeting which has been done in… in Brazil. Or we can go into collective decision making as it’s done here in Reykjavik. There’s first the question of the parliamentarians and the governments to let go of some of their decision making authority and to allow people to make decisions for themselves through empowering the individual to decide on his own life.

If this is done correctly it should be scale free. Of course we should use this to organise our beer clubs, our knitting groups, our social clubs of whatever type but we should also use this method to organise our planet. There shouldn’t be any scaling limitations.”


“All these uprisings in the middle east, the protests in America with Occupy, all over Europe, the indignados, the Greek protesters, all of this is just a kind of understanding coming into existence that things are not the way they should be and we can fix them… Traditionally democracy was very prone to scaling problems. Getting everybody together into one room to make decisions is not very possible so people came up with ideas of representative democracy and that kind of thing and certain people would ride their horses over to a certain place and make all the decisions and this was kind of the best we could hope for three centuries ago. Now we have the internet. Now we can do a lot better because we have fast telecommunciations operating almost at the speed of light and we can build up all sorts of technologies which allow us to make decisions better, faster and more collaboratively. The future of democracy is going to mean everybody gets to participate rather than some people get to participate if they have the right family, the right allegiance, the right political party and the right backing and the right funding. We shouldn’t need any of those things. All of us should be equal.”


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