The benefit of some kind of authority

There are well-meaning people who like to question everything, who go around with ideas like:

"Hey, why should Government Guy be able to do things others can't? The very concept of government is oppression. Why do we need authority? Anarchy is freedom!"

Government exists (1) to serve as a mechanism of coordination, and (2) to prevent arising of a worse, more oppressive authority.

Authority, in general, is emergent. Wherever there isn't authority, one will arise. Not because people want to be oppressed, but because (1) coordination services are needed, and (2) there is no authority in place to prevent another from taking power with force.

In this sense, a situation without authority is in disequilibrium, whereas a situation with authority is in a local equilibrium.

Situations that are truly without authority are hard to maintain, and hard to get work done in. For an example, consider how long it took someone to invent Bitcoin, the first authority-less currency (or more accurately: a currency with truly competing authorities). It is currently an unsolved problem how to extend Bitcoin to process more than about 10 transactions per second without some type of centralization.

In comparison, Visa is a federated system that has no qualms relying on authority, and can process 20,000 transactions per second.

For another example, consider protocols for database cluster synchronization, like the Raft Consensus Algorithm. The link has a very nice visualization. One of the first things you might notice is that all the members of the database cluster are peers, they are equivalent to each other, but at any time they elect one of themselves as an authority to act as coordinator.

Most coordination problems are a lot easier to solve if you have authority. This is to the extent that you can have 20,000 transactions per second if you use authority, and 10 transactions per second without.

In this reality, authority is a natural consequence of the natural laws in place. It's up to us to design and maintain authorities that represent the best of our intentions.

That said, authorities are a liability – a single point of failure. When we can avoid authorities, we should. If Bitcoin survives the test of time – e.g. does not end up controlled by a cartel of 6 miners in China – I believe the internet Domain Name System would be best replaced with one based on Bitcoin. (I think not Namecoin, but a system backed by the full mining effort that goes into the Bitcoin blockchain.)

No comments: