Revisiting the problem of open community governance: Why is it difficult to achieve public governance?

The governance problems faced by Ethereum are not a case, and they have not been well resolved from the academic hall to the political world.

Ethereum core developer Lane Rettig screamed on Twitter: "The governance of Ethereum has failed." His comments sparked controversy in the Ethereum community, core developers, researchers, project founders and crypto asset investors. They expressed their views, either support or objection, and joined the big discussion on the Ethereum community governance issue initiated by Lane Rettig.

There must always be brave people to stand up and point out that many people pretend to be invisible. In the eyes of many people, the Ethereum community's proud decentralized governance has produced inefficiencies, and the ills of people's overwhelming noises are destroying the precious consensus reached between different individuals. Of course, some people will think that Lane Rettig's screaming is "a sensationalism", but the community governance problem of Ethereum has become a new dilemma in the decentralized organization experiment.

It's time to rethink: Why is open community governance difficult to achieve?

The blockchain is neither affiliated to a power authority nor privately owned. It is a " common land ." The greatest test facing the commons is the "tragedy of the commons," because everyone faces the temptation to hitchhikers, evade responsibility or other opportunistic behavior.

Only a reasonable set of governance systems can guarantee the sustainable development of the commons. This is why Bitcoin is not the first cryptocurrency in history, but the last successful one. The mechanism designed by Satoshi Satoshi enables the Bitcoin community to achieve effective self-organization and governance, and participants can achieve lasting mutual benefits.

How to design a governance system for the public? How to improve the system when the environment changes? This is a problem that must be solved by a successful blockchain system, and American political economist Elinor Ostrom is an expert in answering this question.

Eleanor Ostrom, American political economist and Nobel laureate in economics

Eleanor has been studying the various collective action problems faced by individuals using public resources since college. This has also become her lifelong research direction. In 2009, she won the Nobel Economics for her outstanding contribution in this field. prize.

Unlike most people who believe that the tragedy of the commons can only be solved by "Leviathan" or "privatization", Eleanor believes that people in the community can achieve autonomy through an effective governance system.

Eleanor also wrote the book " The Way of Governance of Public Affairs ". Through the analysis of more than 5,000 successful or failed cases of public governance, it explores the problems faced in the governance of public land and gives the verification. An effective solution. Based on Eleanor's research, we will first discuss the root causes of public governance that are difficult to achieve.

From the small residential area to the entire planet, the question of how to best manage the commons has not been solved well in academic halls and in the political world.

The root of this problem is believed to come from three different dilemmas: the tragedy of the commons , the prisoner's dilemma game , and the collective action logic . They represent some important similar aspects of many different issues that occur in different contexts around the world.

Many observers believe that the vast majority of the commons are in line with the above three models, and therefore believe that people have fallen into a cold trap: a group of helpless individuals are caught in the cruel process of destroying their own resources.

The policy options resulting from this observation are often equally ruthless, with either Leviathan as the only option or privatization as the only option.

Commons tragedy

Garetht James Hardin, an American ecologist and philosopher , published a challenging article in Science in 1968, exploring the theme of "public land," and then, " The expression of the tragedy of the commons has become a symbol, which means that at any time, as long as many individuals use a scarce resource together, environmental degradation will occur.

Harding asks readers to think about the situation faced by an open pasture from the perspective of a rational herder: every grazing person can get direct benefits from his own livestock; when the pasture is overgrazed, everyone will suffer an extension due to pasture degradation. cost.

In this case, each grazing person has the incentive to add more livestock, because he gets all the benefits of his own livestock, and only bears part of the damage caused by overgrazing.

This brings tragedy: everyone is locked into a system that forces him to pursue his best interests unrestrainedly in a limited world, and destruction is the destination of everyone.

Harding was not the first to discover the tragedy of the commons. Aristotle noticed a long time ago: "A common land that belongs to the most people is often the least cared for." Hobbes's story about people in the natural state is the prototype of the tragedy of the commons: people seek their own interests and finally kill each other.

The wealth that everyone can freely won will not be cherished by anyone. People care about their own things and ignore public things.

If the commons refers only to some pastoral areas or fisheries, the tragedy of the commons will not cause widespread concern. The fact is that many places in the world, many scenes, may create a tragedy of the commons. For example, the incompetence of the US Congress in limiting its excessive spending, the relationship between the public and private sectors in the modern economy, international cooperation issues, community conflicts on the island of Cyprus, and so on.

Prisoner's dilemma game


The police arrested two suspects, A and B, but there was not enough evidence to accuse the two of being guilty. The police then separated the suspects and offered the same choice to both parties:

  • If a person pleads guilty (betrayal), one does not plead guilty, the guilty person will be released immediately, and the person who does not plead guilty will be sentenced to 10 years.
  • If neither of them pleads guilty (cooperation), both of them are sentenced to six months in prison.
  • If both plead guilty (betrayal), both are sentenced to five years in prison.

This is a prisoner's dilemma game model proposed by Merrill and Melvin , officially established by Albert Tucker . This model can be summarized as a non-cooperative game in which all players have complete information.

"Having full information" means that all parties know the full structure of the game tree and the rewards associated with the outcome; "non-cooperation" means that communication between the parties is impossible.

Imagine how two rational suspects in a dilemma will choose:

  • If the other party does not plead guilty, I plead guilty that I can be released, so I will choose to betray.
  • If the other party pleads guilty, I will also plead guilty to get a lower sentence, so I will also choose to betray.

The situation faced by the two is the same, so the two will come to the same conclusion after rational thinking – betrayal. Betrayal is the dominant strategy in the prisoner's dilemma game, also known as the dominant strategy, that is, no matter what strategy other people choose, this strategy can make their situation better than other strategies.

However, each of their opponents' choice of their own "best" advantage strategy is not the optimal solution in the Pareto sense.

Pareto optimality refers to an ideal state of resource allocation. In this state, if the interests of some people are improved, the interests of others will be impaired, that is, there is no better resource. The state of assignment makes the situation of one opponent better than it is now, while the situation of the other opponent is at least not worse than it is now.

In the prisoner's dilemma game, if the cooperation between the two sides is the Pareto optimal, the two sides choose the dominant strategy is Pareto is poor.

The paradox of the individual's rational strategy leading to collective irrational endings poses a challenge to the basic belief that rational human beings can achieve rational results. The prisoner's dilemma game is therefore deeply attracted to scholars, and Campbell is in rationality. The book " The Paradox of Cooperation " states:

"This paradox undoubtedly abandons our interpretation of reason, directly affecting the basic issues of ethics and political philosophy, and threatens the foundation of the entire social science. The scope of this paradox explains why they cause Such a broad focus and why it has become the center of philosophical discussion."

Logic of collective action

Group theory believes that individuals with common interests will voluntarily act to promote their collective interests. In other words, if members of a certain group have common interests or goals, and the realization of this goal will make all members Better than in the past, as long as the individuals in the group are rational and self-interested, they will act for the realization of this goal.

Mansel Olson examines the difficulty of individuals in pursuing common welfare in the book The Logic of Collective Action. As far as the group theory is concerned, “as long as there is a group-related interest, it is enough to stimulate collective action. The idea of ​​getting this benefit raises the challenge.

Olson pointed out that unless there is a small number of people in a group, or there are special means such as coercion to encourage individuals to act for the common good, individuals who are rational and seek their own interests will not take action to realize the interests of the group.

At any time, as long as one is not excluded from sharing the benefits brought about by the efforts of others, there is no incentive to contribute to the common interests, but only to choose to be a free rider.

Collective action logic is also useful for explaining that an entirely rational individual produces an irrational outcome in some cases. If the temptation of free-riding dominates the decision-making process, the final outcome may be that all participants choose to hitchhike and the collective interest will not arise; or some people provide collective goods while others ride free cars, and the supply of collective interests will Not at the optimal level.

Current policy plan

The above three models and their variants are different manifestations of collective action theory. There are two main current policy options based on them. One is Leviathan and the other is privatization.

1. Leviathan as the only option

Harding pointed out that "in a messy world, if you want to avoid destruction, the people must be forced by their own personal mind, that is, Leviathan, to surrender." That is, even if we avoid the tragedy of the commons It can only be done when twilightly uses Leviathan as the only means.

From an external Leviathan's assumption that it is inevitable to avoid the tragedy of the commons, most resource systems have adopted a policy plan controlled by a government with mandatory rights, and this practice has been widely recognized.

If an external government can accurately know the total amount of a public pond resource, unambiguously arrange the use of resources, supervise actions, and successfully sanction the offenders, then the central agency can indeed form an optimal equilibrium.

However, the optimal trade-offs achieved by following centralized control are based on the assumptions of accurate information, strong supervision, reliable and effective sanctions, and zero administrative costs.

The reality is that it is difficult for a central agency to have sufficient information on time and space, to accurately estimate the load capacity of public pond resources, and to develop appropriate penalties for cooperation. When the central agency is unable to obtain complete information, it will make a variety of mistakes.

Moreover, the cost of creating and maintaining such an institution is not included as a parameter in the game, and the solution is assuming that the controller is a sensible, economically minded altruist, but this is not always the case.

2. Privatization as the only solution

Other policy analysts have used the same tough language to impose a system of private property rights where all resources are publicly owned. Robert Smith believes: "Either the economic analysis of public property resources or the discussion of the tragedy of the commons shows that the only way to avoid the tragedy of public pond resources is to terminate the public property system by creating a private property rights system."

In the case of pastures, those who suggest privatization should divide the pastures, and each shepherd will play a game with nature on a relatively small plot, rather than playing with another shepherd on a larger plot.

In this way, each shepherd needs to invest in the construction of fences and maintain them, as well as investing in surveillance and sanctions activities to enforce the division of grazing land. In addition, in order to share the risks brought about by environmental uncertainty, it is necessary to establish a new liquid market between the shepherds, which will be a large additional cost.

It is also important to note that in a dynamic environment, whether a private owner manages the farm in a sustainable or unsustainable manner depends on the discount rate he uses. If the discount rate is high, even the private owner will overuse the resources. The collapse of the system.

Another problem with privatization is that many common resources cannot be divided. When discussing the private property rights of land, it is clear that the land is divided into small pieces that individuals can possess and use; but for liquid resources, it is virtually impossible to establish individual property rights, even if the specific rights are divided. Out and quantification, the resource system is still owned by the public rather than the individual.


Long search for the road to public governance

What people see in the world is that no matter the country or the market, the use of public resources in the long-term and constructive way has not been successful; and the people of many communities have different Different from the institutional arrangements of the market, it has successfully implemented appropriate governance for certain resource systems over a long period of time.

These autonomous organizations and autonomous governance have been in existence for the shortest period of 100 years, and the longest has been more than 1,000 years. Their autonomy system has withstood the test of various major economic and political changes and is still playing a role.

How do people in these communities do it? What is the difference between those who have been freed from the predicament of the commons and those who have not yet been freed from it? In response to these problems, Elinor Ostrom has proposed eight design principles. This is another topic that we will delve into in a subsequent article.

Written by: Li Painting

The original author of the book: Elinor Ostrom

Source: Chain smell