From Athens to the Blockchain: Oracles for Digital Democracy

Forthcoming paper in Frontiers in Blockchain (together with Marta Poblet, Oleksii Konashevych, Aaron M. Lane and Carlos A. Diaz Valdivia)

Abstract: Oracles were trusted sources of knowledge for public deliberation in classical Athens. Very much like expert and technical knowledge, divine advice was embedded in the deliberation and decision-making process of the democratic Assembly. While the idea of religious divination is completely out of place in our contemporary democracies, oracles made a technological comeback with modern computer science and cryptography and, more recently, the emergence of the blockchain as a “trust machine”. This paper reviews the role of oracles in Athenian democracy and, stemming from the renewed use of the term in computer sciences and cryptography, analyses the case of oracles in the nascent blockchain ecosystem. The paper also proposes a sociotechnical approach to the use of distributed oracles as informational devices to assist deliberative processes in digital democracy settings, and considers the limits that such an approach may face.

Cryptodemocracy: how blockchain can radically expand democratic choice

Book published with Lexington.

Abstract: A cryptodemocracy is cryptographically-secured collective choice infrastructure on which individuals coordinate their voting property rights. Drawing on economic and political theory, a cryptodemocracy is a more fluid and emergent form of collective choice. This book examines these theoretical characteristics before exploring specific applications of a cryptodemocracy in labor bargaining and corporate governance. The analysis of the characteristics of a more emergent and contractual democratic process has implications for a wide range of collective choice.


“The problem of democracy is that it simultaneously invests power in the people while removing any incentive to use their power wisely. Cryptodemocracy is a thorough and rigorous investigation into an innovative solution: Turn votes into a kind of tradeable property right and allow voting markets. New blockchain technologies allow us to overcome the problems of older voter market proposals. This is a book that deserves to be widely read and discussed—and we owe it to ourselves to experiment with its suggestions.”
— Jason Brennan, Georgetown University and author of Against Democracy

“Public choice theory has now ossified around the conventional practices of voting and legislation. In this volume, Darcy Allen, Chris Berg, and Aaron Lane show how that ossification might be transcended by bringing ideas from blockchain technology to bear on democratic governance. While the authors recognize that they have not written the final word on this topic, they have surely created a template that will provide analytical points of departure for pursuing political economy in new directions.”
— Richard E. Wagner, George Mason University

“We stand on the edge of revolution not just in the way democracy works, but in the very idea of what democracy can be. Blockchain technology can immediately solve all the problems of voter fraud, low turnout, and expensive recounts, while expanding the ability of citizens to delegate their votes and register their views on important topics that are now decided behind closed doors. This landmark book is the first thing I’ve seen that understands the potential, both benefits and risks, of the cryptodemocracy on the horizon — a turning point in the literature connecting political science and technology.”
— Michael C. Munger, Duke University