Exorcising Harmful Narratives

Hi folks. Today is Indigenous People’s Day, and I’ve spent most of the day on two things: listening to Native voices speak their wisdoms, and researching SourceCred’s cryptoeconomics narratives. The contrast has me feeling pretty activated and upset in my body, especially when contextualized in other learnings I’ve been immersing myself in around the spawning of the state and the spawning of capitalism (via the books Against the Grain and Caliban and the Witch). This intuition growing in me is juvenile, but I would summarize as this: I am concerned that SourceCred is embedded with narratives that support the very oppressions that SourceCred seems to oppose. Heck, of course it is. That’s a trivial claim since we all swim in the water of an oppressive system. So this is really an invitation to sit deeper into that truth together.

The one that feels most clear to me so far is the narrative of “The Benefits of Capitalism,” which understands Capitalism as an evolution that improves upon prior systems. The dissonance of this narrative is that, in support of Capitalism, it masks the true cost of apparent benefits. It masks the colonization, slavery, murder, dispossession from land, and cultural erasure that was required to bring us middle class comforts. It masks the detriment to ecological sustainability and land yield that brings us labor-efficient monoculture crops. It masks that Capitalism does not optimize productivity and innovation; it optimizes the extraction of productivity and innovation.

There’s another developing intuition I have around the benefits of Venture Capitalists, as performers of allocation labor. Right now, one of my favorite things about SC is that my labor isn’t stolen by the capitalist class. If we want to value resource allocation labor, shouldn’t we strive to make access to that kind of contribution as accessible as other contribution types? The amount of effort being pointed at Boosting right now unnerves me.

SourceCred is a dream that ignites my hopeful passion, and simultaneously there’s a knot in my stomach. I will leave the call to action of this post open, with these nudges:

  • Do others see this happening?
  • Is there an existing precedent of these reflections being held by SC that I am missing as a newcomer?
  • How can we invite Black and Indigenous narratives into SC?
  • How can we understand the technical/economic side of SC as a piece of community cultivation instead of the inverse?
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I get similar fears around boosting and think we have to really rethink these systems and tread softly rather than move too quickly into the same traps that exist within modern shareholder capitalism.

But also… this is a problem that needs to be addressed by SourceCred if it wants any form of sustainability. Currently SourceCred answers the question “How should we distributed wages for labor?”. But, it does not answer the question “How do we procure capital?”.

I imagine that boosting is viewed as a potential solution to this 2nd question. I think in many systems today under capitalism the answer to this question is that capital is provided in exchange for a share of all future labor from that organization. This creates a renteer class who derives wages from capital only rather than one’s own labor, which in my opinion is one of the primary harms of capitalism.

Imo boosting just recreates this renteer class in an otherwise purely labor driven system. If we must pay rent to capital owners, a fixed period bond seems like a better option than a permanent share of the labor value of the system. At least then the debt can be paid off once the laborers produce enough collective revenue to not require outside capital.

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Thanks for sharing @blueridger, your words definitely resonate. Initially I had many of the same concerns: essentially that the trajectory of the SC economy/ecology was heading towards a divergence between an upper class of rich, powerful technophiles that 1) understand and exploit the technical details of the core algorithm, 2) dominate governance to steer updates to the algorithm in a way that preserves their advantage, versus a lower class of hard working contributors that are siloed in their specializations and thus fail to express their latent collective power.

I no longer think this is a problem.

There is certainly some risk, but I estimate it as small and likely to be overcome by the native incentive mechanisms already in place. Ultimately then, the narrative that I perceive is one in which the otherwise fractured majority of laborers is made whole by a unifying technology that coordinates and aligns their energies into a single voice that dominates even the most powerful oligarchy.

Why such optimism? The key feature of the SC ecosystem which differentiates it from modern capitalism is transparency / information symmetry. This features is fundamental, baked right into the SC dna, and will, I believe essentially guarantee a new outcome. All the code, all the contributions, (almost) all the meetings, all the payments, are out in the open. The availability of this data means that anybody has the raw material necessary to compose executive strategies (initiatives, pull requests, etc) which benefit the majority, and to present it to them. It is then up to the majority to recognize which plans are in their interest, which they will, because it will be made obvious.

This is not the case in mainstream politics / economics which feature such complex legal systems and supply chains that the average voter can’t practically verify whether a given politician really has a plan which benefits them. On the other hand, the transparency of SC + the fact that it’s digital native creates the means and incentives for champions of the labor class to rise up and properly represent and coordinate them. A basic prerequisite of this representation will be ensuring that the basic laws which govern the SC ecology are simple and understandable, otherwise labor will need to “trust” their representatives plan, which is a dead end. So let me ask you this: do you understand the SC core algo? Do you understand the implications of boosting? If you don’t, that’s not your fault, but I believe that you will. Why? Because the pull towards code simplification is so strong. When someone comes along with pull requests that simplify the core algo (and eventually governance) to such a degree that 80%+ of contributors can understand it quickly, and can easily verify the implications of future updates, then contributors will vote that new, simpler code into law because its understand-ability and benefits to them will be obvious.

@befitsandpiper a fixed period bond could work, but would it be appetizing enough for boosters? In my mind the problem of boosting creating a renteer class is ameliorated simply by making buying cred (i.e. boosting) more expensive. That’s is. I think that fundamentally boosting is the most elegant and robust revenue model overall. Other SC orgs flowing cred back to SC is nice but ultimately circular, ie not net positive for the SC ecosystem (set of all Sc orgs). The value to be captured here is that derived by for-profit orgs from open source orgs. Boosting creates a formal market for OS features where there was none creating a win for both sides.

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I’d like to respond to this first by explicitly framing some of the different things we could be pointing to when we talk about “capitalism”.

Capitalism as an Ideology

Precepts: Efficiency and productivity are the highest values. Things are valuable insofar as they make money. The natural world consists of resources waiting to be extracted. Mental health matters, because Healthy People Are More Productive.

My Take: Thanks, we hate it. I feel safe saying these values are not deeply embedded in SC.

Capitalism’s moral history

History: Early capitalism involved dispossessing people from the commons, colonizing non-Europe and subjugating / genociding native populations. To this day, modern “globalism” is built on top of a legacy of incredibly unfair debt and economic relationships, on oppression of labor, etc.

My take: This is a really awful and cruel history.

Capitalism as an economic system

Precepts: Economic activity is coordinated through markets for labor, goods, and capital. Capital is deployed towards enterprises that promise a high return, and those enterprises are held accountable by their actual success in the market. People are directly incentivized and rewarded based on (whether they have a chokehold on) the production of economic value.

My take: This is the most effective and vigorous economic system that has ever been developed. Incredibly well-resourced and persuasive attempts to unseat capitalism failed, in large part, because their economic systems were inferior. (cf. the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fact that the rise of China has corresponded to their becoming hypercapitalist rather than communist, etc.) If we want to replace or dismantle capitalism, we need a system that is comparably effective at organizing resources and labor, otherwise it will get outcompeted by capitalism.

When I’m talking about capitalisms strengths or benefits, this is the part I most want to draw attention to. Capitalism is an unprecedentedly effective system for coordinating the actions of billions of people. If we want to have a serious shot at dismantling or displacing capitalism, we need a system which is more effective at organizing long-term, coordinated action, and at accumulating and deploying resources. If this new system isn’t more effective, then when capitalism actually gets threatened by the change, it will use its superior resources and coordination abilities to crush whatever the new thing is.


On to the SourceCred specific angles.

Will SourceCred be co-opted by capital?

One of the concerns here is the idea that capitalists, by using boosting, will get control of SourceCred, thus alienating us all from our labor. I think this is unlikely. We’re operating from a position of strength: we have no investors (just sponsors), have not promised returns or control to any outside parties, have rapidly growing revenues, and relatively low cash burn. So long as we can grow revenues faster than expenses, we’ll be progressively getting less and less dependent on capital. So long as we are not dependent on external capital, we’ll retain autonomy.

If we don’t really need capital right now, one might say, why do we need to implement Boosting? There are a few reasons for that actually, boosting’s role in SourceCred is more than just onboarding capital. It provides a permissionless way for anyone in the community to put skin-in-the-game to signify what is important, it closes the loop between Cred and Grain (i.e. distributions go from Cred to Grain, and boosting goes from Grain to Cred). But it also allows raising capital yes. Why is it important to build a mechanism for raising capital if we don’t really need it?

Designing for our Co-Communities

We’re building SourceCred for our co-communities. Communities need access to capital in order to thrive, so they will need to have some mechanism for raising it. If we do nothing, they’ll need to raise capital on capital’s terms, which basically means everyone in the community (except (maybe) the founders) are going to get fucked. Boosting is our opportunity to design a responsible way to onboard capital: one that entices capital with just enough returns, but does not give it political dominance or organizational control.

The Need to Entice Capital

There’s a massive amount of underdeployed capital in the world (1). It is impatient and underutilized and represents a massive source of potential energy to drive societal change. If we can entice that capital to participate in a more wholesome and value aligned system, then we can tap this energy. It also allows SourceCred to thrive “under the radar” within capitalism for much longer. We want SourceCred to look like an opportunity rather than a threat, for as long as possible.

I recognize this risks “using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house” (2). I think a question to ask is: are we trying to bring SourceCred into the paradigm of capitalism (i.e. designing SourceCred to satisfy investors), or are we trying to entice capital into the paradigm of SourceCred (i.e. designing a mechanism that first and foremost suits the needs of our communities, and eventually allowing investors to participate).

A lot of my earlier motivation for prioritizing boosting was actually a case of the former, i.e. I was focused on designing boosting in a way that could legibly guarantee sufficient returns for investors. This was because I was prioritizing raising investment capital, which I saw as a way of safeguarding our independence (having a flush bank account affords certain freedom of action). However, I’ve 100% changed course on this; I don’t think we have any urgency to raise investment capital, and so designing with investors returns’ top of mind would be a mistake.

Let’s design boosting with this in mind. Let’s design it first and foremost for ourselves and our co-communities: as a way for people to express what they value within the project, and flow resources accordingly. We can start it off entirely altruistically, the only effect of boosting is to burn Grain and mint Cred, and the only reward is the satisfaction of seeing things get valued more fairly. We can experiment and iterate from there.

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Anyone in the community with excess grain

I wonder if there is a way Boosting could be built to allow such stakeholdership and prioritization labor to low-wealth community members.

It’s more than just history though. It means something today. If we acknowledge that modern capitalism and the distribution of wealth that exists today is the product of such atrocities, then we should avoid embedding a legitimization of today’s wealth distribution into our software/community (and thus embed a legitimization of the atrocities).

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+1 on the point qualifying “with excess grain”

@blueridger It feels like the thread is on board with a desire to avoid embedding a legitimization of today’s wealth distribution into our software. Recognizing other pitfalls in the vein of “with excess grain” could be useful as we start to think more about what boosting really is.

Can anyone think of any others?

I think retroactivity of scores is an important mechanism in this respect. Effective tools for valuing historically un/undervalued contributions. Trying to solve the “Hidden Figures” problem.

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great to read this post @blueridger :pray: And I think it only make even stronger the fact that this discourse is full of gems. And hopefully with @KuraFire 's new organization : revealing these gems will be easier !

I like your take on capitalism “it optimizes the extraction”. I do also think @decentralion’s take as “the most effective & vigorous economic system ever developed” is on spot. The issue here is that capitalism is providing value in the short term whereas in the long term it not so much. And the incentive behind this time-frame is probably key. Some bulk toughts:

  1. The incentive of capitalism is powerful enough for many of us as humans to take risks because of the unlimited rewards if successful.

  2. Currency based reward is currently the most valuable belief between humans worldwide

  3. We usually fail at building system that do not harm our broader ecosystem

  4. Feedback loops are hard or weak to put in place

Crypto is questioning currency and the associated beliefs. A token makes possible to have both the currency & a more granular belief. Anyways,

BOOSTING

  • If capped there must be benefits that capitalism struggle to put in place or don’t do it at the moment.

  • labor vs capital > the more cred earned with labor you have (distinction to make), the bigger investment/return you can get

  • Collective vs individual > when boosting, a percentage of the return could go to a community fund so as to empower even more the community

METRICS

Regenerative vs extractive > a bit like local fiat-based currencies, people will usually tell you how many times more it is exchanged within the community before being converted to the standard fiat. At some point, it could be interesting to have a metric on how many times SourceCred-based tokens are exchanged between open source communities before flying away to other entities versus other currencies. One of the first goal here is to fix the funding issue in the open source space.

CRED

@panchomiguel raised a good point on retroactivity. Cred is not only a score, it’s a score across time. Maybe there is some value to add the number of days/years/epoch(?) attached to the cred. Although the slow&fast part of the distribution are at the core of the mechanic, there is some value to make it more explicit.