P2P is liberalism applied to computer networks

Today I was skimming through a large article written by Greece Finance minister Yanis Varufakis. I didn’t find the time to read it all over (there’s too much code yet to be written for Agora Voting), but when reading the following lines, they made me click:

Phil Mirowski has recently highlighted, quite eloquently, the neoliberals’ success in convincing a large array of people that markets are not just a useful means but also an inalienable end in itself. That while collective action and public institutions are never able to ‘get it right’, the unfettered operations of decentralised private interest generates a kind of secular-cum-divine providence […]”

I’ve highlighted the word decentralised, because that’s the word that made me click. This might sound very obvious to many, but this paragraph made me realise the architectonic relation between liberalism and p2p networks: both rely on the same principle of decentralization. Both are based on the idea that different actors following their own self-interests will collectively act together better than in a top-bottom architecture, in the interest of the group as a whole. Both believe that this architecture is more robust and adapts better to changes. Both rely on the invisble hand of the free market. What I always thought was an interesting technical network architecture (decentralised networks), now I can analyze it also as an architecture for society itself, and it enters the field of political science.

Quickly after realizing this, I contacted with a friend of mine (@imdario). I asked him: “do you like decentralised architectures?“. He promptly answered to me: “P2P forevah“. That was not surprising, because he’s a hacker and he’s a pirate. Then I continued: “I mean, do you like that different people act at will, each looking for their own interests, you know, like in a free market?“.

The funny thing is, I know quite a few people that declare themselves on the left side of the political arena that love the idea of P2P networks. They feel attracted to the idea of Internet being free and not having an external entity that can control it. Ain’t it funny? They are secretly in love with the free market and they don’t even know it.

But for me there’s even another twist. After diving into the issues of trying to use decentralized networks architecture like Bitcoin to apply them for secure voting, I really got the idea that these kind of schemes do not scale enough at the moment. Because of that (and because we presently lack the resources to do the research) we continue to apply a distributed approach to apply to this problem at Agora Voting: we apply some decentralization because of the benefits of the security properties involved, but do not have a complete decentralized scheme. I leave to the reader the exercise of analysing this architecture as a political architecture.

Those who have worked on decentralised network architectures know that it’s difficult to make them behave well and not degenerate. You need to create protection mechanisms (rules) that good-faith actors will follow to resolve issues. That’s what networks like Bitcoin use: the whole blockchain actually works on a kind of democratic way to reach to an agreement on which is the valid blockchain. So you need some checks and balances. And of course some common rules. Another problem is, as I mentioned earlier, that the system might not work/scale or need different kind of rules depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, who are the actors and how much do they need to interact or agree, etc. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that apply to all of them, but nevertheless I thought it was worth to mention all this in my blog, so here lie the proof of my thoughts.

2 Responses to “P2P is liberalism applied to computer networks”


  1. 1 Félix Robles febrero 19, 2015 a las 9:14 am

    An important protection mechanism for Bit Torrent is simply the torrent webcrawlers where you can see upvotes and downvotes and the comments of people on a given torrent. So in a similar fashion to the blockchain, people vote (and check the result of that voting) to decide or not whether a given torrent file is worth downloading. This is indeed very similar to using democracy to control economic liberalism.

  2. 2 Somebody diciembre 20, 2015 a las 5:40 pm

    “The funny thing is, I know quite a few people that declare themselves on the left side of the political arena that love the idea of P2P networks. They feel attracted to the idea of Internet being free and not having an external entity that can control it. Ain’t it funny? They are secretly in love with the free market and they don’t even know it.”

    There is no contradiction in this at all, and I think the people you are talking about are for sure mature enough to have a well formed enough opinion.

    Free market and peer to peer have nothing to do. There isn’t such a thing as “peers” in the market, the power isn’t equally shared at all. Even in an ideal world, you can’t have free market without a previous redistribution of power/wealth.

    Decentralizing institutions, networks, etc. are means to share the power, but eliminating any democratic/legal control to the market doesn’t share the power at all, it is indeed the opposite. Democracy and law are needed to face labour exploitation, ecological dangers, etc.


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