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Populism and Democracy: A Transaction Cost Diagnosis and a Cryptodemocracy Treatment

14 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2017  

Chris Berg

RMIT University - School of Economics, Finance and Marketing

Date Written: November 2, 2017

Abstract

This paper argues that populism in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit is a reaction to high transaction costs between citizens and the political class. In the Westminster system, voters delegate large amounts of decision-making power to elected representatives, who in turn delegate much of their decision-making power to an executive government. A transaction cost analysis helps make concrete the ideas of reduced individual political autonomy, lost national sovereignty, and alienation from political elites that run through populist rhetoric and action. The treatment for problem of populism should focus on reducing those transaction costs. Democratic structures are shaped by the prevailing institutional and technological limitations in which they were designed. One new technology, the blockchain, offers a set of mechanisms to significantly reduce transaction costs in matching, writing and enforcing contracts. The paper provides an outline of how a ‘crypto-democracy’ would function and how it might address the problems of political transaction costs. Crypto-democratic relationships treat political delegation as a series of contractual relationships from citizen to an executive decision-making structure. Citizens contract among themselves to delegate or reserve decision-making power. In a crypto-democracy, democratic structures – i.e. legislatures, electoral bodies, voting systems, and executive authorities – are not designed but rather emerge in a Hayekian process of contractual interactions between political citizens exercising their property rights. The analysis sheds new light on the underlying structure of our current system, its costs and the populist backlash to those costs, and directions for liberal reform.

Keywords: Crypto-Democracy, Blockchain, Transaction Costs, Institutional Economics, Democracy, Representative Government, populism

JEL Classification: D02, D7, D72, P4

Suggested Citation

Berg, Chris, Populism and Democracy: A Transaction Cost Diagnosis and a Cryptodemocracy Treatment (November 2, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3071930

Chris Berg (Contact Author)

RMIT University - School of Economics, Finance and Marketing ( email )

Level 12, 239 Bourke Street
Melbourne, Victoria 3000
Australia

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