If Men Were Angels, We Wouldn’t Need the Blockchain

“Don’t you think replacing humans is a bad idea?” an audience member asked Andrew Wagner after his talk on the future of blockchain technologies.

Wagner’s reply: “God, no. People suck.

Do we hear a crude echo of James Madison in Federalist No. 51?

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” — James Madison 

Wagner was giving a talk on replacing human bureaucracies with what he calls decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). His focus was not on government bureaucracies specifically, but at least one of his arguments in favor of automation is quite Madisonian.

The Worst Rise to the Top

The full title of Madison’s essay, first published in 1788, is “The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances between the Different Departments.” As its title suggests, Madison argued for the importance of decentralizing coercive authority. The same human condition that calls for the existence of government — our nonangelic nature — also makes government’s existence a great danger to liberty.

As Robert Higgs writes in his own consideration of Federalist No. 51, “The most vicious people in society will tend to gain control of the state.”

Madison’s argument, Higgs contends, “does more than emphasize that human nature is something less than angelic.”

It also serves as a springboard that propels Madison directly into a consideration of “framing a govern…