Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Another Crack At Explaining Bitcoin II

You might do something for me because I agree to return the favor some day, right?  Suppose that there are a bunch of people doing things for others and expecting the favor to be returned in the future.  You might end up doing a lot of stuff for other people and so you will be owed lots of favors.  Not likely though, right, because it would be too hard to keep track of all those people who owe you a favor?

Suppose a group calling themselves "the miners" keeps track of all these earned-but-not-used favors.  Their tracking system allows you to collect a favor from someone who doesn't owe you one because they owe person A, who owes person B, who owes person C, who owes... who owes person Z, who owes you.  So when you collect a favor from that person, it cancels all the favors between person A and person Z.  That would be a pretty cool tracking system, right?

The miners compete with each other to protect the data they are tracking.  Every now and then, one of them finds a way to improve the protection of the data.  Basically, he or she makes it more difficult for anyone to mess with the database of who owes who a favor.  So perhaps it would make sense for everyone doing favors (and relying on the miners' work to keep track of them) to consider what the miner did to be a favor for which we all owe him.  This scheme enables anyone who wants to play to do favors for others without worrying that they'll never get paid back, because they can get paid back by anyone who owes a favor.

If you're smart, you're thinking this will never work because you might ask someone who owes a favor to do it for you, and they might refuse.  Quite right!  And you worry that everyone you ask might refuse.  These are good points and need to be addressed.  We address them by requiring that people do favors FIRST, before they are owed favors, and they will get credits for doing those favors.  But where do the credits come from?

Remember the miners who protect all the data about who owes whom a favor?  Well, now they can instead keep track of who has earned a credit.  Remember we agreed that they get credit each time they make it more difficult for anyone to mess with the data they're tracking?  The miners are the first people to get these credits - they do the first favors for everyone who will eventually benefit from this system.

As long as those miners do a good job of protecting this credit data and tracking who transfers credits to whom, we can continue paying them in credits.  As a matter of fact, this is exactly what bitcoin is.  We've implicitly agreed that after 210,000 successful attempts to make messing with the data more difficult, the credit for a miner who does it will be cut in half.  A bitcoin is one fiftieth of the initial credit, and today, miners only earn half a credit, or 25 bitcoins.

We All Know He's Naked

The little boy's father finished laughing and spoke to his son:
"Son, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, dad."
"In school they teach you to always obey the law, right?"
"I don't know."
"Ok.  Did you know that there is a law against walking on the Emperor's grass?"
"Yes, papa."
"Have you seen anyone walk on it?"
"That's because the grass belongs to the Emperor and we respect his property."
"Yeah, I know.  But it's illegal besides."
"Right, but what about buying the gypsies' wine?  Did you know that's illegal too?"
"But dad, you buy the gypsies' wine."
"Exactly.  There's nothing immoral about buying their wine.  It's dangerous, because if the emperor's men catch you, you might get punished.  More likely, though, you'll be able to appease them by giving them a bottle or two."
"Dad, you're confusing me.  I thought you said it's illegal."
"Oh, I did.  It is illegal, but it's not immoral.  Some things that are illegal are not immoral.  Does that seem odd?"
"But my teacher says that we have to obey the law."
The boy's father beamed at him.
The little boy giggled a little, remembering his father's first question.  "I see what you mean, dad."
"The thing is, the Emperor gets a lot of money, and he uses it to hurt people when they do things he doesn't like.  He makes up the laws to control us and he really wants people to follow them.  He forgot to make up a law forbidding people to laugh at him, so when you pointed out that he's naked, everybody was comfortable laughing."
"But why was everyone pretending that he had clothes on?"
"That's a good question.  Let's see... I was pretending just because everyone else was.  I think it's because we all know the Emperor can be mean.  If you were a bit older, his guards might have taken you away for saying what you said."

What's a Cop to Do?

I think there are a lot of good people who have chosen to be LEOs.  I suspect that many of them turn into unfortunate people they wouldn't have wanted to become if they knew beforehand.  Some of the unfortunate realize they have changed and they work to figure out what to do about it.  Others are left unaware of the damage and they suffer without knowing why.  I'd like to see everyone who cared enough to read this post work on helping these unfortunate and unaware LEOs figure out that they've changed so that they can start working on what to do about it.

I imagine that some LEOs can honestly say that the job hasn't changed them into someone they didn't want to be, though I worry that this is a relatively small group.  I also worry that some of them always wanted to be bullies with a license to kill - what many call "bad cops."

What troubles me most is that the job does seem to damage the good in those who take it.  This is, of course, a natural side-effect of being paid to enforce stupid laws.  The job is also generally accepted by the public as necessary.  The tiny portion of human beings who view others as animals to be used (instead of fellow humans) rely quite heavily on the brutality sometimes necessary to make other humans behave however they want them to behave.  Is there any way we can help LEOs watch out for such psychopaths and avoid helping them achieve their goals?

For example, how do we get police officers to respect the natural rights of growers of marijuana, prostitutes, people not wearing seat-belts, speeding, selling loosies, driving without a license plate (or a license), selling cocaine, jay-walking, or feeding the homeless, and instead concentrate their efforts against thieves, rapists, and murderers?  At least until tax revenue dries up so much that many government managers will be relieved to reduce the size of their enforcement troops, this is the only way we can find peace.

A friend of mine quit his LEO job, and his department had a policy of trying to get compliance without violating natural rights.  That is a step in the right direction.  However, his department still required the violence if compliance was impossible without it, and so it was too few steps in the right direction, and my friend quit.  I worry that his position was taken by a lower quality individual, and that is my dilemma when seeking to help LEOs deal with the contention between being a good person and being a good cop.  As far as I know, many government employees of the former USSR simply dragged their feet at work and eventually stopped bothering to show up, melting into the private sector to find honest work.  Does that seem like a viable path for current LEOs?