Hackernoon logoCan’t Buy Me Love: An Argument for Implementing Illiquidity by@gvelez17

Can’t Buy Me Love: An Argument for Implementing Illiquidity

Golda Velez Hacker Noon profile picture

@gvelez17Golda Velez

((Yin-Yang)) Create => whatscookin.us && Defend => raisethevoices.org

As Paul McCartney so eloquently said, I cannot exchange fully anonymizable tokens for a long-term relationship with another human in which I am personally valued above all others.

Sounds romantic, no?

What is love, mathematically speaking?  And why is it not mappable to monetary value?  

It seems surprising that this is not covered in high school mathematics; perhaps it should be.  For an initial pass, let us define 'love' as a state in which all aspects of a specific individual greatly increase in value.  

Ah, but what is 'value'?  Isn't that just money?

Let us suppose each person has a 'value equation', the maximum of which determines their next action.  Thus love might assign a much greater value to say, the wellbeing of the partner than to any amount of money, or liquid tokens.  Clearly this is the case; there is no amount of money one could give most people to cause them to harm their loved ones.  The value of liquid assets must reach a limit, one which is much smaller than the value assigned to a loved one's life or health.

Further, something else is at play here.  Not everyone would sell their home and everything they own in order to pay for medical care that might be life-preserving; yet almost no one would accept a new home and career in exchange for allowing their loved one to die. 

The value is not only of the life and wellbeing of the loved one, but of some principle, some integrity in the relationship, that is of a higher degree.  It is not that people are irrational, but that they assign a value to upholding a principle - and I would never harm you" is a different principle than "I would give everything I have for you".  So these abstract principles, have real tangible value in driving behavior.  They clearly have a part in the value equation of many people.

And when they don't?  When a person is willing to perform any behavior in exchange for liquid tokens, we say "he would sell his own mother.

The willingness to abandon principles for anonymized value is a good working definition of corruption.  

We have no efficient proxy for love, care, long-term relationships or principles.  Money is considered a proxy for value, but clearly a transferable, liquid, stable sum cannot model, say, the value of not doing harm for money.  Fully modeling human values is obviously difficult - but we can do better than denying their existence in our designs. 

But Markets

Markets have become something of a religion in certain sectors.  True, markets can provide freedom - being able to deal anonymously is much better than being controlled by some central authority.  They also provide a kind of evolutionary environment in which participants are tested for the value they offer *outside* of relationships.  The pressure of the market forces producers to satisfy consumers, naturally resulting in things the consumers want.  Sure, markets are a

good thingTM
in many respects.

Markets are similar to evolution in another way, however: they just happen.  North Korea is full of markets - the black market in goods and services is central to survival. Pushing market-only solutions from a position of power is not only unnecessary, it may be counter productive to allowing evolution of the systems themselves. In any case, markets will exist. Creating systems where markets are more efficient, has been taken to be a laudable goal, the best or only way to improve the human condition.

Efficiency, however, if only modeled in anonymizable tokens, will maximize things that are anathema to many human values. Markets for organs taken from impoverished individuals already exist. In some places individuals are put in forced labor camps for the profit of corporations. Far away, you say? Likely the laptop I am typing on has components made by Uyghur forced labor, made in China but sold and bought in the US.

Proof and Trust

Thinking of capturing human values and intention as a primary goal, and recognizing that those values are likely relationship-based and local, might lead to interesting systems.

First some kind of value score itself - suppose one could easily assign or infer relationship values; an Amazon that preferred vendors with strongest connection strength (attenuated by hops), and included the connection information, might lead not only to local markets but to value based purchasing, like the Yellow economic circles in Hong Kong. Why not make those easy to automate?

(One answer might be that it could lead to discrimination, and more barriers to entry for those already at the edges of society. But a more heterogeneous system which allows rapid exploration of algorithm space, at least reduces centralized control.)

Crypto is famously trustless, but why not encode trust directly? 

Tokens of reputation or 'mojo' that can be earned, but not transferred, are already present in some systems, but not commonly used for governance.  Such tokens would allow us to reinvent corporate structures as efficient work-weighted cooperatives (though a review mechanism would need to be in place to avoid gaming by cabal). A challenge is to make the tokens' measure reflective of behavior rather than a driver of it, if we are trying to find a way to indicate individuals with strong principles. 

Bitcoin cannot be taken by authoritarian governments but it can be used by murderers to launder funds. What if however, a large number of individuals agreed never to accept coins that had passed through the hands of murderous oligarchs? Essentially the Magnitsky act by agreement, but further - once a coin transferred into such hands it would become worthless.

Any such mechanism is a double-edged sword, of course, and could be also used to try to control populations.  Which is why trust-based, local economies, while less efficient, are important - they are also more resistant to remote control.

Platforms that support these help with the health of the ecosystem. In game theory, long term relationships with repeated interactions are inherently more likely to be cooperative (win-win for both players).  Platforms and tools that create robust recognition of long-term relationships likely will enhance cooperation.

The exciting thing in our time is not that we can automate markets, but that we can actualize language and intention. 

Expression in Code

Language has power yet to be matched in code, to form meaningful abstractions, to name patterns and communicate about them by metaphor. Any human (and probably some ravens and chimps) can effortlessly express concepts that have mathematical meaning but have not yet been put into useful symbols. To make language about our values more than lip service, we need to find ways to code the language of values to be efficiently acted on.

We judge code by its usefulness, by widespread and lasting adoption.  Code that helps humans connect is indeed valued - but as we have seen with Facebook for example, the actual motives behind the software can be easily corrupted, to the point where it manipulates the user instead of serving them. 

Creating code to truly reflect the intentions and the values of the user, but having the creators funded and controlled by a corruptible player, likely is not a stable solution.

Thus before rewriting our platforms, perhaps we need to refactor the corporate form, and dogfood our way to a more caring and intentional structure, in which our work fully reflects our values - including those that are not easily bought and sold.

Photo by Mark Timberlake on Unsplash


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