Interview with Glen Weyl, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England, author and visioner

We spoke with Glen Weyl, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England, author and visioner about the idea behind his book „Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy“, how to decentralize power in a free market society, chances of blockchain technology and much more…

Glen, your latest book you wrote together with Eric. A Posner is “Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy”. What is your idea behind uprooting?

Capitalism and democracy are the two central systems that organize most developed countries, and yet these two principles are both fundamentally in tension and fundamentally flawed.  Capitalism relies on private ownership and dynamic entrepreneurship, while democracies are generally accountable to fixed, historically-grounded nation states.  Today more than ever we need to combine the best of these two principles deeply together, allowing emergent, entrepreneurial democratically accountable institutions to emerge.  This requires infusing markets deep into the heart of our democratic institutions and democratizing private property, the core of our economic system.

How do you want to decentralize power in a free market society?

People usually think of free market capitalism as promoting decentralization, as against the central planning of socialism.  Yet as we have seen over and over, standard capitalism tends to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few industry leaders, like Mark Zuckerberg, who gain control of large scale production and network technology.  To achieve true decentralization we instead need to democratize these concentrations of power, by forcing the monarchs of industry to be accountable to those they hold market power over, at the same time as we diversify the range of democratic institutions we use to govern ourselves.  In this way, everyone can achieve democratic voice through the institutions most important to them.

Which chances do you see in blockchain technology and where can it be applied?

Blockchain technologies have inspired a huge amount of interest in building a wide range of flexible, decentralized modes of governance that are extremely exciting.  However, blockchain technology itself has many problems and I think few really good applications.  I hope to see us move beyond blockchain per se to more creative data structures that enable partially shared data across a range of social groups rather than just public ledgers that isolated individuals participate in.

What problems do you basically see in capitalism? Is there any alternative to it?

Capitalism is based on a basic fallacy: that most of the value created in society can be clearly divided across individuals.  In reality, most value is created in a range of different collective collaborations.  The value created in these collaborations must belong collectively to those who create it.  Capitalism must thus be constantly interspersed with democratic institutions that manage this collective governance.  This intertwining of markets and democracy can help create a fundamentally new political system by harnessing information technology to allow us to govern the 21st century.

Companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Baidu or Alibaba concentrate a big market power. Big social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or TikTok can decide what the users are seeing and this can influence political decisions.Do you have an idea how to change this?

We must diffuse the power of the largest platforms by creating a new class of “data cooperatives” that can help digital citizens collectively bargain with platforms, across national borders, for the value of and control over the use of their data.  We are working closely with more than a dozen jurisdictions to create a new regulatory framework to empower such cooperatives and allow them to transform the digital landscape.  Only once we have more symmetric power between platforms and their users can users hope to have a chance to be first-class citizens.