The job of regulation is to make decentralization work

Especially in a digitally networked age.

“100 years of whatever this will be” by @apenwarr is a great post about certain “patterns, of major things wrong with our society, [that] go far beyond tech, extending into economics and politics and culture”. Apenwarr also deserves extra points for saying in his website “Why would you follow me on twitter? Use RSS”, but that is another story.

That post is great because it synthesizes clearly why and how the efforts towards atomization, decentralization, (only) individual freedom that pervades much of current society cannot work, in the long run.

The patterns listed in that post that are closer to the general mission of THIS website are, with minimal editing:

  • The gap between the haves and have-nots keeps widening.
  • You can’t hope to run an Internet service unless you pay out a fraction to one of the Big Cloud Providers
  • Software stacks, governments, and financial systems: they all keep getting more and more bloated and complex while somehow delivering less per dollar, gigahertz, gigabyte, or watt.
  • Software intercompatibility is trending toward zero. Text chat apps are literally the easiest thing in the world to imagine making compatible - they just send very short strings, very rarely, to very small networks of people! But I use at least 7 separate ones because every vendor wants their own stupid castle and won’t share.

The only way out: better designed regulation

The job of regulation is to make decentralization work /img/tyranny-of-structurelessness

Apenwarr notes that the “patterns” above make him think too much to a 50+ years old article that I too like a lot: The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman (1970).

The summary of that article is that in any system, if you don’t have an explicit hierarchy, then you have an implicit one. In todays terms, if you push for a more decentralized and deregulated society and/or internet, all you get is the patterns above, and many similar ones, all with one common characteristic: more regulation than before, just much more privatized and much more hidden than before. But:

“Regulation is a centralized function [whose NECESSARY job] is to stop distributed systems from going awry. Because distributed systems always go awry… If you design a distributed control system to stop a distributed system from going awry, it might even work… until the control system itself, inevitably, goes awry."


“We don’t need deregulation. We need better designed regulation. All we need is to build distributed systems that work. That means decentralized bulk activity, hierarchical regulation.

Image source: A Review of the Tyranny of Structurelessness