Stone Society

The Stone Society is a scalable, reversible, undelegated, symmetrical, decentralized and simple socioeconomic system intended for both freeware and corporate use. An old and difficult to read explanation is at

A Stone Society might provide a basis for preserving and extending the WikiNature; a Wiki page is essentially a commons, and commons are notoriously liable to the TragedyOfTheCommons.

A WikiStoneSociety would allow people to price particular changes to particular pages, encourage consensual use of those pages, and provide access privileges that would be equitable, reversible and non-exclusive. This would allow us to protect good content without destroying the WikiNature, painlessly averting a Wiki TragedyOfTheCommons. -- PeterMerel.

Etiological debate transported to: StoneSocietyDiscussion.

Stones Glossary:

the aggregation of Stones obtained by a particular person in a particular Stone Society, both by Commission and in exchange for Services.

a cyclic mechanism that modifies and extends a Stone Society's Charter, limited to an extent specified by that Charter.

a contribution of Stones for or against a Preference of an Auction.

a set of articles that define the scope, purpose, limitations, Resources and essential function of a particular Stone Society.

a collection of recyclable Stones allocated to an Officer in a Stone Society in exchange for their voluntary assumption of duties to that Society.

The first Preference presented in each Auction, whose effect is to cancel all the other Preferences.

a Commissioned participant in a particular Stone Society. Some Stone Societies may also permit "Non-Commissioned Officers" to hold Stones, participate in Services and bid at Auctions even without a Commission.

one of the mutually exclusive options in an Auction. Only one Preference may become the Auction's Quantum during any particular Term.

the Preference in effect for a particular Auction during a particular Term.

the level of support for a Preference, determined by the ongoing process of an Auction.

a process by which Stones that were bid in an Auction are returned to their Officers.

the duration for which the Society's Quanta are fixed.

any process or thing that may be legitimately controlled by a Society to the extent specified by its Charter and Auctions.

a lease, strictly limited by a contract and by the Charter and Auctions of the Society within which it is framed, by which Stones are paid in exchange for specific access to Resources.

a unit of political and economic franchise within a particular Stone Society, permanently associated with one of its Officers and at all times in the possession of one specific person or process.

Stone Society
a formal association of persons and processes that operates according to a particular Charter and to the methods described at .

glossary discussion

Words like "Preference" felt wrong - surely it is nobody's preference until somebody votes for it? "Preference" is making the loaded assumption that the Charter is written with those anto conditions. Calling them "Options" or "Choices" would be more general. -- DaveHarris

I'm not certain it makes much difference. Can you give an example where one wording is clearly superior to the other?

Mapping "Preference" to this concept can be novel, so needing to see the definition above. "Option" is more intuitive.

Interesting, I hadn't realized that choice would make things intimidating. I thought the notion of a Quantum jumping from one Preference to another from Term to Term evoked the well-known physical analogy, but of course I'm making all kinds of assumptions in this. Does an alternative to the word suggest itself?

In answer to some earlier proposals about naming: Since Quantum is in danger of causing brain-lock, and Preference is more like a possible choice (if no one prefers it, how can it be a Preference?), the obvious renaming is to use "Preference" instead of "Quantum" and "Choice" instead of "Preference." Solves both problems, and makes the whole language a lot simpler. -- BillTrost

You're right, they're not, for the reason that they don't exist in Stone Societies at all. The nearest Stones gets to your concept is the 'non-commissioned officer' described on the website.

If *every* person who "exists in a Stone Society" is an officer (?), then why not call them "members", rather than "officers" ?

RussellGold's Questions:

Nope, not a one. The idea's been kicking to get out of my noggin for about two years, and the task of putting it into bits is only just beginning. So I call it plausible, not proven, and I say it might be good for a wiki, not that it will be. I expect surprises, disappointments, flaws and weaknesses.

I don't expect anyone to take anything on faith about this idea either, and I encourage skepticism and hole-poking. I only hope the holes aren't too big for me to adequately patch. So far criticism been limited to the generosity of just a few reviewers, and that's produced no unmanageable StoneSocietyFlaws, but if someone can point out a whopper I'll happily trot back to the drawing board.

This is an issue common to all socio-economic systems - you see it expressed even in very simple games like Monopoly, Risk and Nomic. The Stone website describes analogous problems in present-day public corporations.

The way these corporations protect minority shareholders is to limit the availability of new shares, to force qualifications of prospective shareholders and directors, to vet share issue with a contextual society, and to contractually guarantee continuity in the proportions of shareholdings. So far as I know, such methods, diligently defined and applied, have adequately solved the problem. They seem readily applicable to a Stone Society by definition in its Charter.

It certainly does if you join societies of ignorant folk. If you mob up with wise folk, you'll look forward to wise voting. I should think of this as a kind of evolution whereby species of society, their "genome" encoded in their Charters, compete to attract competent Officers. This is also quite similar to a modern corporate context where companies compete to attract the best staff by offering stock options and so on.

I expect such evolution to increase the diversity and number of available societies, and thus provide clever folk such as yourself with the freedom to form Societies whose members fit whatever criteria you feel are necessary to wise voting (um, bidding ...).

If you limit Commissions by heredity, I think you do wind up with hereditary aristocracy. If you choose democratic or meritocratic criteria for Commissions, I expect you get democracies and meritocracies. As to which if any of these work best, I expect evolution to figure that out. I expect different systems will do better in different contexts and scopes.

There are two ways in which this system might tolerate fools better than others. One is the evolution of Charters mentioned above. The other is the definition and review of Commissions by market forces. Free markets have proven very good at sorting wheat from chaff.

I'd also say I don't see a particular vulnerability in this system to dishonesty. In fact there seems considerably less vulnerability than in modern politics and economics - try for reasoning supporting this impression.

Last, I question whether the conditions you describe guarantee good government under any system. Social psychology abounds with results such as Milgram's famous "prison" experiment in which good, kind, intelligent folk behaved like brutes when placed in a system that left them no alternative. Working on better systems, then, seems like good work.

I'd be very interested in detailed StoneSocietyScenarios? myself, but building a prototype is on the top of my list. I'd be interested in both scenarios of how the thing could work and how it could fail. And I'd be very interested in proposals for Charters. Up for grabs.

As to the point, it's simply to find a usable way to resolve the failures of representative democracy and representative capitalism listed at without losing their benefits.

DaveHarris's Questions:

I'm very interested in alternatives to this too. The Stone Society motivation comes from the observations about failures in modern socioeconomics that are listed on the Stones page under . I suspect that a discussion of these observations might be best treated separately from the Stone Society mechanics, because there may be other ways of trying to address them. Perhaps a wiki page titled NetSocioEconomics ?

Yes, while I think the interdependence of the parts is good for the idea, it does make it hard to explain. Perhaps, if the glossary goes in first, a reader will have an easier time identifying which parts of the meaning rely on interdependence.

It means you could contribute to, at most, 5% of them in any Term. But you might decide that your influence would be most effective by using your whole block of Stones for one Auction rather than spreading them out. Or you might be saving your Stones up to use in some future decision. If politics is to be represented in a market, then market tactics are also political tactics.

I can't see any reason why fractional Stones shouldn't be legal tender in some Societies. You could just double the number of Stones everywhere I guess, but that sounds messier.

The answer is no - Stones bid to an Auction are held there until the end of the Term in which they're bid, when they're recycled to their Officer.

Tactical bidding already happens in the present setup - the nicest euphemism for it is "lobbying". I can't see any way to wipe such practices out, so the Stones approach is to instead try to make them explicit and, with respect to the market, equitable.

The Stones solution on flexibility is the recycling business. At the end of each Term, all the bid Stones are recycled to their originating Officers. The issue then is how to deal with exigencies that occur on timeframes too short to be dealt with by waiting for a Term; the Stones answer here is to delegate to either short-Term sub-Societies, or to real live Officers (perhaps there's little difference between the two ...)

The gory details are in the implementation sketch on the website, but its important to get it clear here:

    1. Stones are only created when an Officer is Commissioned. After they're created, they're traded and recycled until the Officer for whom they were created is De-Commissioned, whereupon they're simply no longer recycled - effectively they're destroyed after the next time they get bid in an Auction.

    2. An Officer, then, "originates" Stones in that they first come into existence with him, and that their possession is reset to him whenever they get recycled. You'll recall they get recycled whenever they're bid to an Auction - in the Term following the bid.

It's intended for large networks of small societies, not for monoliths, but I very much take your point - scaling this is not a trivial proposition. Then again, scaling anything to replace a monolith is not trivial.

TCP/IP scales, but doesn't scale by building a monolithic router, instead letting folk run up and interconnect lots of little routers. Stones should scale the same way. I generally like concepts that sponsor diversification, and I think diversification is necessary for scaling.

You probably have a credit rating, right? You declare your income to the taxman, correct? The banks require detailed statements about your savings and debts, and your history of savings and debt, before they'll give you more credit, yes? Is this privacy?

Your privacy depends on the good faith of the people who accredit you. In a Stone Society, this means your peer Officers.

Nevertheless, secret ballots, among other forms of privacy, are not forbidden by a Stone Society, and in fact the Stones website treatment of privacy issues describes a means to support them via "anonymous" sub-societies in which the identities of the participants are cryptographically authenticated but otherwise hidden. One way of implementing this might be DavidChaum?'s Dining Cryptographers, for which see .

You do need them. The notion is that Bids are always public *among the officers of the society*. If the officers of the society want to use a secret ballot for some purpose, they may either use traditional means or the device described above - a special purpose sub-society in which their identities are cryptographically fuzzed.

Originally I didn't include the notion of synchronized Terms with this, but I found that many things broke without it. Essentially, the problem is that the value of a Stone is not fixed without synchronization. If a Stone could be bid to one Auction where it is held for years, or another where it is held for only seconds, then it plainly has more value if bid to the first - and there's no good reason for this that I can see.

Since we expect a single person to be a member of many Stone Societies, the sorts of decisions that need to be handled quickly will naturally be handled by those Stone Societies that have very short Terms.

Perhaps. I can think of many deeper problems with present economic tokens, and of course I've already offered them. But I can't think of another way to solve this - can you?

The problems with varying Term length per Auction have a lot to do with coming up with some way to do that; how do you decide that one Auction should have one Term and another another? I welcome further speculation on this, but for me the cleanest solution seemed to be to fix the Term per Society - that way you can decide how to bid your Stones based on the importance of the issues rather than how long they're going to be tied up.

This is one of many problems that sub-societies seem to sort out. A sub-society need not have the same Term as its contextual society, and I expect that, typically, its Term will be shorter than the contextual one. So a Society Commissions sub-Societies whose Charter includes the duty to make decisions on such shorter frames. This is a form of delegation, MeaCulpa, but to another market rather than to a particular person.

It takes a Term to define a Commission, and another Term to resource it. I agree this may be too slow to handle some tasks, and I have mentioned in the document that Societies may have to fall back on chains of command and other methods of delegation under such circumstances. I'm not certain I see the inflexibility in this - if you can anticipate the requirements, you can adjust the length of the Term to meet them. In cases where you can't, you can delegate for contingencies in a scope limited by the Charter and the Auctions.

Not so far as I can see. It is a franchise. You could say that having any economic system is a form of delegation, but what I'm trying to replace is the need for delegation of authority to individuals rather than to market forces.

I say this because Stones provides a way to make decisions and cooperate even in the absence of scarcity. All it requires is that people can express their assessments of opportunity. It's for this reason that I think Stones may be good for dealing with TragedyOfTheCommons

The value of Stones is based on their ability to influence Auctions, which I agree are themselves ways of evaluating one opportunity with respect to others. So I think its fair to say Stones represent the opportunity that Commissions in a Society extend to those who accept them.

This becomes important when there are multiple Auctions whose effects interfere in some particular case. Changing the relative strengths of Quanta gives participants a way to exactly describe their wishes, rather than having to neglect one preference in order to express another.

I agree that bidding "to win the game" - to maximize the chances of getting the outcome you want - will be prohibitively subtle. So the way to "win" is to frame Preferences that can gain the support of others rather than trying to force a decision by bidding tactics. I see this as strongly promoting mutually agreeable choices.

I'm patenting a mechanism. I think Stones bears the same relationship to a particular Stone Society that, say, a ribosome bears to a particular organism or a compiler bears to a particular application. I'm no Marx - I don't claim to know what's best for all folk. I'm just an engineer who woke up with an idea for a way of organizing things.

In gross terms what I'm contributing is a design. It's easy, and as you've said, not exactly new, for folk to say they'd like direct democracy to work. I'm contributing some "how" to that "what". I'm building a mechanism but I'm trying to take care not to dictate policy.

In terms of the mechanism itself, the chief novelties seem to be:

    1. unification of economic and political tokens
    2. recycling capital
    3. market resolution of conflicting policies
    4. market representation of policy-reversal
    5. market representation of resource-sharing
    6. No need for representatives.

Not really. Stones would be a plutocracy if its basis was the existing medium of capital, i.e., cash. But this would not be equitable because cash is not distributed equitably, and all the flaws at suggest that cash could never be distributed equitably.

This is why Stones emphasizes reversibility and responsible resource control; under a Stone Society, wealth corresponds only with social utility. If you're supplying some useful resource, service or opportunity to a Stone Society, you'll be able to obtain a top-notch Commission and/or plentiful Stones by performing Stone Services. The value you get in return is your ability to access and influence the society yourself.

Better then to call the thing a utilitocracy or meritocracy than a plutocracy: the people who are most useful to the society get the biggest say in it. Myself, I like to call it a ScalableSyncracy.

Agreed that it's arbitrary, that's why I've pushed it off into a matter for each Society to define in its Charter. I expect that the best policy will depend on the context of the Society, and on the experimentation and bright ideas of its participants. The Charter is fixed for each Society simply because membership in a Society is a contractual affair; people don't like the meaning of contracts shifting on them after they sign.

As to DevilsAdvocate Preferences, nothing stops you blue-skying some without formally proposing them. I think some kind of ante condition is necessary to help prevent people spamming the decision-space.

A fair criticism; I'd love to see a simpler system for which the same claims could be made as I make for the StoneSociety. SanderRubin's system has something in common with the Auction concept here, and also with some of our ad-hoc procedures like MultiVoting. These concepts have appeared in history too; according to Captain Johnson's "General History of the Pirates" (1725; many attribute it to Defoe) this is much the way folk like the real DreadPirateRoberts made their decisions. Another example is the ancient Chinese system of "jue", whereby nobles gained and traded tokens of commission that endowed them with various privileges of assembly and voting rights. And MarkTwain wrote about something similar, though with representatives, in CuriousRepublicOfGondour?. The reason the StoneSociety introduces so much innovation is that these simple systems are not complete in themselves; they must be backed with some delegated economic authority - feudalism, capitalism, or the force of arms. The StoneSociety aims to be a complete "turnkey" social system without any need for delegated authority. Whether it can succeed in this remains to be seen. --PeterMerel

That could certainly occur if it were possible to save Stones from Term to Term. Stones, however, are recycled even if you don't bid 'em. So I think this particular danger is safely averted. But I am making some extensions to the Stones notions, prompted by the ongoing prototyping, that close some other holes. Some brief notes:

  1. How are Auctions used to bind and control resource flows? See StonesAndGrocers for part of the answer. Here's another part: Auctions are used as pipes and filters to bind resource flows. There are several varieties of Auction to plumb these flows: exclusive choice, proportional choice, algorithmic choice (bid for the disbursement algorithm ...) and so on. Rather like functional programming, except that the bindings are determined per term by the bidding process.

  2. It's as easy to bid for the moon as it is to bid for a pebble. If I bid for a part of something, it is logical to use the ratio of part to whole to determine the strength of that bid. This is how exceptions ought to occur. If I bid for the world, that should do me only proportional good if someone makes a bid for a particular part of it. A bid of 2 stones for two of something, then, is half as strong as a bid of 2 stones for just one of the things. But we must be careful to define a resource's reducibility in an appropriate way when it is Commissioned. An engine, say, is not sensibly reducible by its area, but by its parts. And there are limits to this; no one should be able, under ordinary circumstances, to get a lock on a femtogram of a carburetor. The carburetor would have to be de-commissioned first.

  3. It sometimes makes sense to schedule timeslices of some resources. How are these managed? Again, it comes down to the reducibility limits/ratios of resources. Reducibility isn't just rationed by space, mass or function - it's rationed by time too. The limits of the time reducibility are always terms - if you want to timeslice finer than a term, you have to define a shorter-term subsociety to manage those slices. And to figure the ratios, all Commissions have to have a fixed length.

  4. How, after all, are firm commitments - CDAs and other forms of social contract - actually finalized? One potential problem with what's written on the stones page is that political disputes could cloud resourcing issues - which are essentially unrelated. So the process has to be modified so that single-issue asynchronous terms can be held outside of the normal bid context. These would be just for CRAs and CTAs. CDAs can stay in the same context as other Auctions - defining a commission doesn't fill it.

  5. How do we prevent CDAs from being frivolously abused by people with cronies? CDAs need ChecksAndBalances to be meaningful. So the stones they commission are actually transferred from the officers that bid them. Then no one bids to a CDA lightly - once the commission is filled via a CRA, it reduces the bidder's original (commissioned) stones. This has the nice side effect of keeping the supply of Stones constant.

-- PeterMerel

CRA? CDA? What's the CommunicationsDecencyAct? got to do with this? (Or, in other words - spell it out, write for your audience, not yourself).

Gee, it's a little embarrassing but I don't actually remember myself. It has been 10 years ... -- the little old man formerly known as Pete.

You changed the text at the top. Do you now have a working version of a StoneSociety?

Prototypes still, but things are progressing fast enough to satisfy me. The old document doesn't reflect the last year's work on the idea, and there'll be a new doc shortly, so the page needed a touch. Watch the skies. -- PM

I have the feeling that this stuff is just neat, but I need a story before I can understand how it might work. Without an anchor, the abstractions just shift about with the tide...

Nope, nothing neat about this, don't pay it any mind ... PM

But I peeked under the curtain and saw your feet. Please, sir, what are you doing in there?

"I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit." Right now I'm writing a paper for XpTwoThousand, a couple of days late but almost done. I'm regretting not getting back to Ward about WikiPortal. I'm regretting still more several email threads from dear friends I've left hanging. I'm keeping the wolf from the door. I'm painting my house. And just maybe I'm getting a little bit of work done on this crackpot scheme of mine.

Perhaps I'll get skunked and someone more focused will do what I'm thinking of doing, but before I do it. Perhaps no one else is cracked enough to do that. Or maybe the whole thing is just humbuggery. Who knows? All I can say is I'm going as fast as I can, but being a very bad Wizard, that's not terribly fast. And the more snoopy questions I answer, the slower I go! :-) -- PM

Oh, you are busy indeed. Maybe there will be an article for StoneSociety2001. In the mean time, do you mind if I pull this lever, the bright red one right here? What does it do (reaching for it...)

Certainly, go right ahead. This way to the egress.

What about an example for a StoneSocietyAuction?. Is this similar to -- FridemarPache

It's a lot more like poker, really. Think of Stones as chips, and a society's Term as the end of a hand. Except that there are multiple hands each with a different policy attached, and, at the end of the hand, everyone gets their own chips back.

Hmm. Come to think of it, this is perhaps the only rational explanation for the poker games that go on among the StarTrek TNG bridge crew. I mean, they have no money. Have you ever tried playing poker without money? Not enough fun even for a couple of hands, much less a multi-year campaign. And with those one-piece suits they can't have been playing strip poker ...

StoneTransactionsAreHard -- I believe that a StoneSociety is non-viable for physical community because transactions for Services or Goods have many structural problems, and a StoneExchange is really difficult.

Conclusions not warranted yet - see discussion on StoneTransactionsAreHard.

I say stone societies are viable, if applied in the correct context; remembering that stones do not replace cash, it makes perfect sense to, at least for small to medium-sized organizations (such as companies, clubs, non-profit organizations, etc), keep the cash on the society's "border," and arbitrate the interior matters using stones.

Regarding Stones succumbing to plutocracy, you said: "That could certainly occur if it were possible to save Stones from Term to Term. Stones, however, are recycled even if you don't bid 'em." But if you can buy Stones, can't you buy them every term? It just changes the model from buying to renting.

From the point of view of the StoneSociety, cash is a resource to be obtained and managed according to Stone auctions. Can the political force of cash overwhelm other considerations for a StoneSociety? Heck yes - take away our stones, but feed us.

I was referred here, by someone who says my voting system is similar to yours. Here's mine, check it out an e-mail me.


See StoneSocietyDiscussion.

CategorySociety CategoryVoting (sort of)

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