In our Western societies state is expected to be a State-as-a-service.
People expect to pay taxes—just as they pay for a service, eg. Dropbox—and then enjoy the benefits. These are nice neighbourhoods, public transport, high quality public schools, free healthcare, et al. Everything with no complicated administrative processes or bureaucracy.
The important bit, here, is that citizens don’t care about how all these will be implemented. They are not interested in the process with which these will be achieved. They pay taxes, so they expect it to happen—the end.
State-as-a-Service is the future
State as a service sounds like the future. In the future, people don’t have to think about how they will have good city transportation, or high quality public education, or free healthcare. They will just have it. All these will just exist. The questions on how to build them will be abstracted away as solved problems.
Because they are. We have witnessed some cities with high quality public transport and some countries with great free healthcare and some public schools which are extraordinary. We know it can be done; the way they did it is not a secret, so there should be no problem having it everywhere.
But as we all know from experience, this is not the case. It’s actually extremely hard to copy any high quality elements of a state. This is the reason that I will also argue for the opposite of a State-as-a-Service, which I will call self-hosted states.
Self-hosted software and states
These two concepts, state-as-a-service and self-hosted states, are inspired from the software industry. In the era of the internet, we have software services and these can exist either as a service or self-hosted.
As-a-service software is when the code is running in some company’s server, somewhere on the internet. We don’t have control over that part. What we can control is what the software creator has allowed us to control through the website or app of this software. This is the most common kind of software that people use, by far. Facebook, Gmail, eBay, DALL·E are all provided in this way.
On the other hand, self-hosted services are when the code is running on a machine that we control. It’s mostly technical people who interact with software services in this way, though, the reason being the need for technical knowledge to set it up. Even then, though, the vast majority of technical people avoid self-hosted services because of the time and effort required to set them up.
For example, for myself, maybe I don’t trust any big company to hold my photos, so I have set up Photoprism on a server that I own and I store my photos there. Since Photoprism supports album sharing, I can give access to group photos to my friends as well. Photoprism, being self-hosted software, gives me much higher confidence1 that my photos have not been used by companies for advertisement purposes or ML models. However, I need to spend some hours per month to maintain the server and the software. This includes updating the operating system, applying security updates that handle potentially newly discovered holes, and even getting the new features that photoprism releases now and then.
Many technical people do not want to go into this effort. Simply put, the benefits do not outweigh the drawbacks.
In an analogous way, people are not interested in spending their time deciding how the state’s budget allocation will go so that we enjoy universal free healthcare. Of course, benefits on a state level is not the sole analogy. On a more local level, we could spend time figuring out how to improve our neighbourhood or support rough sleepers in the area.
Space for both
I claim: we can accomondate both kinds. Some people want to get into policy decisions, present pros and cons, research alternative potential solution, create budgets. Others really don’t care about any of these; they just want to enjoy life.
The current system does not allow people who care about these to actualise their interest. One cannot just become a politician. They also have to make a living—unless one can make a living by being a politician. I think most can agree that this process is hardly attainable for the vast majority of people.
Admittedly, the benefits of state-as-a-service are awesome. If only we had them without the drawbacks. However, I’m a proponent of giving the option of self-hosted software because some people really are paranoid and neurodivergence is not only allowed but maybe also desired.
There is still the possibility that my server gets hacked and everything leaks everywhere. ↩