But how does Tezos compare to…

I get asked a lot of questions about similar blockchain projects to Tezos. This is extremely reasonable. Recently, we came across a post from BOScoin’s blog making a comparative chart of governance systems.

The red is supposed to be affirmative, counterintuitively

Of course we don’t think the chart is entirely complete. The “Governance Features” section is, in our humble opinion, a bit lacking.

When we released our paper in 2014, governance was largely ignored in the field of cryptographic ledgers. Nowadays, it’s impossible to find a project that doesn’t mention “governance.” We posit that governance is the set of rules by which a resource is shared. In a decentralized ledger, this resource is the blockchain itself but also the evolution of the protocol. A governance model describes the process by which stakeholders can agree on decisions impacting their shared interest in the protocol.

I believe that Tezos has two unique features which put it at a significant long term advantage over the ideas being advertised in the governance space right now: self-amendment and constitutionalism. Here’s my cut at the comparison table given what I prioritize.

This is my best guess at assessing planned projects in the space. Ping me with any corrections.

Self-Amendment

Tezos is unique because it can amend its governance model. Other systems rely on hard-coded rules and cross their fingers that the model they chose will work. We think this architecture scheme is ripe for failure as it is impossible to design the right governance set-up on a first pass, in a vacuum. Human institutions rely on centuries of experience, laws, and precedents in order to govern themselves. These rules must be discovered progressively and organically, not be decided at the onset.

Our architecture reflects our belief that the ability to iterate will make for a successful governance system. Our first model is a two-phased vote but it is by no means the final flavor of Tezos governance. We purposefully chose a simple model at the forefront so that it would be easy to understand and not too prescriptive.

Tezos was meant to continually reflect collective knowledge and grow with new technologies. Tezos may, for example, pivot to a futarchy-based governance model (as suggested in our 2014 position paper) or something resembling a representative democracy. Less technical but equally interesting applications like a permanent treasury can be added if the network favors them.

Constitutionalism

Another key limitation of many governance proposals is their lack of constitutionalism, or the ability to make rules which impact or constrain future rules. In Tezos, we can preserve important rules, “constitutional rules”, by requiring that any proposed upgrade be accompanied by a formal proof showing its constitutionalism. This isn’t a mere possibility, the entire system was architected to facilitate formal proofs, from our choice of OCaml for the implementation, to our design of protocols as pure, side effect free functions. In many systems, proposed upgrades take the form a binary blob which would be considerably harder to reason about. With constitutionalism economic features such as caps on token issuance can then be enforced on-chain by the network, creating a stronger Schelling point than a cultural norm can.

In addition to rule preservation, a key advantage of constitutionalism is interdisciplinary rigor. Our hope is that, by allowing for “softer” categories of rules to be enforced by the blockchain, Tezos will attract thinkers from fields like design, economics, statistics, and political philosophy to contribute to protocol amendments.


We believe our governance model is more sophisticated than any other offering right now since we have a self-referential protocol that can respect previous rules but also introduce new ones dynamically. Our governance model was built to iterate without centralizing power recklessly.


Here’s where Tezos stands on some critical design choices, based on frequently asked questions on our Slack.

Tezos is…

  • a smart contract platform, in the same vein as Ethereum (but not based on the EVM)
  • running a delegated proof-of-stake consensus in its first iteration
  • equipped with a formally specified, statically typed, functional programming language for smart contracts which is in the process of being formally verified
  • capable of amending its on-chain governance system
  • an original instantiation of a blockchain, not a fork of another system
  • going to be released at some point in the summer of 2017
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