The Governor of Colorado Is High on Blockchain

Crypto enthusiasts and government officials are not natural allies, at least outside Miami. And yet Colorado governor Jared Polis received a warm welcome when he appeared onstage at last week’s ETHDenver conference to present his vision for making Colorado the “first digital state.”

That’s because he came bearing good news for the crypto faithful. Polis, a libertarian-leaning Democrat who made a fortune as an internet entrepreneur in the 1990s, has high hopes for blockchain technology. “Most people don’t trust either big corporations or big government, and that’s what blockchain allows us to solve for,” he declared to the applause of the ETHDenver crowd. “We see it as a critical part of Colorado’s overall innovation ecosystem.” To that end, Polis announced, the state will soon become the first to let residents pay state income tax and other fees using cryptocurrency, although the money will be converted into good old US dollars before it lands in the treasury.

Polis also plugged Colorado’s co-op statutes, which, he said, make the state particularly hospitable to “decentralized autonomous organizations,” or DAOs, a form of blockchain-based co-op. And he discussed a project that aims to move the state’s cattle-brand system onto the blockchain.

Wait—blockchain? Cows? While Polis found purchase among the ETHDenver acolytes, his presentation raised more questions than it answered. This week, the governor spoke to WIRED about his plan to make Colorado, including its livestock, the most blockchain-friendly state in the union.

WIRED: How would you explain to someone who doesn’t already know much about blockchain why you think this is an important technology?

Jared Polis: A secure, distributed ledger technology is very attractive compared to the legacy, centralized database systems for a number of reasons. One is privacy and distributed control over your own information. Another is security because when you have a centralized system, it can always be vulnerable, no matter how much protection you have, in ways that a distributed system inherently isn’t. Third, it can be more egalitarian. And fourth, it can be more welcoming for disruption and startups. When you have legacy systems, whether they’re corporate or government, they can have an anticompetitive impact.

What does any of this have to do with cattle brands?

Cattle brands are exactly what you think they are. They are a distinctive logo, which ranchers sometimes have passed down in their families, that’s put onto cattle raised in Colorado—and other states with cattle have similar systems—and it’s added to a registry. You apply for your brand and there are tens of thousands of brands, many of which are no longer used, but you can’t use one that somebody else uses. The current system for that in Colorado and other states is a centralized database, a centralized ledger.

I’m from New Jersey, so just to make sure I’m with you: The point is that if my cow wanders off, or gets stolen, we know who owns it.

Absolutely. They do wander off and they get stolen and then you know who it belongs to, indisputably; it’s registered. It’s also used to capture and prosecute cattle rustlers who steal cattle. So it’s used to prevent both theft and loss of cattle, which is a multibillion-dollar industry in the state of Colorado.

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