Can’t We Use Crypto for Something Other Than Capitalism?
How to make the next generation of bankers better than today’s
I took a bit of heat last week for suggesting that the blockchain movement may have gone largely off course. Some asked: What about NFTs? Or the decentralized autonomous corporations? Aren’t Bitcoin and Ethereum doing all sorts of great things?
Yes, they are. But I’m not sure those good things are the primary concern of the majority of people involved with these tokens, or that they represent a substantial enough portion of the activity and impact of blockchains, so far, on the greater economy.
It’s hard to tell the whole story of bitcoin, its successes, and its failures in a few hundred words, but the main point I was trying to make — and still am—is that these technologies are not necessarily any more distributed or egalitarian than their predecessors. If we want them to be we must make a conscious choice to use these technologies differently than we are right now.
So far, there may be some new players among the bankers and currency traders, but the same extractive dynamics are at work. I think we’re still serving the same financial interests with our new tools as we did with our old ones. Indeed, we are destined to use our new, distributed digital platforms to amplify traditional capitalism if we don’t summon the courage and deliberateness to try something else.
Unlike many who write about the blockchain’s problems, I do so not from the perspective of a cynical outsider, but as an OG crypto-anarchist fanboy. If anything, I suffer not from too low an opinion of blockchains, but from the too idealistic expectations of a true believer. We were talking about applying PGP and TOR-style networks to a decentralized currency since the early 1990s. (Yes, I know BitTorrent wasn’t around then, but Onion routing was. And Phil Zimmermann had invented Pretty Good Privacy by 1991.) Bitcoin was simply the first white paper outlining a complete solution (2008), or at least the first one that got implemented, about a year later.
Bitcoin came to prominence as a form of tech support for the circular economic systems that OWS activists were…