This is the field of politics, where we make impassioned pleas for the future we want, rather than settling on a future we deem likely.
transnational demands are harder.
Metaverse = ‘planetary system connecting all humans and machines into a global matrix’?
Before we can hope to creatively reimagine our systems, we must critically introspect on them
money as a nervous system
the Money-Passers, a conglomeration of banks and payments intermediaries like Visa and Mastercard.
The paternalistic message in places like Italy and Greece is that people who want cash are dodgy tax evaders, while Germans who want the same thing are presented as privacy-aware or prudently keeping their savings under a mattress.
But the digital payments alliance does not kill crime, corruption and tax avoidance. If anything, financial cybercrime is flourishing, and the very banks that underpin the digital payments infrastructure are the ones who also offer services to corporations to facilitate large-scale offshore tax avoidance.
finding the best place to exert friction:
Public bodies (particularly local or smaller ones) can be surprisingly concerned about public opinion,
symbiotic dual monetary system:
‘cash or card’, is asking whether I wish to use the primary core system run by the state, or the secondary system wrapped around that, run by the banking sector (there is also a tertiary system wrapped around the secondary system, run by the likes of PayPal).
economic network access token
political power forms part of the magnetic core of the monetary mechanism.
The power of this money does not reside in the piece of paper itself. That is just one substrate upon which a state promise can be recorded. It is all the structures of law and power within which the subsequent token circulates that will give weight to it, as well as broader network effects that we’ll explore later.
an emotional association between physicality and certainty.
This process of cash entering society and exiting again is called the ‘cash cycle’, and it requires the co-operation of commercial banks, who – as we shall see – are becoming increasingly unco-operative.
Banks are not like cloakrooms. They are like casinos
ApplePay and GooglePay, for example, are just new ways to send messages into the same old system,
in reality the cloud is a hidden complex of compounds surrounded by electrified fences and armed guards.
what if the whole banking sector is in crisis?
‘Cash is a public utility that should be protected,’
there is no conflict in maintaining both systems.
The closest transport analogy for cash is the bicycle, and ‘going cashless’ is like closing down bike lanes that run parallel to roads in a city of cars.
Keeping parallel options supports the principle of resilience through diversity,
Similarly, a diverse and resilient payment system requires non-digital and non-bank systems.
‘Enjoy the speed, convenience, surveillance, cyber-hacking and critical infrastructure weaknesses that our platform brings.’
‘bicycle-like’ feeling from cash: it may not go as fast, but it’s great for short outings, requires less maintenance, is more inclusive and certainly comes in handy when the other system gets jammed up.
But modern digital payment is under the control and oversight of globalised finance corporations, and to become dependent on that system is to enter their sphere of influence.
physical state money enabling participation in capitalist society while simultaneously offering the user some protection from its elites. For all its ‘inefficiencies’, cash has no hidden agenda, and is inclusive in a no-strings-attached way.
Cash, in other words, appears resistant to both the ethos and future development of corporate capitalism.
Progressive social change is often marked by the legalisation of once criminal behaviours,
If you believe grey areas are a valuable interstitial zone where positive change can flourish, their removal should be seen as an attempt to freeze society into rigid zones of black and white.
Chaum would go on to propose a new digital money system called DigiCash
‘transparency for the powerful, and privacy for the weak’.
while dictators, business leaders and global corporate entities can use private Swiss bank accounts and chains of shell companies to avoid scrutiny, most ordinary people cannot set up these smokescreens. Instead, we depend on local financial data laws to eke out as much privacy as we can. Whether this works or not rests on the strength of our country’s civil rights culture.
Freezing people out of a payments system becomes a means to discipline or constrain.
this threat of exclusion from the global payments system haunts many poorer countries
When it comes to payments surveillance, people can feel torn between the prospect of slightly better safety against bogeyman terrorists, and the nervousness of what would happen if they got on the wrong side of dystopian payments censorship.
The implication is that a desire for privacy is tantamount to a desire to hide, rather than a desire to be treated as an adult.
Stories about ‘consumers’ therefore need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
After a few decades of this ‘next big thing’, the message of endless product change begins to feel empty.
humans are slow, tactile beings,
Several studies have shown that digital payments encourage fast and detached spending
corporate seep, the process by which previously informal and direct peer-to-peer economic relationships are replaced with institutionally mediated ones.
inclusion is more akin to absorption.
Financial inclusion is not envisaged as thousands of Kenyan women’s co-operatives flourishing. Rather, it entails dissolving those informal systems, and onboarding the women into the large-scale corporate systems that will replace their co-operatives.
people who are not absorbed under them could end up discriminated against.
They are presented as having missed a ride, rather than as having rejected the direction of travel.
fintechs, on average, do not bypass the existing financial system but plug into it.
Many of these fintechs have about as much chance of disrupting finance as an IOS developer has of disrupting Apple, and they cannot wrench the monetary system away from banks any more than an app company can take control of the iPhone.
microfinance, which rests on large numbers of poor customers being given tiny loans. Its foundations have always been shaky, because the world’s poorest people often occupy the lowest rungs in commodity-producing countries run by feeble governments that are subservient to more powerful advanced industrial countries. In this context, a person’s lack of income stems from being in a weak position within a transnational economy, and there is no guarantee that giving them credit will magic away the reality of that situation.
Credit is empowering when a person is in a strong position to generate future returns that can be used to repay the loan, but it is not empowering in and of itself.
The quintessential image of a ‘developing country’ is one of syncretic mixes between the traditional and the modern.
a new transnational rebellion – spearheaded by cryptocurrency – is forming.
state power gives rise to corporate power.
The twenty-first-century leviathans, though, want to transform the bars of the iron cage into a fine transnational digital mesh. This is what we are currently experiencing in the creep of automated surveillance capitalism, which is given different names depending on where it creeps: in cities it is called ‘smart cities’, in our homes ‘smart homes’, in our bodies ‘self-tracking’, and in developing countries, ‘digital inclusion’.
In previous chapters we considered two key features of the cloudmoney system: first, it is run by oligopolies of banks, which – secondly – preside over a changeable global money supply. Bitcoin is best understood as an attempt to provide an alternative to both of those features, by attacking both the centralisation of that system, and its changeability.
The claim that Bitcoin was ‘digital gold’ must be seen in this context. A person entering a Bitcoin meet-up from 2008 onwards was often greeted with a monetary salvation story. It contrasted an imagined past of gold with an imagined present of corrupt fiat money, ‘backed by nothing’ but political alchemy. This in turn was contrasted to an imagined future, in which cryptography, backed by strong and pure mathematics, looms as saviour.
Bitcoin tokens are not participants within the foreign exchange market.
token – people generally do not think of other goods, but do imagine a resale price in money.
Think of Bitcoin tokens as being movable numbered objects, wrapped in monetary branding, which have been turned into collectibles with a monetary price.
Countertrade is the process of swapping money-priced goods.
When you swap supermarket goods, you are not fighting the monetary system. Similarly, when you countertrade cyber-collectibles, you are not bringing down the global monetary order.
Nevertheless, if Bitcoin were to greatly increase the use of countertrade – a practice that is historically limited – it could certainly add new texture to the surface of our existing monetary system, and mess with the standard paths used.
Occupiers were a diverse group who believed the state had been captured by corporate interests, and that it must be wrested back by a public working together to make a more equal society. Bitcoin promoters, by contrast, were overwhelmingly male and far more intolerant of government than of corporations. Many distrusted the concept of ‘society’, preferring to imagine a world comprised of competing individuals.
The Bitcoin scene was – to put it bluntly – more right-wing than Occupy, and heavily influenced by pro-market libertarianism.
collectibles were never designed to promote egalitarianism.
The anti-statism of crypto libertarians is framed as a desire for a world of individual ‘do it yourself’ entrepreneurs, rather than a desire for tightly knit communal gardening projects.
The imagery of rugged heroic individualism alongside trading is enticing to men who might otherwise be working a standard day job.
how blockchain technology may strengthen corporate oligopolies, rather than weakening them.
DLT is the next step in the banking sector drive for automation.
There are ambiguous zones of hybridisation occurring, but perhaps the most ambiguous is the emergent world of ‘stablecoins’. These are becoming of crucial importance in debates about the future of our monetary system, and stand to disrupt that system in unexpected ways.
DECODE, an EU-funded initiative to build citizen-owned digital platforms as an alternative to Big Tech.- Facebook raided this to form Libra
“Giving people ownership of their personal data
DECODE provides tools that put individuals in control of whether they keep their personal data private or share it for the public good”
For it to be a central bank, it would have to be the monetary centre of gravity, with banks using its Libra units as reserves to back themselves. This would require the entire global monetary system to invert, which is not about to happen.
The primary concern for democracy activists in weaker countries is not whether money can be transferred using a slick app. It is whether their governments are able to carve out some degree of political self-determination, rather than being client states of great powers.
we get two stories, one conveying agency and another coercion. … the rise of digital giants as driven by the desires of empowered consumers who love convenience. vs… an ominous picture of us being coercively herded onto platforms. While I veer towards the latter neither story fully satisfies me. My true interest is to uncover the contradictory simultaneity of agency and coercion.
within large-scale interdependent markets, agency and coercion are inseparable.
We have blindly stumbled into systems that exploit our short-term desires to the detriment of our longer-term ones, and they break and disrupt our lives if we attempt to pull back from them.
Corporate capitalism is an outlook calibrated to over-value large-scale frictionless efficiency to the detriment of the deeper things we love – unknown wild spaces, peer-to-peer connection, texture, spontaneity and unguided journeys
Cargo-cultism – the act of building the surface appearance of something without the substance – is rife in many idealistic communities, including the Bitcoin movement. That movement continues to claim that limited-edition cyber-collectibles will challenge the global monetary system, but it is plainly apparent that crypto-tokens are being swallowed up by standard markets, and transformed into products to be traded like anything else.
and yet Bitcoin’s swap-ability may usher in a new age of countertrade.
In blockchain technology circles this term ‘decentralised’ often means ‘a large, distributed infrastructure controlled by nobody in particular’. In broad terms, then, the blockchain technology movement proceeds under the assumption that building transnational digital infrastructures that are usable by everyone, but controllable by nobody, is a worthy goal.
But this conflicts with a more ancient tradition, in which ‘decentralisation’ is understood to be the process by which large infrastructures are broken up in favour of smaller ones that can be managed locally. [subsidiarity!]
This is the tradition behind many modern alternative economy projects that attempt to re-localise economic life, by, for example, building small-scale permaculture projects, community credit unions, local co-operatives and community currencies. Behind these lies a vision of a world in which a constellation of community initiatives is federated together in harmony. It’s a different ethos to the one that underpins crypto-tokens, which are imagined to facilitate a faceless transnational dark market where nobody needs to trust either institutions or each other.
Is there a way to harmonise these disparate visions of decentralisation, and to combine the strong elements of each into something more powerful than either can offer alone? The answer is yes, and it involves the use of promises.
These systems of reciprocity hold communities together, but in this simple interpersonal example we see the keys to ‘people-powered’ monetary systems: the promises close friends give each other are informal, unrecorded and unmeasured, but it is not hard to imagine that a more distant associate could hand you something in exchange for a more formal, recorded promise. The most well-established tradition of this ‘paying by promise’ is called mutual credit.
Mutual credit systems are networks of people who issue promises to each other to obtain goods and services, while a central administrator sets standards, resolves disputes and keeps track of the promises each person has made. Each person’s balance of promises expands or contracts, depending on how much they give to others, and how much they draw upon in return.
Mutual credit systems are a little like mini-nervous systems, often connecting mere hundreds of people together, rather than hundreds of millions. Such ‘pay by promise’ systems, however, can be scaled up by repurposing crypto technology: rather than using crypto networks to pass around abstract cyber-collectibles like Bitcoin, they could be used to pass around organic interpersonal promises.
rippling credit, because promises can ripple between people who trust each other.
ideas are being pushed forward by initiatives such as Trustlines, Circles, Sikoba and Grassroots Economics, who are implementing these concepts using blockchain architectures. For any person looking to get involved with idealistic-yet-practical currency innovation, this zone of hybridisation is the place to be.
The global economy operates at a scale that few people have the time – and training – to make sense of, but people nevertheless must find narratives to explain the tremors of anxiety and instability that course through it (and by extension, them), and that feeling of autopilot. Conspiracy theorists step in to weave these narratives, and often align with the far-right in the process.
The desire to use cash is presented by the fintech industry as a stubborn refusal to move forward with the times, but I prefer to cast it as a stubborn refusal to go with the grain of corporate capitalism
My arguments for the protection of cash have been practical and political, but deep down I am fighting for something personal. The right to be dirty and physical. We are not immortal super-beings with our brains plugged into an AI cloud-complex, and neither would we want to be. We are messy and contradictory, and that is a spirit better protected by a more down-to-earth incarnation of money. Cash is credit money in a commodity body, birthed by large institutions but roaming among us like a gregarious friend to strangers. It is capitalist while preventing the expansion of capitalism. It is, in a word, syncretic. To use it one must accept slowness and contradiction, which – in a frenetic polarised world – is akin to a meditative practice.