“Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be King, and a King ain’t satisfied ‘til he rules everything.”
Springsteen’s Badlands sums up the political moment. In terms of its own self-interest, the technology industry should be leaning left. What matters to tech is creativity, fostering it, nurturing it, letting it run and exploiting it. Instead, many of tech’s leaders are leaning right, hard right, as in I’m going to be the world’s dictator right.
I’m not just talking about Peter Thiel becoming his generation’s Charles Koch, bankrolling efforts to overthrow democracy and install the Trump family (with Thiel behind the throne). I’m talking about the support Jack Dorsey and other “bro-billionaires” are giving Bitcoin, and the threat that carries for all civil government.
Financially Bitcoin is an asset, a wholly-fake asset, generated from whole cloth, based on the answers to an encryption puzzle. Since there can only be 21 million answers, that’s how many Bitcoins there can ever be. In practice there are fewer. Not all the answers have been found, and many Bitcoins have been lost due to password error or fraud.
Politically, Bitcoin is an effort to overthrow the world’s economic order. That order is based on government-created “fiat” currencies, like the U.S. dollar and the Chinese Yuan. These currencies give governments control over their economies. The strongest currencies, with the strongest governments, get the most control over the world economy.
Bitcoin replaces this with an imaginary thing mostly held by a bunch of bro-billionaires, some of whom were in on its creation, others of whom have decided to cash in. Dorsey is one. Elon Musk is another. The idea is that if Bitcoin represent the only real value, then the world dances to the Bitcoin owners’ tune.
Bitcoin is meant as a permanent answer to inflation. Ironically, technology is the answer to inflation. Technology constantly reduces costs, at an ever-accelerating rate. Software replaces the work of people, so people can move on to other work. Clouds and devices run the software, leaving millions unemployed unless new work can be created for them.
This is not news. Covering this has been my career. Bloatware, the needless complication of Microsoft Windows, can only take you so far. The market, fulfilling the needs of the people building the system, can only get you so far.
What’s needed today is social spending. We need to buy and build things that benefit everyone to save humanity. Bros will benefit from this, disproportionally, since they control so much value. But everyone else will, too.
Government is how we order this new abundance. Government is how we pay for it. Bitcoin can’t do it because Bitcoin isn’t a government.
Or is it? Here’s what the Bros are thinking. If they control the value of everything through Bitcoin, they decide what (if anything) to spend it on. In effect the Bros become the government. Trump won’t be dictator forever, and the Bros will manipulate him behind the scenes anyway. He’s the puppet. They’re the puppet masters.
The Bro world is a libertarian paradise. But the absence of government isn’t no government. The absence of government is control through money. If those with the money have the power to say “fuck all” to everyone else, that’s what government will do.
This redistribution of power thing is more complicated than Jack Dorsey thinks.