As both new and established tokens soar to ever greater heights I am reminded of the words of one of the few vocal predictors of the ‘07/08 crash, Peter Schiff, “As long as the monetary heroin keeps flowing the bubbles will keep growing - until they pop”. Admittedly this was in regards to asset classes such as traditional shareholdings and the ever further financialised housing market, but the rule generally applies to all stores of value, even currency, despite modern economic thought’s best attempts at removing such utility from it. This being the ultimate end product of fiat policy is probably not new to those reading this piece, yet I come across many individuals who seem to think the problem can somehow be solved by implementing the very same processes i.e. further roundabout financialisaton of not just physical, but immaterial assets. Maybe the need for a dope fix clouds their judgement, however the party will inevitably have to end at some point and when many are forced to cold turkey from their perceived riches they may still not be sober enough to understand what they have truly brought upon themselves. Over eager returns junkies losing their savings will be just the tip of the iceberg, as crypto will be here to stay but not as you know it.
The immaterial nature of crypto tokens, coins and supposed cash substitutes are, without presuming malice on any actor, one of their major drawbacks. The need for a trading platform to make a profit necessitates a transaction fee, even Bitcoin cash a once promising alternative to day-to-day fiat usage is reaching a valuation with which its minor transaction costs impose at least a 1 cent fee on any exchange as aptly pointed out by Vin Armani this removes the psychological effect of “free transactions” that the coin once had. Whether this is the effect of speculators or an uptake in usage is not part of the matter, what it shows is one of the key limitations of any token in comparison to even fiat currency, which despite all its faults can be passed back forth an infinite number of times without imposing a cost on either sender or receiver. The practical issues with crypto do not end there but this will become more apparent later. A further limitation given the physically infungible nature of crypto is the issue of valuation over time, without getting into value theory itself, it is certain amongst most tokens and still undecided when it comes to Bitcoin as to whether or not the total quantity of tokens will be limited. This again is an issue prevalent amongst fiat currency systems but generally goes unmentioned in regards to crypto, which once one removes the kid gloves and begins to compare with precious metals becomes an obvious distinction. Generally a currency of any form can in theory be increased in quantity of notes, coins, tokens, bullion until its valuation is marginal with its production costs. This bodes well for a substance such as gold or silver as it would be economically unviable, over a long term, for mines and refineries to push the total quantity of gold to such a level that its relative exchange value would be less than that of its production cost which we may refer to as ‘x’. Given this fact there will always be some value ‘x’ which, ceteris paribus, will be the lowest value we could expect any precious metal to drop to. This is in large part the reason why gold has maintained a valuable status for thousands of years and why in times not dominated with false economic dogma that it was the basis for all currency valuation. Fiat currency and crypto if the best faith is assumed in production, i.e. notes must be physically printed by a profitable outfit, or coins must be mined in a relatively technologically intensive process, would still have an ‘x’ value which pales in comparison to even more prevalent metals like silver and copper which must necessitate a wide range of industrial activity and transportation costs to come to market as a commodity of exchange. Ergo the scope for further increasing the quantity of fiat and crypto currencies is so much wider as the inflation of the money supply required to reach a marginal parity with this ‘x’ value dwarfs the total quantity required to do the same to any precious metal. It should then require very little explanation as to why situations in which fiat and crypto money supplies can be inflated with the addition of extra zeros on an electronic database, that ‘x’ itself may as well be zero in regards to all other items of value and why the total quantity would tend to infinity.
Now that some of the basic economic issues, which there are many others, with crypto have been addressed in relation to both fiat currency and precious metals, there are yet still many further drawbacks which come about due to its immaterial nature. One that has stood out plainly since I first came across cryptos, once again brought about by the need for some platforms to both hold and exchange, is the vulnerability of both a personal reliance on the platform to operate in good faith and their ability to hold up to private and governmental attacks upon its architecture. I am of course aware that many crypto platforms have at least some willingness to hold steadfast against these attacks but there can be no assurance of security in the way that one can have in regards to metals or even fiat currency stored on one's person or property. Physical holdings also provide a stickier situation for governments looking to confiscate funds, they must go to the lengths of breaching your property rights in a physical sense and must also deal with the political ramifications of being seen to be carrying out such actions. Limiting trading platforms or remotely wiping online data will never create such a public backlash as state agents forcing entry into a home. If anything there is a direct incentive for states and their enforcement arms to have as many of their opponents engage logistically with each other in cryptos as opposed to physical forms of currency, as it no longer takes the raid of countless homes to shut down an opposition, instead it may only require the flip of a switch. Furthermore, trading a physical commodity by no means necessitates the logging of transactions and therefore keeps actors behind a veil of anonymity, whereas cryptos generally have an inbuilt system of logging and tracking which can be easily reverse engineered, despite the supposed privacy, to identify and track perpetrators. Anyone that takes an interest in deep web markets will more than likely be already aware of state security forces using minor details on one half of a crypto transaction to trace other parties and even retroactively seize crypto holdings previously used in illicit exchanges. If anything as one delves more into the practicalities of crypto and its limitation via things purported as features it becomes obvious that there are many nefarious avenues through which dissident movements could be attacked vis-à-vis their reliance on crypto.
From these previously stated practical issues it should begin to become more clear why crypto is something I have chosen to refer to as surrogate activism when thought of as a positive solution to economic and political strife. However to fully grasp what this term means one must look towards the writing of Ted Kaczynski. Within Industrial Society and Its Future and other writings Ted frequently refers to “Surrogate Activities” a term which is used to “...designate an activity that is directed toward an artificial goal that people set up for themselves merely in order to have some goal to work towards, or, let us say, merely for the sake of ‘fulfilment’...”. I would posit that outside of wider references to the process of survival, that the relation to the need to accrue power in any sense, puts a large amount of modern political activism into the category of a surrogate activity. Even if one’s own motivation to activism is driven in part by something other than the basic need for fulfilment given the stated goal, or the means involved, said activism is functionally surrogate insofar as it is inconsequential or maybe even detrimental to the stated goal. In the final analysis the time and energy involved in surrogate activism may as well be wasted and only satisfies those looking to “be part of something”, regardless of the effectiveness. This effect is only made worse when the opportunity to materially enrich one’s self is made available by said activism, as it entices more actors into the process. This is the case for activism done in the name of crypto, not only is there the material incentive of so called “stonks” to be made, but there is a furthering of the simplification and detachment process in regards to what is required to engage in effective activism. See my previous article on “Manufacturing Consent”, for a further explanation of this process.
The clearest example of this is one which I’m sure others have noticed, it is the “Bitcoin fixes this” mindset. It is a highly technologistic line of thinking much like the deferral to bureaucracy or public property as the solution to any of the conflicts we face within the interpersonal day-to-day functions of society. Once again, blind faith and complex language has been used to obfuscate from the genuine issues of currency and the true effort and actions required to change the state of affairs, instead a technological development has been lifted to the status of a panacea whilst those that propagate its tenants makes a quick buck on the side. And to top it off as more and more people jump on the bandwagon the speculative gains ever increase, drawing in more members of the crypto-initiated, and leading to an even more destructive collapse when the bubble does eventually burst. But as mentioned before the loss of investments will mean nothing when it is fully understood as to what the wide scale adoption of cryptos will enable within society.
Most cryptos are designed to allow the user some level of anonymity whilst the token itself can log important attributes about the digital location, recipient and even products exchanged in any transaction. As a method for keeping track of business activity or one’s own personal finances this is a useful feature and is one which physical mediums of exchange cannot perform, however as mentioned before this information can be retroactively uncovered by security forces and state actors with relative ease and requires very little cooperation. What then is the state of play when crypto platforms and developers choose to or are strong armed into complicity with the state, the data available to the state would be disastrous to dissident movements which have used crypto to organise their finances. It would furthermore be naïve
to assume that if crypto is adopted further within society that tokens centred around anonymity and protection would be accepted as legal tender with which one could purchase their basic necessities. It would be a clear continuation of the war on cash and the forced identification of every consumer who wishes to purchase menial goods. This becomes all the more concerning when we consider the talks of vaccine passports and social credit scores, as to me the infrastructure of crypto is almost pre-built for the adaptation into a social credit score style system. Within the UK there have already been meetings and outlines drawn up for digital identity systems based on a wide range of data referred to as attributes, of which it would be the duty of each citizen to provide in full and with full honesty when requested by any public or private institution tied into the system. For those unaware of these plans I would highly recommend reading up on:
I am admittedly no expert on crypto and grant that much of what I have stipulated is up for valid scrutiny, what I ask is that you the reader consider your own position in this state of affairs. How much trust are you willing to instil in the developers, trading/wallet providers and any fellow crypto activists you may know. Just keep in mind that many of these individuals have a financial incentive to involve you in their ponzi scheme and will more than likely take no major thought as to what they may be legitimising in their adaptation.
Industrial Society and Its Future