„Is our political system capable of managing rapid technological change?” When pressed I would be tempted to answer the question with a resounding YES! Yes, our political system is capable of managing technological change, for I see abundant evidence around me we have done so very successfully until now. Actually it is one of the core abilities we humans have to adapt to changing conditions.
Part 5: The future of bitcoin and the social/political implications of crypto currencies
Triggered by an article from Duivestein and Savale I have been posting on various aspects to consider when thinking about the future of bitcoin and the social/political implications of crypto currencies. NB See part 1 “trust”, part 2 “scalability”, part 3 “middle man” and part 4 “bitcoin prophesies”.
Today’s post is a cross-over with my “question of the day” posts I have been running lately to elaborate on issues discussed in conversations I have on RPD covered subjects. Actually it is more of a statement today then a question:
@redplanetdust Bregman Tegenlicht Utopie, moest ook politiek de oplossing brengen, geloof ik niet in, wereld versnelt
[Translation RPD. @duivestein: Bregman “The need for a Utopia,” to him politics had to bring the solution too, I don’t believe in it, the world is accelerating.]
Sander Duivestein (@duivestein) March 10, 2014
Duivestein is referring to a recent broadcast by VPRO (Tegenlicht) about a young Dutch historian Rutger Bregman who argues we need to start thinking again about Utopia to seek answers about many of today’s challenges. (See video in Dutch) He tweeted in reaction to my previous post referencing his article where I stated:
Whether you think in terms of “the creation of a world of plenty” or “the disappearance of the middle class” in both scenarios the distribution of the wealth available will have to be dealt with politically. In both scenario’s the capitalist view where work = income = share-in-the-wealth does not work as a fair – or practical – way to share the available prosperity over the citizens any longer.
What will be stronger: technological induced change or social/political processes to find a new equilibrium? I do not have the answer ready; what I do know is that long term political views and processes will form a strong counter weight against unrestrained technological change.
At first reading I „translated” his tweet/statement into the question:
„Is our political system capable of managing rapid technological change?”
I thought the point made by Duivestein was disconnected to what I had written. I did not mean to reference to the actual political conditions of our societies (as they differ in various countries and unions) today. Let alone give an appreciation of today’s politicians, the parties/ideas they represent or the political systems we have today. I referred to the long term dynamics within societies to deal with change, balancing various interests and ideologies while (re)establishing the primacy of the nation state. Let’s call this politics…
When pressed I would be tempted to answer the question with a resounding YES! Yes, our political system is capable of managing technological change, for I see abundant evidence around me we have done so very successfully until now. Actually it is one of the core abilities we humans have to adapt to changing conditions. This notion is part of and pretty central to my understanding of the development of collaborability and as such an element in the collaboration mechanisms we have at our disposal. (see introduction on collaborability)
Just one example: Look at how we have been able to assimilate the internet itself as societies and internalised it as individuals! We have had to cope with it on a global level, we have had to cope with it on a national level. We had to create the legal conditions etc. etc. This adaptation was done in an iterative process but where in the end „politics” arranges for the formal embedding of it in our societies. Sometimes politics is proactive, a lot of the time it is reactive but in the end – as it often takes a little time – it holds the primacy over developments in society.
NB As a side note; the above is pretty generic, but especially for currencies and payments societies will never give up their primacy and politics will pound new initiatives in line. (see “Bitcoins’ anarchistic character will be pounded into line by real world regulations”)
At second reading of Duivensteins tweet I saw how he just proves my major gripe with his and Savale’s (very read worthy) article:
Most of my criticism on the article „Bitcoin: It’s the platform, not the currency, stupid!” is about things which are implicit to what is explicitly suggested.
His assumption is that with the bitcoin protocol we have a disruption at our hands which will truly transform our societies and economies in a way and with a magnitude and speed never seen before in our history. A kind of perfect storm: ”It will be different in the future!”
Will the bitcoin protocol indeed be the disruptive power Duivestein suggests? Summarising what I have been writing about in reaction to his article and other stuff here at RPD my position is that direct exchange of properties (see payment myopia) indeed has the potential – when properly embedded in laws and regulations – to make exchanges much more efficient then what we have today.
As such it enhances a crucial aspect of specialization: the necessity to exchange. It will change ecquilibria and even disrupt entire value chains but in the end I do see „just” an adaptation process like what we have seen with the internet. We as societies will over time and step by step seamlessly be absorbing the bitcoin protocol revolution. Even though it will mean changing fortunes for individuals, companies and even nations; good for some, bad for others.
Cryptocurrencies are just one of many mega trends we are witnessing today (read „The future” by Al Gore for a dazzling overview). If we combine all these trends there will be a moment that we more principally have to ask ourselves:
„Is technology governing us or are we (still) governing technology?”
This generic question is not as simple to answer though. If Duivestein means to say that we are about to tip the balance in general and that bitcoin protocol is part of it I would say that we are (still) governing technology and the companies making use of it for some years to come.
In earlier post (see“Why do we not stop Google while we still can?”) I suggested:
They [Google] are becoming so omnipresent that they are having negative consequences, not only for their competitors but for society at large and to a frightening extend.
Maybe we should start considering to stop Google in its tracks now we still can?
I will now put my neck on the block by boldly predicting that – as a proof that we still govern technology – Google will be broken up just a little longer then a century after Standard oil was broken up (1911) into 34 companies who in the end converged into „the Seven Sisters”.
Part 3: Will the „middle man” disappear?