Between Coinbase’s $100bn public listing and the strange (and short lived?) rise of Dogecoin
, crypto’s mindshare is probably at an all-time high. Bruno Maçães (an always-interesting thinker whose work we discussed in TiB 135
) wrote a short post
on “cryptopolitics” this week, which led me to go back and re-read his excellent essay from last year on the “crypto state”
. In that piece, Maçães considers the possibility that cryptocurrencies could enable a new kind of sovereign organisations - ones that could coexist with, or even replace, nation states.
The idea is that blockchains enable social coordination without central authorities. Crucially, this coordination is invisible to - and so not taxable by - traditional states. This, the argument goes, will gradually bleed states of resources and power. It’s an interesting provocation, but I’m skeptical. First, as discussed above, the world remains stubbornly physical. As a result, many types of power remain surprisingly rooted in old-fashioned territorial control. As the Jon Stokes article
linked above shows, states have an arsenal of ways to use this power against their enemies.
Second, there’s no way for would-be Sovereign Individuals*
to opt out of politics. As we discussed in TiB 106
, everyone is “dangling at the end of a supply chain” that is
subject to real-world politics, however rich or powerful they are. Finally, as Vitalik Buterin argued in this great post
(discussed in TiB 158
) even blockchains are subject to the constraint of legitimacy
- an inherently political concept not easily reduced to mathematics. Some might wish it away, but I suspect the state will prove to be very resilient.
*This book on the politics of technology is popular in some tech circles, but highly overrated in my view. I keep meaning to get round to reviewing it properly…