Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin result in the concentration of wealth, not greater equality
Mon 15 Oct 2018 11.20 BST Last modified on Mon 15 Oct 2018 12.00 BST.
With the value of bitcoin having fallen by about 70% since its peak late last year, the mother of all bubbles has now gone bust. More generally, cryptocurrencies have entered a not-so-cryptic apocalypse. The value of leading coins such as Ether, EOS, Litecoin and XRP have all fallen by over 80%, thousands of other digital currencies have plummeted by 90%-99%, and the rest have been exposed as outright frauds. No one should be surprised by this: four out of five initial coin offerings (ICOs) were scams to begin with.
Faced with the public spectacle of a market bloodbath, boosters have fled to the last refuge of the crypto scoundrel: a defence of “blockchain,” the distributed-ledger software underpinning all cryptocurrencies. Blockchain has been heralded as a potential panacea for everything from poverty and famine to cancer. In fact, it is the most overhyped – and least useful – technology in human history.
In practice, blockchain is nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet. But it has also become the byword for a libertarian ideology that treats all governments, central banks, traditional financial institutions, and real-world currencies as evil concentrations of power that must be destroyed. Blockchain fundamentalists’ ideal world is one in which all economic activity and human interactions are subject to anarchist or libertarian decentralisation. They would like the entirety of social and political life to end up on public ledgers that are supposedly “permissionless” (accessible to everyone) and “trustless” (not reliant on a credible intermediary such as a bank).
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Yet far from ushering in a utopia, blockchain has given rise to a familiar form of economic hell. A few self-serving white men (there are hardly any women or minorities in the blockchain universe) pretending to be messiahs for the world’s impoverished, marginalised and unbanked masses claim to have created billions of dollars of wealth out of nothing.
But one need only consider the massive centralisation of power among cryptocurrency “miners,” exchanges, developers and wealth holders to see that blockchain is not about decentralisation and democracy; it is about greed.