Like Gutenberg’s press, cryptocurrencies have become the agent for spreading ideas. The key difference is that unlike Guttenberg’s press, many cryptocurrencies physically embody the ideas that they espouse. Buying a coin is still a get-rich bet, but it may also be part of an ecosystem that implements anarchy, socialism, or even Georgism.
One of Buterin’s concerns are frivolous applications, NFTs specifically, that hijacked the Ethereum platform. NFTs drive such high volume and high dollar values that congestion fees approach or exceed $100. This in turn makes transactions too expensive for low value social programs, such as Buterin’s favorite, “Proof of Humanity”.
This looks like a redux of the internet age. Idealists coded and released standards that are highly resistant to failure and available to all. That in turn started a landgrab that made some people extremely rich and enabled free speech. It also enabled broad criminal activity and that free speech includes more hatred and lies than we had hoped. So cryptocurrencies and blockchains are following a well-worn path. Money corrupts and anonymity appears to enable monsters more than it does angels.
“To Buterin, the worst-case scenario for the future of crypto is that blockchain technology ends up concentrated in the hands of dictatorial governments. He is unhappy with El Salvador’s rollout of Bitcoin as legal tender, which has been riddled with identity theft and volatility. The prospect of governments using the technology to crack down on dissent is one reason Buterin is adamant about crypto remaining decentralized. He sees the technology as the most powerful equalizer to surveillance technology deployed by governments (like China’s) and powerful companies (like Meta) alike.
If Mark Zuckerberg shouldn’t have the power to make epoch-changing decisions or control users’ data for profit, Buterin believes, then neither should he—even if that limits his ability to shape the future of his creation, sends some people to other blockchains, or allows others to use his platform in unsavory ways. “I would love to have an ecosystem that has lots of good crazy and bad crazy,” Buterin says. “Bad crazy is when there’s just huge amounts of money being drained and all it’s doing is subsidizing the hacker industry. Good crazy is when there’s tech work and research and development and public goods coming out of the other end. So there’s this battle. And we have to be intentional, and make sure more of the right things happen.””
Overview by Tim Sloane, VP, Payments Innovation at Mercator Advisory Group