Crappy Coinage . My penny’s worth.

But a week or so ago a group of inspirational citizens of the Steel City in the UK came together to discuss (UBI) Universal Basic Income. I was not present at these meetings and therefore can only imagine their discussion covered almost all of what I am going to write about here. Yet, this discussion, one of many happening simultaneously around the world I find inspirational and so perhaps this writing will only review what has already been mentioned but I hope there will be something added to the existing discourse on money, finance, and what to do with the capitalist order that seeks to apologise on behalf of inequality. I have been thinking through my own relation to the global economy and the ideology seen as dominantly hegemonic.

UBI should have been a reality a very long time ago; who is responsible for it not being implementable is difficult to say but I suspect it is not a person or a particular people: it is rather a period in the species history that started a process of material devaluation and therein value itself became own-able. This period in our history ranges across a large amount of time.[1] Yet, there are some dates that stand out as being a good starting point for thinking through the potential and I would say necessity for a new truly global alteration to the Capitalist system; that is if it is to continue or to be chosen by future cosmopolitans. The first dates are 1764 with the invention of the ‘Spinning Jenny’ the first industrial textile mill came into being in England. If you think about it this machine and that of its ilk the printing press became automated within the industrial revolution and one sees a correlation between the ease for printing paper and the unsociable and often unfathomable inequality that comes with it. Inherited wealth and business dynasties have cut this world up into ownership; there would be nothing wrong with profit if it could be distributed equally and evenly?

Other dates that are symptomatic of the current urgency of this ongoing discussion include: One of the fathers of the idea of ‘Political Economy’ William Petty was concerned that money be equal to itself which sits well with Karl Marx’s articulation that Gold and Silver where natural choices for currency because of this quality of appearing equal to what it is and this is seemingly embodied in these metals as they resist decay by oxidation. In 1964 the Bank of England was founded and four years later half of the United Kingdoms’s capital was paper. A Scottish financier John Law created a note issuing bank in 1716 to help in financing the then bankrupt French state. [2] A constant throughout these examples is the presence of war and its need for funding. It appears that although the change from metal to paper allowed a greater distribution of value but fails to secure equality; it is unclear if this change was ever made in the right spirit?

‘‘True’ and ‘false’ belong among those determinate notions which are held to be inert and wholly separate essences, one here and one there, each standing fixed and isolated from the other, with which it has nothing in common. Against this view it must be maintained that truth is not a minted coin that can be given and pocketed ready-made.”[3]

Professor Esther Leslie reminds us that this movement towards illusion has a direct connection to banknotes in the German language’s word Schein. The quote from Hegel gives us hope, if only a small hope, that truth is separate from Capital and so is a good point from which to invite more contemporary thoughts on money and income. The most important being a paper titled Bitcoin authored by a fictitious person whose nom de plume is Satoshi Nakamoto.[4] This paper is influential because it is considered to be the first attempt at providing a systematic proof that digital currency could make the economy more equal and such a change is more than possible and we are more than capable of implementing.

There have been many respondents to Nakamto-san but I came across his name in a recent article about LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) by a Liam Kelly. [5] One of the participants a character called Quinn does not like Hegel; referring to him as a Brain cancer. What is interesting about this recollection is that it is an example of a social phenomena increasingly set to increase: individuals wishing to take a break from the phantasmagoria and into the realms of fantasy.[6] This LARPing rave contains something interesting regarding the notion of cryptocurrency which is used here as a buy in and the currency that enables access to the rave. However the initial positivity surrounding Bitcoin has started to be met with negative press and on the same website of Breakermag we can read, ‘In the short term, though, that’s not what most big players care about—and the major social change blockchain has brought about so far is that a small number of people have become very rich indeed’.[7] Laurie Penny’s article is a sobering read indeed for those that have never been to such events or invested capital in capital. The criticism continues in an article on MIT’s Technological Review shared by Ami Clarke a lecturer at Central Saint Martins in London and director of arts space Banner Repeater.

‘In total, hackers have stolen nearly $2 billion worth of cryptocurrency since the beginning of 2017, mostly from exchanges, and that’s just what has been revealed publicly. These are not just opportunistic lone attackers, either. Sophisticated cybercrime organisations are now doing it too: analytics firm Chainalysis recently said that just two groups, both of which apparently still active, may have stolen a combined $1 billion from exchanges.’[8]

Such a lack of security runs against the claims of the Bitcoin Paper in which the fictitious Nakamoto lays out the issues of founding a peer-to-peer blockchain in which an equilibrium is created by the equality of users. Yet, in the Bitcoin paper Nakamoto struggles with a forecast problem: the dilemma of how to ensure ‘double-spending’ does not happen. The solution that was put forth is the use of a time stamp that anchors the data to a point then affixed to this is a proof of work using a required number of zero bits that show each node the truth of that data. The author, Nakamoto, goes on to show mathematically how via way of a calculation in probability he/they have successfully created the first economic exchange not based upon trust. Yet, as we have discussed there is more than enough evidence to contradict this infamous paper and a lot of them centre around the the inability of mathematics to nullify human greed and inequality. Furthermore, Orcutt’s paper delivers important details regarding cryptocurrency: it’s vulnerability arises from the same source of the human using the currency and although there are ground breaking attempts to use A.I and newer more and more complex math so as to secure the blockchain from corruption; it remains prone to hacking.

Does this not lead us back to Marx and his initial attack on financial ideology. Marx’s ideas regarding the universality of money and the general formula for Kapital continuously contribute to this discussion; as they have since the moment Marx wrote them. Marx uses a symbol symbolism to discuss the dynamic and the circuit capital produced at the onset of modernism. C for Commodity and M for Market are used to show certain relations between the two.[9] But we might appropriate them to clarify the need for universal basic income. Marx describes two forms of relations. ‘C-M-C starts with one commodity and ends with another… Consumption, the satisfaction of wants, in one word, use-value, is its end and aim. The circuit M-C-M, on the contrary, commences with money and ends with money’ presenting us with use value and exchange value. What is Bitcoin’s true aim to bring them together? Or to neutralise the commodity leaving just the market M-M-M?

It would certainly seem like the trouble maker is the commodity with its anthropomorphism, its capacity to draw from human’s an un-weilding power to influence and captivate. But is this commencing with money and ending with money even possible? The basic answer and argument is a yes because it follows from a simple logic that money is a human construct and so therefore under our power? Yet, this is a hasty simplification of a giant contemporary problem. From my perspective it is more than feasible but it requires the ability for all of us and by all I mean every single living being to agree to giving over power to a new Leviathan; a global government that rules over earth’s inhabitants. Such a proposal is hard and nigh impossible to believe but belief and security in the tried and tested are being put under pressure. There are major hurdles to this but we must consider a few possibilities or things that also contribute to our discussion and it is our discussion as it was in the United Kingdom that cash machines and ATMS first came into usage. It was a Barclays machine at the Enfield branch opened on June 27th 1967.

Such a fact gives us impetus to continue our thinking about how to resolve global inequality. For there is an urgency, year and year the human population grows and year by year unjust differences increase. I see no reason why we cant implement a system whereby everyone has welfare because they do not live in poverty as living citizens they are guaranteed a living wage regardless of job and position. Such a thought is not idealism it is a necessary part of a future human reality and it encompasses some very difficult hurdles. To bring about an equality that Block-chain technology promises (remembering that this technology is still in its youth) society’s work patterns and cultures will have to also change. A major barrier is the notion of ownership: how to retain the positive feeling this brings but without the propensity for greed? In the future work the notion of career should be cycle based and so a person rotates different jobs every year. Basically ensuring that a meritocracy and democracy is maintained. Next to this, work becomes optional, you can work for more money but this has a maximum capacity; the ability to horde wealth is stopped.

One major argument against this is that it is in our nature to be selfish and there is some evidence to suggest that altruism arises from selfishness (see George Price equation), yet this ignores other facts that seem to support radical change. For example, mathematical equations provide a truth in relation to nature but this thing we call nature is constantly also subject to revision and so thinking through ideas and forms that have an impact upon the economy is what we need to be doing. I have been fascinated by a simple perspective: if we observe the Price equation, an equation that tracks the growth and retention of a given quality in a population, then we can take the information (selfishness > altruism) and develop methodologies that lead to a greater understanding of this. Perhaps this suggests that over-consumption will lead to more friendly behaviour; the idea being that if my needs are met then the needs of others become more relevant. This is wishful thinking indeed but perhaps could be possible iff technology enables the production and recycling of commodities so they become more public and less private. This does not mean free but it implies that the exchange and use of a given thing are drawn closer together and so mirror wider social change. This is of course also dependent on a democratic use of technology like 3d-printing and intelligent design.

The contrasting idea is one of a luxury increase accessing Markets and un-regulate capitalism so that everyone lives in abundance. This idea does not provide a future as secure and as attainable as it might appear and instead unbridled capitalism makes an abuse of human desire, and our ability to use this force in a healthy way. Some thinkers, such as Frenchmen Gilles Deleuze and Georges Battaile have theorised that this be so and production is explosively unavoidable. In a book by English philosopher Nick Land one has confronted the idea that the storing of information is necessarily one of isolation and explosive. The formula of Bataille’s economy that Land uses describes how expenditure always exceeds acquisition and how this is indifferent and leads to isolation. But, I choose to read this continuously different communication as arising from the isolation and as the only immediate way we can overcome such unhelpful notions. This also includes a highly relevant discussion on the nature of information and whether or not it is entropic or negentropic; whether or not it privileges chaos or order? Physically we have understood that the past appears as ordered and in the future it is opposite but this is perhaps too reductive a perspective on information and indeed moves us towards pushing for a reversal of this polarity; so that information in the future can be re-ordered and resist decay and corruption?

formula

Here we return to Hegel who rightly stated that truth is not minted and does not reside or has never resided in a bank. Instead the development of rationality in our own time leads us naturally to desire a new state. Hegel, though does not contain answers, like every philosopher he generates more problems. Frankly his thoughts on Asia are outdated but his master slave dialectic and infamous ‘work of the negative’ may indeed have more work to do. Taking all this into account then surely we can conclude that when it comes to money and the economy we need to generate an ideology and ethos that sets our global communities and cultures of exchange not continuing on the narrative of mass production/consumption but rather a system by which the total number of living beings are not subjected to brutal losses by the greed of others. In other words if only it was possible to play a non zero sum game? Is there really such thing as perfect information? I sincerely hope so, as I am not proud of my country of birth as a recent report on poverty by the United Nations discovered one of the most historically influential of nations has left a large swathe of its residents in unforgivable material situations. If all else fails we can always resort to being Saboteurs in the original dutch meaning of throwing wooden shoes sabots into the machinery?


[1] I am not going to mention China’s usage of paper money in the 7th century A.D here because I do not have access to the relevant information and therefore can not offer a commentary on the success or failures of this change of currency. Although, it happened so long ago only adding more time to this problematic time.

[2] Esther Leslie. (2005),Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry, Reaktion Books, London. 89-92

[3] Ibid. Hegel, Preface for The Phenomenology of Spirit.

[4] Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoin: A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System,

[5] Liam Kelly. (03.06.2019), I Larped as a Monero Developer and It Ended in Tears, [www.Breakermag.com] 

[6] The difference being one is innate and subconscious (kleinian) and the other a conscious choice (fantasy).

[7] https://breakermag.com/trapped-at-sea-with-cryptos-nouveau-riche/

[8] Mike Orcutt. (2019), Once hailed as unhackable blockchains are now getting hacked, MIT Technological Review.

[9] Karl Marx. (2008), Capital, Oxford World Classics, OUP.94-95  

 

 

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