You may have heard of bitcoin. But you may not have heard of the underlying technology that powers bitcoin — the blockchain.
The blockchain is a genuine technological breakthrough — it enables reliable and secure economic transactions between individuals without the need of a trusted intermediary, or third party.
The (long) history of money is deeply entwined with the state and taxation. The state is a supra-individual institution that enforces the reliability and security of its currency, and also demands payment of taxes in this currency. In this context, the state is big brother par excellence — it’s the ultimate trusted third party.
Some economists, such as Chartalists, looking at this history, have concluded that money (with determinate value) is impossible without the state. Bitcoin is an important counter-example.
Bitcoin and blockchain was invented by libertarian computer scientists. Libertarians (who should really be called Propertarians) dislike the state. With bitcoin they successfully demonstrated that machines (computers/algorithms) can function as trusted third parties in economic transactions. The state isn’t needed.
The majority of the bitcoin/blockchain community is libertarian and/or profoundly pro-capitalist in outlook. They are blind to the essential act of theft that is at the heart of capitalist property relations. So much of the energy of the community is focused on making existing property relations more efficient.
But it turns out that there’s a great deal to say about the potential application of blockchain-like technologies to building socialist institutions. Here’s a talk I gave on this topic in 2015 in Oxford, UK (which, I would like to add, was before it hit mainstream attention …)