Barry E. James is a tech pioneer, who chairs the British Blockchain & Frontier Technologies Association (bbfta.org).
Taking us into the Uncharted Waters beyond the Nation-State
We are in uncharted waters. Beyond the nation-state. Beyond money as we know it, and what we do next will set the course for humanity for perhaps a thousand years or more. For good or ill. The big question, which I raised and we debated two weeks ago at London Fintech Week, was posed again this week in the US Senate hearings on Libra. The outcome will be the money we get, that will form all our future.
In what is the biggest opportunity of our lifetime, and probably many generations to come, money is now being remade. It's being remade global - in the image of the internet.
If ever there was a major opportunity for technology to do good or ill for humanity then this is it.
This week in the USA congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked the key question of David Marcus CEO of Facebook’s Calibra: “is currency a public good”. After he answered a different question, about sovereignty and regulation, several times, she concluded, significantly, that his answer was a no.
Meanwhile at the G7 the central bankers and guardians of the status quo have woken up to the fact that as money becomes global it will be different - not least because it cannot be controlled by any nation state.
“Regarding systemic concerns, [G7] ministers and governors agreed that projects such as Libra may affect monetary sovereignty and the functioning of the international monetary system”
Money has been the unchallenged province of the nation state since its existence. Perhaps surprisingly, this is only a few hundred years since about 1600. As Dr Jane Thomason has pointed out we tend to assume that it is settled as the natural order of things, but there is no certainty that this will be the order for the future.
“The sovereignty of nations cannot be jeopardised … The overall mood around the table was clearly one of important concerns about the recent Libra announcements, and a shared view that action is needed urgently.” France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire at the G7
So like it or not we're breaking new ground, on a global basis. And after ten years, some might say ten largely wasted years as far as this is concerned, of cryptocurrencies fragmenting and never getting close to what many assumed was their birthright - mass adoption - this is now on the near horizon. But not as we imagined it.
“The nation state is a relatively new concept in history, emerging only in the 1600s. There is no reason to believe that nation states will lead us inexorably into the future. With the internet blurring borders and national systems transitioning to global systems the traditional ways of defining a nation state are being eroded.“ Dr Jane Thomason
“This could be heaven or this could be hell”
The dream was for a global emancipation through decentralisation. The reality of what is happening is regulatory capture. Not just of Libra, but the entire concept and opportunity for mankind.
Libra would bring us a global conglomerate of super-national corporates working the first and possibly dominant global currency, given Facebook’s reach, for the aims they deem appropriate for us all.
Given the wake-up call that is happening that may not be allowed to happen, but in any case the genie of global money is now out of the fintech bottle. With massive implications for the world, its people, us all.
We are all in uncharted waters.
Nor is this something to be left to the experts, central banks, governments, nation states or even the UN - much less the G7, G8 or G20 - or the USA. Even apart from other considerations they are incumbents, with no remit for this.
This is the only opportunity in our lifetime, maybe ever, to fight for, and get, a Yes: Democratic money. Money that is run by the people, for the people - without all the false charges, rents, backdoors and syphons taken now by banks, governments and the established financial system.
As congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aptly put it: Money for the public good.
© Copyright Barry E James, July 2019
This, of course, begs the question: What next?
About Barry James
Barry E. James is a tech pioneer, writer, serial entreprenur and changemaker in Blockchain, Fintech, Crowdfunding and Medtech who chairs the British Blockchain & Frontier Technologies Association (bbfta.org).
Recognised internationally as a thought leader, championing innovation - including smarter regulation. He writes for City AM, hosts ICOrad.io, is co-chair of the Westminster Frontier Technologies Forum and is a visiting Fellow at the University of Portsmouth Business School.