Jens Albers is a humanitarian filmmaker and the co-founder of chain2change, a blockchain startup seeking to reinvent charitable giving.
In this CoinDesk opinion piece, Albers examines how he believes the rise of populism in politics could be undone by blockchain technology.
At a time when one of the world’s most influential countries is run by an unpredictable billionaire who explores Twitter as an instrument for foreign politics and openly confronts individuals, political leaders and companies, it is a given that there is uncertainty about what will happen next.
During the past few weeks, we have seen a great number of odd examples of what this kind of ‘post-truth’ world can bring, one where sentiment all too often overrules facts.
Rationality is wiped off the map with a tweet, and any thorough investigation is ignored with irrational discussions.
Populism is flourishing, not only in the USA, but also in Europe. This can take the form of a “Wall with Mexico” (US), a “We’re fed up with experts” (Brexit) or a “Gutmensch” during the refugee crisis in Germany.
In this new world, the elite is the enemy. Simplifications and buzzwords are the new 140-characters-style manifestations of politics.
Blockchain as a buzzword
So, where does ‘blockchain’ fit into all of this?
As a very complicated, technical topic, there are also signs it could become something of a political football. Permissioned or permissionless, there are lots of different transformational and creative blockchain applications, but confusion is still widespread.
In Italy, the Five Star Movement political party led by Beppe Grillo, a former comedian, has started to use blockchain as a buzzword for its purposes.
As he commented humorously in an interview on the suspension of Federico Pizzarotti:
“We’re working on a project, the so-called blockchain for the encrypted information. It is very interesting, you have an algorithm and there are no intermediaries. If the blockchain could be used in politics that would be very interesting, so if a Parliament Member you voted for does not follow the program he or she would be automatically expelled.”
OK, this was a joke by the (former) comedian, but it still sounds rather frightening.
So, where is blockchain as a buzzword in all of this? And what does it mean for the future development of blockchain? Ironically, it is the Trump presidency that may have the most impact on the dialogue surrounding the technology.
Donald Trump and his team just appointed a major advocate of bitcoin and blockchain, Mick Mulvaney, as the US Budget Director.
The statement on this appointment is remarkable from a blockchain point of view.
Trump has even said in a statement:
“With Mick at the head of OMB, my Administration is going to make smart choices about America’s budget, bring new accountability to our federal government, and renew the American taxpayer’s trust in how their money is spent!”
Of course, it is not clear if Trump actually wants to provide clarity on how public money is actually being spent.
To think he intends to track taxpayer money on a blockchain may be just a naive wish (remember, he doesn’t even want the public to see the finances of his own charity or company).
Yet, it is an interesting signal to the industry.
While this may signal signs of optimism, it seems obvious that Donald Trump will certainly not list blockchain technology as one of his priorities.
Here, however, there is a large ‘BUT’.
Trump is a big fan of cutting regulations in the financial sector. During the election campaign, he made an almost utopian promise to abolish 70% of federal regulations.
Even if this figure comes to only 10% (as his adviser Anthony Scaramucci implies) this would be a significant step towards simplifying financial transactions and giving more freedom for cryptocurrency entrepreneurs.
Mulvaney himself has already established a blockchain caucus in the congress last September.
Of course, there is no guarantee that this caucus will lead to concrete results and promotion of blockchain projects. However, it increases the likelihood that blockchain projects can get in touch with government and potential investors.
This could be the beginning of real progress.
The ‘B’ word
Another reason blockchain could flourish under Trump has to do with capital flight.
Bitcoin, after all, invented blockchain technology, and although its blockchain involves a lot more features than financial transactions may want, it is still important for the image of blockchain projects – especially from the perspective of the public opinion.
A Trump presidency, as mentioned above, involves a great deal of uncertainty for many parties in economic terms, and this uncertainty could lead to interest in alternative assets.
The majority might consider gold as a safe harbor for their money, but many speculative investors could begin to pay close attention to bitcoin.
An asset that is (still) independent from specific countries and their policy, and which is outside of a possible political and economic ice age of the US with other countries (for example, China).
The end of fake news
What can we conclude from these indicators?
For one, populism creates the conditions for repeatable buzzwords to propogate. As a movement, it tends to favor this ideology over more complex processes, and it can be difficult to tell if the users of these buzzwords want real change.
In the case of blockchain, however, this is irrelevant, since any discussion about it is likely to lead to development and change.
As you are likely to remember, the more you talk about blockchain, the more it encourages thought and development.
The irony in the end is, that the decentralized approach and the philosophy behind blockchain could also make it easier to verify and confirm the truth.
On a long enough timeline, it could even help bring an end to populism, fake news and half-truths.
In this light, I say let the populists use blockchain as a buzzword, if it means their own end. (Maybe, though, let’s not tell Trump what it’s really all about).
Strong man illustration via Shutterstock