On Decentralization: Rethinking Commerce in the Political Economy

Tyler Sack
August 6, 2019.

Karl Marx continues to be one the most influential theorists to research the political economy and his work is key in understanding the critical analysis of capitalism including the division of class, exploitation of labour, and power relations caused by the ownership and conflict over means of production. 

Throughout his body of work, Marx analyzed the aspect of capitalism where the majority of people have had to sell their labour because they did not own the means of production, and in the pursuit of profit, have been alienated from their work and exploited by the owners. The idea of alienation is what separates people from their work where they are hired to perform specialized roles and negotiate a level of exploitation that is acceptable. Eventually people become isolated from their work, and accept that the power relations are legitimate, even if they feel that they are unfair.

Other social theorists like Foucault have gone on to further articulate ideas around self-governance and internalization of power and authority, but I think Marx’s idea of alienation from work and labour is relevant to the driving force behind cryptocurrency and the decentralization of money.

By using banks we have become alienated from our own money. We generally don’t question why we should use banks because they are institutions that we need to establish credit and borrow in a society that operates on debt. We rarely ask why we have to pay to access our own money, but these institutions continue because there haven’t been alternatives to participating in the economy without one, just other banks.

Upon first hearing of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency I struggled to understand why people were pushing a system of decentralized money. By removing our money from banks and embracing cryptocurrency there is an opportunity to address the powerlessness of people who are being exploited for their debt. There is an opportunity to provide access for people to participate in the economy without a bank and for those same people to demonstrate their activity, income, and credit.

The idea is new, innovative, and uncertain. Globally there are roughly 2 billion people without a bank account and are unable to participate in the economy. We can evaluate how well the new system is at monitoring economic activity and perhaps see some major improvements with our current banking systems or development of blockchain technology that out-innovates banks. Though I don’t think this is the emancipation from capitalism that Marx foresaw, we may be less alienated with our money once decentralization is a viable option.

For Orenda, this represents a critical juncture in how society functions online and there are many aspects of cryptocurrency that we are monitoring and analyzing. We will be sharing insights into how people perceive cryptocurrency over the next few weeks in our series on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency.