Here at CoinDesk, we use the term “crypto-adjacent” to categorize stories that aren’t about cryptocurrency or blockchains per se but illustrate the problems these technologies attempt to solve.
By covering these stories, we are not necessarily claiming Bitcoin, crypto or blockchain “fixes this” (it may well not, given scaling and other challenges). But they disprove the canard that decentralization is “a solution searching for a problem.” As I often say, blockchain may not always be the answer, but it asks the right questions.
In that spirit, I’d like to turn readers’ attention to two passages I consider crypto-adjacent in a recent essay by Scott Alexander, the polymath whose return to blogging is one of the highlights of 2021 so far. Inferior writers to whom I will not link have taken sadistic delight in referring to him by the government name he failed terribly at keeping a secret. But he will always be Scott Alexander to me.
Marc Hochstein is CoinDesk’s executive editor. The views expressed are his own, so please don’t blame his colleagues. This article is excerpted from The Node (formerly Blockchain Bites), CoinDesk’s daily roundup of the most pivotal stories in blockchain and crypto news. You can subscribe to get the full newsletter here.
For context, the essay‘s conceit is Alexander offering the U.S. Republican Party unsolicited advice: It should build on Donald Trump’s legacy by emphasizing the class differences between his blue-collar Middle American supporters, who now make up the GOP’s base, and the coastal elites who now define the reigning Democrats. One suspects that Alexander is trolling his fellow Biden voters more than the opposition party.
Free the prediction markets!
The first crypto-adjacent part comes when Alexander proposes a policy agenda that would undermine the power of bogus experts who use fancy university degrees as a justification to lord it over the masses. He writes:
Your solution will be prediction markets. Yes, really. Repeal all bans on prediction markets and give tax breaks for participating in them, until they have the same kind of liquidity as the S&P500. You’ll get a decentralized, populist, credentialism-free, market-based alternative to expertise.
Alexander goes on to make it clear that this part of the essay, at least, is not trolling:
I’m serious about this one. … Prediction markets – an un-biasable, decentralized form of aggregating expert and non-expert opinion correctly – are the only solution I can imagine working.
What makes this crypto-adjacent, you may ask? As CoinDesk’s Ben Powers and Brady Dale wrote last year, prediction markets “have much in common with those interested in cryptocurrencies and decentralized technology – a distrust of hierarchical systems, a penchant for iconoclastic thinking and the questioning of assumed authorities.” Plus, some fledgling PMs either run on blockchain systems (like Augur) or at crypto exchanges (like FTX).
As far as I can tell, there’s no Beltway think tank or trade group lobbying for prediction markets – so it wouldn’t be crazy for Coin Center or the Blockchain Association to diversify into this area. Alexander has already written the bare bones of a policy proposal for you!
A Louboutin, stamping on a human face forever
The other salient passage for CoinDesk’s audience comes when Alexander counsels Republicans to lean into their distrust of the mainstream media (which he impishly suggests they refer to as “upper-class media”). From there it’s a quick segue to egging on an ever-more-populist GOP against the big centralized internet platforms:
Insist that working-class people have the right to communicate with each other without interference from upper-class gatekeepers.
What a great line! It makes a delicious retort to the people who not only loathe and avoid forums like Gab or Parler (as is their right, and as Alexander almost certainly does) but go out of their way to prevent anyone else from using them. They do this by pressuring mobile app stores, payment processors or even web infrastructure providers to sever ties with the forums.
Granted, this is not violating anyone’s First Amendment constitutional rights. For all their outsized power, Twitter, Facebook, Google and their ilk have the right to freedom of association, even if they exercise it for the most spineless of reasons, and even if the modern-day Terri Rakoltas badgering them would not extend the same right to devout religious bakeries.
But as Alexander slyly suggests, much of the deplatforming that’s happened lately, viewed through the lens of America’s ongoing political realignment, is arguably a form of class warfare.
Protecting our democracy from misinformation and hate speech? Nah, dude, you’re preventing everyday people from communicating with each other.
Does crypto fix this? Well, platforms like Twetch are trying to use the technology to that end. We shall see. This much is clear: Bitcoin is the only way Gab gets paid, apart from old-fashioned checks.
If Bitcoin is there for Gab today, it’ll be there for Antifa or BLM or Planned Parenthood if any of them needs it the next time the pendulum swings.