Hugo Rifkind tries out the digital currency (“you can buy drugs with it!”) and considers its implications:
Soon, whether via Bitcoin or whatever comes next, it will be possible to strip banking away from bankers, and money away from governments. Anecdotally, many suggest that the recent surges in Bitcoin value have had a lot to do with the seizing of bank accounts in Cyprus, with people in other wobbly eurozone banking systems (chiefly Spain) looking for a cheap and easy way to send their money somewhere else. Whether or not this is quite true (it could just be the result of hype, bollocks and credulous fools like me), Bitcoin is certainly a cheap and easy way to move money around the globe. And sure, when you buy them or sell them, traditional banking and taxation structures can get their claws into you. But what if you didn’t have to?
This doesn’t mean that certain groups won’t still have disproportionate power over currency—but instead of those groups being bankers and governments, they’ll be “very clever programmer types” who will be kept honest because “everything they do is being scrutinised by other programmer types, because none of them have anything better to do, because they don’t have girlfriends.”
Jokes aside, there’s an interesting point about political theory here. Individualism until now has been largely the product of a symbiotic relationship between the individual (who wants to be freed from compelling ecclesiastical, tribal, commercial, and other authorities) and the state (which justifies itself by circumscribing all other authorities and giving the individual freedom to do anything that doesn’t conflict with the state itself). If you didn’t have states, you wouldn’t have individualism as we know it. But what if individualism is viable in a truly peer-to-peer fashion, where the institution that supports individualism is a network rather than a state? I’m skeptical of libertarian techno-utopianism, but it’s worth pondering whether communications networks could become an orienting institution like that state now is and the church and the tribe once were.