These days I am spending quite a lot of time writing about Libra as an economist — what are the implications for the financial system? What is likely to happen in emerging markets? Who will regulate what? And so on. I wish I were not thinking about any of this, because on a deeper level Libra makes me sad.
It’s like punk rock in 1994. One day there is an underground culture with disruptive ideas, which produces pointed, radical social criticism and inspires people to question everything. And then, it goes mainstream overnight. People who have never heard about the DYI ethic are buying records from Epitaph. Bands become big, the culture gets diluted, and for every new kid who eventually decides to dig a bit deeper into the original values there are ten Neanderthals who take up skateboarding to get the girls, ruining the whole scene with their posturing and aggression.
Libra poses the same problem, on an incredibly larger scale. A number of brilliant people, too independent in their way of thinking to be interested in the mainstream in any way, have given their best efforts to crpyto, something that was born to undermine any and all concentrations of power. Now, Facebook and a group of other large corporations will reap the rewards. It’s something between theft and a monstruous transplant, which unfortunately has a good chance of working.
And yes, I know that not all of crypto is pure. Part of the community degenerated into a frat house, with people obsessing over get-rich-quick schemes and fancy cars, not to mention the criminal element. That is an issue with punk rock too. Not everybody is Greg Graffin, and there are plenty of kids who go to shows exclusively to get drunk or high and get into fights. But at their authentic core, these movements aspire to promote the uniqueness and exceptionality of individuals vis-à-vis commercially viable homogeneity and complacency in the face of any status quo. Ultimately, they were born as bastions against stupidity and banality.
So, today I feel bad for Satoshi, for Vitalik, and all the other crypto pioneers who ended up working for Facebook for free. I feel bad every time I hear officials say “stablecoin” without knowing the BUIDL song or who Amir is — or, even worse, dismissing crypto’s origins as “liberarian trope”. Like I felt bad when my classmates would listen to punk without understaning why some musicians painted or taped X’s on their hands.
The mainstream will never let countercultures well enough alone, if it can make a buck off them. Becoming popular is not always a win, not if all ethics get thrown out the window — which Facebook has quite a high chance of doing.
[please note that this was written in an exclusively personal capacity]