By its very nature, crypto attracts all walks of life. Participation in the digital economy registers across age demographics, and enjoys representation throughout the political spectrum. This makes sense when considering the motivations that lead people to take their value outside of traditional markets. The ongoing uncertainty and lack of accountability for TradFi’s bad actors continue to be sources of anxiety for retail customers. Bitcoin’s genesis block best captures this mood through explicit mention of the failures that transpired following the 2008 global financial crisis. From its onset, this skepticism and hope for a system that puts people ahead of privileged insiders was baked into crypto’s source code.
However, the response from early enthusiasts within the crypto space set a tone that eschewed most aspects of traditional finance, including the scant protections that existed. Unfortunately, such “Wild West” thinking continues to draw negative attention from regulators while re-establishing an individualist pecking order that remains an albatross for traditional finance. While Satoshi Yakamoto’s white paper preaches “trustless” transactions on a peer-to-peer network, it does not suggest participants should silo themselves in opposition to the broader community (see the BTC genesis block). Rather, allowing a mindset predicated on self-interest to take root risks polluting the inherent potential of crypto’s innovative technology. Like many instances in the real world, emphasis on the individual frequently holds back progress on a systemic level, even in instances where those same individuals stand to gain. A great example, at least in the United States, is education.
In many U.S. communities, a portion of property taxes are allocated to schools within its zone. Along with funding for libraries and parks, these amenities aim to serve everyone and function as pillars of connection within a community. Too often, residents without children (and run-of-the-mill curmudgeons) will raise the argument that, since they experience no direct benefit from these tax-funded institutions, they shouldn’t have to contribute. It’s a somewhat sound argument if you squint because who needs the fire department when your house isn’t actively burning, right? What this umbrage fails to consider is how these investments are injected back into the community through a variety of means.
Obstinance to this process from well-off homeowners is inherently a net drain on the surrounding area despite its obvious benefits. Not only are homes situated closer to schools typically valued higher, but desirable (read: well-funded) districts can incite bidding wars that gallop prices well above market rates. And this is all before addressing the societal benefits that are created, which can have lasting effects on a macro level.
From a shrewd (read: economic) perspective, schools are job creators and serve as integral nodes that support a community’s potential to deploy a workforce across any number of industries. When properly resourced, schools reciprocate that value by offering a variety of programming that alleviates working parents, promotes social engagement for elderly citizens, and prepares subsequent generations for adult life. If your blood pressure is rising, pause and think of a teacher who helped you become the person you are today. Ask yourself: aren’t children more likely to succeed when they’re well-educated and supported?
Now imagine a society where cantankerous taxpayers get their way and retain their wealth without these contributions to the public good. Like us all, they eventually grow old. Nestled in their high-value homes after decades of denying resources to the surrounding blocks, they start to feel the walls closing in. Sure, they’re comfortable. But declining graduation rates have trickled up, making it difficult to find local home care that meets their unique needs. This is compounded by a rising lack of agency. At first, just driving at night is tricky.
But soon, the car is safest in park.
Homebound, they start to look around their neighborhood for outlets. Available resources that were viewed as plentiful, back when contributing to their longevity felt superfluous, have dried up. And where it was once unconscionable why anyone would go see a high school matinee of Bye Bye Birdie, such a social experience suddenly feels like a luxury.
From this commonly accessible vantage point, a two-pronged approach to reorienting the crypto ecosystem emerges: nurture a true sense of community and find points of commonality that rally solidarity among participants. Like the school example above, such a holistic approach could reimagine how networks interact and benefit in the digital economy by abandoning untoward self-interest. If business-as-usual ideology results in regular calamities and fraud in traditional finance (and, let’s be honest, crypto too), why replicate such norms? Why build an analogous system to the one whose colossal failure sparked Satoshi’s monumental breakthrough?
Rather than waiting until the house is on fire or we’re stuck longing for amateur theater, leaders need to think proactively about building solutions that account for crypto’s ultimate dream. Despite effective altruism proving itself to be little more than robber baron alimony for the digital age, Carnegie at least left libraries behind.
From equitably sharing the spoils to ceasing black hat trading techniques to rooting out opportunists who see the world as a mark, a new vision must rise from its ashes. This is both a big tent technological vision and a new covenant of values. To find firm global footing, crypto must retreat from gluttonous visions of wealth-at-all-costs if it hopes to survive compounding regulatory and consumer culls.
To achieve global adoption, crypto companies need to start conceiving of the ecosystem as a single organism whose success requires collaborative effort and investment. Whether this demands the development of new or better networks, true progress must be measured by our collective will to achieve financial freedom. No longer a zero-sum game, this is an opportunity for the best and brightest to determine which stars are within reach.
After watching how the class of Web 2.0 matured and the world they left behind, it’s clear that what comes next must truly aim to shift the cultural paradigm.
This article was originally published by Becky Sarwate on Hackernoon.