Thursday , May 24 2018
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The death of the Bitcoin coder

Summary:
One of the few ideas in literary theory that made its way across the chasm that separates me from it is the notion of the ‘death of the author’.  By analogy with the original idea, with no more than a cursory link to the Wikipedia entry and disregarding Barthes and subsequent scholarship as irrelevant, I will take this to refer to the observation that whatever the intentions of the author in writing a text, the effective meaning and substance of it is in how it presents itself to the mass of readers. We could say the same about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.  ‘What Bitcoin is for’ is a frequent topic of discussion.  This is a difficult question to address conclusively. We could ask ourselves what Satoshi Nakamoto thought Bitcoin was for, and consult as evidence his white paper

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One of the few ideas in literary theory that made its way across the chasm that separates me from it is the notion of the ‘death of the author’.  By analogy with the original idea, with no more than a cursory link to the Wikipedia entry and disregarding Barthes and subsequent scholarship as irrelevant, I will take this to refer to the observation that whatever the intentions of the author in writing a text, the effective meaning and substance of it is in how it presents itself to the mass of readers.

We could say the same about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.  ‘What Bitcoin is for’ is a frequent topic of discussion.  This is a difficult question to address conclusively.

We could ask ourselves what Satoshi Nakamoto thought Bitcoin was for, and consult as evidence his white paper on Bitcoin.  But once Bitcoin code was written and operationalised, and the protocols evolved, what he thought it was for is less relevant.  Nakamoto cannot control what Bitcoin is for now, any more than the workers at Los Alamos could dictate what nuclear weapons were ‘for’ once the recipe was known more widely.

From the perspective of miners and many holders, it may be nothing more than an opportunity to make money out of those willing to part with something of real worth.

For some users it is no doubt an instrument to facilitate crime.  For others participants Bitcoin maybe a political or intellectual hobby taking a kind of material form.  The subject in my experience tends to draw to it futurologists, techno-optimists and anti-state libertarians like moths to a lamp.  What Bitcoin is for is in that sense subjective, will differ from person to person, and over time.

By the same token, [excuse the pun], the fact that Bitcoin has not fulfilled many of purposes projected onto it by its original enthusiasts does not negate the fact that those intentions were sincerely held, and that they remain latent possibilities.

Bitcoin may yet turn into a currency, or tame the characteristics of existing currencies;  its distributed ledger technology may yet disintermediate some of the thing its fans hope it will.  The tens of millions being spent by existing large financial intermediaries – an irony probably not foreseen by Nakamoto or the originalists – may yet unearth something that Bitcoin indeed will be for.

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Tony Yates
Economist. Consulting, lecturing, a book. Ex Prof at Bham, Ex BoE staffer. Macro, policy, monetary econ, occasional nonsense.

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