Another diem, another dollar

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Predictions are difficult, especially about the future of money.

I was rather surprised to see that when Bobba Fett was receiving the tribute at his magnificent palace on the planet Tatooine, one of the supplicants arrived with a chest full of coins. It seemed like a weird version of money in a world of hyperspeed, lightsabers, and antigravity landspeeders. I mean come on if you could send people through wormholes and harness the energy of suns you would surely be mining bitcoin or bobbacoin or forcecash and not messing with bronze age metallurgy .

I shouldn’t be too critical, I guess. The point is, it’s hard to think about the future of anything, given the nature of the interwoven technological and cultural evolution that could take us in so many different directions, but money poses a particular problem. . Look at Meta. They had all the resources in the world to create a new currency, but they failed to gain traction and eventually abandoned, sold the technology and joined the Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA), a consortium of companies (led by Jack Dorsey’s Block) that has pledged to refrain from enforcing cryptocurrency patents.

So what is the future of silver? Doubloons faster than light? Digital Fiat? Cryptocurrency? Non-fungible tokens? Who knows. Maybe we need to look back to look forward.

Paleopayment

I love looking at old predictions about the future not only because some are wrong and hilarious, others are right and scary (after all, like the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote in 1925, it’s the business of the future to be dangerous), but because trying to figure out why they’re right and why they’re wrong is a way to improve my own view of technological evolution and cultural dynamics. Understanding errors helps me refine my own projections. Yes, we didn’t get a Howard Johnson orbit in 2001, in other words, but what was behind the prediction in the first place? And why did the prediction turn out to be wrong?

That’s actually a hard question to answer, which is why I’m passionate about paleo-futurology, the study of what people thought of the future. The paleo-future of money and payments fascinates me and I’ve looked at the evolution of the payments industry in detail because I can’t help but think that an understanding of how it got to where it is should give an overview of where it is. then go. But I’m also interested in the story of what people thought about that future.

I just listened to a fascinating BBC discussion on the gold standard in which the host, the famous British broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, said that the “golden age” was the hundred years from 1870 to 1970 ( although in my book”Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin“I date specifically from 1871 and the beginning of electronic funds transfer services to 1971 and Richard Nixon’s decision to end the convertibility of the US dollar into gold.)

So what did people in this golden age think about the future of money? Well, one thing they thought about was payment cards. There is a fascinating discussion of this in a long forgotten text from 1886 called “Looking back, 2000-1887” by a certain Edward Bellamy. A Victorian time traveler, who arrived when “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a new movie, is told there’s no cash in the year 2000. Instead of this, it is said that the population uses “credit cards”.

(The narrator then goes on to describe what offline pre-authorized debit cards actually are, but whatever.)

Since in the same book Bellamy failed to predict television, computers, airplanes, and the knowledge economy, he makes a few other really insightful predictions about the evolution of money. When talking about an American traveling to Berlin, the future sage notes how convenient it is to use cards instead of foreign currencies, noting that “an American credit card is as good as gold American”.

He further reflects on the nature of money itself (anticipating the end of the gold standard and the post-Bretton Woods world) saying that the dollar “responds to nothing real, but merely serves as an algebraic symbol to compare product values”. with another”.

Interestingly, writing in this golden age, money as an “algebraic symbol for comparing the values ​​of commodities” was an impressive leap and must have seemed confusing to readers.

(A more troubling question comes up later in the book, however, when Edward asks his 21st century host:

“Are credit cards issued to women as well as men? »

and we say

“Certainly.”

It’s a fine example of how science fiction isn’t really about the future, but about the present: the “certainly” line is clearly meant to shock Bellamy readers as much as the glass tunnels that surround sidewalks when it rains are meant to delight them, and that’s a far more interesting and far more important prediction than the existence of cash cards themselves.

Predictions

Although he planned to use cards instead of bullion, Bellamy assumed that tourists would still use US dollars. But if we take the artificially intelligent quantum blockchain in the cloud as the platform for money in the coming era, then what does that mean? Dollars again?

Will we all really be on a cryptocurrency standard, a deflationary gold standard redux back to the future, with the power of black holes redirected to mining to ensure that half of all the energy of the known universe or will we be in the world of Star Wars with a “galactic credit“Is that universally accepted? Doesn’t seem fair to me. A single currency doesn’t really work between Germany and Greece, so how I don’t see how it would work between Earth and LV-426.

Alternatively, will we find ourselves in the hippie world of Star Trek with its post-abundance economy and no money at all except the gold-pressed Ferengi latinum, valuable because it’s the only substance replicators can’t reproduce, just like bitcoin has value because it’s the only software that can’t be copied?

What if money as we know it disappeared as a transactional medium of exchange, as Matt Harris wrote here at Forbes? It will take us to a world where counterparties’ digital identities and their tamper-proof reputations become the fundamental enabler of transactions, promoting identity providers into the crucial position occupied by central banks today, which is why Juniper Research is probably conservative with their recent estimate that digital identity provider revenues will more than double from now to exceed $50 billion globally within five years.

I don’t know any more than Mark Zuckerberg what the future of money will be like, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be more radical than a vault of gold pressed Latinum coins or a stablecoin for avatars of Big The virtual world of Tech.

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