Blockchain Technology Can Reshape Work

11/09/2019

I have been reading Blockchain Revolution by Don and Alex Tapscott recently – at an admittedly slow pace, I’ve had a lot of reading to get through for university – and researching blockchain elsewhere. It’s a bizarre read, not because I don’t understand the concept of blockchain, but because the authors appear pro-capitalism while so many of the benefits they have talked about so far lend themselves more towards abolishing it piece by piece.

One of the basic concepts associated with libertarian socialism or Marxist theory is that those who work the factories (in industrial times) ought to own them, and that people should be paid for the labour they do/produce, not given a wage while the profits of that labour goes elsewhere. There are countless modern examples of this, including factories and warehouses today owned by companies like Nike or Amazon, where the workers are paid an abysmal amount for the work they do while the corporations and owners splash in insane profit margins.

Other examples include things like the music industry or the gig economy jobs (such as Uber or Airbnb). Yes, the musicians earn money, as do drivers or those renting out rooms, but a cut of the payments go elsewhere. Not only that, but a lot of customer data, particularly on social media sites, is monetised by these companies. Data is one of the (if not the) most profitable assets out there, and we’re allowing others to profit off our data whilst invading our privacy. (I’ll probably write more on the data stuff in a later post).

In the book, they explain how an Airbnb style company would work on the blockchain, and it very much calls for the decentralisation of the platform and the profits being made by the individuals who rent the rooms. A similar situation could take place with Uber – what if Uber, or all transport services for that matter, were decentralised (made public), or even owned by those who worked as drivers, and rather than a cut of each trip done being taken, the drivers earned the full amount for the service they delivered?

I would assume these companies are very concerned about the potential blockchain has to disrupt their own previously disruptive business models.

Where I am confused about the author’s attachment to capitalism, however, is there love-hate relationship with the idea of corporations. On one hand, they’re talking about completely dismantling it to the benefit of the workers, and on the other they talk about how corporations can transform to take advantage of blockchain technology – but in a way that very much suggests decentralisation and the abolition of corporate hierarchies. Maybe I’m not quite understanding their logic, but they don’t exactly follow mainstream capitalist ideas.

They say that rather than redistributing wealth as we do now, by which, I assume, they mean through taxation, the changes they are suggesting lead towards changing how wealth is distributed in the first place. I can’t recall where I heard the quote from, or if I have is exactly right, but it reminds me of this:

“If wealth has to be redistributed, then it wasn’t being distributed properly in the first place.”

Topics of public services like healthcare, public transport, education, etc. as well as automation (think self-driving vehicles) are beyond the scope of this piece, as I haven’t read much into that specifically and I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion to look into. Would “public” services be required if wealth was distributed appropriately in the first place? Decentralised (in this case owned by the community) hospitals, for example, run collectively by the staff and medical practitioners sounds like a brilliant idea, but does the community pitch in, similar to taxes, or do they pay when they need care?

That hospital bit was just an idea while writing, not something I’ve thought about, and I’m fine saying I don’t know the answers to those kinds of questions yet (admittedly it’s also quite late at time of writing).

This was more of an impromptu ideas piece, but blockchain itself is very promising as a technology. In later pieces there are other topics brought up in this book, such as data as a business and corporate control over the internet and associated technologies, that I think would be worth discussing. But for now, suffice to say that, despite the capitalist/corporate slant that appears to be dominating blockchain discussion, it lends itself extremely well towards actually setting off a class revolution through technology.

 

Liked this? A different type of revolution: Lenin and the Russian Revolution: A Reflection Pt.1

Previous piece: Quick Quips: No Conscience

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