Cryptonetworks for Labor

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George Zarkadakis:

"After the free-for-all of the 1990s, and the consolidation of the 2000s, a new, third era of internet evolution is being ushered in by ‘cryptonetworks’. Such platforms are decentralised by nature. Participants purchase and consume tokens (or ‘crypto-coins’) for their transactions on the network, which reaches a settled consensus or record-book of those transactions without the need for a central authority. These two factors – tokens and consensus – result in a democratic and communitarian governance model that was previously impossible without the presence of a trusted third party. And significantly, participants have a right to exit the network whenever they wish by simply selling their tokens, or coins, or – in extreme cases – by ‘hard-forking’ the blockchain, adopting new rules for how to settle the ledger while leaving the old version unchanged.

Cryptonetworks show that it’s feasible for workers to self-organise and build their own platforms – where they are the bosses, income is distributed equitably, and profits and losses are shared. In this collectivist scenario, workers might decide that their mission is to safeguard jobs, offer health insurance or pension funds, and improve employees’ quality of life. The dynamics of tokens make the interests of the participants align around common aspirations and goals, since the appreciation of their tokens comes through the growth of the network.

We’re in the early days of cryptonetworks. They’re still plagued by serious technical shortcomings, notably scalability and performance. Blockchains cannot, at present, process the huge number of transactions that centralised software systems can; and for technical reasons, the amount of energy it takes to secure a transaction on the blockchain increases over time. So why be optimistic that cryptonetworks might be the platforms of the future?

One reason is that centralised platforms are becoming stifling for developers. With a blinkered focus on how to monetise user data through machine learning, apps from the big tech companies are becoming less and less imaginative. Software developers have grown frustrated with the App Store and Google Play, which require approval in order to publish an application. The economics of platform collectivism offer much greater freedom and reward than the winner-takes-all approach of platform capitalism.

In the future, one can imagine an interconnected ecosystem of collectivist groups that provide services and produce goods. Where once there was a corporation, instead we find a network of cells that have expunged hierarchies and collaborate for the common good – ride-sharing services linked up to peer-to-peer lending and medical and health providers. The traditional structure of the firm might have reached its use-by date. But if societies can embrace the economics of the platform while shifting its ownership to workers, a more equitable, resilient and democratic society could well be in store." (