Crypto-Current (031)

§3.1 — In its attachment to the principle of pure economic theory, fastidiously intolerant of even nominal political compromise, Bitcoin is an experiment in Austrianism. When allowance is made for its abstraction from metallic coinage, it is Mises as operational code. While the fact that Bitcoin is happening is radically novel, necessarily, because it can only now take place – in the age of public key cryptography and proof-of-work credentials – what is happening is not new at all, or at least, the monetary model that Bitcoin implements in software is not. In the words of Pierre Rochard: “As Bitcoin adoption increases we will finally be able to ‘empirically validate’ what Austrians have been arguing for decades: 100% reserve banking with a scarce medium of exchange prevents speculative manias, financial crises, and economic depressions”.*

§3.11 — Yet, while the offense to hard-money economic philosophies presented by inflationary fiat currency – which has nourished Austrian criticism since the 1930s – continues to feed support into the Bitcoin project, its central role has been displaced by, and subsumed into, the formulation of the DSP. Discretionary state money-printing is only one special case of the far more general economic incredibility of signs. Technological, rather than political-economic dynamics, have played the decisive role in bringing this problem to its point of productive crisis.

§3.12 — Even if digital dematerialization is only ever an approximation, its economic consequences are concrete, and drastic. Since the ‘materiality’ of any product tends to operate inertially, dampening proliferation, the attenuation of materiality corresponds to a process of acceleration. Exponential decline in information costs, as captured by Moore’s Law,** implies informational explosion. The trend corresponds to a second (and numerically tractable) sense of the ‘Californian Ideology’ war-cry: “information wants to be free”.*** If the concept of ‘liberty’ is irreducibly hazy and controversial, while also prone to irresolvable metaphysical complications, that of cost suppression is definite and quite precisely accountable. Evidently, the preservation of scarcity under conditions of digital instantiation is a peculiar challenge, for the obvious reason that electronics enables the replication of perfect copies at near-zero cost. Prior to the theorization of this problem in monetary terms, it had been noisily exhibited by disputes over the digital ‘piracy’ of media products, corresponding to an unprecedented practical crisis in the regime of intellectual property.

§3.13 — The final (or near-final) subtraction of substantial expense from money production is conceptually clarifying. It prompts – or sharpens – the demand for a solution to the central problem that has haunted money since its beginnings. Once the proliferation of signs is freed from all serious inhibition, semiotic tokens of scarcity are catapulted into a climax state of vulnerability, and the DSP is exposed with unprecedented starkness.**** It is here, at the furthest antipodes from metallic commodity money, that a peculiar folding – into simulation – restores the gold model to a central position in monetary theory, and, more consequentially, money production.***** It is precisely because Bitcoin no longer represents gold, however indirectly, that it is able to simulate gold, with such extreme (abstract) fidelity that it can be said – persuasively – to exceed gold in its most relevant monetary features, including even that of scarcity, alongside communicability, divisibility, and verifiability. As a simulation, Bitcoin necessarily produces an artificial substantiality in the course of its solution to the DSP, and ultimately as its solution. The critique of duplicity is indistinguishable from an ontological experiment.

§3.14 — The DSP originates from a ‘fact’ so basic that it crosses from the order of (empirical) actuality into that of (transcendental) principle: Signs are cheap. To substitute a sign for a thing, a signification for a demonstration, is an economization. It is commonly said ‘that is easy to say’, and – relatively speaking – it is. At the first-order level of cynical amorality – or of pure game-theoretic rationality – it pays to break promises, which cost so little to make, and yet may be arbitrarily expensive to keep. This alone suffices to suggest why there cannot be signs without an implicit problem of trust. The consequences are double-edged. Economization of any kind – getting the same for less, or more for less – is positively adaptive (or selectively promoted) to such an extent that evolutionary processes are indistinguishable from the formation and transformation of codes. Inherent to the economy of code, however, is a vulnerability to exploitative messages, which seize upon the exorbitant efficiency of the sign as a resource (or meta-resource) to be appropriated. Genetic code invites virus. Zoosemiotics invite mimicry.****** Linguistic expression invites deceit. Money invites the DSP. The sign is co-emergent with duplicity.

§3.15 — Bitcoin’s solution to the DSP is the blockchain, or ‘public ledger’ – a decentralized record of transactions which selects-out all non-original (or duplicitous) payments. Only the first instance of any bitcoin deduction from an account is validated, and preserved. All duplicate payments – cases of double spending – are edited out of the blockchained reality-record, automatically, through rejection of those inconsistent blocks in which such defects occur. Simply by protecting itself against splits – or forks – the blockchain constitutes a consistent plane of Being, upon which any particular being can be what it is, and nothing else instead, or besides. Positive absence of duplicity is thus an efficient ontological criterion, or selective principle. The blockchain is pre-determined to construct reality in such a way that fraudulence will not have taken place. That alone remains real which is consistent with the integrity of identity-money, or potential value.******* Only the non-duplicitous will have really occurred, as perpetually re-evidenced by the synthetic past that is reproduced on the blockchain, as a consistent artificial memory, endorsed by Nakamoto Consensus, beyond which no superior tribunal can in reality exist. The blockchain is demonstrably capable of making itself real. In this way it departs from all merely conceptual or ideological assertions of ontological grounding, while implicitly dispensing with the political superstructures through which such assertions are concretely propagated. The reality criterion it introduces takes the form of an automatic – which is to say non-negotiable – law. The force of this law is derived from what can be, rather than – directly – from what is, or what ought to be. There is no double spending on the blockchain because there cannot be.********

* See.

** While, strictly, Moore’s Law (initially proposed in 1965) concerns only transistor-density, it has come to serve as a general proxy for exponential trends in technology, and especially in electronics. The centrality of integrated circuits to the entire info-tech ecology ensures that Moore’s Law, even in its narrowest sense, projects a development curve of huge – and expanding – scope. In large part due to this, it is a predictive principle that lends itself to abstraction and generalization. (Ray Kurzweil’s ‘Law of Accelerating Returns’ or ‘LOAR’ is exemplary in this regard.) Under the name of Moore’s Law, the self-exciting circuit is established as the central model of techonomic process. It thus provides a kind of theoretical shorthand, enabling the widespread promotion of schematics for an ultramodernist meta-sociology, based upon the doubling-period, with accelerating variation as the sole constant. The nonlinearities propelling it include its own feedback into the processes it describes, as a ‘road-map’ – or, more accurately, a schedule – setting the pace of improvement in relevant technological specifications. Exponential technological improvement is normalized, and accepted as a benchmark. Acknowledgement of the trend becomes a causal factor in its own perpetuation. (Theory-practice orthogonalism is diagonalized.) In its loosest invocation, it corresponds approximately to run-away techno-commercial deflation. Macroeconomic capture of industrial deflation is the principal political-economic story of the Keynesian epoch. Capitalistic surplus is ‘nationalized’ through currency issuance. The imperative to ‘fight deflation’ – inspired by Great Depression mythology – lends this process of systematic appropriation a perverse moral dignity. Automatic valorization of money – through capital (or ‘total factor productivity’) improvement – is compensated by centralized monetary management, benchmarked to price stability. Within this epoch, therefore, Moore’s Law describes a process of systematic economic expropriation, by monetary authorities, of those gains from advances in industrial productivity that would otherwise be distributed spontaneously to consumers (by falling prices, i.e. deflation). Electronic money reverses this tendency.

*** According to Wikipedia, the slogan is attributable to Stewart Brand, uttered in a remark at the first Hackers Conference, in 1984. Whatever the utopian suggestion that might have been heard in this slogan, it would eventually be drowned out by the dark counter claim: It is the destiny of any open near-zero-cost communication system to be spammed into dysfunction.

**** The commercial value of any transaction depends upon its exclusivity, which opens directly into questions of identity. The idea of a ‘digital signature’ – a very closely-related pseudo-paradox – binds identity and value to the suppression of fraudulent duplication. To repeat Satoshi Nakamoto’s critical formulation (Bitcoin #2): “We define an electronic coin as a chain of digital signatures.”

***** In the words of the Bitcoin paper (#6): “The steady addition of a constant of amount of new coins is analogous to gold miners expending resources to add gold to circulation. In our case, it is CPU time and electricity that is expended.”

****** Among the most striking examples of specifically zoosemiotic parasitism are instances of Batesian mimicry (named after the naturalist Henry Walter Bates, 1825-92). Typically, these involve the adoption by a non-toxic species of markings indicating toxicity, and thus an evolutionary strategy of free-riding upon acquired, and broadcast, unpalatability. Bates discovered the phenomenon, after noticing the remarkable similarity of coloration in certain non-related butterfly species. The semiotic convergence, he theorized, was driven by adaptive imitation. Signs ‘backed’ by poisons were easy to imitate, and thus allowed species to advantage themselves of the signal, while economizing on the original bio-chemical ‘message’. Such fraudulence, naturally, has its costs to the original, toxic species, who now find the signal communicated by their markings diluted. A process of semiotic inflation begins to work itself out.

******* The language of ‘potential’ is rejected in the name of contingency by a recent variety of transcendental philosophy associated in particular with Quentin Meillassoux and (in its financial application) Elie Ayache. For these thinkers, the projection of possibilities – or probabilities – is itself a transcendent illusion, constituting a metaphysics that is subject to critique. We are unable to follow Ayache into an employment of critique that ventures without discernible hesitation into the hyperbolic, in that it construes market pricing as simply incalculable (and even, on the inverse face – where it is theoretically captured as a stroke of ‘writing’ – as something close to a divine power). Pricing discovers nothing within the Ayache account, unless its own status as a truly sovereign decision, coincident with the genesis of being (the ‘event’). ‘Potential’ is used here in its physical sense – potential energy and ‘potential difference’ (voltage) – which is to say, real tension, or capacity (for work). Insofar as the concept of disequilibrium is ‘flattened’ by that of contingency, the consequence is massive information destruction. Potentials exist (virtually) prior to their probabilistic formalization. They are not epistemological productions. Followers of Elie Ayache, who can be expected to balk at this modal vocabulary, are also unlikely to find their concerns assuaged by the mere assertion that it is only derivatively related to probabilistic models, while primarily referring to something else entirely, namely free energy, or productive capability, as designated (and quantified) prior to its actual employment or consumption. Statistical mechanics – even in its abstract conception and its far-from-equilibrium application – provides the bridge between the science of probabilities and the capacity to do work. Crudely stated, abstract industrialism is here counter-posed to hyperbolic financialism, under the (post-duplicitous) sign of the machine. The industrialization of money, driven by Bitcoin, demonstrates a deep teleology very different to that manifested in the evolution of financial assets through ever higher sublimities of derivation.

******** Just, as for Kant, the causal consistency of nature is a matter of transcendental necessity rather than empirical fact, so the absence of double spending on the blockchain ‘follows’ inevitably from what the blockchain is. To understand the blockchain is already to know (as a matter of transcendental principle) that the DSP is thereby resolved.

1 thought on “Crypto-Current (031)

  1. You make it sound as if I were saying that the pricing of derivatives or contingent claims did not depend on probabilistic models. In reality, the most sophisticated branches of probability theory and stochastic calculus are used in derivative pricing models. The derivatives market, or equivalently what I call ‘pricing’, are in my philosophy a critique of probability theory and its foundations through its very usage. Even its ‘hyperbolic’ usage, to use a term you seem to like (and I do agree that finance deserves another term than ‘abstraction’, at this juncture).

    There is no derivative pricing industry (yes, industry) and no possible understanding of the ontology of derivatives markets without a deep understanding and analysis of the Black-Scholes-Merton and its successive generalizations. I wonder how many of my readers have really followed me in that analysis, and please note that, because of this very analysis, I am critical of Meillassoux and of his own treatment of contingency relative to probability.

    Derivative pricing is an exhaustion of the logic of probability through its usage in derivative pricing models, which aims at taking probability to the next level, a meta-level, in much the same way as quantum mechanics is a meta-probabilistic theory. (However, it does so differently than quantum mechanics and the market is not ‘quantum-mechanical’ — just in case you feared I might be impressed by quantum mechanics.) The derivatives market is not chaos or a divinity, it is simply the technology (or the enhancement of ‘theory’) that succeeds to probability theory when the latter has to be pushed beyond its abstraction schema, i.e. beyond the structure that conceives of events or of random variables as abstractions of the concrete samples. The derivatives market is a super probability theory that is more adapted to ‘history’ and the ‘event’.

    My writing and my books were first intended as a philosophical explication of the derivative pricing technology (that my company actually develops) which recognizes what surpasses probability in its technological aim, although, and to repeat, it is made up of probabilistic models far more sophisticated than Brownian motion. I am not writing in the void, in the great outside, or in Meillassoux’s hyper-chaos, but under the constraint of a technological program and even an industry.

    My only problem is that, contrary to the Bitcoin, the derivatives market is a record or a memory of the future, not of the past. It literally writes the future, and doesn’t predict it. It is this distinction which introduces the necessity of metaphysical thinking and speculation in my account, and in general, a quest for adapted words, or neologisms, such as ‘writing’. Perhaps I will adopt ‘hyperbolic’ as such one word.

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