I never expected to meet a United States Supreme Court Justice. Even less so to exchange views on the importance of Bitcoin and the role the Internet plays in the geopolitical landscape. Justice Kennedy is considered a freethinker, often being the swing vote that unties the Court’s 5 against 4 decisions. We met in The Hague in 2013 at a conference where we shared our views on Democracy, the Internet and the Rule of Law. So when I visited Washington in 2014, he was kind enough to invite @piamancini and me to visit him at the Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy’s candid and humble style is unique for a person of his stature. He is willing to listen as much as sharing his own views (usually in the tone of a modest suggestion). And during that conversation, I finally understood: Bitcoin can globalize politics.
A week before we met, the United States Federal Election Committee (FEC) had voted unanimously to allow political campaigns to accept donations in the form of bitcoin. Technically speaking, this opens the door for any US political party to receive donations from foreigners. Some claim we have yet to see how all of this will end up being implemented (probably requiring donors to be identified). But the truth is that Bitcoin does not really adapt to legal code as well as old fashioned money does: online proxies capturing foreign donations could be easily setup to bypass such limitations. Cryptocurrencies run on the same kind of networked digital code that has been eroding national borders during the last couple of decades. So with this FEC ruling, we might start witnessing the dusk of nationalist-oriented politics.
Consider this: in the United States campaigning consists on capturing the will of donors. Obama’s 2008 campaign proved the importance of social media by getting half a million donations of less than USD 250 each (while McCain only got a handful of big fat checks for a couple million each). And during the 2012 campaign the importance of big data to detect donor hotspots online became a serious strategical advantage. So anyone who’s looking at a 2016 strategy must consider the impact of Bitcoin (especially if it keeps growing in usage). The bottom-line is that all of us foreigners can start influencing US politics after so many decades of having it the other way around.
But also keep this in mind: unlike money, Bitcoin is software. So donations could be tied up to triggers that activate only if certain conditions are met. Or fractioned to the point someone could just shoot bitcoins from his phone while watching a debate to reward the answers he supports. Plenty of new dynamics can emerge leading towards the blockchain becoming the basis for a new kind of social crypto-contract between candidates and their constituencies. And yes, some of these dynamics can help make politics more accountable and some of them could make politics even scarier. But since it’s all based on information, as citizens we’ll have more tools and power to decide than ever before.
Truth is that until today, we have seen a world that was able to globalise markets but got stuck at globalising rights and political will. Surprisingly though, the same weapons that foster open markets can now open up politics to the global game for the first time. And certainly Bitcoin’s importance is already making waves in the geopolitical landscape when you consider that Putin’s Russia banned Bitcoin from its territory or how China followed step prohibiting bitcoin trading impacting its market price. And it wasn’t just a formality: consistent cyberattacks led to the fall of the pioneering Bitcoin exchange site MtGox earlier this year and some of these even dared to carry a Russian signature. Given such context, one gets to wonder if we are either going back to the Cold War or entering a Code War.
I take pride in the fact that The Net Party is among the first ones in the world to have received donations in Bitcoin. We consider that innovation in the political system (unlike change which consists of modifying the players but not the rules) is an urgent demand of all the citizens that do not feel represented by a stale democracy that hasn’t evolved much in the last couple of centuries. And I know that speaking about innovation can be a cliché, but here’s what I consider most people usually don’t get about the concept: it’s not really about thinking outside of the box, it’s about daring to achieve the impossible. Asserting that what couldn’t be done before can get done tomorrow… and going for it. That’s what really fuels up the dreams of new generations.
The last real innovators in politics where those contemporaneous to the Founding Fathers whose legacy is still protected by devoted men of law like Justice Kennedy. When George Washington consistently denied to be named king in order to set the first modern republic of our era, or when Jefferson and Madison exchanged ideas to code the checks & balances expressed in the Constitution; they where able to turn the established conventions of the politics of their time upside down.
The internet is providing a new canvas where ideas for a better, more connected and global democracy is a feasible outcome for the first time in history. And when the sole glimpse of such a possibility gets captured in the imagination of any living idealist; the heart starts pumping at new speeds: making it happen becomes a moral imperative.
Democracy shall be global, free and a given right in your everyday life. Forget about Argentina or the United States: it’s already happening.