The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Terror Of Electronic Money

Electronic money is inherently authoritarian. (Bitcoin is authoritarian and deflationary, and deflation rewards first movers and the rich far more than normal people.)

A few weeks ago John Michael Greer noted that part of what happened during Covid is that people left the formal economy and joined in the informal one.

The strength of a government can, most simply, be measured by how much it can tax. The early absolutist monarchs spent much of their time figuring out how to tax people, something which was very difficult: they built bureaucracies largely to increase their income, so they could wage war better.

Cash money is always a problem to governments, because people can exchange it without registering the exchange. Granted, governments became very good at tracking money, but there were always ways to avoid the system, especially if you were smart and spent cash carefully. I’ve had multiple friends who worked for some period for cash under the table, especially the in the (old) gig economy and in restaurants.

Electronic money, whether done on a blockchain or not (though blockchains are terrible for privacy), with the removal of cash money, makes it almost impossible to escape the state’s taxation and makes many small exchanges not worth doing, since the fuss and expense of tax accounting is usually an immense pain.

So e-money is something governments really want more of, and it’s something that people who are concerned with real freedom, not theoretical freedom such as “rights” the government may or may not actually bother respecting, should be concerned every time they see a movement to restrict cash and move to e-money. Even partial moves, like India’ getting rid of larger bills, can be devastating, and if the informal economy is large enough, can be disastrous economically even if the government winds up with more taxes. (India’s experiment was bad for the Indian economy, as I expected.)

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Bitcoin is not “anonymous money”. Blockchains record every transaction. Cash is anonymous money, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a scam artist.

Computers and the telecom revolution, overall, have been bad for the freedom of most people, in very concrete ways; sometimes minute to minute ways, since they also allow for bosses to automatically monitor what workers are doing. Hell is micro-management, and this is moving out from warehouses, into white collar jobs. No one who isn’t powerful at work will have any real ability to dodge it.

I first noticed this at my last big corporate job, where every “automation” of clerical workers was really about control: every one reduced productivity but made workers jump thru automated hoops and made it easier for management to see exactly what each worker was doing.

None of this should be surprising. Advanced in communication technology always allow more control because they allow more knowledge to be centralized. This was true of writing and it’s true of computers. It used to be that if the boss wasn’t there and couldn’t justify a supervisor to stand over your shoulder, you had a fair bit of freedom to do the job your way, but now an algorithm watches you and managers can see real time dashboards.

My entire experience at work was that “Hell is micromanagement”, one of my best bad jobs was being a bike courier because back in the early 90s they couldn’t track where you were or what you were doing. They told you to pick up and deliver; as long as you did that on time, it was up to you how you did it, and when work was slow, no one was telling you to do make-work.

More and more this is going away; bosses are even putting tracking software on home computers for remote workers, and sometimes insisting on having cameras watching the workers.

Freedom isn’t just about the right to free speech and assembly or a speedy trial (rights we are losing anyway, in many countries) it is about the moment to moment experience of life, and the majority spend half their waking hours working. If work sucks, life sucks. And with e-money, you won’t even be able to opt out of the formal economy.

Welcome to Hell.


Identity: Political Concepts Chapter 4


A Few Words On Thanksgiving


  1. Plague Species

    Electricity was and is authoritarian too. Why else do you think FDR was so hellbent on making sure everyone was connected to it? Deliverance updated. Same goes for broadband. Warnock sent me an email today touting that he has garnered billions for securing access to broadband for Georgians who are “underserved” and who have no access. It’s laughable. I implored him to push for Universal Healthcare and instead I get I-14 and broadband which translates to more truck traffic and hence pollution and more electronic virtual slaves.

  2. Bill H.

    If you watch the show FBI on television you will see them tracking detailed movements of citizens by use of traffic cameras, using computers in the FBI offices. They follow a car block by block, identifying where the car stopped and for how long, and are able to see who was driving it at all times. Do not think that this is fiction. It is not.

  3. jrkrideau

    Have a look at Portugal’s Socialist Party Passes AMAZING Pro-Worker Reforms

    Among other things (3:35 minutes?) monitoring remote emplyees is illegal.

  4. sbt42

    I’m currently on a vacation, and wanted to experiment with cash-only in this tourist-trap town.

    It’s largely been successful, seeing as it’s just a matter of carrying enough cash with you – withdrawn in smaller amounts over several occasions prior to my trip – and being deliberate about concealing how much you have on hand.

    I think it’s a surprise for a lot of the merchants here when someone pays with cash. For example, when picking up carry-out at a pub, the server dropped off one of those miniature clipboards in front of me along with a pen and the receipt, then turned away. I clipped the bills to pay for the food to the clip board and walked off with my food, ostensibly saying, “Keep the change.”

    One thing I was unable to escape during this particular trip, however, were toll roads. The toll stations required “EZ-Pass” near-field readers clipped to the vehicle’s windshield of whatever, otherwise they took a video snapshot of your vehicle as you passed through the toll booth. There were no toll collectors that could accept cash. That’s another measure of surveillance that’s eventually inescapable should you travel the highway system in the US, for business or pleasure.

  5. Dan Lynch

    Well, all fiat money is directly or indirectly controlled by government. Fiat money is a powerful tool, but it is not inherently evil — government can use that tool to do good things, or it can use it to do bad things.

    We in the U.S. are ruled by an oligarchy that does a lot of bad things. That makes it tempting to be anti-government, like Ron Paul or the Bundys. But the anarchists and libertarians have no constructive solutions. If you want to get rid of oligarchy, that takes power, and rules, and enforcement — more government, not less government.

    I think the ideology of “freedom” is highly overrated. The Bundy movement is all about freedom — they don’t want the government to tell them how to run their lives, they don’t want government to charge them rent or taxes, they don’t want the government to force them to wear masks or get vaccinated, and so on. Freedom, freedom, freedom.

    But as the late Molly Ivins put it, “It’s all very well to run around saying regulation is bad, get the government off our backs, etc.. OF COURSE our lives are regulated. When you come to a stop sign, you stop. If you want to go fishing, you get a license. If you want to shoot ducks, you can only shoot three ducks. The alternative is dead bodies at the intersection, no fish, and no ducks. OK?”

    China and S. Korea have used extensive cell phone tracking to do Covid contact tracing, and that’s a good thing. In the U.S., the oligarchy does not care if we die of Covid but they’re probably monitoring everything I type into my keyboard, looking for any threat to their power.

    In conclusion, I think extensive government regulation and control is necessary in an industrial society — we’re not going to return to the days of Native American tribes where there was no central government and you could do whatever the hell you felt like doing (some of the tribes did have rulers and police, and even the tribes that had no formal laws would banish members who violated unwritten laws). The catch is to use government power for good instead of for bad. The questions is how do we ensure a government that does good rather than bad?

  6. different clue

    In America and Canada, the groups of people who will resist electronic currency to the bitter end will be the various kinds of Evangelical Christians and also the various sorts of Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, etc.

    They may be very creative in circumventing electronic currency. They should be encouraged and applauded in their resistance and rejection, and should be learned from as much as it is possible for us Normies to learn from them.

    Patriot Cash Markets ( slurred as “black markets” by the authorities) will probably emerge. Also, various kinds of barter will rise, using very price-intertranslatable-goods as barter items. ” How many cans of tuna does that cost”? People may start buying up storable goods to use in unit-dose money-equivalent barterable items to use as much as feasible in small daily or weekly survival purchases. If cashier’s checks and Postal Money Orders and Travelers Checks are not outlawed to seal those pathways of escape shut, people may also buy numbers of these things with their electronic currency in order to use as real currency.

    Also, there will be a rise in harder-to-price barter. I’ll do this for you if you do that for me.

    Also, there will be more house-and-yard production for subsistence and survival. Government will try to persecute suburbia into extinction, but at least in America, so many suburbanites may be so heavily armed that the forces of government may be forced to fall back on “strategic abandonment” Stop all services to suburbia . . . cancel garbage pickup, police protection, water and sewage, electric utilities, etc. and hope that starves and parches and freezes suburbanites into moving back into the surveilable and controllable towns and cities. Those who endure all those hardships to stay in suburbia will evolve a new Suburban Poverty Rural Village type of culture.
    They will find suburban slum village squalor better than omnidigital ubiquisurveillance, and the government will leave the suburban slum village peasants to their suburban slum village squalor.

    And we will see who Darwin takes and whom Darwin spares over the long run.

  7. Lex

    Bitcoin is good for long distance transactions of illegal or semi-legal exchanges. Not sure what other purpose it serves better than cash.

    It used to not be hard to run a good full time job sort of revenue stream cash only. With a little care and a shitty job you could win-win. Nobody questioned why almost your entire work income was still in your account, nor would the bank care if you deposited a handful of bills now and again. They even let me buy a house with a poor paying job. I could afford it from an alt revenue stream.

  8. jemand

    Coins are anonymous, but they are small and inherently limited. Paper cash is currently anonymous, but only because governments and corporations haven’t bothered to de-anonymize it. We are past the technological point where ATMs could be scanning and recording the serial numbers of every bill dispensed, together with the name and an image of the person at the station picking it up. Banks could do the same for withdrawals. Cash transfer companies and banks could scan every pickup from cash-heavy businesses when they deposit their revenue. Statistical models could be developed to have average time / off-book transaction cycles, and regions and communities with uncommonly long off-book cycles could be prioritized in IRS auditing systems.

    Anti-counterfeiting systems could be built and placed even upstream of those bulk deposits — at the counter of every convenience store / gas station / etc. and the direct links between the ATM or bank withdrawal to purchases or deposits. At that point, individuals who are engaged in “off books” industries will immediately stand out from the norm statistically.

    All of this is very possible with the technology and government/corporate power already existing, and the early stages could start very invisibly to the population. I wouldn’t be surprised if the process had already started.

  9. Gaianne

    Concise and direct! Thanks, Ian!

    And this dystopian phenomenon occurs under even the most benign scenerio of honest and benevolent managers. You have assumed no overt abuse.

    In reality, abuse by the powerful will be too tempting to forgo: Those who operate the system will find it convenient to change the numbers in your account at will. Employers currently steal employee wages sometimes; in the future they will pay you but then immediately reduce the numbers registered in your account to a number they like better.

    Even without fully electronic money this happens right now. In the old days bank statements were reliable–when you found an error, it would be your own bad arithmetic. (or, rarely, someone broke into your account by stealing check blanks, etc.) Now, some banks assess bogus and illegal fees automatically that you must contest in person to have dropped. In the future, the fees will still be illegal, but no court will care, and so the bank will refuse to drop them–because they will not have to.

    A movie that portrayed this phenomenon very dramatically was The Handmaiden’s Tale. At the beginning of the movie all the women in the Republic of Gilead (former United States) awake to find their bank accounts frozen and their assets confiscated–all done with a few computer keystrokes.

    At the time the movie came out this was not quite possible. But now it is, or soon will be.


  10. different clue

    If all the money you have is electronic, all of it can be frozen by keystroke.

    So far, that is harder to do with cash. It is not yet possible to freeze cash itself with a keystroke.

  11. Astrid

    It’s perhaps inevitable. Power craves power. Control craves more control. And people are addicted to convenience and don’t even bother fighting back. More and more I think the only response to this maddening world is antinatalism, yet for social reasons I still have to congratulate the parents and send out baby shower gifts. Perhaps their hopes will bear out and their children will learn to adopt. For me, I will start growing opium poppies for their beautiful flowers and delicious seeds and just in case.

    Still, I will quibble that we speak of freedom in the west as an absolute good. I don’t think it is quite so simple.
    All societies run with a combination of controls and liberties. A society without control doesn’t work. The best that can be hoped is that the controls are reasonably fair and consistently applied and give everyone in it a fighting chance to live a relatively okay life. Total freedom from government control merely invites the worst elements in that society to impose their own control.

    Of course, when the government is hijacked by said worst elements of society, the outcome is even worse because it can bring the authority coercive powers of the state behind it to work for those bad elements.

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