Note — Sep 12, 2021

Can the World Computer Save the World?

Part one of the three-parter is linked above, the other two are lower down, I encourage you to read all three as one long read. Vinay Gupta is a really smart guy, and has been in crypto for a long time so I’m not going to argue with what he’s saying and give the benefit of the doubt on passages that I might argue with at other times, and instead spend some more time reflecting on his views. Still, I’d say that the first part is pretty bleak, and the third quite optimistic about Ethereum and Mattereum, so perhaps read the whole as a thought experiment, or maybe even a speculative exercise. Initially accept the whole thing and think on it further.

Gupta’s goal with the trio of essays is to provide “a guiding narrative and vision for the blockchain industry fit for the current and oncoming conditions of the world.” He starts by establishing what went wrong with Bitcoin, where it went from libertarian socialist (Anarchist) to anarchocapitalist with the arrival of ASICs, and how Ethereum might keep away from the same issues.

In the second part, pay close attention to his explanation of world models, theories of change, and his own “Gupta model.” Those three things can also provide a useful light on what’s going on in the world. He also talks about the Ethereum blockchain as “a system that could out-perform current models of capitalism,” which is not that far from other views around crypto but phrased in a way I find useful and a framing that, at a minimum, feels like a possibility: out-competing capitalism instead of dismantling it (not my preference and multiple caveats here but lets keep those for another time).

In the third part Gupta goes over how the blockchain and his Mattereum project could accomplish this out-performing, and is logically the most speculative part of the whole. It’s also where it goes a bit too “computers can do anything” for me, but considering the solidity of his initial diagnostic, as I said in the beginning, I’m listening.

there is no doubt that if people have political freedom they will engage in trade. But if that trade creates a situation in which workers do not own the means of production — that is to say, the profit created from labour is returned to capital and not to labour — then markets move from being an expression of liberated circumstances to being just another instrument of oppression. […]

The correct value of many of our most “valuable” financial assets is zero. […]

But if we take out all the assets which are wiped out in a fully scale climate change scenario there is basically nothing left of the current economy: the oil companies are gone, coal, natural gas wiped out. Entire industries like almonds. Fishing. You can just go down the list: gone, gone, gone, wiped out, worthless, gone. Other industries rocket into existence: solar, wind, renewables, batteries, energy efficient construction, you name it. An entire universe goes, and a different one is created.

Part 2: World Models & Theories of Change

If our general world models do not match up, it is even less likely that our theories of change will match. Another way of saying this: if we cannot agree on the past and the present, it is unlikely we will agree on the future. […]
This was, to me, the goal of Ethereum: to coordinate the world so we could increase efficiency, reduce waste, and take care of all of humanity’s concerns more effectively. […]

I wanted a system which could out-perform current models of capitalism (intensely wasteful and wrongfully productive) without requiring political turmoil to adopt. I wanted an evolution in the culture and the machinery of the market, to produce a world with carbon accounting and an end to world hunger because crops no longer rotted in the fields.

Part 3: Building an economy with a future

That seems like a fitting job for a World Computer: to run the global carbon accounting system which makes sure that trillions of dollars a year are spent planting trees and rewilding or grinding up olivine mountains to make sure that the earth does not dry out, burn up, and blow away. […]

Over time we can tighten up the waste in that system and enormously reduce the pressure we place on the land. We need to break open the silos to understand the performance of the system as a whole.