HANNIBAL AD PORTAS!

  • Fear: People who hate tech and Facebook in particular. These are mostly people who make their living selling disaster adrenaline through books and newsfeeds, but despite their overblown rhetoric they make the very good point that the tech in general believes in “move fast and break things”, and that approach will have negative impact on local economies and communities. Yet, this fear is not unreasonable, given that Facebook created a reputation of disdain for privacy and personal information, accumulated superpower in the area of social medium (remember Standard Oil in 1920s?) and is notorious for extremely weak corporate controls. Now that tech increasingly manages critical parts of our social systems they need to be act, and be governed, more like traditional institutions.
  • Greed: Incumbents in finance and payments, who worry that this sort of radical change could lead to disastrous financial crashes…and of course sharp and permanent reduction of their revenue streams.
  • Envy: Tech libertarians who promote bitcoin and similar decentralized visions of the future. They want to kill off centralized authorities and view Libra as a perversion of that which looks decentralized but is really centralizing financial power in the hands of tech giants. Good point, but history, social science, and the math of complex systems teaches that complete decentralization leads to the madness of crowds more often than to collective wisdom. Besides, in actual fact, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are highly (albeit implicitly) centralized. Some provision for governance by representatives of the broader stakeholder community is required for robust stability and broadly-shared utility.
  • The voice of experience: These are people who worry that this will concentrate power in the hands of just a few people, thus undercutting democracy and personal freedom, and will also enable “bad guys” to have a field day unless strongly regulated. Facebook, which is notorious for its loose attitudes to and multiple egregious violations of user’s privacy, is particularly dangerous in this context. Abstractly this is not so different from the other points, but is cast in the political terms and not as a problem in system engineering. They make the good point that such a system needs to have strong guarantees that it will not harm the vulnerable. Moreover, while recent history has washed away almost all sympathy for financial incumbents, longer history also teaches that it is immensely hard to foresee financial difficulties, and that these “unknown unknowns” can lead to broad and intense suffering. One important danger they point to is the likelihood of inflation and instability in smaller economies.

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