Il saggio esamina gli aspetti economici-finanziari e tecnologici delle criptomonete a partire dal caso Bitcoin. Le possibilità che le nuove tecnologie consentono grazie a algoritmi sempre più sofisticati possono essere utilizzate per creare una nuova moneta (che possiamo denominare “commoncoin”) che eviti il rischio doi strumentalizzazione speculativa e/o di accumulazione. Una vera moneta del comune – per essere tale – deve essere il prodotto della cooperazione sociale e del lavoro vivo che la anima e solo in un momento successivo potrà diventare strumento di circolazione.

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The use of technology is the fundamental axis of the metamorphosis caused by the fusion of life and labor in the knowledge economy. A metamorphosis that affects the inborn/acquired and nature/culture pairs where the latters, in Darwin’s nature vs. nurture,[1] is the environment’s “nutriment”, from mother earth to language.

For more than a century in the industrial era the speculative debate on this binomial has fueled discussion and analysis in philosophy, psychology, medical research and human sciences and it is the foundation for a disciplinary organization of society – even the Nazi regime used it as the keystone of its destructive philosophy.

The postfordist society of control organized by cognitive capitalism is instead directly based on the manipulation of these two elements. According to neoliberal dogma, they are important as fundamental components of human capital or, better yet, of a human who, becoming capital, must earn time to live. In order to impose this economic rationality, the financial oligarchy is directly involved with the processes of measuring the bios with behavioral and genetic alteration. The inborn and the acquired are hit by a technological tsunami while information and communication hi-tech,  artificial intelligence, neurosciences, genetic engineering, nanotechnologies, and robotics all come into play.

As far as nurture is concerned, digital connected devices and network technologies, also associated with discoveries in neurosciences, are what intervene in how we feel, perceive and understand the world. They are used in evermore subtle and articulated ways in strategies for orienting framing, business and governance.

Within the great tendencies of capitalism, and sometimes in apparent opposition to the dominant financial authority, libertarian currents take on a new bent in Silicon Valley and actively participate in this strategy, facilitating the voluntary adoption of the instruments of control in exchange for the illusion of individual liberty.

Speculative cryptocurrencies will open the way for a money of the common?

The case of today’s cryptocurrencies – whose creation is based on software, algorithms and network technologies that, at first glance, seem autonomous from global financial institutions and national and private banks – highlights certain ambiguities and the mixing of genres. Without going into a detailed analysis, the Bitcoin project (BTC) is based on an anonymous peer to peer production of money and is made relatively safe through a cryptography based on specific public algorithms[2]; its code is under an open source license and it uses the principle of network computing. These aspects put it into the same category as great cooperative projects and collective socio-technological innovations that come from the hacker community, just like Linux.

Due to its open source characteristics, BTC gives way to forks, derivations that allow the implementation of other digital currencies; there are around 40 for now. Probably, the goal at the origins of BTC were to prosper as a tool of exchange outside the control of financial institutions and to free transactions from commissions, exactions and market limits.

This isn’t exactly what is happening. In this phase, instead, this cryptocurrency is above all used as an instrument of speculation and accumulation. The convertibility with classic currencies (starting with the Yuan and US Dollar) and a production that is algorithmically limited[3] in quantity and time reproduce, in some ways, the role of gold as reserve currency. The metaphor also extends to the terminology used and to a certain gold rush mythology that is based on that of videogames. Like the extraction of gold, the today production of BTC style cryptocurrencies (not by chance defined as “mining”) requires a great quantity of electrical energy and computational power, which are then respectively consumed and produced by powerful PCs, derived from those dedicated to gaming, to work at maximum regime.

The key criteria of BTC is found in the principle of an extraction of currency proportional to computational power but without having any of the characteristics that would be inscribed in the social code of an algorithm for a currency of the common. This is precisely why the experiment can’t break free from an innate capitalist immutability based on the guiding role of profit in the distribution of labor and social organization. BTC merely shifts the register. Leveraging technology, it is gaining support within the hacker and P2P movements. For the moment, it rather seems to be drawing them into the sancta sanctorum of finance, massively training hackers for trading, proposing a speculative race through an algorithmic production of “autonomous” money. Today, the technical abilities of hackers constitute an advantage but the computational power, and therefore hardware investment, becomes more and more preponderant. This is already the case of BTC, which is now only minable with special, dedicated computers that cost (tens of) thousands of dollars. This without taking into account digital corporations, new or old, that  “inspired” by this process to probably launch their own currencies in the future.

Despite this, the experience of BTC has the merit of having opened the way and the debate over the possibility of creating a truly autonomous digital money with the scope of creating a currency of the common.

We assist to the first attempts to conceive a cryptomoney discouraging the speculation or, more ambitiously, to implement a money of the common. Projects like  the Freicoin including  a demurrage fee that, in theory, should  ensure the circulation and support  the   sustainable investment.  Other attempts, like the openUDC or ucoin in France,  try to link the cryptomoney generation to the implementation of an universal basic income.

A money of the common should takes into account three essential elements, hardwired into its algorithms and its implementation:

·  The impossibility to accumulate and thus impeding it from becoming the object of speculation. Consequently, it must lose some of its value over time. It would therefore be a currency that melts down, a “demurrage charged money”.

·  Mitigating workers’ dependency on the economic restrictions that force them to sell their labor power and therefore wage relations themselves; thus reducing precarity.

·  Allowing, on these premises, for more free time and resources for developing alternative forms of cooperation based on the common pooling of knowledge, production and, in any case, on exchange networks that exclude the logic of profit. Participation in networks where a currency of the common circulates implies adhering to these principles, whether participants are individuals, businesses or institutional subjects, as in the case of certain alternative currency models experimented with on a local level.

Hackers and makers and cryptomoney  space of confidence

Even if a perfect algorithm could be found in order to prevent speculation and fiat money convertibility, a new money of the common (that we could generically name a commoncoin) should be practical to use  and conceived to obtain a large confidence.

Network technologies paving the way for the emergence of a new generation of cooperative production experiences. Often these activities are managed following the capitalist rules, e.g. the well-known eBay or Airbnb applications, in some other cases they are more autonomous and less oriented to capture profit and income, e.g. the free and open software implemented in the hackers’ communities or the Wikipedia site. However both these categories are based  on immaterial goods as knowledge and immaterial services, exchanges and shares.. 

Since the first years of the new century the new “Makers” movement, an engineering-oriented networked cooperative community, announce a geolocalised tecno-social transformation of the material production and manufacture. A perhaps more “physical” cooperation in the makerspaces like the fab-labs, where “makers” conceive and use “open hardware” electronicsrobotics3-D printing and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) tools.

In 2005 the RepRap (short for replicating rapid prototyper)  project was born in Bath by dr.  Adrian Bowyer to develop a 3D printer that can print most of its own components.

Even if Adrian Bowyer is far to be a convinced Marxist he wrote in the Reprap presentation paper titled “Wealth without money”:

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto that, “By proletariat is meant the class of modern wage labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live.” This diagnosis is essentially correct;…. So the replicating rapid prototyping machine will allow the revolutionary ownership, by the proletariat, of the means of production. But it will do so without all that messy and dangerous revolution stuff, and even without all that messy and dangerous industrial stuff. Therefore I have decided to call this process Darwinian Marxism…

Arduino, a 10$ single-board micro-controller, conceived in Ivrea[4],  is the most popular brick of “open hardware” allowing, with many other low cost components, the General Intellect to reappropriate emerging socio-technological sectors as “Internet of things” or RepRap replications of machines and also a new revolutionary auto- production of  the “The long tails of things[5]” .    

The current transformation of electronic money from an autonomous tool into financial speculation explicitly demonstra