Democratizing Finance

With Bitcoin?

On the last 18th of August I attended the Robin Hood1 pop up lab in Helsinki, Finland. I was expecting one more of those nurturing sessions of saving the world with much love and of course, post-its! No, it was a well-attended session where a real practical approach is being thought out and applied.

Many of us have heard of it: The Bitcoin,2 Ethereum, Blockchain… It promises a world where money has no ruler and it’s all transparent. It is part of the ongoing trend from polytheism, to monotheism, to atheism, from feudal systems to fascists, to no rulers (anarchy): we are slowly (maybe too slowly) getting to the real number on how many masters we need to drive us to the greener side of the hill: NONE!

Robin Hood is not just advancing on new methods based on Blockchain3 (which Bitcoin uses too), but it has been using algorithms on the stock market to redistribute money. There are plenty of other organizations who are doing likewise and even through art. For example, Goldin+Senneby. I recently attended a theater play by them in Helsinki; I paid 20 euros for two tickets which turned out to be shares. Sometime after I got this email:

Dear Pedro, you attended a magic show called “On a Long Enough Timeline the Survival Rate for Everyone Drops to Zero”. You invested €20 in a financial shorting selling campaign against the company Keryx Biopharmaceuticals Inc. (KERX). On your behalf we took a short position in KERX (i.e. sold borrowed stocks) at $ 13.13 on March 16th 2015. And we set a target price of under $ 8 for the stock. After some successful magic we reached our target last week and bought back the stock at $ 7.88 on 29 July 2015. Discounting transaction costs and interest payments for borrowing the stock, we made a magical profit of 64.7%. In other words, your initial investment of € 20 has grown to € 32.94. In order to transfer this money to you we would need your bank details, including: 1) IBAN number2) BIC/SWIFT code. Goldin+Senneby

The promise of a free socially equalizing and democratic platform was once thought to be the internet which we now realize failed to be so. It was greatly hijacked by big business and governments so now it has been partly transformed into an ultra-exploitative platform, the sole true free capitalist platform we know about. The internet allows monopolies to arise, such as Amazon, killing local business, such as bookshops, and exploiting workers for the profit of the very few.

“Twenty years after the dawn of the Internet era, two things are unquestionably true. First, in terms of its reach, impact, and transformative effect, the Internet has exceeded anyone’s wildest imagination. And second, we live in a less equal country than at any point since the Gilded Age.”4,5 “Google has a little over 54,000 employees and generated revenues of around $50 billion in sales or about $1.0 million per employee.”6

The same could happen with Blockchain, and we see already corporations and governments taking over part of it. So will it work or will it be another half-failed attempt as the internet is starting to be?

My doubts are also Pekko Koskinen’s, one of the speakers of the last session in Helsinki. The alluring perspective of a P2P system, where money can be traced to where it has been and what it has done or where we can rate the money sounds all great, but such a system cannot be unregulated nor can it be regulated by any kind of government for wealth distribution (keep in mind that today’s internet giants barely pay taxes).

So a self-regulative system might be the answer (as one would expect if comparing with nature). Surely it will have flaws and it might not even endure, but we do not know until we try it, and we better do try it as we are running out of time!

  1. Robin Hood is an activist hedge fund. They use financial technologies to democratize finance, expand financial inclusion, and generate new economic space. They analyze big data, write algorithms, deploy web-based technologies, and engineer financial instruments to create and distribute surplus profits for all. (Source.) []
  2. Bitcoin is an innovative payment network and a new kind of money. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority or banks; managing transactions and the issuing of bitcoins is carried out collectively by the network. []
  3. See the talk with Vinay Gupta. []
  4. Paul Craig Roberts, “The Collapsing US Economy.” []
  5. Rob Klain, “Inequality and the Internet.” []
  6. Bill Davidow, “The Internet Is the Greatest Legal Facilitator of Inequality in Human History.” []
Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect (M.Sc., Dipl. Ing., TU Darmstadt, Germany) and Civil Engineer (M.Sc., Licenciatura, FEUP, Porto) with over 50 buildings designed and built on 15 countries currently practicing at "AIBEO architecture". He is also a Kone Säätiö Research Fellow, a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer, Research Assistant and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on "Architectural Democracy". Read other articles by Pedro.