If one is talking about political power, decentralization alone is not enough to bring about truly transformative change in society. Writing in the 90s, social ecologist Murray Bookchin, noted that:
"It is a troubling fact that neither decentralization nor self-sufficiency in itself is necessarily democratic. Plato’s ideal city in the Republic was indeed designed to be self-sufficient, but its self-sufficiency was meant to maintain a warrior as well as a philosophical elite. Similarly, decentralization in itself provides no assurance that we will have an ecological society. A decentralized society can easily co-exist with extremely rigid hierarchies. A striking example is European and Oriental feudalism, a social order in which princely, ducal, and baronial hierarchies were based on highly decentralized communities."
A parallel can be drawn with the world of decentralized peer-to-peer technologies. We understand technology not just as the ensemble of raw materials, tools, machines, and related devices that are needed to produce a usable object. For us, the Circles techné serves the situated social, ethical and political purpose of making an unconditional basic income come into being in a truly democratic manner. Today’s decentralization movement promises the appropriate technologies to create decentralised infrastructures in domains like information, money and even administration. Despite its potentialities, the political economy and design of technologies such as blockchain suffer from a naive understanding of power, reproducing feudal-like structures unto the virtual realm - with the means of production controlled by emergent elites who either hold the knowledge or the capital to influence such systems. These create hidden hierarchies and potential autocracies with a single point of failure.
Then there’s the question of the meaning of decentralization itself. It often appears that today’s techno-optimists use decentralization to mean a change from a centralized system (central banks, nation-states) to one where no-one can influence the system, through the usage of complex computational algorithms and other forms of magic. This giving of responsibility to the machine is often argued in terms of transparency. Machines don’t lie, people do. We will call this very political attempt at the automation of politics, the logic of trying to solve political problems with technical solutions, the anti-politics machine.
Intentions and ideologies are hidden within the algorithms of this anti-politics machine, which in reality reflects the political and economic arrangements by which technologies such as blockchains operate. The different mathematical “proofs” are just ways of arranging power. Because we are trying to build a truly democratic monetary system, the infrastructure upon which it lives must reflect these values. Otherwise we will only be changing one master for another one.
By decentralization we mean something very specific: the decentralization of political and economic power via democratic and autonomous practices. The decentralization of the production of money, claimed by people directly as a universal income through infrastructures like Circles, forms the basis of a democratic economy. Yet to truly get there, the technological infrastructure must also be democratised. To build a decentralized, international money commons infrastructure we must go beyond the tyranny of the anti-politics machine, to a system where each person has an equal say over their own money system.