Why do I find blockchain so appealing: Measuring and Rewarding Value


I've been fascinated by the blockchain world since just before the 2017 bull run - and have been reading keenly about new projects, and existing project developments ever since.

Now that I'm starting to actually develop on the blockchain, I think it's time I develop my thoughts a little as to why I find the space exciting. This will probably evolve into a series of posts, loosely tied together by conceit of asking myself a question coming to a thoughtful answer. I'll try and do away with my emotional bias of wanting to like the general idea of blockchains, and develop my ideas from there.

Measuring Value

Rather than seeing himself as human because he could make economic calculations, the hunter insisted that being truly human meant refusing to make such calculations, refusing to measure or remember who had given what to whom, for the precise reason that doing so would inevitably create a world where we began "comparing power with power, measuring, calculating" and reducing each other to slaves or dogs through debt.

History of Debt, 10th anniversary edition, David Graeber, p.79

Every time we assign a measurable value to something, we effectively degrade it - that's the crux of the quote above from Graeber's insightful work on debt. Services, objects, and people lose something when we decide "this is how much it, or you, is worth". There is something intuitively truthy about this - think of climate change: the second we assign a value to emissions, effectively telling companies/people pay for the damage you are causing, we also make a claim as to the worth of our planet and climate. Yet ask any person today, "what is the future of this planet, it's ecosystem, worth?" and the answer should be that it's invaluable.

I find this appealing.

Yet I also find blockchains and their capacity to algorithmically and democratically assign and distribute value appealing. Which poses a slight conundrum - part of the goal of blockchain is to capture as much behaviour as possible on chain in order for that behaviour to be valued, and that value distributed. So how do we reconcile this tension?

One answer is that we live in a world where we do weigh and measure some things, and that we create harm by neglecting to weight and measure other things - a classic example being care work (a role traditionally fulfilled by women, a commonality to a lot of things we don't measure). In the world of development, open source contributions are one such example. Accordingly, a system that could facilitate the rewarding of such work can only serve to bring about a little more balance and fairness.

This leads to my current point in the development of this trail of thought: Blockchains might represent a path towards no longer having to think about valuations and rewards. In a world where rewards are algorithmically distributed, automatically, without the onus being on the claimant, we may finally stop continuously measuring and weighing. Indeed, perhaps our propensity to do so lies in the fact that such matters are up for debate, and that no two people can quite agree on a single source of truth.

Then again, this does start to sound like quite a utopian, extremist view point.