The use of cryptocurrencies is rapidly increasing across the world. In 2020, scholars at the University of Cambridge estimated there were 101 million people using cryptocurrencies worldwide, an increase from 35 million just two years previously. The rise of cryptocurrency is usually a story of pizzas bought with bitcoins now worth over a billion dollars, kingpins of darknet drugs markets ordering assassinations and hospitals being held to ransom by anonymous hackers. These new levels of activity however are pushing cryptocurrency, and its underlying blockchain technology into the mainstream – with significant consequences. The first and arguably biggest impact so far is cultural.
Ag Tech and Big Tech firms are championing a kind of uberisation of farmlands in an effort to dominate all aspects of food production. This ensures that it is the powerless smallholders and agricultural workers who take on all the risks. The German pharmaceutical company Bayer’s partnership with the US non-profit Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) intends to use e-extension training to control what and how farmers grow their produce, as agribusinesses reap the benefits without taking on risk. This is another instance of neoliberalism at work, displacing the risk onto workers whose labour produces vast profits for the Ag Tech and Big Tech firms. These big firms are not interested in owning land or other resources; they merely want to control the production process so that they can continue to make fabulous profits.
The Popular Resistance and Rebellion Bloc, a platform that brings together 32 social organizations, movements and unions and has been at the forefront of the recent wave of anti-Bitcoin demonstrations, stated that the measure “hit the working class, the peasantry and rural communities the most.” The bloc also highlighted that the majority of the population lack technological tools and high-end telephones to download and operate the government-backed electronic wallet app, known as Chivo. The organization also alleged that the electronic currency could cause an increase corruption and poverty in the country. Many economists warned that the digital currency’s lack of transparency could attract increased criminal activity to the country and make it a haven of money laundering as it does not record the identity of those who handle it.
Payments can happen cheaply and easily without banks or credit card companies, as has already been demonstrated—not in the United States but in China. Unlike in the U.S., where numerous firms feast on fees from handling and processing payments, in China most money flows through mobile phones nearly for free. In 2018 these cashless payments totaled a whopping $41.5 trillion; and 90% were through Alipay and WeChat Pay, a pair of digital ecosystems that blend social media, commerce and banking. According to a 2018 article in Bloomberg titled “Why China’s Payment Apps Give U.S. Bankers Nightmares”