This past week has been interesting to say the least. Not only did we see a storming of the Capitol, but we saw an unprecedented reaction against it. Many people linked with the protests have been kicked off of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram including the likes of our sitting president. What’s more, the competitor to Twitter, Parler, has not only been de-platformed from both the Google and Apple App stores but also is being kicked off of AWS.
It’s one thing to say “go build your own platform,” it’s another to coordinate to shut a the other platform down. In other words, we’re starting to see tech companies play a prominent role in politics. They are a technocracy that controls access to the masses and never has it been more obvious that they intend to exercise the power they have.
Whatever your thoughts on these maneuvers, it’s obvious it’s aggressive. What’s interesting is that this aggression is only possible because of the trust that these companies have accumulated over their lifetimes. Nobody would be on Twitter or Google had they not built compelling platforms at an ultra-competitive price of free. Indeed, this is at the root of the problem. They got to where they were because they gave away their product for free to gain people’s compliance. Compliance, in other words, was the price of their services.
This compliance is very useful for a variety of reasons, including the ability to shape public opinion, but as those people who are being kicked out are finding out, it’s been misplaced. How did free services end up in tyranny?
One of the most enlightening conversations I’ve had in the past few years was with one Thae Young Ho, the highest ranking North Korean defector ever. I had the privilege of talking with him about why North Korea was so successful in fooling its people despite their brutality. He explained to me the secret: free stuff. He explained that the NK government gave away free health care, free education, free housing and guaranteed jobs as a way to gain popularity. Of course, none of these things were really free. They depended on the citizens doing what the regime wanted. Compliance, in other words, was what the NK people paid in exchange for these “free” things and that resulted in the NK regime adding rules that were more tyrannical.
You can see where I’m going with this. There are no truly free services and the quicker we realize that, the better off we’ll be. We will always be paying with our compliance to essentially arbitrary dictates. As Mr. Thae explained to me, there’s something sacred about a market transaction. It’s fair exchange and binds both parties to deliver. Free makes it difficult to complain. A market transaction creates competition and that allows either party to walk away should the exchange not be satisfactory.
In other words, to subvert the technocracy, we’re going to have to start paying for these services. I know what your objection is going to be. No one will want to pay for something they get for free. Don’t be so sure. I’m certain that there’s a lot of people willing to pay for messages from Donald Trump. It’s certainly less than 80M people, but it’s not 0, either.
And this is where Bitcoin comes in. We need a trustless payment system to make such internet transactions possible. And this is where Lightning has tremendous potential, in subverting the technocracy. You get what you pay for, even if that payment is in compliance.