The End of the Memory Hole

Just who will pay the Obamacare premiums when no next generation is born Rieder doesn't say.  Presumably government will pay for it and if there's no one to tax they'll just print the money, just like Krugman says. But maybe the Climate Changers are fixated on the wrong crisis.   The state power model itself may be failing in a way it never did before.  The Spectator  notes that even while much of the world falls apart "we’re living in a golden age."

Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. The risk of being caught up in a war, subjected to a dictatorship or of dying in a natural disaster is smaller than ever. The golden age is now.

The question isn't whether the state is irrelevant but whether it is less important than formerly or whether it is significant in a different way. Certainly Lou Dobbs' question "why would anyone vote for a FBI certified liar who's refused to hold a press conference for 258 days?" can only be met by supposing an indifference or resignation over political outcomes. One possible explanation for this comes from a Reason Magazine  citing a Pew poll that "millennial support for the Libertarian Party nominee is damn near astonishing." It's not hard to see in this a suggestion that government become less important in the 21st century than it was in the 20th.

The idea of the state as the "locomotive of history" is relatively recent. George Orwell's 1984 saw state resting on the pillars of police power, a command economy and the ability to rewrite the Narrative.  The most important of these was the ability to rewrite the factual record.  In fact 1984's protagonist was employed full time to rewrite newspaper articles.  In Orwell's view the mutability of the past was the foundation of tyranny.  "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."  To ensure this the Ministry of Truth was honeycombed with Memory Holes into which any inconvenient fact could be dropped and be disappeared.

But just to illustrate how things have changed for the State we now know that Orwell was wrong. The mathematically dominant method for recording transactions, whether they involve the transfer of financial assets, intellectual property, health records or any type of information is probably going to be the blockchain. It has three important properties. First, the entire record can be reproduced by anyone from a Genesis cryptographic starting point such that all records will have the same signature if and only if they are the same. Second, no part of the record can be altered without regenerating the entire block chain from the the branch. Third, it is impossible to rewrite the block chain without incurring enormous real costs in electricity and computing power, as guaranteed by the laws of thermodynamics.

The first property means that blockchain by nature is a public ledger. The second ensures the database can only be falsified in its entirety from the point of change. The third makes it prohibitively expensive to do so. Readers of Ray Bradbury's The Sound of Thunder will recognize these attributes.  From his story we learn you can't change the past without altering everything; that by crushing a butterfly in the Jurassic we alter not one item in the record but create a whole alternate history.

The possibility of an immutable record is revolutionary in itself.  History has always been a "fiction agreed upon" — until now. What happens when you can't lie boggles the mind. The elites are of course working to get on top of it as they did with the Internet and every other disruptive technology. Central bankers from 90 countries, including Janet Yellen, have met to discuss its impacts on the financial industry and they are considerable. It will make it possible for individuals to make universally verifiable ownership claims over their data. When the technique is applied to currency, as with Bitcoin, blockchain makes it impossible to print "free money" since each new block requires actual computing power to generate, giving blockchain currency something of the guaranteed scarcity of gold. In a world built on a public ledger, you can't change the past without invalidating the ledger. Drop something down the memory hole and the Ministry of Truth burns up with it.

Blockchain is offered only as an example of the disruptive technologies affecting the world. Other innovations are shaking things up and there is no reason to think that the forces which have taken jobs from workers in Detroit will not also take power from bureaucrats in Washington. The Pew result probably means that the millenials sense that something is changing in our political system, though they don't exactly understand the particulars.

The moving center of gravity may be one reason why government is growing without getting any stronger and why catastrophes do not always have the expected effects.  It explains why the election of 2016 is so weird without providing definite guidance about which candidate to choose. About the only sure thing is there is no safe harbor. Those who imagine that Hillary or Donald represent some return to safety will be cruelly disappointed. Each should be evaluated on their ability to understand change, not to stop it.

You can't return to the past and — this is important — you really can't change it either. Tennyson's adage still applies. "The old order changeth, yielding place to new, and God fulfills himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world." But with one proviso that bureaucrats normally forget: The change is real. Nothing Ben Rhodes can do will matter in the long run. The ultimate blockchain was always in the mind of God, beyond the power of the Narrative to corrupt.

For those interested in the technicalities see Andreas M. Antonopoulos: "Consensus Algorithms, Blockchain Technology and Bitcoin"

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