Toward Dystopia? China’s Social Credit System, Crypto, and What’s Next

As China announces it will soon begin implementing travel restrictions on citizens via its infamous “social credit” system, the reality of being one step closer to the dystopian world of science fiction novels seems close at hand — and the implications for government-controlled “digital currencies” are frightening in extension.

Credit … Or Else

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s “social credit” system will give the government the ability to prevent citizens who have committed what it deems as “misdeeds” from traveling outside of government-dictated areas. Offenders will face restrictions on train, plane, and bus travel for offenses such as using expired train tickets, smoking on transport, causing trouble on flights or “spreading false information regarding terrorism.”

The restrictions will remain in place for up to a year, however according to Premier Xi the defining principle of the system is “once untrustworthy, always restricted,” an effective black mark for life.

What could go wrong, right.

An Eerie New World

If you’re thinking this sounds like an episode of Black Mirror, you’d be right, with the cult TV series airing an episode titled “Nosedive” in which one of the characters is refused a seat on a flight due to having a low social credit score. But the truly frightening thing is that not only does it not require a giant leap of faith to envision similar restrictions being placed directly on the finances of the population, but that eerily similar events have been occurring in Western countries for a number of years.

So while many people will point to the “social credit” policy as another example of the repressive nature of the Chinese government, these restrictions have seeped into contemporary society, aided by media-driven, morally superior “outrage” — think the credit card blockade of Wikileaks, US “No Fly” lists, or the freezing of the assets of wealthy citizens in order to prompt rebellions in other countries.

A further development to send chills down the collective spine of society is the recent proliferation of facial recognition systems. The most recent developments are being labelled “IoE: the Internet of Eyes,” whereby companies use “facial coding and eye tracking inputs” to figure out your real “emotions when […] engaging with your content.”

The media driven narrative undertaken in the example of the blackballing of Wikileaks seems to come from a playbook all too familiar to bitcoiners, with the cryptocurrency industry knowing better than most about the effects an agenda can have on adoption. Bitcoin advocates fought for many years against the perception that the protocol — a piece of software — was somehow an inherently evil conduit intent on enabling drug dealers and criminals in their efforts to evade law enforcement. Yet even today, credit card companies, wealthy businessmen and heads of reserve banks feel the need to attempt to discredit the Bitcoin project.

The part of the criminal / evasion narrative that is correct is that Bitcoin does enable users to evade third parties (be they governments, credit card companies or websites) — and that is actually Bitcoin’s reason for being and helps explain why the entities with so much to lose were the leading agitators speaking out against Bitcoin.

But what if a protocol like Bitcoin was co-opted? When will we see the first company create a cryptocurrency for control, not economic liberation? A ban on cash and bitcoin would pave the way for a government-enforced digital currency, where the finances of society would essentially be left at the mercy of the entities that have variously bailed out fraudulent banks with taxpayer money, implemented depositor “haircuts” and worked with the mainstream media to massage the opinions of the populace.

Thankfully, bitcoin has survived because of its features of decentralization and utility, along with the way the internet has allowed the proliferation of ideas and information that counter the narrative pedaled by the mainstream media. If something akin to China’s “social credit” system ever does seep its way into our society in a monetary sense, then it is likely we will see a distinct ramping up of the anti-bitcoin narrative. Bitcoin will be one of the main avenues for escaping the restrictive policies, arbitrary confiscations, and overnight devaluations that most think are reserved solely for the Third World.

Although it may be hard to imagine the governments of the world ceasing fighting and jostling for power long enough to somehow successfully replace bitcoin with their own version of a cryptocurrency, if they do, then there are ways for China’s “social credit” system to be co-opted and turned into something far more insidious. If we extrapolate to consider the possible ramifications this could have when applied to wider society and wider economic instruments, then it becomes truly Orwellian. Luckily, while bitcoin remains operational, secure, and a bulwark against monetary tyranny, we all have an option.

What’s your take? Do you think a “social credit” system sounds nightmarish? Sound off in the comments below.

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