How Crypto Is Like Early Corporations

And how they’re both artificial life

indi.ca

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Hogarthian image of the 1720 “South Sea Bubble” from the mid-19th century, by Edward Matthew Ward, Tate Gallery

Crypto sucks, but it’s here to stay. Like the corporate form, it’s a version of artificial life that’s not very good for humans, but it’s not going anywhere. Today’s religion was yesterday’s cult. Today’s cult is tomorrow’s religion.

People forget that early corporations were bonkers, colonial charlatans were essentially selling NFTs to all of South America. This South Sea Bubble blew up so bad that governments banned new corporate forms for decades. But they came back. Corporations are still dodgy and dangerous as shit, we’ve just gotten accustomed to it. So it’ll be with crypto in a few generations.

Crypto may even get banned when the current bubble pops, but it’ll come back. It simply makes too much money for its followers. Crypto is an artificial species that lives in the ecosystem of our greed and—like the Jurassic Park dinosaurs—artificial life finds a way.

If you read about the South Sea Company, it sounds like the NFT marketplace OpenSea today, some transparently speculative bullshit that just waiting for a crash. As Joel Bakan writes in his book The Corporation:

Doesn’t a bunch of rich kids selling the ‘rights’ to South America sound like a bunch of rich kids selling the ‘rights’ to literally made-up gold. It’s all fucking stupid until you get a critical mass of fools, and then it’s actually huge.

Via How Much

The South Sea Company was many times larger than any company listed today (inflation-adjusted). Colonial companies (which essentially sold fraudulent NFTs to other human beings and nature) dwarfed the corporations of today. The early stock market was not some primitive thing, it was huge. If you look at a historical chart, there was an absolute supernova when the bubble popped.

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Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.