With help from Derek Robertson
There is a new experiment unfolding in the bucolic Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts—one with implications for where and how crypto might work its way into daily life.
At the Berkshire Food Co-Op in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, you can see which local farm grew your produce, pick up a “reclaimed wheat stalk eco-mug” and, starting this fall, pay for everything in cryptocurrency.
The currency is not Bitcoin, with its high carbon emissions, or the many private cryptocurrencies backed by venture capitalists. Instead, the co-op is working with a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement to use a technology often associated with unfettered global capitalism for a different goal: radical localism.
The launch this spring of the Digital Berkshares cryptocurrency marks the latest step in a decade-long effort to foster a self-sufficient economy in the Berkshire Mountains, a popular retreat for wealthy, educated Northeasterners.
As globalization has continued its steady march, this autonomy has remained elusive. But now, as the rise of blockchain technology leads to a broad rethinking of money and a widespread push for deglobalization gains momentum, the effort’s backers have found a new opening.
To exploit it, they have enlisted the help of bare-in-the-Berkshire early adopters such as a ukulele factory, a walking jester and a prominent local witch.
But the currency’s backers insist it is more than a quirky pet project. The same technology that has launched a thousand get-rich-quick schemes, they argue, can also help America’s rural regions get rich slowly.
“We’re not in a three-year project or a five-year project,” said Berkshare supervisor Susan Witt, who, as co-founder of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, has sought to break the dollar’s monopoly on American money since the 1980s. “It’s more like a 50-year project.”
Witt has been closely involved in two previous schemes to launch a Berkshires alternative to the dollar, one of which is still in circulation, and is considered a success in the obscure world of local currencies. When she began attending crypto gatherings, beginning with the Miami Bitcoin Conference in January 2016, Witt, now 75, recalled being the oldest person in the room, dressed in pink among a sea of hundreds of young men in black. “I loved it,” she said. “I learned so much.”
Because of Berkshare’s status as an alternative money pioneer, she enjoyed a minor celebrity among crypto enthusiasts, and Witt said she feels a kinship with some of the anarchist impulses — favoring local control — that fueled Bitcoin’s development.
But she also frowns on the financial speculation and globalization trends surrounding the technology, saying she rejected several offers to convert Berkshares into a cryptocurrency. But she ultimately decided her ambitions required going digital with Berkshares: A digital system would enable more and larger transactions while generating detailed data about how the currency is being used.
The result: Digital Berkshares went live in April with the launch of a smartphone wallet app, and is now one of the most interesting experiments in grassroots use of crypto as a real alternative money system.
For the full story and update on how things are going, read Ben’s dispatch from Great Barrington on POLITICO Magazine.
Who is Sam Bankman-Fried, and what does he do with democratic politics?
POLITICO’s Elena Schneider answers that question in a profile today of the multibillionaire CEO of crypto exchange FTX, as he continues to commit not-insignificant portions of his fortune to Democratic campaigns across the country:
“…in the past year, he has hired a network of political operatives and spent tens of millions more to shape the Democratic House primaries,” Elena writes. “It was a shocking wave of spending that looked like it could remake the Democratic Party bench in Washington, candidate by candidate. Looking ahead to the 2024 election, he has said he could spend anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion.”
You may have noticed a number missing from that ledger: 2022. Elena reports that Bankman-Fried is reluctant to make such a big splash in the midterms, telling her he only plans to spend about half of the $40 million he used in this year’s primary election in the general election. (“Just.”)
Bankman-Fried also carefully guards against being too closely linked to the crypto world that helped build his fortune, and especially being seen as such: “Despite not saying anything about crypto, and only talking about pandemic prevention, to state explicitly, ‘just to be clear, there’s no crypto angle, there’s no hidden crypto agenda here,’ he told Elena. that I needed to be extremely explicit and repetitive about that fact.” — Derek Robertson
Would be Twitter competitors like Peach or Mastodon have usually followed a predictable cycle: A good deal of hype followed by little in the way of a lasting footprint.
A recently launched social media platform hopes to reverse that fate by introducing a real one Sui generisunpredictable element in the mix: cohost, a ad- and algorithm-free social media platform which allows users to include CSS in their posts.
For non-coders, CSS (short for “cascading style sheets”) is a language that adds visual qualities to HTML input. It sounds dry, but in practice it allows more creative cohost users to create fast-loading, elaborate interactive images in the browser: With just a quick search after creating an account and logging in, I found a simulation of fridge magnet poetry, Windows 2000 Professionaland even a classic Game Boy Advance games.
The site was not built Specifically as a platform for such gadgets – its stated purpose is to “give you ways to express yourself and stay in touch with your friends” – but their prevalence is a good reminder of how people are using new technological tools such as 3D art, the blockchain or even in the boring old browser in this case, in unpredictable ways. — Derek Robertson
Stay in touch with the entire team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Konstantin Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]). Follow us on Twitter @DigitalFuture.
Ben Schreckinger covers technology, finance and politics for POLITICO; he is a cryptocurrency investor.
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