Books and Code · A Miscellany

Digital Cash, by Finn Brunton (A Review)


As this book unfolds, Brunton’s tone becomes increasingly filled with smug disdain for his subject until ultimately he is revealed to have been writing in bad faith. As with most effective strawman attacks, his narrative is built on kernels of truth that are amplified and distorted to serve the pre-determined conclusion. He avoids applying his own critical apparatus to the institutions and “cosmograms” of the status quo that his subject is fighting against.

He is fond of using the polemical trick of smearing a character with an irrelevant, unsubstantiated or misleading aside before describing their ideas in order to predispose the reader against them. He abuses all free-market or Austrian thinkers in this way including Hayek (supported Pinochet), Rothbard (“one-note ideologue, racist”), Mises (whose work is “eccentric, convoluted” and “a fantasy”), Milton Friedman (“responsible for some of the most extreme free market policies ever enacted” and also Pinochet apologist) to point out a few. (He associates “free market” with “fantasy” many times as well.) It would be like responding to Bernie Sanders’ critique of crony capitalism by saying “Sanders loved communist Russia, Castro, Chavez and many other terrible totalitarian regimes and therefore his critique is wrong.” Sanders liked all of those people, but that doesn’t mean crony capitalism doesn’t suck.

There is some value in Brunton’s collection and presentation of earlier attempts at creating alternative currencies and the precursor communities like the Extropians and cypherpunks, because there simply aren’t that many such books. However, one must take his interpretations with skepticism and use the book mainly as a guide to discover primary sources. Read the arguments these people made directly and come to your own conclusions about their validity.