At the root of all the best-known cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, is the encryption technology of the blockchain.
Cryptocurrencies are digital currencies that supposedly “level the playing field,” meaning they have been developed outside the state, and they assign economic values to objects and services based on criteria that differ from conventional currency. Encryption is a technique that’s not easy to use and requires a medium-high level of technical competence. And that’s the first obstacle to the currencies’ proliferation; as a specialized form of knowledge and power, it favors the development of hierarchies of experts, encouraging the growth of implicit technocracies.
The other problematic issue related to cryptography is that it’s based on the limitless growth principle: As computing power and the speed of the IT networks increase, the cryptographic systems must become more and more powerful as the old “locks” placed to safeguard the cryptocurrencies become obsolete. More power and speed create the need for more power and speed. It’s a growth-obsolescence mechanism similar to an arms race.
In that sense, encryption is a useful exercise, but it’s sustainable when it’s the exception, not the rule — that is when it’s circumscribed to politically suited purposes, such as oppressed minorities under dictatorial regimes. Otherwise, in the present context, it slips easily into the mass of other consumer products on the market, losing any transformative ability to break up power.