Bitcoin, Blockchain in the Age of Prosumer Capitalism

Producer capitalism, which continues to this day, was dominant from the Industrial Revolution to the end of WW II. It was (and is) based mainly on the exploitation of producers (especially the proletariat). Consumer capitalism grew increasingly predominant, mostly in developed countries, after WW II and remains of central importance to this day, at least in the U.S. (about 70% of the U.S. economy today is accounted for by consumption) and other developed countries. Consumer capitalism relies primarily on the exploitation of consumers through excessive costs for goods and services and by encouraging hyperconsumption. While both producer and consumer capitalism continue to exist, we are now in the era of the emergence of prosumer capitalism. This economic system is rooted in the synergistic exploitation of the prosumer as both producer (prosumer-as-producer) and consumer (prosumer-as-consumer).

In prosumer capitalism people are exploited as prosumers-as-consumers in that, as in the case of consumer capitalism, they pay more than they “should” for their goods and services. The level of exploitation is amplified because they receive little or no economic compensation for the increasing amount of the work they perform in consuming products and services. That is, they are exploited as “working consumers” (prosumers-as-producers), as producers of their own services (e.g., in “working” online, in fast food restaurants, etc.). In some cases (e.g., 3-D printing; additive manufacturing) they are even producing the goods that they will ultimately consume. The exploitation of both prosumers-as-consumers and –as producers is synergistic. In that way, the two types of exploitation build off one another to create unprecedented levels of exploitation…and profitability.

As a highly fluid currency, Bitcoin (or any of the other digital currencies already in existence, or that could be created in the future), as well as blockchain, have the potential to power all forms of global capitalism. This is especially the case in prosumer capitalism since both Bitcoin and blockchain are systems of prosumption that fit seamlessly into prosumer capitalism.

 

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Bitcoin, Blockchain and Prosumption

Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) and its underlying blockchain system are prosumption systems. There are no producers or consumers associated with Bitcoin and blockchain. All of those involved both produce and consume; they are prosumers. One journalist makes this absolutely clear in the case of Bitcoin when he points out that those who use the system are “both customers and owners of both the banks and the mint” (italics added). While the “customers” in this context are, in the terms of this approach, prosumers-as-consumers, those associated with the banks and especially the mint (the “producers”) are prosumers-as-producers. Bitcoin (and blockchain) involve both the production (especially by “miners” in Bitcoin) and consumption of data by all “nodes” in the system.

While all involved in Bitcoin (and blockchain) are prosumers, some are at times more producers (prosumers-as-producers), although they must also of necessity consume information. Such prosumers (actually their nodes) function as miners whose computers and their software compete to order new and unordered transactions into a block. They must also create a hash for the block. This involves solving difficult computational problems. Miners (and others) also serve as prosumers-as-producers when they verify transactions (e.g., creation of a new block) undertaken by others. They thereby help to maintain and secure Bitcoin’s network.

While all of this is challenging for the miner, it is easy for others (really their computers) involved in the blockchain to check (to serve as prosumers-as-producers) to make sure that the requirements are met.

As in many other instances today, it is not prosumption that is new. What is new are the technologies (e.g. Bitcoin and blockchain) that make possible new forms of prosumption.

While Bitcoin may yet fail for myriad reasons (a bursting of the current economic bubble, theft of large numbers of bitcoins, loss of faith in digital currencies, etc.), it fits well with various developments in the social world. One is the increase in prosumption and the technologies that expedite, even require, it. Others include the increasing importance of consumption and the spread of consumer culture, globalization, and rationalization (McDonaldization). Blockchain has a similar fit with contemporary social changes, but it is more likely to succeed even if Bitcoin fails. Blockchains, both public and private, have many other uses.  For example, they can be used to track almost everything including voting; use of, and payment, for music and art; and locations of cargo containers