Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Naomi Klein: THE BATTLE FOR PARADISE @ The Intercept

... The official slogan of this new Puerto Rico? “Paradise Performs.” To underscore the point, conference attendees were invited to a “Cryptocurrency Honey Party,” with pollen-themed drinks and snacks, and a chance to hang out with Ingrid Suarez, Miss Teen Panama 2013 and upcoming contestant on “Caribbean’s Next Top Model.”

Mining cryptocurrencies is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, with the industry’s energy consumption rising by the week. Bitcoin alone currently consumes roughly the same amount of energy per year as Israel, according to the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index. The city of Plattsburgh, New York, recently adopted a temporary ban on cryptocurrency mining after local electricity rates suddenly soared. Many of the crypto companies currently relocating to Puerto Rico would presumably do their currency mining elsewhere. Still, the idea of turning an island that cannot keep the lights on for its own people into “the epicenter of this multitrillion-dollar market” rooted in the most wasteful possible use of energy is a bizarre one and is raising mounting concerns of “crypto-colonialism.”

In part to allay these fears, Puerto Crypto made a last-minute name change to the less imperial “Blockchain Unbound,” though it didn’t stick. Moreover, for some in the crypto crowd, the appeal of relocating to Puerto Rico goes well beyond Laboy’s version of paradise. Post-Maria, with land selling for even cheaper, public assets being auctioned at fire-sale prices, and billions in federal disaster funds flowing to contractors, some distinctly more grandiose dreams for the island have begun to surface. Now rather than simply shopping for mansions in resort communities, the Puertopians are looking to buy a piece of land large enough to start their very own city — complete with airport, yacht port, and passports, all run on virtual currencies.

Some call it “Sol,” others call it “Crypto Land,” and it even seems to have its own religion: an unruly hodgepodge of Ayn Randian wealth supremacy, philanthrocapitalist noblesse oblige, Burning Man pseudo-spirituality, and half-remembered scenes from watching “Avatar” while high. Brock Pierce, the child actor turned crypto-entrepreneur who serves as the movement’s de facto guru, is known for dropping New Age aphorisms like, “A billionaire is someone who has positively impacted the lives of a billion people.” Out on a real estate expedition scouting locations for Crypto Land, he reportedly crawled into the “bosom” of a Ceiba tree, a magnificent species sacred in many indigenous cultures, and “kissed an old man’s feet.”

But make no mistake — the true religion here is tax avoidance. As one young crypto-trader recently told his YouTube audience, before moving to Puerto Rico in time to make the tax-filing deadline, “I had to actually look it up on the map.” (He subsequently admitted to some “culture shock” upon learning that Puerto Ricans spoke Spanish, but instructed viewers thinking of following his lead to put a “Google translator app on your phone and you’re good to go.”)

The conviction that taxation is a form of theft is not a novel one among men who imagine themselves to be self-made. Still, there is something about rapidly becoming rich from money that you literally created — or “mined” — yourself that lends an especially large dose of self-righteousness to the decision to give nothing back. As Reeve Collins, a 42-year-old Puertopian, told the New York Times, “This is the first time in human history anyone other than kings or governments or gods can create their own money.” So who is the government to take any of it from them?

As a breed, the Puertopians, in their flip-flops and surfer shorts, are a sort of slacker cousin to the Seasteaders, a movement of wealthy libertarians who have been plotting for years to escape the government’s grip by starting their own city-states on artificial islands. Anybody who doesn’t like being taxed or regulated will simply be able to, as the Seasteading manifesto states, “vote with your boat.”

For those harboring these Randian secessionist fantasies, Puerto Rico is a much lighter lift. When it comes to taxing and regulating the wealthy, its current government has surrendered with unmatched enthusiasm. And there’s no need to go to the trouble of building your own islands on elaborate floating platforms — as one Puerto Crypto session put it, Puerto Rico is poised to be transformed into a “crypto-island.” ... [End of Excerpt]

Read more at The Intercept.

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