Welcome to San Francisco in 2033, where universal basic income and FedGov surveillance pervade and Bitcoin is outlawed.
This is a science-fiction piece by Jameson Lopp, professional Cypherpunk and cofounder and CTO at Casa.
“Good morning.” I’m gently awoken by my smart watch’s soothing female voice. It’s a bit robotic but does have a touch of personality and charm.
“Today is Monday, October 31, 2033,” it continues. “Your weekly basic income of $ 3,432 has been deposited into your account. $ 1,049 was withheld to pay your student loan. $ 2,300 was withheld for your landlord, Blackstone Hathaway.”
Shit. That’s a bit more than last week; there must have been another inflation adjustment.
I slide out of my subterranean pod on the outskirts of San Francisco. The cabal of venture capital firms had successfully staved off any efforts to build high-rise housing, so there was nowhere to go but down. Why do I still live in this hellhole? Because I can’t afford to escape the confines of the safety net that allows me to survive.
In a former life I was a copywriter for the San Francisco Chronicle, but such jobs have been long-since replaced by AI. The Chronicle has become a glorified propaganda mouthpiece for the government: FedGov says that you must seek employment. FedGov will pay you to work for it. FedGov sets a floor on your income so that you can have a basic standard of living, lo and behold! FedGov also sets a ceiling on your income so that you cannot escape your place in their grand scheme. The Fed is your friend. The Fed feeds you. The Fed cares.
I don my base model iGlasses. They're so cheap that they're made of standard glass rather than Gorilla Glass. Everyone wears some kind of iGlasses, though white collar folks often upgrade to iContacts while one percenters opt for the permanent ocular implants colloquially called iEyes. Each model works on the same premise: it overlays your vision with information from the internet so that wherever you are, you can learn more about your surroundings.
I begrudgingly begin my trek to the dingy coffee shop on Turk street where freelance gigs are sometimes available. Everywhere I look, my view is augmented with advertisements floating in space. Thankfully, FedGov mandates that iGlass ads can’t exceed 50% opacity due to the safety issues it can cause, but the obstructions can get quite annoying. I wish I could afford the ad blocker upgrade, but the ads subsidize the cost of the glasses.
I decide to multitask while walking and catch up on the news. Not from FedGov mouthpieces, of course — I have carefully curated a lot of independent journalists to follow on Twitter. I myself don’t tweet any more, however — it’s too risky. While we still have First Amendment protection, that just means I can’t be imprisoned for my tweets. Disseminating controversial opinions would get me booted from a variety of vital services. For example, while we do have the right to universal basic income (UBI), we don’t have the right to a Fed account… and without one, it’s a huge pain to actually receive payments. An even worse potential outcome would be Apple shutting off my iGlasses; that would be tantamount to crippling me by chopping off one of my limbs!
After scrolling only a dozen tweets deep into my timeline I find myself physically falling forward. My instincts take over and I catch myself on my knees and palms. As pain shoots through my body, my first thoughts are of relief that my iGlasses are undamaged. I look over and see a homeless person laying across the path, wrapped in tattered blankets. Normally I’d give the man an earful for obstructing this right of way, but he is clearly zoned out, deep in the metaverse to escape the reality of his situation. I chuckle as I recall the early pro-UBI propaganda that claimed it would solve homelessness. Those folks must not have heard the phrase “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” For some, the open streets are preferable to the claustrophobia-inducing pods.
I continue on my way, making a note to find some replacement pants. In general, my clothes are getting threadbare; it has been years since I’ve been able to afford new garments. Even used clothes are becoming increasingly unaffordable as demand outpaces supply due to FedGov policies that restrict imports in an effort to boost domestic manufacturing jobs… which automation has all but eradicated.
There isn’t much work in this grimy part of town these days — most employers have been sucked up by mega-corporations or shuttered when they couldn’t compete with cloud-based AI that could provide digitized labor for pennies on the dollar. But every little bit of income helps. As long as I keep filling out applications, submitting proposals for projects on freelance platforms, and networking like crazy, maybe one day things will change for me too.
After a long day of fruitless gig hunting I have to hurry to the corner store to buy food before those earmarked funds are revoked due to inactivity. Big Brother likes to see high economic velocity; we can’t just leave money sitting around idly! At least I don’t have anywhere near the level of funds that I need to worry about being affected by the negative interest rates that are applied to the accounts of one percenters.
After gathering enough highly-processed sustenance for the week it’s time to pay. Gone are the checkout lines of yesteryear; the store’s sensors have already tallied up my bill as I place items into my shopping bag. As I approach the locked, one-way exit turnstile there is a momentary pause as the iGlasses scan my retina to authorize the payment and get past the KYC firewall. The Fed had to implement this a few years back after unscrupulous folks stopped reporting the deaths of their family members so that they could spend their stipends.
On my way home through a seedier section of the city without many FedGov patrol units I hear a voice call out from an alley.
“Pssst. Nice groceries. You in the market for eggs?”
It sure would be nice to have some non-synthetic protein for once! I take a gander at the man’s wares, but my iGlasses don’t display any prices. Nor can I see his social credit score. Odd. Is this guy running cloaking tech?
“Might be,” I respond. “How much for a dozen?”
“I’m looking for 50 sats, give or take” he says.
Oh boy; the Fed frowns upon using unsanctioned currency!
“I don’t have sats. How many dollars?”
“Sorry, dollars are too risky. I’m not a licensed merchant. Too many questions from the Fed; they're just looking for an excuse to rug pull me. Even if they don’t, I can’t afford the 20% peer-to-peer tax they’ll take from the transaction. Bitcoin’s better; it’s not subject to central bank bullshit.”
I turn away to consider my options; I bet FedGov would be interested to know about this tax evader… but my iGlasses suddenly show an alert, outlining the face of a woman who has just walked by.
A message scrolls across my field of view:
“WARRANT ISSUED: $ 50,000 REWARD.
“Carla Jennings is wanted by the Fed for engaging in black market exchange.”
My pulse quickens. This much money would provide some financial cushion and might even be enough for a security deposit on a pod with a full kitchen. Best not to think too hard about the philosophical quandary; while Carla has not caused me direct harm, she is working against the public good by selfishly ignoring the directives of the Fed.
“Accept gig,” I reply with a sigh.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but I need you to come with me,” I say as I fish a few zip ties out of my pocket. She bolts.
“Stop right there!” I yell, taking up pursuit. She is faster than me because I avoid stepping on FedGov sidewalks; every step gets logged and microtransaction tolls are deducted from your Fed account in realtime.
As I’m about to lose sight of my quarry, I do some quick mental math and decide that the toll expense is worth the potential reward. I finally catch up and tackle her on Market Street. I look around to see if anyone is in earshot.
“Give it up,” I whisper.
“Fuck you,” she spits back. I have to take control of the situation, so I slip the zip ties around her wrists. She lets out a furious cry as I search her belongings.
“What have we here?” I exclaim as I pull a thumb-sized circuit board out of her purse.
“Please, don’t. Those are my only savings that are safe from the Fed!”
“Bitcoin, huh? I sure could have used some sats earlier. Alas, the Feds already know I’ve detained you. Agents will be here momentarily. They’re going to force you to unlock this unauthorized wallet.”
I can see the panic in her eyes — she knows what would happen if the Feds can’t access her private keys. Years of labor in the data mines for her to pay off the fines. Oh, the irony.
But I have to stay strong for our struggling economy; little else matters to the Fed but stomping out sound money in these tough times. Despite it being against my own self interest, I have little choice but to keep accepting missions to crack down on cryptocurrency so that it can be removed from circulation.
Muttering to myself, I turn Carla over to the Fed agents and see the bounty credited to my account. She sobs and struggles as they haul her away. Yet I steel myself and imagine the suffering that can occur when society tries to operate without a stable, centralized financial system. We’re all in this together; there’s no place for selfishness.
While walking home along a convoluted path to avoid as many FedGov sidewalks as possible, I reflect upon how the world has changed over the decades. It is hard to believe that this area once was the cradle of the Cypherpunk movement that spawned cryptocurrency and strong anti-Fed sentiments.
The winds of change left those ideals behind, and FedGov loyalists now control every aspect of society. Privacy and sovereignty are nothing but a distant memory. FedGov has an anti-privacy mandate, outlawing all software and hardware that facilitates cryptocurrency and secure messaging. Even those who still cling to the past find it difficult to evade being tracked by the dense mesh of sensors embedded in every tech product, every store, every home, every street.
Today’s gig isn’t life changing but it will at least allow me to afford some new clothes. I’ll have to be happy with daydreaming that my federal lottery ticket will win this month and my universal basic income will get upgraded to individual comfort plus income…
This is a guest post by Jameson Lopp. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.