Our old friend, former congressional candidate Mark Gamba, introduced me to Matt West, the progressive candidate running in the new 6th district, which includes Mark’s home. There’s no incumbent and the district is safely blue. The winner of the Democratic primary will be going to Congress.
Matt is a scientist who earned his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin studying renewable energy technology. He’s very serious about it and that’s what he wanted to talk about when I interviewed him.
He’s a Bernie guy who wanted to talk about the Green New Deal; it’s the top issue in his campaign. He told me that he believes we need a massive, sustained mobilization to fully transition to green energy by 2035. The Green New Deal is a jumping off point. He told me, like most of the candidates do who I get beyond the first 5 minutes with, that he’s “ready to fight for economic and social equity… and to restore our democracy.”
But then something very different happened, something he said that no other candidate ever had: “I’m also a blockchain/web3/cryptocurrency developer working to change the internet. I thought only right-wingers are interested in crypto… but, was I ever wrong! Want to hear what he has to say about it?
I asked him to write a guest post. It’s pretty eye-opening. Please read it and consider contributing to his campaign here or by clicking on the 2022 Blue America congressional thermometer above. And he has a really good campaign video below.
How All These Things Go Hand-In-Hand
-by Matt West
I’ve been a progressive my entire life. I believe in single-payer healthcare, paid family leave, and free college tuition. I believe that women have a right to choose. I believe that Black lives matter. I believe that my top priority, stopping climate change, is the great challenge of our time and that all the might of the modern world must be brought to bear combating it. And I believe that big banks and big tech are in need of a reckoning.
It’s that last part where blockchain comes into play. If you aren’t familiar, blockchain is the basis for what’s being called web3, and it’s what powers most cryptocurrencies. It’s an amazing tool to design programs that make the internet and most everything we do on it more free and more fair. Imagine versions of Google and Facebook that pay you to use them. Imagine bank accounts with high interest rates and no ludicrous fees available to anyone. Imagine real privacy. That’s web3. That’s what I’m looking to help guide in Congress.
In essence, blockchain is a means of storing data on the internet that distributes that data across many different places, instead of the way we usually store data now in just a few centralized servers. Unlike traditional data storage solutions, blockchain data can’t be changed, it’s viewable to everyone, and (depending on how the blockchain in question is built) is very difficult for one individual or group to control. These qualities are great for keeping track of digital transactions, so it makes sense that the first blockchain was built for Bitcoin, and that most blockchains since have acted as currencies. The term “cryptocurrency” comes from the encrypted nature of the currencies that have been built.
You can see how blockchain can be used to power lots of things. A distributed database can keep track of more than just transactions. The work I’ve done with blockchain has focused on connecting different programs together, so that the data they use can be shared. It enables people and programs to lend to each other and the same kind of work can connect a search engine to a video platform. In the grand scheme, the vision of a new internet is beginning to take shape, one where users have control over their data and the programs they use.
This is really exciting. As a progressive, I want an internet that empowers individuals. Big banks and big tech both stand to lose a lot of their power as web3 matures, so it makes sense that they would want to discredit and/or subvert blockchain and its uses. Some of the critiques we hear are bogus, while others are well-founded and need to be addressed. Of the former, the claim that blockchain enables crime is probably the best known– and most ridiculous. As soon as law enforcement came to understand how Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies work, it became extremely difficult to use them with bad intentions. Every transaction is saved forever and visible to everyone. You can’t come up with a worse way to break the law.
Other criticisms are more fair. There’s reasonable concern about the carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The energy requirements of many blockchains simply weren’t considered until the scale of adoption made them clear. The good news is that this problem is being tackled. Ethereum, the second largest blockchain, and the one that I have focused my work on, is currently undergoing an upgrade that will reduce its energy usage by over 99.9%. Once this is completed, many other blockchains will follow. Government regulation can help ensure that the blockchain is a force to fight climate change, rather than the opposite. And government regulation will certainly help with another source of anxiety– namely, that financial uses of blockchain technology could undermine parts of our broader financial system.
Too few of our elected representatives have even a limited understanding of the nuts and bolts of blockchain. In the same way that as a scientist focusing on renewable energy, I believe I have a sorely needed body of knowledge when it comes to Congress tackling climate change, I also believe that as a blockchain developer I can help to form our regulations toward this valuable new technology. One of the exciting things about blockchain and web3 is that there is still so much to be done. Every month, a new project is published and released that finds some new and interesting way to utilize blockchain.
We may not know exactly what the end-state of web3 will be, but that is why it is so important that we have representatives in Congress who understand how it works. We have an opportunity to guide an emerging technology and industry through smart regulation, to ensure that it is more free and more fair for all people than the systems we currently live with. That’s my kind of progressivism.