The People’s Node: An Open Letter to Libra

The world stands at a crucial juncture when new DNA will be created that will form and influence our civilizations for generations to come, determining what our future looks like.

The world is now in a position to build global public infrastructure. Who owns this owns the future. You, Libra, have made the first crucial step – a characteristically bold move led, as it clearly is, by Facebook.

What you do next will determine not just the fate of this bold initiative and the Libra Association but will affect everyone on the planet throughout the foreseeable future and far beyond.

A hugely important missing element

You are rightly, I believe, credited with good intentions. However, there is a hugely important missing element to your plan and to your governance.  A voice at the table for the people who you say you are doing this for:  Us all. The crowd, and for the public good.

It’s understandable that you might make this mistake – we all have biases, the things we create we create in our own image.  In this case corporate.

But this is a crucial mistake that can, in essence, be instantly acknowledged and easily rectified by the creation of a people’s node. Seemingly small changes can, especially at the outset, have hugely beneficial results.

Sandboxes & the Innovation Unit

At what was, with hindsight, the inception of modern Fintech in August 2012 I wrote a  similar article to this one (referenced here) criticising our UK financial regulator and so was the first to call for the creation of an innovation unit within the regulator.  Regulators are by nature conservative and naturally, therefore, tend to shy away from innovation.

After a further two years of campaigning, chiefly via what is now the Westminster Frontier Technologies Forum, which I co-chair with Barry Sheerman MP, not only was this created but our Chancellor also announced that, henceforth, innovation must be at the heart of regulation.

The innovation unit created, as I’d hoped and intended, a voice around the table for innovation, and so affected and enhanced the thinking at the heart of our regulator.

In the process, along with it, all that has flowed in terms of sandboxes and support for innovation. An approach now being emulated around the world. Our regulator now employs at least 90 people concerned solely with innovation

Libra: The People’s Node

For Libra, it is simpler. Simply put we need a ‘People’s node’. Providing both access, transparency and a seat at the table. With it, a place where all voices can be heard and debate can be nurtured and supported.

If you take this step swiftly it will be telling and do much to assuage the doubts of many of the doubters. It will certainly earn you many friends and the respect you will thereby earn. In the alternative, people will wonder: Why not?

The article below begins to outline how this might best work and I, together with those most *concerned, await your urgent response via [email protected].

Barry E James.

* Thanks are due to David Siegel who commented on and has been supportive of this concept. See also his Medium Article on this.

Libra: The People’s Node, The People’s Vote

We are now in a position to build global public infrastructure – Who owns this owns the future. Libra, an alliance of global multinationals proposes to build it first. 

The landscape of the future just changed: With billions of users the advent of Libra will not only change the context and set the scene for all other developments for at least a decade to come. Inside and outside the cryptosphere, for the entire world.

It has changed our destination because it had changed the direction of travel. No longer can cryptocurrencies be seen as a cranky fringe interest. Much less an aspect of the dark web.

The US Congress, the French government, and the G8 may call for a pause (which will not happen outside that jurisdiction, which should give them pause) or regulation, but that will not change the fact that global money which is freely, frictionlessly, interchangeable between individuals across the world is now within our grasp. Because Facebook and the rest of the Libra group have acknowledged this it can no longer be denied or ignored by any government, central bank or multinational corporation (who might otherwise have wanted to keep this for themselves as long as possible).

Libras plans are clearly well thought through as well as well funded and seem to be well intended. Whatever the, perfectly justifiable, fears regarding data and the centralisation of yet more power Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook deserves great credit for their manifestly good intent in creating this plan in general and it’s governance in particular.

As David Marcus remarked in an interview for CNBC:

“We painstakingly removed ourselves from governing this new network because we believe that a public utility such as an internet of value shouldn’t be controlled by any company, and I think you’d be hard-pressed in modern business history to see a company that starts an initiative like this do so much to remove its influence over the very thing that it just helped create“.

But no one is perfect, we all have blind spots and biases, unconscious or otherwise – and tend to make things in our own image.

While Facebook as the lead has clearly done its best there is a glaring omission from this plan. A major fault.

“A public utility such as an internet of value shouldn’t be controlled by any company”.

Nor should it be controlled by a group of corporate multinationals (which itself would be unprecedented) especially without any voice for the public or indeed the public good.

Because this is a recipe to perpetuate the damaging corporate culture which has come so close to Wrecking our planet and much else, as well as all the mistakes we have been made since the advent of the internet.

The DNA of the Internet of Value

While it’s easy and right to applaud the plan and intent to decentralise there is no guarantee that this will happen, and all that happens in the meantime – forming the DNA of the internet of value and so our future – matters enormously. Plus governance matters as much as decentralisation here.

While we salute Facebook’s work, their ingenuity and leadership, this does need to go at least a step further to ensure that the people have a voice that is at least heard at the heart of this alliance and that the public good is well served – and not just from the perspective of those who inevitably live in a privileged corporate bubble.

Libra: The People’s Node, The People’s Vote

We therefore propose the creation of the people’s node, with full participation. Including and especially a seat at the table.

Supported by an online network for both the industry and public, giving it a voice, and where feasible, the opportunity to vote on key issues.

Providing a voice and participation in decision making for the future of the internet of value which will shape the world and its civilizations going forward.

This is crucial if Libra is to be a step in the right direction – towards global infrastructure owned and operated for the world and its people – rather than the opposite direction: Global corporates with a terrible track record and planet-toxic culture taking a new level of control on the first truly global infrastructure, without democratic oversight or even a voice from the crowd, or for the public good.

What Form Should This Take?

A people’s node should be gifted by the Libra alliance members to a new body formed by an alliance of those with a track record of championing innovation for the public good, open to all and to all opinions, and maintained by grants and income from the network as of right. With a remit to champion transparency, open public infrastructure and the public good.

This is a crucial moment in history. For us all – but not least for Facebook, the Libra alliance and for its members. No doubt the intentions are good but governance is not just an important challenge but a crucial one. Those of us who have long championed the crowd and the public good stand ready to help get this right.

The world is already watching and your response will be telling – one way or another.


Barry E. James is a tech pioneer, writer, serial entrepreneur and changemaker in Blockchain, Fintech, Crowdfunding and Medtech who chairs the British Blockchain & Frontier Technologies Association (bbfta.org). Recognised internationally as a thought leader, championing innovation – including smarter regulation. He writes for City AM and CrowdfundInsider, hosts ICOrad.io, is co-chair of the Westminster Frontier Technologies Forum and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Portsmouth Business School.

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