Though she has her detractors, and some tech leaders like Peter Thiel find themselves supporting her opponent, Hillary Clinton has made support of financial technologies like blockchain an important element of her financial manifesto. In June, the campaign of the Democratic Party nominee and former U.S. Secretary of State said the following in regards to supporting financial and other digital technologies: "We must position American innovators to lead the world in the next generation of technology revolutions – from autonomous vehicles to machine learning to public service blockchain applications – and we must defend universal access to the global, digital marketplace of ideas."
The announcement was seen as somewhat of a surprise, as blockchain is largely associated with transactions that occur outside the watchful eye of centralised governmental agencies like the Internal Revenue Service. Previous proponents of blockchain include Republican Senator (and one-time GOP presidential hopeful) Rand Paul of Kentucky, who, like his father Ron, leans toward the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Silicon Valley has a liberal tint, but others surmise that the GOP could, and will, peel off those voters if they advance policy that brings down regulations for start-ups and innovation. Clinton appears to have outflanked her opponents by this announcement, though analyst and former White House advisor Brian Forde opined that it an internal policy struggle likely took place in arguing for the inclusion of blockchain in the announcement.
So, what does Clinton and her campaign mean by public service blockchain applications? “Hillary believes that with the right public policies, we can ensure that technology is a force for broad-based growth, reducing social and economic inequality, and securing American leadership on the global stage,” her campaign added further, revealing that the presidential hopeful sees the ledger of digital currency transactions as a possible route toward better, more inclusive and responsive government.
Clinton has stated that she wants to bring any tech innovation, particularly as it relates to the economy, to ‘Main Street,’ a colloquialism for small business and middle-class homes, not limiting the benefits of developments to behemoth banks and corporations. Proponents of blockchain technology agree with Clinton that the potential is there for blockchain to help government run more efficiently, reducing waste, and providing a layer of security that otherwise does not exist for the U.S. government. Of course, blockchain transactions are encrypted in such a way that adding a transaction to the ledger is a one-way ticket – it remains an arduous task for aspiring hackers to gain access to critical information of buyers and sellers. Of course, Clinton and her campaign have been the target of hacks, temporarily causing a degree of embarrassment; it seems likely that she would be interested in any technology that further enhances the security of U.S. governmental transactions.
The campaign has argued that roadblocks that have hampered the development of technologies that could play an important role in bringing about new transaction permutations. This should be taken as a political leap forward for a candidate that otherwise has tip-toed along the razor’s edge of regulation policy, doing her best to enchant the supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders and other key progressive voices, like Senator Elizabeth Warren.
There is also something to be said about the role played by Bill Clinton, along with his Vice President, Al Gore, in supporting technologies brought on by the rise of the internet during his term in office in the 1990s. Then, online transactions and the growth of on demand, one click shopping, helped revolutionise the market place, opening the door to the developments of the 21st century. Indeed, Silicon Valley, it can be argued, exploded as a financial powerhouse during the administration of Bill Clinton – perhaps, then, Hillary Clinton would bless the next era of development with the support and weight of agencies like the United States Department of Commerce.
With Clinton seemingly on board with ushering in a managed acceptance of blockchain into the general marketplace, what of her opponent, Donald Trump? As noted, his campaign has earned the support of such Silicon Valley luminaries as Peter Thiel, but otherwise, one would have to jump to the conclusion that Trump would support de-regulating the blockchain market by reading his views on regulation of financial institutions in general. To sum up, he is, like most of his GOP forbearers, calling for across the board de-regulation of markets. Otherwise, the Trump campaign has largely remained silent in regards to new financial technologies.
Considering some members of Trump’s financial policy inner circle, it is just as likely that any government support for financial technology will first and foremost benefit large financial institutions well before the local small business owner ever enjoys the perks of innovation.
Further, some have argued that a potential Trump presidency, and the likelihood that, at least initially, markets would be disrupted by a degree of uncertainty typically unheard of when it comes to the transfer of power in the United States, would be a boon for cryptocurrency and blockchain, even without government support. Indeed, enough investors might be rattled into buying into the technology.
Certainly, then, it could be argued that Clinton got the jump on her Republican opponent by specifically announcing support for blockchain. That’s not to say a hypothetical Trump administration wouldn’t usher in the technology for use by the U.S. government, it’s just that his team hasn’t made it nearly as clear as the Democratic campaign.
By Keith Sonia.