Stephenson, Neal. 'The Great Simolean Caper'

Neal Stephenson, 'The Great Simolean Caper' (1995).

Bitcoin appeared around 2008, although there had been plenty of 'centralised' e-money systems (such as DigiCash and e-Gold) since the early 1990s. This short story published in TIME in 1995 concerns a digital cash start-up (Simoleon Corp.) that attracts some unwanted attention from higher up:
“Why should the government care?”
“They care big-time,” Codex says. “They’re going to destroy Simoleons. And they’re going to step all over your family in the process.”
“Because if they don’t destroy E-money,” Codex says, “E-money will destroy them.”
With a little help from magic cyberlibertarians, they outfox the Big Bad Government's dirty tricks, and transition to a safer form of digital currency ... CryptoCredits.
“The First Distributed Republic,” says the big panarchist. “It’s a virtual nationstate. I’m the Minister of Data Security. Our official currency is CryptoCredits.”
 “Wait a sec,” he says, and puts his hands to his temples. “You can rig it so that people who use E-money don’t have to pay taxes to any government? Ever?”
CryptoCredits is encrypted, but it's not blockchain. Nevertheless, there is a sense here of a distributed ledger. With their suspicion of centralising authority, how else would the FDR deal with the banking of CryptoCredits? It's very tricky to interpret this story except through the lens of the subsequent appearance of blockchain and BitCoin.


  • Consider different ways in which a currency can be both centralised and decentralised. Critically evaluate the claim of most Bitcoin proponents that the currency is decentralised.
  • Is Bitcoin really 'trust-free'?
  • Can we imagine non-blockchain implementations of CryptoCredits in the First Distributed Republic? 

Further reading: