‘Facebook Coin’: The media giant is trying its hand at banking


IMAGE/Christoph Scholz/Flickr

Along London high streets, over plexiglass-protected counters in the backs of barbershops and convenience stores, money flows around the world in the form of remittances—money typically sent by migrant labourers to their communities back home. Over the past twenty years the remittance have gone from being essentially an invisible economy, to a major World Bank talking point. Now, Facebook wants in.

The company has indicated plans to roll out a remittance service tied to cryptocurrency early this year, and their efforts have been intensifying. They’ve been on a hiring spree in recent weeks, rapidly expanding their cryptocurrency team. In February, the company announced that they were “aqui-hiring” the London-based startup Chainspace, their first purchase of a blockchain company.

All of this coming off of news in December that they’d be launching a stablecoin cryptocurrency as part of a new remittance service aimed at Whatsapp users in India—one of the largest remittance markets in the world.

Investors are excited by the move, the cryptocurrency world is buzzing, and the business press has been hung up on the possible implications for Facebook’s value. But little attention has been paid to the significance of “Facebook Coin” for international development. Following their Internet.org (formerly Free Basics) campaign, Facebook’s cryptocurrency initiative furthers an agenda of neoliberal financialization. And in order to understand the move, we need to understand the rise of remittances.

Remittances are at the core of terms like “economic migration” and “economic refugee”. The possibility of sending money to family members back home through informal community services, institutional providers like Western Union and MoneyGram, or more recently, mobile payment is often a big factor for why someone would travel abroad to work. Remittances enable families to join their loved ones abroad – a process that the Trump administration has referred to as “chain migration”. Importantly, its money in the form of wages that’s flowing from one country to another. While they’re not frequently discussed outside of the development community, remittances are central to arguments like Angela Nagel’s deeply dubious left-wing case against open borders : the idea that money is being funnelled out of the pockets of citizens, and into the pockets of migrant labourers.

Fundamentally remittances are about labour. Critics of Nagel argue that it’s important to recognize economic migrants as workers, and by drawing lines between local and foreign workers, Nagel misses out on the fact that what migrants face are labour issues. Migrant labourers aren’t taking our jobs – instead, financial institutions are cashing in on remittances and leaving migrant workers worse off, while the communities that migrants leave back home become trapped in a new form of colonial dependency.

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