Bitcoin

Bitcoin and economic reality

Alex Payne lays out the Bitcoin agenda:

Bitcoin has become synonymous with everything wrong with Silicon Valley: a marriage of dubious technology and questionable economics wrapped up in a crypto-libertarian political agenda that smacks of nerds-do-it-better paternalism. With its influx of finance mercenaries, the Bitcoin community is a grim illustration of greed running roughshod over meaningful progress.

A person’s sincere interest in Bitcoin is evidence that they are disconnected from the financial problems most people face while lacking a fundamental understanding of the role and function of central banking. The only thing “profound” about Bitcoin is its community’s near-total obliviousness to reality.

If Bitcoin’s strength comes from decentralization, why pour millions into a single company? Ah, because Coinbase provides an “accessible interface to the Bitcoin protocol”, we’re told. We must centralize to decentralize, you see; such is the perverse logic of capital co-opting power. In order for Bitcoin to grow a thriving ecosystem, it apparently needs a US-based, VC-backed company that has “worked closely with banks and regulators to ensure that the service is safe and compliant”.

And Coinbase certainly feels, uh, compliant. It took me over a week to use the service to turn US dollars into a fraction of a Bitcoin, an experience that coupled the bureaucratic tedium of legacy consumer financial services with the cold mechanization of notoriously customer-hostile PayPal, but with the exciting twist that I have no idea from moment to moment how much my shiny new Internet money is actually worth.

Silicon Valley has a seemingly endless capacity to mistake social and political problems for technological ones, and Bitcoin is just the latest example of this selective blindness. The underbanked will not be lifted out of poverty by conducting their meager daily business in a cryptocurrency rather than a fiat currency, even if Bitcoin or its ilk manages to reduce marginal transaction costs.

In Bitcoin, the Valley sees another PayPal and the associated fat exit, but ideally without the annoying costs of policing fraud and handling chargebacks this time around. Bankers in New York and London see opportunities for cryptocurrency market-making. In other words: Bitcoin represents more of the same short-sighted hypercapitalism that got us into this mess, minus the accountability.

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