This is an opinion editorial by Jason Maier, a teacher and author of “A Progressive’s Case For Bitcoin.” Disclaimer: This book was published by Bitcoin Magazine.
Does Bitcoin need progressives?
The simple answer to this question is no, Bitcoin doesn’t need progressives. We can all quote the memes by heart: Bitcoin doesn’t care. Tick tock, next block. Bitcoin is inevitable. Bitcoin can’t be regulated. I believe each of these mottos are true, in their own ways, in the long term. But recently, I have devoted a lot of energy to answering the converse of this question, namely: Do progressives need Bitcoin?
My book answers this more intricate question thoroughly in the affirmative. And while it’s easy to conclude, with confidence, that Bitcoin doesn’t need progressives, it might be interesting to consider why you should care at all that I’m on a mission to orange pill as many progressive liberals as I can. It’s true that Bitcoin doesn’t care. But I think you should.
Shortening The Long Run
As clear as it is to me that Bitcoin will ultimately succeed, it is also clear that the support of liberals and those on the left of the political spectrum, while not an absolute necessity, is important nonetheless. Even if Bitcoin is inevitable in the long run, there is an awful lot of time between now and the end of that long run. That time can be filled with growing adoption, innovation and promoting freedom money across the planet. Or that time can be filled with political fighting at every level of every government across the globe. Plenty of people reading this may not care, or they may even welcome the fighting. But in the long run, I’ll be dead and the world would be a better place if more people understood and used Satoshi Nakamoto’s innovation before my stack of corn gets passed along to my children.
There are Bitcoiners who do not align with me politically, but nonetheless support my work. These folks like to remind me that Bitcoin is money for enemies. This is not only true, but actually an important property of all “good” money. Furthermore, it is also critical to remember that, in this narrow sense, no Bitcoiner is your enemy, regardless of how they align themselves within the legacy political system. While left and right may fight about everything else, it is imperative that we unite when it comes to Bitcoin, because doing so provides our best opportunity to replace our current system before the end of the long term.
Overhaul The System
Like many people, my vision of bitcoin is that it is money for everyone. I also see it as the best tool we have to replace the corrupt, opaque and regressive global financial system which we have all inherited. At some point, the people who control the current system will actually start to fight Bitcoin and when they do, they will fight hard. The current environmental fear,uncertainty and doubt (FUD) and the recent closing of fiat onramps to crypto exchanges will look quaint in comparison. Powerful interests from Washington, D.C., to High Street will be able to pull their levers to make it difficult for any non-expert to learn about bitcoin, gain access to it or store it securely. Each of the players in the current game are incentivized to keep it running as long as possible and they have access to tremendous resources to help make that happen. Perhaps, for the first time, the issue isn’t powerful interests trying to make more money, it is the very definition of money itself. It will be a war and they will pull out all the stops.
Some Bitcoiners confidently claim that Bitcoin bans don’t matter because people are able to move to places where Bitcoin isn’t banned. If Bitcoin becomes illegal in some countries, or even some states within the U.S., we might have a chance to see how difficult jurisdictional arbitrage is in practice. Those with wealth and connections may be able to move to a different country that embraces Bitcoin. Those struggling to get by will be left behind. Even Ted Cruz was dismissive of the idea when he quipped to a Bitcoin audience recently, “How many folks here have your El Salvadoran passports?”
I don’t often agree with Cruz, but he is right. It’s hard to see how the emergency plan of everyone moving to El Salvador can fulfill the promise that “Bitcoin is for everybody” within my lifetime.
But perhaps the goal of those currently in power won’t be to make Bitcoin illegal, but instead to just keep us fighting about it from our entrenched and polarized political viewpoints. Since their goal is to protect the current system, they likely won’t start by outlawing their competition, but instead they would just keep people arguing about it.
The best outcome for those seeking to maintain the status quo is for the public to see Bitcoin as a right versus left issue, something else to divide people while those in charge continue to benefit from the current systems. And there is every reason to think that this will happen. Currently, there are a small number of liberal politicians who regularly attempt to win political points by bashing Bitcoin. If the tactic proves successful over time, others will add their voices to the chorus. On the flip side, some conservative legislators have rushed not only to support Bitcoin, but also highlight that the politicians on the left don’t. Eventually, all of the FUD, roadblocks and political fighting could reach a crescendo, at which point Bitcoin would start feeling a lot less inevitable.
Make The War Impossible
The window to get in front of this narrative is small and rapidly closing. My strong belief is that the secret to our collective success isn’t in convincing the politicians in power that Bitcoin is a force for good, but instead it’s in educating the citizens that vote for those politicians. We still have a chance to do so. Most pre-coiners just haven’t thought about Bitcoin a lot. I have seen that once people are given an opportunity to learn and ask questions, they are often convinced of Bitcoin’s value proposition. However the converse can also be true. If we get to the point where the government tries to ban Bitcoin, there will likely be a large swath of the population that will conclude that it must be bad. If public sentiment turns from “bitcoin is pretend money” to “Bitcoin is a bad thing for bad people,” it will be hard to unring that bell. Such an outcome doesn’t make Bitcoin’s success any less likely in the long run, but it can push back adoption, innovation, the building of infrastructure and education by decades. This would not only lock us in an outdated system, but also delay the real-life benefits that Bitcoin offers to the people who need this technology now.
Because of Bitcoin’s superior monetary properties, it will eventually win and become a preferred method of storing and transferring value among the world’s citizens. We know those currently in power are incentivized to fight Bitcoin. If given the chance, they will. But, even though we could win their war, we still have an opportunity to make such a war politically impossible in the first place. Doing so should be considered an imperative. Cory Klippsten makes a similar argument, employing Nassim Taleb’s framework of “The Intransigent Minority.” Klippsten’s claim is that if Bitcoin reaches 10 million supporters in the United States, that small but unmoving minority will make it practically impossible to fight the technology.
Even if imperfect, the schematic holds some intuitive value. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Klippsten’s 10 million number is correct. It would be foolish to think that we will reach that goal (in “The Race To Avoid The War”) without intentionally expanding the scope of our target audience. So far, progressives remain a fairly-untapped option for such an expansion. Further, our coalition of 10 million will be stronger and more antifragile if it is heterogeneous across the political spectrum. A robust coalition of Bitcoiners that spans the political spectrum will be impossible to ignore and harder to fight. This is why I, and many others like me, are bringing the case for Bitcoin to progressive people however we can. I think that should matter to you.
Bitcoin Doesn’t Care, But You Should
The world needs us to orange pill progressives. I very much want to reach Klippsten’s 10 million target and see the intransigent minority of Bitcoiners shape the future of money. The good news is that there is a growing catalog of Bitcoin educational resources offered through a progressive lens. There is also a growing and vocal progressive community within the Bitcoin space. Thanks to these tools, we have an opportunity, however fleeting, to reach more people and convince them of Bitcoin’s promise. And we need your help.
This is a call to action. Don’t shy away from conversations about Bitcoin with a liberal colleague, in-law or neighbor. Try to reach those people where they are and explain how Bitcoin addresses the unfairness they care about in the current system. Many progressives will respond well to an informed discussion about how and why Bitcoin addresses wealth inequality or gives property rights to marginalized groups of people. You may have more success than you think. If you’re unable to convince them yourself, direct them to appropriate books, podcasts and articles so they can continue their learning.
There is no doubt that we will eventually reach the tipping point when Bitcoin becomes inevitable. When that happens, it will be critical to have a variety of political ideologies represented in our coalition if we are to find the greatest success. The only unknown that remains is if we will act quickly enough to reach that tipping point before the war. I am optimistic that we will, and to that end I will continue to orange pill as many progressives as I can. I hope you will join me in that work.
This is a guest post by Jason Maier. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.