In his article The Libertarian Case for Bitcoin, Alex Mayyasi made a claim that Bitcoin is a currency made for libertarians. The argument goes that even banks expect that we will all be using digital currency sooner or later. This will be a big boon to big governments and the corporations that control them. They will be able to track every transaction, prosecute any perceived wrong doing, and shut down payments to any organization that they disagree with. This is not theoretical: It has already been tried with Wikileaks and others.
Bitcoin offers an alternative to this dystopia. Money will be digital, but it will be decentralized so that governments and corporations will not be able to fundamentally control it; it will be easily and directly transferable so that no third party need be involved, or know, just like cash; and all the Bitcoin in the world could be carried on a thumb drive, a trait which solves the one huge disadvantage of gold – it is hard to carry and divide.
The advantages can be overstated, though. Bitcoin is not nearly as anonymous as people have made it out to be. As a matter of fact, every transaction made, and the amounts in every wallet, are publically visible in the block chain that is the core of how Bitcoin works. It can be as easy to find out who owns an address as looking at a donation page. It can also be very hard if proper precautions are taken.
Also, Bitcoin transactions are going to be regulated and taxed. The Bitcoin accepting businesses I have been in touch with have so far all claimed that they want to comply with tax laws, but see Bitcoin as a way to stand out from the pack and to avoid problems with credit cards and PayPal.
The biggest choke point is, of course, the exchanges where Bitcoin can be traded for fiat–without those, the usefulness of Bitcoin is greatly diminished and the road to getting it fully adopted is much more difficult. Regulation is inevitable, and sensible regulation will be a good thing since it will bring legitimacy and trust to the many people who are not naturally drawn to Bitcoin.
Even keeping these points in mind, Bitcoin is a far better choice than allowing governments or the banking industry to come up with and impose its own digital currency. Bitcoin by its very nature is disruptive. It will force a rethinking of how money is made, distributed, and shared. It may help bring an examination of the governmental and financial industry excesses of the last forty years. Because of Bitcoin, governments and corporations may find that their old tactics don’t work which may open an opportunity for a rebalancing of the system.
It is because of the huge, systemic problems that I see in our political and financial system that I am always eager to talk with people who have some of the same questions and who also use or accept Bitcoin. One such group is Students For Liberty (SFL). Their Communications Manager, Megan Roberts, and one of the executive board, Kenny Tan, were kind enough to answer some questions about the group and their involvement with Bitcoin.
SFL was conceived at an Institute for Humane Studies Koch Summer Fellowship in July of 2007 and held their first conference in February 2008. Since that time, they have grown tremendously fast- affiliating groups and organizations around the country and around the world. They have ties to some of the big-named think tanks like the Cato Institute, and they have seen a remarkable increase in fundraising.
I asked Megan to give me the elevator speech about what SFL is and why people should join. Part of her answer was that “Students For Liberty embraces the diversity of justifications for liberty and encourages debate and discourse on the differing philosophies that underlie liberty.”
I asked what, specifically, liberty meant to her. She answered with three points.
- Economic freedom to choose how to provide for one’s life. This means many different things to many different people, but in general, people should be free to innovate and create new value, free from the entanglements of heavy-handed government regulation and taxation.
- Social freedom to choose how to live one’s life. This also means many different things to different people, but in general, we believe that the government should stay out of the bedroom as well as the boardroom. Social issues are for voluntary communities and individuals to decide, and morality should not be dictated by the state
- Intellectual and academic freedom. This encompasses many different areas, but essentially, individuals should be free to learn and explore, expressing themselves freely, and learning from one another through the exchange of ideas. Free individuals using open discourse and persuasion are far better at pushing back against bad ideas than state censorship and aggression ever could be.
When pressed to give specific examples of actual changes they might make to the country or to the world, Kenny replied “There are a lot of policies and institutions I’d like to change here in the U.S. and around the world. I couldn’t possibly name just one or two issues but more broadly, just increasing economic freedom and individual liberty because we know it increases the potential for human happiness and prosperity.”
Megan told me that Kenny was the real reason SFL began accepting Bitcoin. He got involved with SFL in 2011 after starting his own libertarian student group and attending an International Students for Liberty Conference. SFL involvement allowed him to network and gain valuable experience. He says he increased his commitment to SFL because, in his own words, “I can see we’re making a real difference in the lives of young people and I’ve really enjoyed working with the talented individuals that lead the organization.” After three years, he is now a member of the executive board of this fast rising group.
Here is the transcript of my discussion about Bitcoin with Kenny:
How did your organization get involved with bitcoin?
Kenny: We began accepting Bitcoin after hosting our 6th Annual International Students For Liberty Conference earlier this year. A few people wanted to know if SFL would accept Bitcoin donations and we were happy to get setup to accept them.
Have you seen any response from it yet?
Kenny: After SFL began accepting Bitcoin donations, we still weren’t very familiar with it as an organization. When I joined the North American Executive Board this summer, I led efforts to promote it as a donation option and created resources about Bitcoin for the student groups in our network to distribute. We have seen a good response from the Bitcoin community after I began actively promoting our support for Bitcoin.
This fall, we are sending Internet Freedom themed tabling kits to groups which will include a stack of info cards about Bitcoin. The purpose of this kit is to inform students about the importance of defending internet freedom and threats such as NSA surveillance and SOPA/PIPA. In addition to the Bitcoin info cards, each kit will include a tabling banner, SFL’s Internet Freedom, Liberty 101, and Resource palm cards, stickers, buttons, styluses, additional literature from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and TechFreedom.
What is your view of the future of Bitcoin: both its future and its challenges?
Kenny: Personally, I’m very optimistic about the future of digital currency. I’m seeing a lot of interest in it from the student groups I support and I think as more generations grow up in an internet age, more and more people will adopt either Bitcoin or a superior alt-coin if one is ever created. There are strong technical barriers to adoption at the moment but I anticipate those will decrease over time as innovators in the Bitcoin community create more user-friendly interfaces. Regulation is a challenge as well. At the moment, it seems regulators are more interested in learning about Bitcoin than trying to crack down on it. Bitcoin businesses can contribute positively to the economy, and regulators don’t want to prevent that. I think it is possible that digital currencies might someday replace government issued currencies but nothing is certain. If we do reach that point, governments might try to attack the network but by then I think it’ll be too late.
I want to thank Megan Roberts and Kenny Tan for taking the time to speak with me. If you would like to learn more about Students for Liberty, get involved, or donate, please visit them at studentsforliberty.org.
Bitcoin Warrior is always on the lookout for businesses, groups, and charities that use or accept Bitcoin. If you are one or know of one, please let us know at editor(@)bitcoinwarrior.net.
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