The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism

Bitcoin was birthed in and is influenced by extremist right-wing libertarian ideology. You are no doubt familiar with their rants. We must protect ourselves from the dammed gummint who wants to take our money and, oh yeah, the Federal Reserve prints money, which causes inflation, and is doing this for nefarious reasons, probably to control us and of course, take our money.

No matter that none of this makes any economic sense, and that such crackpot ideologies are dismissed by actual economists. Right-wing libertarians appear primarily anguished by the thought that a) they have to pay taxes and b) that someone else might gain benefit for their tax money. That they themselves are helped by tax money others have paid never occurs to them.

So then, their goal is to hide as much money as possible from the government, and even if doing so might constitute tax evasion and money laundering, that would be a-ok because they are doing it for a noble cause and the rules don’t apply to them anyway.

Bitcoin is a perfect platform for this. However bitcoin proponents end up being incoherent. They claim paper money printed by governments is unstable and bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) will replace it. Except the price of bitcoin skitters wildly all over the place, so it’s not stable at all. Plus, a few can and do manipulate the price. Thefts and ripoffs are common, and it doesn’t scale. There’s no way bitcoin – which can do a whopping seven transactions a second now maximum – will ever replace actual currencies.

At heart, bitcoin is about eliminating governments and replacing them with a deranged unworkable fantasy of an ungoverned global marketplace with no rules and no regulations, in which everyone is somehow supposed to be free. It’s rubbish. A few on the top, the miners, will control it, and it won’t be decentralized at all.

David Golumbia parses all of this in great detail in The Politics of Bitcoin,  explaining how and why bitcoin emerged from John Bircher nutcase ideology and still owes much to that, and why this should make the rest of us uneasy.

He concludes by saying:

This is not to say that Bitcoin and the blockchain can never be used for non-rightist purposes, and even less that everyone in the blockchain communities is on the right. Yet it is hard to see how this minority can resist the political values that are very literally coded into the software itself. Recent events have shown repeatedly that we discount the power of engineers and/ or ideologues to realize their political visions through software design at our peril. What is required to combat that power is not more wars between algorithmic platforms and individuals who see themselves as above politics, but a reassertion of the political power that the blockchain is specifically constructed to dismantle.

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