Bitcoin: If It Ain't Dead, It Should Be Because It's All About "White Privilege"


Bitcoin is naught but a toy for rich white libertarian men, says Annie-Rose Strasser at Think Progress, as she thinks about the ways she doesn't like progress if she doesn't like the type of people she associates with it, or the ideas she thinks are behind it, no matter what its actual uses are or might be, for rich, poor, or in-between.

I guess I can be sure Bitcoin isn't really dead if attacks like this are still being produced and writers and editors assume they still have an audience. (I blogged back in December about one more thoughtful such attack, in "The 'It's Libertarian So It's Bad' Argument Against Bitcoin.")

Strasser starts off with some irrelevant facts–new weird digital tools, techniques, and trends with a libertarian philosophical bent might tend to skew toward having lots of white man as their most active and obvious users and boosters–and one big thing that just isn't true at all–"there's a fair amount of privilege built directly into the currency: In order to buy the sometimes wildly expensive currency, Bitcoin users need to be wealthy."

In fact, for years the price of a bitcoin remained under $10, not quite the sign of something meant to block the less-well-to-do by design. Maybe she meant to say that if you were smart enough to get involved in Bitcoin early, that you are now wealthy? (You also don't need to buy an entire Bitcoin, so any amount of any other money is sufficient to get you that-much-worth of Bitcoin. It's like complaining money is expensive.)

The article as a whole ends up implying that it just doesn't matter how useful the tool might be to poor, blacks, women, the underprivileged, etc, as a (likely) noninflationary way to store or transmit value, because she doesn't like libertarians.

In fact, it is the very "unbanked" who she goes on to discuss and who she seems to think only government can help that will likely, as awareness and stability in digital currencies spread, benefit from it the most. But it seems to Strasser all that matters is that people she can associate with the tool have ideas she doesn't like, and might disapprove of some government programs she is sure other people need.

They may or may not need them; but to take the time to poke at the valuable-to-all tool of digital currency seems a strangely retrograde use of one's time and attention. I get that progressives think the world's less well-off need government, and lots of it.

That needn't imply being hostile to technical advances that allow anyone with a wired computer to do interesting things more easily and cheaply. The manifold benefits to the third world of the spread of mobile phone technologies, for example, should teach us that. But I'm afraid no amount of reality is enough to teach people not to get really annoyed with anything they associate with libertarians.

For what some of those advantages might be, for prince or for pauper (yes, as long as said pauper has access to the Internet, which many do), as I've written before:

What seems easy to say is that for anyone who has ever tried to transfer money, nationally or internationally, that the values in ease, speed, and cost of digital currency means that it will have the same leveling effect on industries like banking and finance that depend largely on their middleman function that already we've seen happen in book sales, video rentals, and travel agents.

People who doubt this are letting their ability to write Bitcoin and other digital currencies off as "libertarian" blind them to economic trends of the past 20 years in the digital age. If you can understand the value of, say, PayPal, then you already understand the value of Bitcoin; except Bitcoin doesn't have a middleman skimming.

I could close by making the argument that attacking Bitcoin is clearly and obviously just for insanely privileged and wealthy westerners on the side of the most rich and powerful force in the world, the U.S. government and U.S. banking and finance interests, a crummy game for those who think that cheap and easy remittances to the third world, workarounds for bank or credit card company attempts to punish people, and cheap and easy microcredit or microcharity, are less important than scoring points off your ideological foes, but I'm not that type.

Left-leaning folk having problems with libertarian implications of digital age is not uncommon.