Demonstrating that Bitcoin is not Freedom: Pacific Bitcoin Panel
“Bitcoin is freedom” is one of the principles of Bitcoin (BTC) many epithets. As “Bitcoin is digital gold,” “Bitcoin is a property,” or Bitcoin is absolute digital scarcity, these phrases ricochet off the walls of Bitcoin-themed conference arenas. They are also remembered in eternity on social networks.
But one of Bitcoin’s mantras is “Don’t trust, verify”. Rooted in an old Russian proverb, the phrase has come to define Bitcoin philosophy. It suggests that rules, ideas, and concepts should be tested, tried, and verified. How far can we say that Bitcoin is a tool for freedom?
Can Bitcoin Free People?
This debate came to life at the Pacific Bitcoin Conference in Los Angeles, hosted by Bitcoin exchange only Swan Bitcoin. During a panel discussion titled “Bitcoin is Freedom,” three freedom fighters and thinkers explored the ways Bitcoin might not be as emancipatory as it is evangelized online.
Craig Warmke, professor at Northern Illinois University; Yan Pritzker, co-founder and CTO of Swan Bitcoin; and Alex Gladstein, Director of Strategy at the Human Rights Foundation, discussed the nature of magic money on the Internet. Bitcoin has no central body and is unlikely to change its rules – or hard fork – any time soon. Basically, Bitcoin fought off a serious threat of source code modification during the block war, which, in a sense, crystallized the Bitcoin code at least in the short term.
The relationship between Bitcoin and freedom may vary based on individual experiences and perspectives. However, it is taken for granted that Bitcoin is freedom due to its decentralized nature and ability to allow individuals to store and transfer value without intermediaries or government oversight.
Gladstein cited examples of people living in disadvantaged communities around the world. He observed that people who live under dictatorships and highly repressive governments can use Bitcoin to achieve their goals and objectives regardless of what their government wants to do or what their government says.
“The reason bitcoin is freedom is that it gives anyone with internet access – and we can do that – property rights.”
Warmke laid out the idea, suggesting that just like a dandelion flower, Bitcoin spreads and is beautiful, but “some people’s preferences for how they think the world should be make them want to kill it.” In this context, Bitcoin’s censorship-resistant properties help make it a tool for freedom.
You don’t need Bitcoin – until you do
Nevertheless, for people who do not understand or do not wish to understand Bitcoin, this cannot set them free. Pritzker tackled this point head-on when he spoke about his home country, Ukraine, and the answer bitcoin personified at the start of the Ukraine-Russia war.
He explained that Ukrainians “never heard of bitcoin, didn’t care about bitcoin, didn’t need bitcoin. They were being bombarded. So now was not the right time to introduce Bitcoin to them.
“But Bitcoin turned out to be a great way for us to get money there simply because it was the only thing that worked on a Saturday in the middle of the night. This was how we could send money to Ukraine and then convert it to local currency and route it to local currency.
He also nodded to the slogan “you don’t need bitcoin until you need it”. In this case, people who didn’t understand or care about Bitcoin suddenly got help when they needed it most, improving their level of freedom.
Warmke shared that while Bitcoin has excellent money properties, its low penetration in modern society and the fact that “it’s not easy to use privately” sometimes fall short in real-life situations. Take the the protests of Canadian truckers, in which money was successfully collected using Bitcoin, but not all was delivered:
“A part was confiscated. And part of the reason for that is that even though you want to blame it on the people who gave them bitcoin or had the bitcoin, you’re blaming the user.
For Bitcoin to serve as an outright tool of economic freedom, people must use it privately, with care and attention.
Moreover, there are “not many circular economies yet. And so if you actually want to spin the Bitcoin you receive, it’s quite difficult. Bitcoin circular economies describe areas such as El Zonte and Bitcoin Beach, El Salvador, where people can use bitcoin almost exclusively. There is no need to withdraw money in fiat currency. Exit ramps to fiat currency could undermine economic freedom because they reveal a weakness for state capture.
The three bitcoin advocates pointed out Use Cases for Bitcoin in Emerging Markets, where Bitcoin adoption is skyrocketing at arguably faster rates than in the developed world. However, emerging markets need higher levels of literacy and reliable internet connections. These are significant hurdles to overcome in embracing freedom money, as Bitcoin requires the internet, a rudimentary understanding of math, and usually English.
Gladstein agreed, explaining, “Bitcoin relies, as you have seen for yourself, on the other journeys of literacy and internet access.” The Director of Strategy for the Human Rights Foundation explained that the journey to literacy and internet access is following a trend of positive growth:
“But the good news is that it looks like by the end of this decade of this decade, even in countries like Sudan and Senegal, well over half of all people in those countries will be able to read and have Internet access, so I think the potential is vast enough to make a difference.
Additionally, Bitcoin’s technical advancements suitable for people living in developing countries are bringing more and more users online. without using internet. For the illiterate, the solution lies with wallet developers to ensure users can still use Bitcoin.
But what about price volatility? The the price per bitcoin is down more than 70% from its all-time high of $68,789. A loss of such magnitude is crippling, not liberating. Warmke urged the public to reduce their time preference and avoid focusing on short-term gains:
“In the long term, this [Bitcoin] is a very, very libertarian thing, because it actually gives people the opportunity to have something of their own.
Finally, Warmke also joked that his level of personal freedom has diminished since becoming a bitcoin advocate because he checks the price too much!
Gladstein and Pritzker ended the panel on a sobering note. Gladstein explained that for some people living in authoritarian regimes, Bitcoin “literally means life or death. In some cases, it’s literally the only way for them to do what they can do. In this context, Pritzker suggested “to spend more time looking at other countries and what is happening there. And I think you’re going to see that Bitcoin allows freedom in a big way.
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