The future of Bitcoin in an increasingly restricted world

by Rudd-O published 2014/04/01 20:59:00 GMT+0, last modified 2014-03-31T21:07:36+00:00
Bitcoin won't die. It will merely become the doom of the statist system as it always was intended to be.

By now, I'm sure you've all read this article titled Bitcoin’s Demise: A Reminder Of How Not Free We Are.

I reread the article yesterday, and I have thought a bit about its message. Here are my conclusions, which you are free to disagree with:

I don't think Bitcoin is going to be dead, but rather that its usage may revert to the original purpose it was invented for.

What I am trying to say is that the real value proposition, the killer app of Bitcoin, the one intended by Satoshi himself, isn't low fees, nor speed of transactions, nor decentralized trust, but rather it is an engineering solution to a social problem. The problem is malevolent organized intervention attempts against people, who freely and consensually use their own money, according to their own criteria. The solution is to paralyze and bypass said intervention, decentralized trust being integral to that solution. What an evildoer can't see, he can't attack. Bitcoin delivers that killer app, like any other cypherpunk / cryptoanarchist technology (SSL, GPG, Bitmessage, Open Transactions) in the same category.

So how do I think Bitcoin usage will change? Well, to be able to predict what may happen with Bitcoin in the future, let's look at who wins and loses given this killer app, and their likely behaviors.

Let's start with the losers first.

Quite obviously, rulers of nations (defined here as people believed to have the exclusive power to make up rules for everyone else, to adjudicate the rules, and to enforce them) understand that people gaining control of their own money and paralyzing ruler intervention is a grave threat. In other words: such private control of money means they lose control over the money of their subjects.

We part-time slacker students of history also happen to know how they react to such systemic threats of loss of control, because we have seen what they have tried to do covertly (sabotage, rule violation) and overtly (rule making, rule bending) to subvert prior cypherpunk tech that affords more control to the end user, like SSL and PGP.

Now, comparing PGP to Bitcoin, Bitcoin is obviously more subversive a technology -- heck, it's not just stateless communications, it's stateless money -- so I expect these people to try sabotaging Bitcoin even more frantically.

I predict they will prescribe new, ever-more-restrictive orders against Bitcoin, until any and all use of Bitcoin will trigger a punishment, or at least be heavily surveiled to keep everyone "in the farm" so to speak. Most subjects will elect to "stay in the farm", abandon Bitcoin, and comply with the rulers.

OK, we've analyzed the losers. They lose. Now let's look at who wins.

It's a no-brainer that, if you know someone is spying on your Web browsing, and you are made aware of SSL, your use of SSL will likely go up, not down.

It's the same with money: facing increasing demands of control over how you may use your money or how much of it may you keep -- your use of a technology that protects your money from others taking it / spending it against your will, is likely to go up, not down.

In other words: I expect to see increased use of Bitcoin in the future, that is explicitly intended to disobey orders from rulers.

Bitcoin will undergo a process of evaporative cooling, where the mainstream speculators and obedient actors exit the market, leaving agorists, members of blue markets, people who intend to conduct business in flagrant disobedience while resisting attempts of punishment. Protected by already-known advances in anonymity (like stealth addresses), these many Bitcoin users will remain relatively safe from rulers' attacks against their prosperity and well-being. They will "step out of the farm", if you will.

Of course, this remaining group includes both bad actors (e.g. fraudsters) and good actors (people running honest businesses). This problem will be resolved by increased research in stateless reputation systems to protect everyone against fraudsters (which happened to work very well in the Silk Road, according to users' reports in the /r/SilkRoad subreddit).

In short, this leads me to believe that Bitcoin in the future will be primarily used by two groups of people:

  • People living in nations where organized sabotage against Bitcoin has not yet happened, and Bitcoin trade proceeds freely.
  • People living in the rest of the nations, who do not mind exercising agorism with caution, thereby (at least partially) deliberately seceding from the "official economy". Think Silk Road for any and all goods and services.

In other words: rather than the future of "mainstream acceptance" that mainstream Bitcoin users envisioned, Bitcoin's future is increasingly looking like the mainstream's absolute worst nightmare: a niche independence tool for widespread yet invisible economic defiance and self-defense against the very orders that the mainstream can't even conceive to disobey. To take an example I have witnessed personally: if you sell copies of DVDs in the streets of Guayaquil, this tech is literally the difference between losing all your capital and your profits, versus only losing a few DVDs, at the hands of the street cops blatantly stealing your stuff.

You may think this is provincial. It really isn't. Given that the blue markets rival the "official economy" in size, and given that Bitcoin may offer a chance to secede quietly, safely, and privately to participate in the blue markets, the potential for Bitcoin and allied technologies like Open Transactions is enormous.

Of course, it could also be the case that the rulers succeed in putting the cat back in the bag, and manage to eliminate Bitcoin completely, or subvert it altogether. I will believe that is possible when they have eliminated BitTorrent. But, so far, I have only seen them act all keystone kops, stealing a few DVDs from street vendors, and the first world equivalent thereof (ruining middle class people).

Satoshi famously said: Bitcoin alone will not solve the problem of financial oligopoly, but I hope Bitcoin would buy us all some time in that struggle for freedom. I, for one, am stocking up on popcorn, to enjoy the slo-mo clash of these two worlds of ideas in the years to come. Heck, it is already very entertaining to witness today.

Reprinted on Reddit.