Bitcoin and Chains

Doug Henwood, writing in The Nation, explains the attractions of Bitcoin for the Right:

There have been many other reports of thefts, frauds and hackings, which Bitcoin partisans dismiss as mere growing pains. But with no regulator, no deposit insurance and no central bank, this sort of thing is inevitable — it’s just tough luck. Introduce regulators and insurance schemes, though, and Bitcoin will lose all its anarcho-charm.

Keynes once called gold “part of the apparatus of conservatism” for its appeal to rentiers who loved austerity because it preserved the value of their assets. Bitcoin serves a similarly totemic purpose for today’s cyber-libertarians, who love not only the statelessness of it as money, but also its power to subject the institutional banking system to “disruption” (one of the favorite words of that set). And like gold, Bitcoin is deflationary. There’s a limit on how many bitcoins can be produced, and it gets more difficult to produce them over time until that limit is reached. Of course, new cryptocurrencies could arise. But the existence of the limit reflects the deflationary sympathies of the libertarian mind — in a Bitcoin economy, creating money to ease an economic depression would be impossible. Which is not to say that only libertarians love Bitcoin.

Despite the careful signals of political distance, there’s nothing off-track on the substance. In the subsequent paragraphs Henwood excavates a little deeper, while preserving the same balanced openness to information. He even — momentarily — passes the ultimate Rightist clue-test by collapsing epistemology down into the market: “Bitcoin is not without friends on Wall Street. Gil Luria of Wedbush Securities is following it; he describes the recent volatility as ‘extended price discovery,’ which is a way of saying that no one knows what it is, what it will be or what it’s worth. His firm is selling his Bitcoin research for payment in bitcoins.”

His unexpected discovery, however, is a Left Bitcoin constituency, drawn to it by the same priorities that can make ‘libertarianism’ so ideologically-slippery as a category, most obviously: the potential for “evasion of state surveillance and policing — which, in the post-Snowden era, is nothing to sneeze at.” While rummaging for story-snippets at a New York Bitcoin ‘party’, he is delighted to run into ‘Mistress Magpie’:

A Marxist-feminist professional dominatrix who practices in Britain … [and] an enthusiastic Bitcoin proponent. She explains her enthusiasm as beginning with her deep techno-geekiness, and adds that Bitcoin is also practical for someone in her line of work — anonymity is important, whether operating in real life or online. Unlike libertarians, who see cryptocurrencies as a possible gateway to a new society, the socialist in Mistress Magpie sees them as a way to operate furtively under capitalism, in a way that might not be needed in a more open socialist society.

While it’s superficially tempting to make fun of such socialism with anarcho-capitalist characteristics, it sparkles in comparison to the dismal defense of state fiat money authority with which Henwood — dutifully — concludes the article.

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