By Rob Wile
If you think Bitcoin has devolved into a warren of overly zealous programming and profiteering, we’ve got the guy for you.
Alex Payne is a former Twitter engineer who now works for Simple.com.
In a new post on his personal blog, titled Bitcoin, Magical Thinking, and Political Ideology, Payne blasts the culture of wide-eyed optimism and do-gooder-ism that’s been used by some to justify the enormous investment — Payne calls it greed —Bitcoin has received in the past few months.
“With its influx of finance mercenaries, the Bitcoin community is a grim illustration of greed running roughshod over meaningful progress,” he writes.
As a financial tool itself, Bitcoin in some ways poses a threat to Simple.com, so we need to take some of Payne’s criticisms with a grain of salt.
Payne starts out by attacking mega investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, which just put $25 million into Coinbase, one of the largest Bitcoin “wallet” services in the world. Andreessen’s Chris Dixon called out the press for portraying Bitcoin as a bubble mostly used to buy drugs online. In Silicon Valley, Dixon said, “Bitcoin is generally viewed as a profound technological breakthrough.”
For Payne, this is an example of “nerds-do-it-better paternalism.”
Particular vexing, he argues, is the claim that Bitcoin can address the needs of the “underbanked,” or those without access to basic financial services.
“Silicon Valley has a seemingly endless capacity to mistake social and political problems for technological ones, and Bitcoin is just the latest example of this selective blindness. The underbanked will not be lifted out of poverty by conducting their meager daily business in a cryptocurrency rather than a fiat currency, even if Bitcoin or its ilk manages to reduce marginal transaction costs (at scale and in full regulatory compliance, that is). But then, we should note that Dixon wasn’t talking about lifting anyone out of poverty, just ‘offer[ing them] low-cost financial services’.”
This is a subject we’ve recently written about — BI’s Jim Edwards says the Valley now is now “living inside a bubble of tone-deaf arrogance.” For Payne, Bitcoin represents the latest example of this.
Payne also goes after Bitcoin’s core premises, calling it “a marriage of dubious technology and questionable economics.” Bitcoin theft “rampant,” he claims, and says greater regulation would defeat Bitcoin’s claim as a decentralized medium free from outside intervention.
“If the broader Bitcoin experiment doesn’t implode, the currency will be regulated just as any other,” he writes. “In this best-case scenario for Bitcoin, what of the benefits Dixon claims?”
“I’ve enjoyed the thought experiment of Bitcoin as much as the next nerd, but it’s time to dispense with the opportunism and adolescent fantasies of a crypto-powered stateless future and return to the work of building technology and social services that meaningfully and accountably improve our collective quality of life.”
There’s a lot of truth here, though more perhaps about the culture than the currency itself, which has survived various hacking attempts. We noted yesterday how the top post on the Bitcoin reddit was a link to a suicide hotline in the wake of Bitcoin’s enormous price drop in the past 48 hours.
If Bitcoin adoption grows, some of these fears may be allayed. But Payne makes a strong case that these issues will make that adoption quite difficult to begin with.