Free Speech, Politics, Tech, Top Stories

Banning Bitcoin to Complete Big Tech Censorship

Bitcoin’s survival might prove intolerable to our Internet gatekeepers.

To rid the web of troublesome opinion makers you ban them from online platforms while terminating their ability to raise funds from supporters.  Corporate giants can use their control over Internet and financial chokepoints to almost accomplish this, but Bitcoin’s decentralized network means that regardless of how much corporate America hates some commentator, it can’t stop you from sending her cryptocurrency.  If a Democrat wins the Presidency in 2020, I predict a serious attempt to close this loophole by criminalizing Bitcoins.

Big tech has awoken to its power and started suppressing views it deems hateful.  The Nazi website Stormfront was kicked off the Internet.  Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify all decided, on the same day, to deplatform Alex Jones.  Islam critic Lauren Southern has been kicked off Pateron, a service many use to raise funds from supporters.  YouTube has demonitized and restricted videos from Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Gad Saad.  President Trump has accused social media of “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.”

Big tech wants to ban hate from the Internet.  Unfortunately, as James Damore’s firing from Google shows, Silicon Valley has an expansive definition of hate.

James Damore wrote an internal memo explaining how taking into account average biological differences between men and women could help his employer create an environment that would attract more women to Google. Even though what Damore wrote was fairly accurate he was attacked for daring to suggest that men and women might, on average, be different.  Damore was considered to have created a hostile work environment for writing, supposedly, hateful things.  Unfortunately, anyone who feels Damore beyond the pale would also likely think Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Quillette to be at least occasional proponents of hate speech for they too sometimes challenge the identity politics narrative.

Most leftists deeply hate President Trump and think that his victory was a defeat for democracy.  The leftists at Facebook and Twitter must despise knowing that Trump made more politically effective use of their platforms than Hillary Clinton did.  I suspect that big tech is trying to make it impossible for a future Trump-like candidate to use online media to get a huge audience.

Many politicians on the left are thrilled that big tech is silencing parts of the right and hope that Silicon Valley goes even farther.  In response to Alex Jones’ deplatforming, US Senator Chris Murphy tweeted that this was a “good first step” but that “The survival of our democracy” depends on them doing more.

The federal government has enormous discretionary power over financial institutions allowing regulators to easily bully banks into refusing to do business with officially disliked organizations.

The Obama administration’s  “Operation Choke Point” shows how the US government uses financial regulations to harm legal businesses that an administration dislikes. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said the Justice Department used the operation “to suffocate legitimate businesses to which it was ideologically opposed by intimidating financial institutions into denying banking services to those businesses.”

I predict that a future Democratic presidential administration will use another Operation Choke Point to cut off banking services to anyone deemed hateful.  The administration could rely on a leftist group such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to define prominent opponents as extremists who need banning.  Financial institutions could be pushed to refuse to do business with people on the list.  Today, the SPLC works with Facebook, Amazon, Google and Twitter to determine which organizations should be considered hate groups.

Here is where Bitcoin comes in.  A future administration could pressure Paypal, Patreon, and other financial intermediaries to stop letting you use them to give money to Quillette or other thought crime outlets.  But unlike with the normal banking system, the Bitcoin network doesn’t let the powerful veto individual transactions so if Bitcoin remains legal, you should always be able to transfer funds to someone else on the network. In a future in which the President is aligned with big tech to exclude undesirables from the political conversation, Bitcoin will be seen as an intolerable loophole through which people like Jordan Peterson could receive financial support from their deplorable followers.

Since Bitcoin really can be used for evil purposes, it will be politically easy to demonize.  Terrorists, Nazis, tax cheats, and child pornographers can take advantage of Bitcoin’s anonymity.  All the liberal media will need to justify criminalizing Bitcoins are a few graphic examples of bad people using the cryptocurrency.

My prediction that a Democratic president would attack Bitcoins has a testable implication: the price of Bitcoins should be lower conditional on a Democrat winning the 2020 U.S. presidential election. We don’t even have to wait until the election to observe this.  It should be possible to use financial contracts to get a market estimate of the price of Bitcoin in 2021 conditional on a Democrat being President, and conditional on a Republican being President, and if I’m right the price of the former will be higher.

To protect Bitcoins, we should eliminate much of the value to a future Democratic President from criminalizing it.  If there was a law giving big tech a “common carrier” obligation to not discriminate based on viewpoint then it might not be worth the political capital to a Democratic president of taking on Bitcoin. So, to defend Bitcoin, force YouTube to carry Alex Jones’ gay frog conspiracy theories.

 

James D. Miller is a professor of economics at Smith College and the host of the Future Strategist podcast.  He is @JimDMiller on Twitter.

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