It’s time to set the record right. Too many who write or pose about Bitcoin don’t know what progressivism means in the political realm of American politics – if you look at Daniel Kuhn. In reality, many ideas from the progressives and the left are completely in line with Bitcoin’s mission.
“Progressive” is really an umbrella term that brings together many left-wing political ideologies under a set of demands that we consider to be inalienable rights of every human being. These are education, health care, living wages and housing. It is true that progressives are demanding that the government protect and uphold these supposedly inalienable rights. However, you shouldn’t believe that progressives and leftists are defenders of the state just because they ask more of it.
In practice, progressives do their best job when they are not focused on electoral politics. At the local level, the progressives focus on mutual aid, unions and grassroots organizations. These come from the revolutionary anarchist tradition that arose due to the terrible working conditions in the first centuries of capitalism.
The goal of the revolutionary anarchist of the 19th century was the absolute dissolution of the state by all necessary means. Anarchists despised the state with a passion that went beyond anything Murray Rothbard could have expressed. Anarchists of the day fought guerrilla wars, and many died trying to destroy the state (Rothbard lived comfortably under the state, I might add). Progressives may not be trying to blow up the state these days, but they place great value on serving communities without government help.
Many believe that since Bitcoin inherently protects the right to property and individual property, it must be ideologically opposed to the beliefs of progressives. In fact, progressives are generally not against owning things. What it comes down to is rent, interest, and democratic business. What progressives really want are rent-free economies.
If you go back to the classic 19th century economic discussions about a free market, people like Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, David Ricardo, and others have tried to figure out. So owning Bitcoin is not at odds with progressivism. Progressives are not inherently against money, only for how it is used as a means of control and power. Progressives and Bitcoiners are against neoliberalism because neoliberalism is maintained through state violence, among other things.
As for exclusive individual ownership of Bitcoin, this is just a bitcoin misconception. Bitcoiners are very proud of El Zonte, El Salvador’s Bitcoin Beach Experiment. It is celebrated as a model for a successful circular economy based on Bitcoin. Here, the developers of the Bitcoin Beach Wallet realized that the locals would benefit from a community-based storage option. In this case, the wallet enables a trusted member of the community to be designated as the owner of the private keys for other people’s wallets. Here responsibility is now paired with community-based trust, not with personal responsibility.
The idea of individual responsibility is unique in the West and even more so in the United States. In other parts of the world, community identity is much more important. Since Bitcoin has performed so well in many developing countries where community is more important than individuality, it’s hard to believe that Bitcoin is really only intended for those who are concerned with strict individualism.
Another interesting community idea in Bitcoin is the Federated Mint (FediMint). Here a community with a certain trust among its members can effectively own the mint. This leads to a whole host of new ideas about community-based currencies, backed by Bitcoin, which remind me a little of Paul Grignon’s ideas about self-issued credit, but also Prodhoun’s concept of a people’s bank, both paired with John Nash’s work on ideal money. There is so much here that appeals to progressives!
The only real part of Bitcoin that seems ideologically opposed to the progressives at the moment is the 21 million bitcoin cap. The main reason is that there are business leaders in the movement who are followers of John Maynard Keynes. This probably stems from Keynesian criticism of neoclassical economics and the argument that markets do not tend towards full employment, among other things.
Part of the desire for post-Keynesian approaches may be nostalgia for that long-dead, constrained era of post-war capitalism. Some of this is a seemingly pragmatic approach to easing boom-bust cycles, with Keynes arguing that deficit spending should be done during economic crises and constrained during surpluses. Hyman Minsky, another pillar of economics for progressives, tried to unite Joseph Schumpeter (Austrian School) and Keynes to understand how to stabilize an unstable economy. Incidentally, this association (written in the early 1980s) provided a prophetic prediction of the Great Recession.
Even if there seems to be a contradiction between Keynesian ideas and Bitcoin’s monetary policy, some of the most progressive economists like Michael Hudson and Steve Keen appear regularly in Max Keiser’s “Keizer Report” for their sharp criticisms of the banking system. Dollar hegemony, quantitative easing, and neoclassical economics. Are you surprised? Progressive economists get it, they just aren’t convinced that the existing system can work with a capped monetary policy. That is really the problem with understanding. What Bitcoiners are really advocating for is an entirely new system.
Today modern monetary theory (MMT) caught on to the progressive movement because it also puts at its center the idea of a full employment guarantee, with the government holding back private sector employment with uncompetitive jobs. MMT proponents also believe that they can control the money supply and inflation through fiscal and monetary policies. They argue that by providing the full productive forces (no more, no less), inflation can be properly controlled. However, it was never attempted; the Federal Reserve Board does not currently practice real MMT. To be clear, even MMT advocates are critical of quantitative easing.
Nor does that mean that the Left fully endorses MMT. There is enough criticism of MMT from the left, you just have to look for it. Even so, Bitcoin is still attractive to progressives, even if they are MMT aficionados, simply because of concerns about the goodness of their money over time. All one really has to do is explain to progressives that inflation, decoupled from living wage adjustments, is a silent killer of their paychecks. What’s the alternative? Save some of this purchasing power in the long term by naturally “buckling up” Bitcoin.
Progressives are aware of the damage the Federal Reserve and government did during the Great Recession. Progressives supported Occupy Wall Street because many of them lost their homes to illegal foreclosures. Progressives, however, need to be reminded that the ivory spiers of the central banks are no more of our friends than the mega-corporations. We can better educate our progressive people about money than technology and the idea that we can have another economic system in which an upper limit of 21 million works.
To encourage this idea of a different economic system, let’s pull from the degrowth movement. Degrowth encompasses many ideas, but the most important one is that our economic system should be tied to our planet’s ability to sustain life. Given the ease with which the banking system generates money (has anyone else compared the S&P 500 chart to the CO2 hockey puck chart?) It makes perfect sense that we should have a cap somewhere.
In the degrowth literature it was discussed to peg a currency to the amount of energy produced. Bitcoin’s network is supported by access to energy resources. Its mining protocol scales based on the price of electricity. It also has the ability to bring wasted and stranded energy online. That means the network is growing with a speed limit. We can plan entire economies around this perspective.
Additionally, Bitcoin disintermediates the banking system, putting banking in the hands of not just the individuals but the communities (something that Occupy Wall Street advocated for). Municipalities and / or cooperatives (as in the autonomous economy in Rojava) can issue their own community-covered loans with Bitcoin as support. There is a lot to discover here and progressives (and leftists in a broader sense) can really show the way.
The reality isn’t that Bitcoin needs to be renamed to suit a progressive narrative. The fact is that bitcoiners – and non-bitcoiners alike – must recognize that while the network’s Genesis bloc was a political attack on the central banking system, that sentiment isn’t exclusive to American libertarianism. This is why there are progressives in bitcoin, because we know that bitcoin is there for everyone and we will make sure that everyone, not just libertarians, knows that there is a way to get out of the system and that bitcoin is us can help find the way out.
This is a guest post by Margot Paez. The opinions expressed are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC, Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.