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“What luck for rulers that men do not think.”
– Adolf Hitler
Bitcoin will not kill the U.S. dollar. It will become the U.S. dollar, with all controls and restrictions that any CBDC issuer could dream of. “Impossible!” I hear you crying out, giggling to myself in the face of the utmost ignorance that seems to have accumulated quadratically with bitcoin’s price increase. “Bitcoin is freedom money!”
And this is where you’re wrong. Bitcoin is anything we make it out to be. It’s a technology just like the internet, which we’ve managed to successfully turn into the most efficient surveillance technology the world has ever seen. Still sounds impossible? Think again. Enter: single-issue voters. Bitcoiners today are so ideologically driven that they seem to be incapable of seeing the forest for the trees, making them easy prey for orange-veiled populists. Just yell a little free speech with a side of BTC from D.C.’s highest mountain top. Can you hear us OK? We’ll go on your favorite podcasts and speak at your favorite conferences, just to be sure. Mic check, is this thing on? Something something, end the Fed, twenty-one million. Sounds great. You’ve got my vote, pal.
As Bitcoin Twitter scavages social media for the next suit lizard to quote, like a gang of brainless zombies on the hunt for their final kick of dopamine, actual legislation that affects the development of Bitcoin as a permissionless finance tool seems to escape the average influencoor’s intellect.
Firstly, Bitcoin is an organism that lives and breathes on the internet. Any laws passed which affect the way that we communicate will, too, affect our ability to use Bitcoin in a non-permissioned manner. Some of these laws are fairly straightforward. Others, however, are less easy to grasp. For the most part they involve the four horsemen of the infocalypse: terrorism, child pornography, drugs, and human trafficking. “We must ban encryption to save the kids. We have to have backdoors to stop al- Qaida.” When someone screams Bitcoin in your face as loud as the latest U.S. presidential candidates have over the past few months, it makes sense to better check thrice where each one stands on actual issues adjacent to the technology itself. And let me tell you: It looks about as pretty as Stalin’s grandma in a nightdress, and you surely wouldn’t want her peeking through your transaction histories.
While self-appointed champion of free speech Rob DeSantis has built his campaign on the pinnacles of freedom™, he also quietly contributed a key vote to the extension of the Patriot Act — The USA Freedom Act — continuing the practices of warrantless surveillance on U.S. Americans via telecommunications providers. Under tech bro Francis Suarez, Miami has developed an aficionado for Clearview AI’s facial recognition software and the accessing of private surveillance cameras via its SafeCam program, while pump-and-dumping MiamiCoin to literally zero. Meanwhile, self-described, anti-woke campaigner Vivek Ramaswamy is backed by Palantir’s Peter Thiel and Joe Lonsdale; it’s unlikely that he’ll be putting a leash on his favorite mass-surveillance donors anytime soon. And what about don’t-censor-me posterboy Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.? According to his website, he, too, is in favor of increased surveillance based on “crime rates” in communities, which should leave us to question whether the only divide he’s here to bridge may be the one between him and the Oval Office. While all four vow their allegiance to anti-CBDC technologies, their real stances appear to be somewhere closer to a rallying cry for the WEF: You will be surveilled, and you will be happy.
So what’s this got to do with Bitcoin? When governments cook up central bank digital currencies, they itch for limitless surveillance and punctuated censorship like crackheads in a trailer park. And while we’re all quick to dismiss a CBDC’s two main ingredients, we appear to forget that no settled framework yet exists for how CBDCs will actually work. They could use MySQL, they could use some form of e-cash — but they could also very well use Bitcoin – particularly when used to back the U.S. dollar as part of the U.S. Treasury, but even if introduced as legal tender via Lightning-issued stablecoins to satisfy M1 supply. “No!”, you’ll yell now. “Bitcoin can’t be issued by the U.S. government!” And it can’t — but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be repurposed.
Just like Bitcoin, CBDCs are programmable money. Unlike Bitcoin, CBDCs are concerned with features such as controlled purchases, location-based restrictions, expiring transactions, and holding limits. All of these features are implementable on Bitcoin-anchored stablecoins. Most of these features are possible to implement via the base layer once mining is sufficiently centralized. But let’s start from the beginning.
By default, there is no privacy in Bitcoin. All transactions are recorded, tracked and analyzed. This makes Bitcoin the single most effective tool for financial surveillance we have ever seen in history. The problem is that access to our financial transactions is magnitudes more efficient than any surveillance camera outside our doorstep. To put it in the words of Burrows v. Superior Court 1974, “Indeed, the totality of bank records provides a virtual current biography”. As the California Supreme Court described, access to a person’s financial records “may reveal his habits, his opinions, his tastes, and political views, as well as his movements and financial affairs”. While a surveillance camera provides a snapshot of our lives at a certain point in time, financial surveillance lays our lives bare in their entirety, independent of time and space — from our political affiliations to medical histories — without any constitutional protections.
While there is enough dismay to be had around our current financial system, legally surveilling our financial transactions is actually not that easy. Police can’t simply call a bank and ask them to hand over everything they have on a guy, with the exception of terrorist activity. This is largely thanks to a federal right to financial privacy, which restricts the release of financial information to federal agents. To obtain financial information from a bank, among other things, one of the following must be true: 1) The officer has obtained a warrant necessitating the suspicion of the occurrence of a crime, 2) The financial institution was the victim of the crime to be investigated, 3) The account holder consented, or 4) The records were freely accessible — just like all of our transactions on the Bitcoin network are freely accessible to anyone today.
When it comes to anti-surveillance laws, all four top no-CBDC candidates are full of so much hot air that if you sat them together in a bubble bath, they’d float. And when presidential candidates act in favor of surveillance, you bet your stack they’ll be in favor of surveilling your finances, too. Which leads us to the next issue: Bitcoin and legality. The further Bitcoin creeps into the view of our favorite nation-state, the more pressure it will face in terms of regulation. As cap gains goes down, wrongspend goes up. We may all cheer at being able to use bitcoin at every Whole Foods in the states, but will pay the price of anti-money laundering and foreign asset control restrictions. Such effects can already be observed today. As last year’s one-hit-wonder Senator Cynthia Lummis teamed up with dinosaur Senator Elizabeth Warren to propose yet another bill to extend anti-money laundering policies for cryptocurrencies, one can only speculate how fast the senator’s newly found enthusiasm for “sound money” went down the “I’ve got your vote” drain. Twenty-one million here, end the Fed there, but, oh gee, we best make sure that all transactions follow the made-up rules we can’t be bothered to adhere to ourselves. The laundering via HSBC et al. will continue until morale improves, while we’ll make sure to fine first-generation immigrants for sending $50 home. Ding dong, that’s the sweet sound of democracy as it chokes on its own hypocrisy.
Bitcoin was built to withstand any and all political affiliations, but unfortunately, as we’ve seen with the internet, this doesn’t mean that we can’t fuck up a good thing. While it may seem hard to censor non-custodial, full-node running Bitcoin transactions, it’s not an impossible task when taking into account how the Bitcoin network works.
For the most obvious point, bitcoin transactions are made by humans, and it is easily possible to censor those making the transactions. As much as we’d like to transcend our bodies beyond space and time to fully submerge ourselves in the limitlessness of the great big online, our big fat meat bags will forever remain right here on Earth, and when Uncle Sam comes knocking, you best believe that the 9mm shoved in your face will still take you out with a big fat bang. Thankfully, though applicable to varying degrees depending on your economic situationship, arresting U.S. citizens still needs to follow a violation of laws. The best bet to censor Bitcoin users therefore lies in passing nonsense legislation to limit the freedom of internet access, at which point most of our U.S. government’s magic crypto friends have attempted such.
Texas mining buff-in-the-making Senator Ted Cruz, who famously proposed a ban on CBDCs, has voted in favor of an amendment to Section 230 — legislation that protects free speech by ensuring non-accountability of service providers — that exempts platforms from immunity when dealing with child sexual material, effectively undermining their ability to offer end-to-end encryption. You can coinjoin all you want but if you’re unable to negotiate transactions in private, you might as well save yourself the mining fees. Governor Jared Polis, who wants you to be able to pay your taxes in bitcoin, voted in favor of reauthorizing the national Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program, which does fairly little for the protection of children but does — you guessed it — quite a lot to extend the U.S. government’s censorship and surveillance capabilities. And who else voted in favor? That’s right, free speech champion DeSantis. Ted Budd, who takes donations in bitcoin, has proposed the establishment of a federal task force to study the use of cryptocurrencies for criminal activities such as terrorist financing and drug trafficking in order to produce effective legislation. This would likely lead to the regulation of privacy tools. What other effective legislation is there against a crime that makes up less than 0.2% of total market cap than complete surveillance? Without privacy, censoring users transacting in bitcoin is about as easy as robbing a five-year-old of their play-doh box.
This goes to say that, even if regulated away, privacy tools will still remain available for those savvy enough to use them. But censorship on the individual level is one issue. Censorship on the network level is another. While politicians are bracing themselves as the second coming of Satoshi, think tanks, advocates, and other government mingling entities are openly advocating to turn the U.S. into the bitcoin mining capital of the world — with much support of the broader Bitcoin ecosystem. At first glance this sounds like a great idea. Who wouldn’t want to be able to mine their bitcoin right at home under friendly jurisdiction? The problem is that, if mining concentrates in one jurisdiction, miners can become subject to arbitrary restrictions, such as blacklists or whitelists. Lest remember, for Bitcoin to be regulated, it must conform to the U.S.’ idea of legality. Unless the U.S. admits that it itself is the largest facilitator of money laundering operations in the world — rendering current OFAC and AML policies obsolete — there’s no way in hell that bitcoin mining would not fall victim to KYC, AML, and OFAC laws.
“That’s fine”, you’ll say. It’s not profitable for miners to start censoring transactions, as we saw when Marathon implemented its compliance program back in 2021. Censoring transactions may not have been profitable then, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be made very much so. Bitcoin miners, out of all Bitcoin businesses, cannot afford to care about ideology. If the economic incentives are right, bitcoin miners must adapt or die. But couldn’t node runners bully miners into non-compliance, like we did during the Blocksize War with a USAF? Sure thing, but miners will always follow capital. And the reality is that today, as compared to then, the majority of bitcoin lies with custodial entities, while the U.S. government itself, as well as other regulation-friendly actors, have amassed a trove of wealth in BTC that might just outbid those in favor of permissionless transactions.
Okay, you’ll argue now, but I can just mine my bitcoin at home, or use some of the miners not subject to U.S. regulations. Except that, as with all financial policies, the U.S. leads the way for other nations in the world to follow, before they find another arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in their own backyard. But what’s more is that, over the past 12 months some mysterious entity has been systematically pricing miners out of the market by mining at a loss, causing the starkest discrepancy between BTC/USD and hashrate we have seen in history. If the hashrate is pushed up high enough and the price doesn’t follow for substantial periods of time, no miner can afford to continue operations — unless it has access to free electricity, free equipment, or free money. If your answer to this is renewable mining in Africa, we should recall what happened the last time an African leader wanted to establish monetary independence. Do not pass Go; do not collect two hundred dollars. With Michael Saylor and spaceboy Jason Lowery pushing the narrative for their delusional cyberwarfare proof-of-work scenarios — which, by the way, wouldn’t even need bitcoin at all — the stage is set for a U.S.-led speculative attack on BTC. That is, if it hasn’t already begun.
Bitcoin is censorship resistant, not censorship immune. By advocating for the U.S. government to adopt bitcoin, we are playing a game of chicken with the largest economic and military force on this planet, and anyone who believes that we’ll come out of this on the winning side may have overstayed their welcome in la-la land.
Bitcoin may be a trojan horse, except it’s not the horse you think it is. Under the correct circumstances, bitcoin is able to function as a great alternative to CBDCs. You go ahead and open up your wallet app, and here comes the stablecoin monster — built on Bitcoin. Isn’t that just great? Fully censorable, fully surveillable freedom money, but at least we pumped our market cap. It’s an authoritarian’s wet dream dressed up as freedom of transaction, like a 12-year-old going trick-or-treat — except this time when you get egged on you stink up the entire world economy.
So what now? The best bet to avert Bitcoin’s implementation as a CBDC alternative may — careful, unpopular opinion incoming — be a vote for presidential candidates that hate Bitcoin’s guts. If someone like Elizabeth Warren forbade Bitcoin in the U.S., the network would better stand a chance to further decentralize around the globe while growing more resilient towards censorship. So what will it be, anon? Digital gold or permissionless money? For what might be the last time in history, this vote is up to you.
This article is featured in Bitcoin Magazine’s“The Primary Issue”. Click here to get your Annual Bitcoin Magazine Subscription.