A Review Of The Philosophy Of Bitcoin

Bitcoin books have often focused on the price. Resistance Money asks us to step into the shoes of somebody wholly different and imagine. The three authors are philosophers, which shows in their analytic framework for looking through Bitcoin. They also merge John Rawls’ “Veil of Ignorance” and original position, a thought experiment based on reasoning about what a society should be like even if one doesn’t know what position one will have in that society. This philosophical thought experiment is a constant thought worth chewing on as we progress—and the book names more and more people we could be along the way.

“Even in countries like the United States, financial censorship is common. Would you prefer to live in a world without Bitcoin’s censorship resistance if you could be any person in the world?” the authors remind us as they talk about the geography of Bitcoin. There’s an inherent paradox in watching a censorship-proof network at play – sometimes rewarding Russian militias but also providing essential transfers of value for Ukraine. No matter your side, the other side might be taking advantage. Yet, that is precisely why something like Bitcoin should exist – because of the censorship-proof properties that make it resistance money – placing it in the same calculus as the Internet and email spam (would you rather have a world without email, but with no spam? Most would probably not.) – as well as cash, a form of resistance money that exists already.

The book embarks on a technical analysis of the Bitcoin network. Then, it provides a primer on what money is – and, more importantly, whether Bitcoin fits the definition of good money- a question we will be asked throughout the book. The fourth chapter opens with an explanation of the “possible worlds” analysis we’ve been doing since the beginning and wonders what you’d think about Bitcoin if you’re an Afghan entrepreneur trying to teach girls about technology – or Alexei Navalny, the Russian dissident whose bank accounts were frozen by Putin.

We are then asked to analyze what it means to be somebody where the rule of law is unstable and monetary control on inflation is shaky. After all, as the authors point out: “Sometimes central bankers get it right. […] But they often get it wrong. According to the United Nations, at least two billion people live under double-digit inflation across over 69 economies.” Racial disparities exist in the United States, partially due to asset price changes, even if inflation in the United States isn’t quite so bad. Monetary regimes matter as they shape the world outside us – money with rules like Bitcoin can help us escape from poor judgment.

Privacy, the Lightning Network, CoinJoin, and censorship resistance then follow. We’re asked to “consider again how the moral and legal statuses of some activities might coincide or come apart.” This takes a broader analysis of the merits of resisting censorship and a deeper analysis of what is legal and moral and how the two sometimes don’t overlap, hewing back to Thoreau and the Transcendentalists.

Towards the book’s latter half, financial exclusion and Bitcoin’s ability to help the unbanked are covered before the authors embark on one of Bitcoin’s most contentious points: its energy use as proof. The authors make a convincing argument for why Bitcoin needs proof-of-work and energy to stand apart while acknowledging that the cost of Bitcoin is 0.13% of the world’s global emissions and 0.5% of the world’s energy consumption.

The book itself is a calculus of having “skin in the game.” – three university professors have staked their reputation on a new and upcoming technology that is straight in the crosshairs of most universities. They’re self-aware of that position and offer their most potent arguments for why Bitcoin won’t stand in the penultimate chapter – this isn’t your typical tract about how Bitcoin’s success is inevitable and all of Bitcoin’s opponents are dumb. Instead of speaking over Bitcoin’s detractors, the book speaks with them and sprinkles objections to Bitcoin’s rise along the way, culminating in a chapter solely dedicated to the critiques – from more specific concerns about the centralization of Lightning Network and miners to the politics it is currently associated with, as well as the distribution of it.

While an important point is drawn that other cryptocurrencies, most notably Ethereum, have had a “pre-mine” that privileged insider elites (which makes it hard to classify it as fair money compared to Bitcoin in both leadership and distribution of coins), Bitcoiners are called to be cautious and to use tools to get more people access to Bitcoin to ensure this critique doesn’t land. These well-reasoned points highlight critiques of Bitcoin while defending it from the excesses of those critiques. The book’s biggest strength is that it can objectively assess many elements of Bitcoin – from its privacy to its energy use – without becoming dogmatic or overly preachy. The tone of writing here is measured and seeks to guide rather than to hit somebody over the head. It is a much-needed perspective and approach when it comes to Bitcoin.

If there were one potential hitch in the book, it would be in its ambitious scope of analysis. Nearly every element of Bitcoin is covered, from the broadest possible to more niche technical topics (for example, how Lightning channels are architected and why it matters for privacy). For somebody more well-versed in Bitcoin, you can be stuck in no man’s land – each element goes deep enough to the point where somebody with a respectable Bitcoin study would probably pick everything up – but not much deeper. It may also be overwhelming for somebody using Resistance Money to start understanding Bitcoin – though the authors’ signposting when technical content is coming will help a lot. The book will provide plenty of value to any reader but will stand out to those who are aware of the tenets of Bitcoin but who want to dive deeper in a systematic way.

Overall, Resistance Money gives Bitcoin the serious, measured perspective it now deserves. Gone are the days of purely technical writing, or writing that preaches to the choir – Resistance Money augers a shift in how Bitcoin is treated in the same vein as other writers have applied to its history, from the Blocksize Wars to its cypherpunk roots to its monetary economics and its push for deflation. It’s well worth adding to the canon of books that go beyond just defining Bitcoin and applying new analysis and synthesis to it – and Resistance Money deserves a spot on any bookshelf.

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