In Bitcoin we trust! Can world hunger be finally solved with trillion-dollar wealth?
by Edmund Yong
For those who lived through the 90s, you would have spotted wristbands, tattoos, and bumper stickers with the initials WWJD or “What Would Jesus Do?”.
What started out as a grassroots campaign to remind youths to apply their values in any given situation, turned into a global movement. It captured a particular zeitgeist at the turn of the millennium: with the tech angst of the Dot Com Boom and Y2K on one hand, and the moral panic among conservatives during the Clinton years on the other.
If this question is posed for Bitcoin today, who do we ask?
Given the numerous ‘Crypto Jesus’ profiles on Twitter, eponymous YouTube and Tik Tok channels with thousands of followers, and an Investopedia reference to the original ‘Bitcoin Jesus’, we don’t have to look far.
“What Does Bitcoin Mean to the Poor?”
The famous Catholic theologian from the global south, Gustavo Gutiérrez, founded the (radical) idea that biblical messaging can be contextualised for people groups and their unique struggles. For instance, the concept of a ‘promised land’ can convey a specific affective meaning to migrants, or where the poor are told that they will ‘inherit the kingdom’.
That being said, what does bitcoin mean to the ordinary El Salvadorian that lives on $10 a day?
There are empirical signs that the crypto narrative is influential among the poor. It also resonates at a macro level with implications to bad governments. Based on the recent IMF Report (Oct 2021), crypto adoption is the highest among low-income emerging markets and developing economies (EMDE). In addition, transaction activity such as value received onchain and local exchange volumes, are the highest among these EMDE groups. Both metrics have continued to surge, as truth to power.
The Scriptures have been a surprisingly effective financial education tool throughout history, using everyday non-financial analogies to dumb down financial concepts. Try explaining ‘compound interest’ to a crowd – or just use the Parable of Talents! But of course, there is always the risk of sounding facetious when applying it for crypto.
To wit: Instead of multiplying the human race, can we reposition the creation mandate to: “Go forth and mine in the ends of the earth!”? Can we use DeFi ‘food finance’, which produced 100X gains in its prime, to “feed the five thousand”? Can we liken a modern ‘manna-esque’ airdrop with Keynesian policy? How about a virtuous cycle of “forgiving our (national) debt as we forgive others”?
None of all this matters though, as the reality is a lot less woke…
What Happened to Bitcoin’s ‘Social Gospel’?
There was a time not so long ago when almost every initial coin offering (ICO) whitepaper you read promised to deliver financial inclusion – to bank the unbanked. Bitcoin was their answer for global development finance that could bring about social change for the poor and marginalised. ICO after ICO shilled this in earshot. And then, they vanished.
Instead with Wall Street pouring cash into bitcoin, and with most bitcoins in circulation now being held by companies and institutions, the opposite came true – the banked are becoming unbanked! It is hard to deny that the very success of bitcoin today is co-opted by these big corporate interests. And the little guy should be grateful: If not for them, bitcoin price won’t be where it is today.
The public, along with our pension funds, looks at bitcoin and becomes enamoured with its trillion-dollar market cap and stock-to-flow price models. Critics look at it and say this is the world’s biggest online casino that happily exploits the carbon deficit for profit. The media will commemorate Bitcoin’s birthday each year with a gluttonous order of pizza.
Let’s face it, the optics aren’t great: Crypto wealth concentration today is similar or worse than the One Percent. Transaction fees are (ridiculously) higher than TradFi. And with centralised exchanges regulated like banks, with bank-type entry barriers, reaching out to the ‘unbanked’ rings hollow.
Poor Satoshi Nakomoto, everyone has made him out to be a ruthless capitalist! He’s not around to speak for himself, but meanwhile, his millions of acolytes are busy computing their latest capital gains or charting the next $100K top.
Is this the same guy who wrote in his 2008 whitepaper of a morally-centred incentive system that values and encourages honest gains? “The greedy attacker ought to find it more profitable to play by the rules, than to undermine the system and the validity of his own wealth” (page 4). This is the same guy who was named Person of the Year 2013 because Bitcoin’s “use as a solution for the unbanked” to cut out the middlemen will “echo through the generations”.
The Greatest Anti-Hero of This Age!?
To be fair, Satoshi never purported to save the world and should not be held to that standard. He won’t be accosted at the pearly gates. The real question, rather than the clickbait title, is: “What Would Satoshi Do?”
What is not apparent in the current state of bitcoin, however, is a real social cause. One that is originally championed by Satoshi, or of similar ilk that honours his legacy.
With all the financial fats generated from bitcoin’s rise, or by (somehow) recovering from the vast trove of lost coins, would it help for the community to chip in together and create a perpetual trust and award just as Alfred Nobel did?
One that will spur creative energy towards ballsier areas of development finance like microlending, alt credit scoring, distribution and governance of aid. They don’t pay off as well but does the world really need another exotic derivative or algo trading tool?
One that recognises tech as not inherently evil, but that its success can be a force for greater good – which Nobel did after inventing dynamite. One that doesn’t use its fortunes to deepen the tech divide but bridges it with shared prosperity.
One Nakomoto Prize each (the ‘bitNobels’) for outstanding contributions to Personal Freedom, to Public Literacy, to Market Integrity, and (hold my beer) to Climate Sustainability!
Humanity’s search for heroes has always been to those we can trust. Here’s one that completely rejects our trust, so that we can form the ultimate trustless network. Verily, this is not the hero we expected but the hero we needed.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are the author’s own.
Cover Image: Melkite Christ the King by Boston (Wikimedia Commons)
In-article Image: Bust of Satoshi Nakamoto in Budapest by Fekist (Wikimedia Commons)