When I was in the ninth grade, we had to design a city of the future. Maybe it was eighth grade. Regardless, I had this idea to create a city that had no money. Because, I thought at the time, as far as I can recall, although I can’t recall much — except that my presentation invoked a lot of giggles from my classmates and praise from my teacher (Mr. Leach) for handling it with trademark aplomb — money isn’t real. Money is paper with value assigned to it; it has no inherent worth.
That’s not an original or unique thought, of course. But it would follow me throughout my life. In university, I studied the writings of John Locke, who said (as my amateur academic brain will summarize) that in the state of nature people are equal because anything that has value will spoil. As long as you keep only what you can use, there’s enough for everyone. The concept of private property ownership works because property is only one thing: inherently valuable stuff found in nature. (Think: food, water, plants). There’s plenty to go around.
Locke, writing in the 1600s, was not an environmentalist per se, indeed he was in favor of money and, again by my limited understanding and aging memory, saw money as a tool that solved the problem of spoilage. Money had its own issues, of course. Locke also argued that value in goods included the labor to work those goods. But money allowed people a way to accumulate wealth without necessarily having put the work in. They could also keep much more than they could ever possibly use.
This is much the state of modern currency. Money is often only distantly related to the value of goods, much less the value of the labor put in to work those goods. The wealthiest people make money not by selling goods, but by making bets on money. They make money on money; sure, there are commodities, but to earn income from them no one is out in the fields growing wheat to pile up in their own reserves — except the poor. In general, the rich do no actual labor.
Money is also deeply tied to governments. There is no global currency. There is a currency for each state, or for groups of states, that measure worth in relationship to one another. Wealth is subject to government oversight and manipulation. In a global financial crisis, like that which occured in 2008, big banks and the political powers exercise great control over the financial winners and losers. No one can realistically maintain wealth independent of political structures.
That’s where Bitcoin comes in. I love Bitcoin. I love the idea of Bitcoin. I love the idea that I could get around spoilage in the state of nature by saving up virtual bits of currency. That I could exchange those bits for stuff, around the world, to whomever I please, and that it would be no one else’s business. It’s a pipe dream, of course, because fiat currencies still exist, Bitcoin processing drains energy like nobody’s business when transaction volume is high — meaning (as it currently stands), the more people use Bitcoin, the more expensive it is both in network fees and on the environment — and because people still don’t “get” Bitcoin. In order to become the main global currency, people have to “get” it, and they still don’t.
It was like when I was in Mr. Leach’s class, and people couldn’t figure out how a world without money would actually work. And tasked with creating a visual aid, I’d drawn a map of my city with a legend showing different aspects and areas. “What are those purple things?” asked one of my fellow students, commenting on my artistic skills rather than my municipal planning ingenuity. He was just one of 30, but he was the representative of those who were missing the point. When it comes to Bitcoin, there may never be enough people who get the point the Satoshi Nakamoto wanted them to get.