One of my favorite monetary thinkers, Jon Matonis, uses one of my favorite branches of mathematics, game theory (so you know – cooperation almost always trumps competition), to show why a government ban on bitcoin would backfire. Think of it like squeezing a balloon. Squeezing it one on side, only results in the air expanding everywhere else. The same would happen to bitcoin, should the U.S. or other first world nation try to control or outlaw it. Any attempts to crack down on bitcoin will only results in other jurisdictions competing for bitcoin’s business.
Aside from the impact on price, would a government ban on bitcoin, including a direct ban for law-abiding merchants, shrink the available size of the so-called bitcoin market? Is an officially “illegitimate” bitcoin a useless thing?
I maintain that a government ban on bitcoin would be about as effective as alcohol prohibition was in the 1920s. Government prohibition doesn’t even do a good job of keeping drugs out of prisons. The demand for an item, in this case digital cash with user-defined levels of privacy, does not simply evaporate in the face of a jurisdictional ban. One could even make the case that it becomes stronger because an official recognition that Bitcoin is not only a “renegade” currency but a “so-effective-it-had-to-be-banned” currency would imbue the cryptographic money with larger than life qualities.
Ironically, the ban would create something like the Streisand effect for Bitcoin generating an awareness for entire new demographic groups and new classes of society. Unlike alcohol, bitcoin itself might not be considered a consumption good but it certainly makes it easier to acquire and sell certain consumption goods.
The under-banked people of System D would awaken to using bitcoin for eliminating onerous fees or the risk of handling cash. The individuals seeking drugs without violence or prescriptions would understand the imperviousness of sites like the agorist Silk Road. The anti-banking crowd would race to get their hands on some bitcoin as a symbolic gesture to weaken bankers’ firm grip on payments. The pro-gambling casino people would all of a sudden realize how play money bitcoin bypasses the ridiculous and religious anti-gambling laws. The asset protection wealth managers would start to become fascinated with esoteric things like deterministic brainwallets and Tor.
Now with burgeoning covert and in-person exchange opportunities plus a variety of reliable exchanges operating outside of the U.S., the Bitcoin of our fictional story is far from fading into obscurity. Conversely, it is the ambitious opportunities for crony capitalism that fade into obscurity because a closed-loop bitcoin economy not requiring meatspace exchanges would emerge and accelerate.
One doesn’t drive Bitcoin underground. A free Bitcoin was designed to be ‘underground’ for its own survival otherwise it wouldn’t need such an inefficient, decentralized block chain. The low-cost and non-reversible bitcoin transactions that appeal to mainstream commerce are merely byproducts of a mutinous system that doesn’t rely on trusted third parties. Joel Bowman writing at The Daily Reckoning clearly recognizes that bitcoin’s future doesn’t depend on State legitimacy let alone low-cost sanctioned transactions:
In the end, bitcoin is a bet on the other side of The State’s coin; the free market side. It’s a bet that voluntary trade will, in the end, overcome neanderthalic force and coercion. It’s a wager that the conversation currently underway in the shadowy ‘black’ market is far more intriguing, far more complex, far more nuanced and exceedingly more interesting than the yip-yapping that distracts the undead, mainstream TV-consumer for an hour or so around feeding time every evening.
I would add that it’s also a bet on income and consumption privacy becoming the norm over ‘reportable earnings’ and invasive transaction tracking. It’s a bet that career mobility and independent contractor businesses will eventually outstrip the growth of the corporate wage-slave population. It’s a bet that the degree of an individual’s financial privacy is selected solely by the individual and not by what the State reluctantly permits.
Prohibiting bitcoin is the opposite of what a rational game theorist would conclude. But are our regulatory overlords smart enough to advocate a hands-off policy? If the State cannot plausibly ban bitcoin, why would they want to give it the additional power to grow and propagate? Bitcoin challenges the State as monetary sovereign and that has grave implications for their monetary authority and quasi-peaceful taxing authority. A savvy and smart regulator would seek to avoid the confrontation that “Old Bitcoin Radical” foresees.
Their best response to Bitcoin is irrelevancy, or failing that, extreme gold-like market manipulation for as long as possible. The end game for the State is perpetuating the fiat myth — their fiat myth not the populace’s cryptographic Bitcoin myth. They have always known that faith in money is a mass illusion, however they never considered that they wouldn’t be in charge of the illusion.
In the meantime, just enjoy the spectacle and relax people for mining bitcoin, holding bitcoin, sending bitcoin, and receiving bitcoin is not against the law inany country in the world.
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