The cryptocurrency world is awash in libertarians. The underlying nature of cryptocurrencies—decentralized currencies that don’t require a middle-man and can’t be controlled by the government—is music to libertarian ears. A common complaint against libertarians, and therefore against many cryptocurrency advocates, is that they are inherently selfish. Because they don’t advocate for government-sponsored social welfare programs, they don’t care for the poor and those in need. Therefore, cryptocurrency projects are primarily about greed and getting rich.
Is this true? Do cryptocurrency projects exist simply for selfish reasons? And will the rise of cryptocurrency make things even worse for the poor?
Lifting Up the Poor
According to the media, drug dealers, terrorists, and greedy capitalists are the primary forces behind the origin of Bitcoin, and thus cryptocurrency in general. In reality both pragmatic and altruism sparked the first cryptocurrency. Bitcoin was birthed in the crucible of the 2008 financial crisis, which caused millions of regular people to suffer serious financial hardships while governments bailed out the rich. Satoshi Nakamoto’s responded not with yet another band-aid on a failed economic system, but instead a completely different system: a decentralized peer-to-peer financial network separate from the existing debt-based financial system and out of the hands of corrupt government officials.
Within a few short years, people saw this revolutionary system’s potential, particularly for those who are forgotten by our current financial system; i.e., the unbanked. Bitcoin would allow people the world over who do not have access to banks and credit cards to easily access, store, and spend money electronically. By 2014, Bitcoin proponents such as Andreas Antonopoulos would consistently praise the potential of Bitcoin to help the poor, especially in developing countries. And this would be a real systemic help, not just a one-time act of charity.
I remember reading the story of a young woman in Afghanistan who was running a business using Bitcoin. What made this remarkable was that in her culture, a woman’s finances were required to be controlled by a male member of her family, such as her father or her uncle. But Bitcoin allowed this young woman financial independence, which gave her freedom to lift herself out of poverty. Stories like these inspired me and many others to embrace Bitcoin as a means to improve the world.
Cryptocurrency can thus be transformative—not just for individuals, but for countries as well. It can create societies where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed. Look at Venezuela. It has become an economic disaster thanks to the socialist policies of its government, with its currency becoming more and more worthless by the hour. This disaster has put millions of people in dire financial straits. Yet if those people had access to a cryptocurrency they could use both for savings and for their everyday transactions—a currency that didn’t devalue by 10% from the time they enter a checkout line to the time they get to the counter—then they could escape the downward spiral of poverty their government officials have bequeathed them. Beyond keeping its value, this currency would also need to be cheap to use as well as private. Cheap to use so that they don’t lose a day’s wages on transaction fees; and private so that they can keep their funds away from government officials who find countless opportunities to confiscate even more of the people’s money.
Dash: Stepping Into the Gap
Unfortunately, many of those paeans to the power of Bitcoin to lift up the poor have fallen silent. Due to congested blocks and a lack of scaling, Bitcoin is now another investment vehicle for the rich. Sending less than $100 is becoming too expensive for most people, and the principle of micropayments has been cast aside. It might appear that those who accuse the libertarian-leaning cryptocurrency community of being selfish capitalists were right; after all, Samson Mow, CSO of Blockstream, said last year, “Bitcoin isn’t for people that live on less than $2 a day.” However, those are exactly the people many of us think of when we dream of the power of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general.
It is in this newly-formed void that Dash has stepped in. Striving to be truly “digital cash,” Dash is committed to low transaction fees and built-in privacy. So literally anyone with a cell phone (a group which includes many of the poor in less developed countries) can “be their own bank” and transact with anyone else in the world. Dash can become a means by which the unbanked can transfer any amount of value quickly and cheaply. Thus, those who have been forgotten by both the global banking system and, sadly, by the Bitcoin ecosystem, can have the financial tools to conduct commerce. They aren’t bound by corrupt governments or cultural barriers that chain them to a cycle of poverty.
Although Bitcoin may have left the poor behind, Dash stands poised to be a means by which they can be lifted up, and thus help fulfill Satoshi’s vision of a more just and equitable financial system.