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Dark Wallet: An Unconventional Approach to Bitcoin

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    The mainstream entrepreneurs who are interested in Bitcoin have found a haven in a nonprofit called the Bitcoin Foundation. Writing about Bitcoin in April, Maria Bustillos described its executives as a “rational and sober group of adult administrators” who stand in contrast with the image of Bitcoin users as “wild-eyed kids camping out in half-deserted lofts.” Members of the foundation met in August with several federal agencies, including the Federal Reserve, the F.B.I., and the Secret Service. On the surface, the meeting was an educational exercise, meant to explain how Bitcoin works, but many observers assume it was a step toward regulating the currency.

    The foundation, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, calls itself an advocacy group “dedicated to serving the business, technology, government relations, and public affairs needs of the Bitcoin community.” One goal, according to Jon Matonis, the executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation, is to educate both public and private interests—including the government—about how the currency operates. (“The Foundation is not pro-regulation as some have claimed, but it is pro-education,” Matonis has written, adding that he supports “bitcoin education for legislative and regulatory entities” and that “lobbying on behalf of Bitcoin is not necessarily anti-market.”)

    Wilson, not surprisingly, sees working with the government as a betrayal of Bitcoin’s fundamental purpose. “The public faces of Bitcoin are acting as counter-revolutionaries,” he told me. “They’re actively working to try to diffuse it, and to pollute it.” He was referring, he said, not only to the Bitcoin Foundation but to venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in New York and Silicon Valley who increasingly embrace the currency as a way to profit, but don’t share his revolutionary aims. (Matonis said he is aware of Wilson’s concerns. “I don’t see my role as advancing crony capitalism,” he said.)

    Wilson believes Bitcoin should remain the backbone of a separate economy that undermines the government’s ability to collect taxes and to control the value of currency—not be subsumed into the mainstream economy.

    “The state is basically allowed because we have all chosen to use these certain institutions to channel our activity and commerce,” he told me. “But when we are enabled, through alternative means and technologies, to channel our commerce as we will, channel our production as we will, the state simply disappears.”

    Not everyone agrees, of course, that society would benefit from the disappearance of governments. Wilson used the Liberator to make the point that the government shouldn’t regulate the flow of information; he wants to use Bitcoin to help build an economy outside of the government’s reach.

    But his ideology, taken to its logical conclusion, would also leave services like roads, libraries, fire fighting, and policing in the hands of the private sector—whose interests may not be aligned, Wilson’s critics argue, with those of the public at large.

    Wilson knows that he could see blowback for his stance against the foundation: as a self-described “crypto-anarchist,” perhaps he shouldn’t be so concerned with who is or isn’t determining the currency’s future. And if the U.S. government attempts to regulate the currency, which seems likely, Wilson will also find himself once again in direct opposition to the government.

    Wilson and the suit-and-tie-wearing people at the Bitcoin Foundation share a common interest in bringing Bitcoin to as many people as possible. The foundation seems willing to play nicely with the establishment, and has been open to hearing about the interests of old-school players like venture capitalists and government regulators. Wilson, however, who was only recently firing an illicit gun into the desert, isn’t looking only for a new currency but for another way to liberate himself—and others—from government oversight.

    Michael del Castillo is the technology and innovation reporter at Upstart Business Journal, a member of American City Business Journals, which is a sister publication to Condé Nast. A graduate of Columbia University, he is also the cofounder of Literary Manhattan, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Manhattan’s literary community and creating new ways to appreciate literature.

    Illustration by Grafilu.


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