There’s a good chance owning Bitcoin will turn out to be ethically reprehensible.

I sold off my BTC and donated the profit to charity.

Let’s be honest about Bitcoin. It’s cryptographic candy. No one buys and sells Bitcoin out of a concern that their transactions aren’t public enough or because they want to burn up more of the planet. People are excited by Bitcoin because it promises to be a disruptive technology and, of course, because its value keeps going up.

But Bitcoin is a technology in search of a purpose and heading in a direction I don’t want to be a part of.

If you ask people who are disadvantaged by the existing global financial system, you would hear the need for more stability, more clarity in how financial products work, more opportunities for advancing on the economic ladder such as opportunities to build credit, more effective regulation, and lower fees.

Sure, Bitcoin could achieve these goals. But stability, clarity, and opportunity are not inherent properties of a blockchain.

Bitcoin is volatile. It’s difficult to understand and use. Proponents largely oppose regulation. Transaction fees have been rising. Environmental costs aren’t taken seriously. Its promises of anonymity and decentralization are lies.

And Nazis. Look, obviously we aren’t going to throw away every invention that horrible people use or that people use for crime. (This isn’t abstract for me — two of the tech projects I run are often used by bad actors.) But Bitcoin isn’t just an invention. It’s a political movement fueled by its own popularity — fueled, in part, by Nazis driving up the price of Bitcoin.

If this political movement has any values, those values can be found at the heart of the Bitcoin protocol to which the movement is inextricably wed:

  1. Those with resources to burn, i.e. the miners, are in control.
  2. Anyone privileged enough to understand it can participate.

These are not the values of a technology that will disrupt the establishment because these are the establishment’s values.

What will make Bitcoin succeed at actually improving financial systems in the spirit of the Bitcoin Foundation’s manifesto is not its technology but instead policy, action, and course correction that concretely embody the egalitarian vision —which might very well necessitate sacrificing the protocol.

I constantly rail on civic technology projects that start with an idea and look for ways to provide actual value later, or that say that once everyone uses their platform the world will be better. It’s easy to make the world better today if you just do it.

I don’t buy the argument that a blockchain is a central part of improving the financial system, and I’m concerned by the disconnect between Bitcoin’s stated vision and the values that Bitcoin actually embodies. And if I don’t buy the argument, I shouldn’t literally buy into the cryptocurrency movement.

In 2014 a colleague paid me back for something in $40 worth of Bitcoin. Over the next few years the value of that Bitcoin increased by about 20x for a profit of about $800.

My Coinbase portfolio in early December

I sold all of my Bitcoin —along with the mysterious $127 worth of Bitcoin Cash that appeared after the cryptocurrency’s fork— in a few tranches starting at Bitcoin’s price peak a few weeks ago.

Then I donated $800, which was approximately the final value minus the principle and fees, to Tzedek DC, a local nonprofit here in DC that provides free legal aid to low-income residents with debt- and consumer-related legal issues, financial literacy training, and advocates for better policy related to consumer debt.

But I’m not an ideologue. I also bought $75 worth of Ethereum and Litecoin when I sold the Bitcoin, which have since doubled in value. Ethereum’s founder seems to have his head on straight, so I’m hopeful that at least some part of the cryptocurrency community might soon lead with and act on an inclusive vision.

My Coinbase Portfolio Now

Some of the screenshots in this post are photoshopped to make the point clearer, but the asset values are true.

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