The decentralized digital currency Bitcoin—and its underlying “blockchain” technology—has created much excitement in the technology community, but its potential for building truly empowering social and solidarity-based finance has yet to be tested. This paper provides a primer on the basics of Bitcoin and discusses the existent narratives about the technology’s potential to facilitate remittances, financial inclusion, cooperative structures and even micro-insurance systems. It also flags up potential points of concern and conflict; such as the tech-from-above “solutionism” and conservative libertarian political dynamics of some of the technology start-up community that surrounds Bitcoin. As a way of contrast the paper considers “blockchain 2.0” technologies with more overtly communitarian ideals and their potential for creating “cooperation at scale”. It concludes with suggestions for future research.
Brett Scott is an independent researcher and consultant on alternative finance and financial reform. He is the author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money
(Pluto Press: 2013). He is a senior fellow of the Finance Innovation Lab in London, writes for publications such as The Guardian
and appears as a commentator on media channels like the BBC.