As the world population increases (the global population passed the 7 billion mark in 2011), the percentage of people who live under a democratic regime decreases. It is estimated that if things continue as they are now, in the years’ time, those who live under democratic principles and the rule of law, will comprise merely 26% of the global population, as for now India remains democratic. A report from freedomhouse.org tells us that 2021 is the 15th year in a row that global freedom deteriorated and that authoritarian regimes, like the Chinese Communist Party, are rising. In the same report, it is mentioned that 75% of the global population lives in a country where democratic principles are deteriorating.
These significant numbers are very much a result of major countries that have abandoned democracy openly like China, or secretly like Turkey, or that are thinking about it, like India and Brazil, who’s next move is anticipated. However, authoritarianism has seeped into Europe as well with countries such as Belarus and Hungary.
But what is democracy? Well, the simple definition is that democracy is the rule of the people. The word comes from Ancient Greek and it is a derivative of two words: demos, meaning the populace, the common people, and Kratos, which means power, or strength. In ancient Greece, on the hill of Pnyx in Athens, Athenians would gather to discuss the issues of the city, which was a revolutionary approach back then. There, on that hill, anyone of those thousands could take the stand and share their opinion on the current issues. Decisions were made based on the merit of each option, not merely the social standing of the idea’s presenter.
Thousands of years later, societies grew larger, and the concept of representative democracy evolved We began electing certain people to the job of carrying our opinions to the legislature, and making decisions on our behalf. Eventually, societies and populations continued to grow and people had to come up again with a way to share the same reality, to find a new way to agree. This is where television and the mass media made their appearance. People were able to learn about the reality of the rest of the world. We now relied on the news reports to tell us about the world outside of us. However, the news had to be simplified, had to be packaged in neat, disentangled, 60-minute discussion topics, so that everyone would understand, regardless of education, age, IQ, or socioeconomic status. Now, the ones making the decisions are the few, the experts who are standing between the people and reality.
Later, with the advent of the internet, some would claim that this invention would bring democracy back to the hands of the people.
With the internet also came another type of freedom — financial freedom. On January 3, 2009, the Bitcoin network came into existence. Those who hold bitcoin see it as many things. It is potential, it is hope, it is independence. But is it democratic? Do the values and principles of democracy apply to the functions of cryptocurrency, and specifically of Bitcoin’s?
Andreas Antonopoulos once said during a Q&A session:
“Bitcoin is a system that decentralizes power radically. Politically many people call that cypherpunk, crypto-anarchy, other words we don’t yet have. Bitcoin is redefining political and organizational systems, not just bitcoin, open public blockchains. This technology born out of the internet and expressing some of the radically egalitarian open philosophies, a free flow of information, freedom of speech, freedom of association on a transnational basis that transcends not just borders but every aspect of identity, without identity. That’s a radical new political system, it started with the internet, it’s now happening to money, and we don’t yet have good words for it. Erm, some people might call it democracy, I don’t think that’s what it is.”
Bitcoin offers a way out to many living in democratic and undemocratic, financially oppressive regimes. El Salvador has recently rolled out bitcoin as an official legal tender. President Nayib Bukele claims that this will help the country, since many El Salvadorans work abroad and send money back home with huge transaction costs, and almost 70% of the population do not have a bank account. However, his critics say that bitcoin’s adoption may be a distraction from the steps he has taken towards dismantling democracy. In this case, Bitcoin offers freedom, and also is potentially used as a means against it. One can’t help but wonder whether the adoption of bitcoin as an official currency negates the purpose of its existence in a way.
Bitcoin, in the end, can mean a lot of different things for different people. For some, i.e., those who have been “cashing in” bitcoin has simply been a great way for them to make money. For others bitcoin represents hope for the future: a future where even if someone lives in one of the most authoritarian regimes, they hold a piece of freedom in their digital wallets. Something that cannot be controlled by the few. If the history of humankind has taught us anything, it is that all things can be used for good or evil. It always depends upon in whose hands they end up.