Digital Currency Experts Discuss Potential for Social Change at King’s

Most Bitcoin and digital currency forums focus on how to implement this technology in various sectors of society, but the discussion at King’s was driven by history, economics, and reflections on human nature.

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On April 28, President Gregory Alan Thornbury, the Hon. Edmund C. Moy (former director of the United States Mint), and Alex Waters of met on the campus of The King’s College for a roundtable discussion about digital currencies and their potential to facilitate economic, social, and political change.

The King’s College is the first college in the United States to accept payments in Bitcoin. helps businesses and financial institutions understand and utilize the Bitcoin ecosystem

Most Bitcoin and digital currency forums focus on how to implement this technology in various sectors of society, but the discussion at King’s was driven by history, economics, and reflections on human nature.

One of the evening’s main themes was bringing financial access to people in the emerging world. Moy pointed out that bank accounts, although available to individuals, are less accessible to poorer people (even in our own country), because banks prefer customers from whom they can profit. Digital currencies provide access to financial services without forcing people to go through banks, helping people start businesses and lift themselves out of poverty.

Moy also explained how Bitcoin democratizes the institution of money itself, and argued that because Bitcoin uses independent third-party verification to determine its value, it works around monopolistic government action and erases the non-exchange functions of money that tend to accumulate with such action. Instead, it could force governments to compete with Bitcoin on the hard value of the currencies they issue, returning the power of real choice to individual people.

Thornbury asked the most common questions about Bitcoin, dealing with reliability and transparency. Does Bitcoin really prevent abuse? Waters answered that although unscrupulous people often adopt new technologies to get around the law—and did exactly that with Bitcoin—the attempt ultimately backfired, because the public-ledger system it is based on is very transparent. This makes transactions highly traceable. Thus criminals found themselves caught, and corrupt law enforcement officials who copied the criminals found themselves unable to live above the law. Bitcoin actually makes illegal activities more difficult.

Discussion eventually turned to how Bitcoin might affirm man’s capacity for self-governance. Waters commented that technology has the power to shock us into looking at what we’re capable of, and Moy observed that technology has been moving in the direction of personal power for several years, citing the music service Pandora as an example.

But Bitcoin technologies more directly relate to questions about self-governance because the public ledger system, which keeps Bitcoin use honest and the currency value true to the market, could also be applied to voting and getting people directly, ethically involved in government. Thornbury speculated that the accountability built into Bitcoin, if applied across the Internet, could make a positive difference in online venues for public discourse, where the crisis of incivility is currently at its worst.

During the question and answer time, the panelists elaborated on how digital currency might empower the emerging world and dealt with various questions about trust. Moy embraced Bitcoin as the next evolution in the history of money, but predicted that it would continue to coexist with other forms of money rather than driving them out altogether. Waters added that governments might add digital currencies to their monetary issue alongside traditional money, and Thornbury predicted that banks will eventually love such technologies because they amount to free research and development that banks can use without having to invest in.

Regarding the public ledger’s traceability, Waters predicted that balancing transparency and individual privacy would take a lifetime to sort out. Thornbury added that it will never stop being important to build and maintain an educated populace that knows to be wary about being preyed upon and vigilant to protect its own autonomy.

In closing, Moy remarked, “It’s special to be in a conversation about more than just nuts and bolts—about democracy and Bitcoin’s philosophical ramifications. This kind of thought leadership makes me love The King’s College even more than I already do.”

Part of the Digital Currency Roundtable series, the event was held in the City Room on the fifth floor of The King’s College, and was recorded live.

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