Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong recently sparked a firestorm by his company would now be “apolitical.”
In a memo posted on Medium, Armstrong argued that political divisions were undermining productivity, and Coinbase should remain laser-focused on its mission. The company then offered , giving employees until Wednesday, Oct. 7 to send a form signaling their interest. Staying at Coinbase would indicate you are on board with the company’s new direction, Armstrong .
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pushed back on the memo, pointing out that Armstrong’s position is incongruous with Bitcoin, which is direct activism at an exclusionary financial system. In , Armstrong said: “We are political about one thing: our mission. (This includes Bitcoin, crypto, economic freedom, etc.)”
Armstrong would like to have it both ways. He wants to be apolitical about the disruptions that make him uncomfortable, but political about Bitcoin’s mission to disrupt the world. This position is not only somewhat incoherent, it undermines the core principles of Bitcoin.
Here are a few reasons why.
It is not controlled by any government or political party. It is designed to be resistant to censorship and cannot be shut down. It can be embraced by freedom fighters and money launderers, human rights activists and scammers, liberals and conservatives alike.
Yes, as Dorsey points out, Bitcoin is meant to disrupt the status quo – i.e., the power of banks and the traditional financial system. At the same time, Bitcoin aims to change the world without pledging allegiance to any political camp. So in that sense, Bitcoin is apolitical.
Armstrong’s position is nothing like this. Rather, he is pushing for a status quo that many Americans, including his own employees, are actively rejecting. You can disagree with those employees or dislike their , but it is illogical to say their position is political while Armstrong’s is not.
This by Ranjan Roy and Can Duruk sums up Armstrong’s stance: “Political apathy is not a neutral stance, but a strongly conservative one, almost by definition. When there are competing forces, one trying to pull you in [one] direction and another forcing you to stay where you are, saying that you’d rather not move is picking a side, not removing yourself from the equation.”
Unlike Bitcoin, Armstrong’s mission is not value-neutral. It is advocacy disguised as neutrality.
The beauty of Bitcoin’s decentralized technology is that it can’t be shut down by any person or entity. Bitcoin makes governments nervous, and for good reason. It gives individuals power over their own money in a way that can dilute the power of the state. In countries like Russia, where political dissidents are targets of bank freezes, use to raise funds. The Kremlin doesn’t like it but it doesn’t have the ability to shut the Bitcoin network down. China has cracked down on cryptocurrency exchanges and public sales but has not been able to stop people from buying and selling bitcoin.
Censorship resistance is not the spirit behind Armstrong’s memo, which is a top-down directive that declares: “We won’t debate causes or political candidates internally that are unrelated to work.” Clearly, not all employees are on board with this direction, and some appear to have different ideas about which causes are “related to work.”