The digital money revolution is happening—which side of it are you on?
Bitcoin Versus the Bond Villains
The perfect tool to thwart the ambitions of modern autocrats.
If you’ve watched any spy movies lately, you’ll have noticed a new type of villain: the old-fashioned cat-scratching megalomaniac has been replaced by the power-mad government functionary or bureaucrat. Consider the character of Max Denbigh—or “C”—the head of the “Joint Security Service,” from the 2015 Bond film, Spectre. C’s vast ambition is to capture all personal data from all places, and thus build a public spying operation described as “George Orwell’s worst nightmare.”
“Take a look at the world…chaos…because people like you, paper-pushers and politicians, are too spineless to do what needs to be done,” C explains to his intelligence counterpart. “So I made an alliance to put the power where it should be, and now you want to throw it away for the sake of democracy, whatever the hell that is. How predictably moronic.” Similarly, in the Jason Bourne series, CIA officials use terrorist threats as a pretext for widespread government surveillance and black operations of questionable legality.
The anti-heroes in these blockbuster films style themselves as the good guys, “protectors” who use their power for your own good, to prevent something worse from happening. And yet, it says something that we instinctively sense and mistrust their sinister ambition when we see it on screen—and we cheer when their plans are thwarted.
These movies jumped to mind over the last week, as we’ve seen a real-life Bond villain—less over-the-top in his self-presentation but no less dangerous—usurp the rule of law in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers to quell anti-vaccine mandate protests. While the powers were in effect, he was able to use provisions in the Emergencies Act of 1988 to expand the rules within the Terrorist Financing Act, giving him leverage against financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges, and crowdfunding platforms.
Under the Emergencies Act, Trudeau was able to apply banking surveillance to payment processors and crowdfunding websites. He demanded that cryptocurrency exchanges and crowdfunding platforms report “suspicious” transactions to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC). His government could also suspend the insurance and freeze the accounts of companies that own the trucks being used in the protest.
Ten days after Trudeau first invoked the Act, it became clear that he did not have the votes in the Senate to extend his powers. So he revoked the measures. But the logic of Trudeau’s governance is all too clear: the head of state in a Western, democratic nation is prepared to treat a public protest by his own citizens as an act of terrorism. It is hugely significant that his chosen form of leverage was forcing financial institutions to do his bidding. This is a breathtaking—and frightening—abuse of government powers, and it will set a precedent for other Western leaders to delegitimize opposition using digital control of finances.
That makes Canada’s protests an essential proof point for the virtues of Bitcoin. While much is written about Bitcoin, its ability to evade the traditional financial system rarely gets much coverage. That’s deliberate: Bitcoin advocates have been fighting to gain legitimacy for so long that they tend not to focus on “avoiding surveillance” as a selling point.
But this moment calls for something different: It’s a chance to talk about Bitcoin as a safeguard against the whims of those public leaders who use finance and money as a political cudgel. Trudeau’s actions make a sterling case for why Bitcoin matters for free speech and free expression—because both speech and expression require the free movement of money. And when the government controls how money flows—and when they decide to cease that flow to suit various political goals—that leaves free speech and expression in the lurch.
By contrast, Bitcoin operates on a distributed ledger system, with no one authority able to control or access privileged information about where money does and does not go. While government regulators have been trying to curtail the work of cryptocurrency exchanges, they are finding it hard to even wrap their heads around the technology, let alone write sensible regulatory protocols for it.
And thank goodness for that delay and lack of comprehension. Because if the Canadian government’s Bond-villain-style tactics show us anything, it’s that the free movement of money needs as much protection as the free transmission of ideas, picket signs, or trucks. Bitcoin is a defense of financial independence—an ideal as vital to liberty as any other.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.