A Culture War Is Brewing Between Bitcoin’s Old and New Money
As the cryptocurrency’s price soared in recent years, Bitcoin’s Old Money and New Money coexisted with only occasional conflict, according to Bloomberg. But this year, a prolonged slump has wiped out more than $100 billion in wealth, and the ensuing panic over how to stabilize the currency has incited a Gatsby-esque class war.
One point of contention right now involves the ownership of Bitcoin.org. Satoshi Nakamoto registered the web domain a decade ago and handed it over to some early cryptoheads for safekeeping. The site still exists as a destination to evangelize Bitcoin and educate newcomers. The main proprietor is known as Cobra, with support from another anonymous user, Theymos.
In a recent post on the coder site GitHub that’s racked up more than 100 responses, there are calls for the removal of Cobra. People are expressing concern over his views and what it might mean for the digital currency. Some of the largest holders of Bitcoin bought in years ago and could further depress the price if they switch to another currency.
The initial vision for Bitcoin was to create a form of money free from government or corporate oversight. But for all the talk of decentralization, Bitcoin old-timers still control some of the main venues where changes to the currency are documented and debated. Cobra is also a co-owner of Bitcointalk.org, a popular online hangout where Theymos is an administrator.
Theymos moderates the Bitcoin section on Reddit, which has more than 900,000 subscribers. Cobra assured his critics on GitHub that they can trust him: “I won't deny I can be erratic at times, but there’s a difference between ‘difficult to work with’ and outright malicious intent.”
Roger Ver, who used to be known as Bitcoin Jesus, is now a supporter of Bitcoin Cash. He has said the original Bitcoin “is no longer Bitcoin.” The alternative, a spinoff that claims faster and cheaper transaction processing, is closer to Nakamoto’s original vision, he has said. Ver overhauled his website, Bitcoin.com, to promote Bitcoin Cash.
Much of what’s known about Cobra comes from messages posted to online forums and on his Twitter account, which he created in October. His worldview is clear: He’s not fond of banks or government. One of Cobra’s recent pet projects is to secure a pardon for Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of money laundering and other crimes for operating the Silk Road, an infamous online marketplace for illicit goods.
This sort of hyper-libertarian outlook was common among early adopters. It’s not the prevailing point of view for today’s Bitcoin pragmatists. Support from financial institutions and pension funds are believed to be key to increasing the digital currency’s price. This year’s rout hasn’t instilled confidence. Some 300 hedge funds that invest in cryptocurrencies are seeing 40 percent declines in their returns this year. This class of investor is more concerned with legitimacy than freeing a convict.