Cryptocurrencies have been threatened at one point or another by nearly every country on the planet. Rarely does a government venture beyond rhetoric. Those resorting to crackdowns are often met with greater public appetite for decentralized virtual money, making all that initial fuss an exercise in futility. Be they communist strongholds or liberal democracies, bitcoin cannot be stopped.
Also read: India’s Banks Block Crypto Accounts
Government Threats Met with Pushback
In response to a recent Republic of Korea (ROK) bureaucrat’s statement, causing mainstream media to roar about a “ban” on bitcoin, the South Korean street riled to virtual barricades. Citizens flooded petition signatures to the President. Social media contained oceans of angry comments demanding the offending minister’s sacking. The pressure grew so intense, agencies within the same government began contradicting one another, ending with an official presidential announcement no “ban” was forthcoming. Sensing a political market opening, normally reticent ROK politicians jumped on the bandwagon to defend cryptocurrency legitimacy.
The above is something like a rare historical scientific control with regard to just why bitcoin and cryptocurrencies cannot be banned. For our purposes, ROK’s geographical juxtaposition and its post-war politics fit comfortably beside its northern neighbor, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea. The two nations share a peninsula, a people, and a history, ripe for an organic experiment in prohibition.
Cryptocurrency probably made its way to DPRK through its wealthier brethren, and perhaps even China in bitcoin’s early years. Obviously, DPRK has a “ban” on bitcoin, de facto. Yet cryptocurrencies are still an issue for the country, something it must address, a problem some reports have as the regime tacitly embracing, and likely as a way around sanctions. Arguably the most closed country in the world is being confronted by a new monetary reality, which illustrates bitcoin’s inherent power under the most extreme of circumstances.
Pronouncement after pronouncement, rule changes, fines, bank harassment, appeals for international cooperation, taxes, emergency measures, the liberal democracy of ROK has been very busy. To be sure, the last round of news from South Korean regulators brought about double digit dips in bitcoin’s price, domestically and internationally. But even that appears to be temporary as markets see bitcoin retain relative price resiliency.
A Dozen Countries are Experimenting with Bans
The side-by-side control of having a hermit kingdom and republican democracy both grapple with bitcoin yields insight into what sort of prohibition is possible, and what is even meant by the word “ban.” Bitcoin cannot be banned in the ultimate sense, as it resembles the character of pushing on a sturdy balloon. Push it down on one side, and it grows on the other.
Of the 195 countries of the world, 12 have openly tried to ban bitcoin and crypto at various levels: Brazil, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Israel, Morocco, Bolivia, Algeria, Ecuador, Kyrgyz Republic, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
However, that list is misleading. Not all governments have banned cryptocurrency in the same way. Israel, for example, has effectively prevented crypo stocks from being listed on its indices and aided the practice of its banks not allowing bitcoin business accounts. Yet its prime minister has made positive comments, and still another regulator has advocated making Israel a welcoming environment for bitcoin.
It’s worth pointing out Israel is a representative democracy, one of the only in Southwest Asia. The Israeli street is passionate about cryptocurrency and its potential, and, like South Korea, has the electoral ability to influence outcomes should regulators overplay their hand.
Wealthy Will Not Allow Ban
Charles Hugh Smith argued crypto prohibition won’t happen due to the influence of wealthy investors using it as a store of value unable to be monkeyed with by politicians. His point at once affirms and jettisons the democratic thesis, as it all comes down to levers of power. The same way assets such as housing are owned and closely guarded, Mr. Smith postulates, bitcoin will be protected even more. Wealthy holders have gone to great lengths already to keep the currency away from governments.
For South American countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the challenges are both political and economic when it comes to prohibition. Each has versions of command economies, and nationalist fervor is easily whipped up when supposed threats are made against their respective currencies, and bitcoin can certainly represent that. However, even where economic expression is limited and politics are a crazy mix of bureaus and committees, crypto has found a way through. Its popularity grows in Latin America.
The remaining half, from China to Nepal, have almost no tradition of what anyone would ever call democracy, though in some cases governments have pulled back and allowed their populace more expression in personal economic matters. That too is debatable. For odious governments such as Nepal, cracks are appearing. Smartphone adoption continues apace, as does internet access generally. Add to those its young population, some 40 percent under 20 years, and there’s a recipe for crypto.
Prohibition, in the sense Mr. Smith might be thinking, almost always only impacts those without the means to subvert laws. That’s not as true when it comes to cryptocurrency. Whatever else its positives, all anyone needs is a $20 Android phone and they’re immediately able to participate in a huge transfer of wealth. Governments can shut down websites; they can arrest exchange owners; they can make onboarding hell; they can tax it as capital gains. Governments cannot stop an idea whose time has come.
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