Hiring Libertarian Bitcoiners to Work on A Blockchain Project

This is part of a series digging into some stereotypical "Bitcoiner" temperaments with an eye toward advising middle and senior management as to pitfalls employing these people. You can read the introduction here

They are very, very tempting to hire because the practical knowledge to be gained in Bitcoin can be invaluable. However, culture problems are significant. I hope to provide some broad strokes here which could help during a recruitment process.

I knew almost nothing about libertarianism until I attended PorcFest in 2012 at the invitation of the now controversial ex-US Citizen Roger Ver. PorcFest, if you haven't heard of it is a large annual gathering (hundreds of people) in northern New Hampshire -- it is a sort of a cross between a family reunion and festival for libertarians.

When I thought of libertarians, I mostly thought of the Koch brothers before attending PorcFest, but the New Hampshire brand of libertarians is a different breed.

I made a number of interesting connections at PorcFest, and was accused of being a 'statist' (someone who believes that a nation state isn't unalloyed evil) repeatedly, but all in good humor.

These libertarians were rabidly pro-Bitcoin, long before almost any other group of people was. I purchased most of my food at the festival in Bitcoin, at a time when Bitcoin was trading right around $5 per coin (It is over $450 at time of this writing making my hamburgers very expensive in retrospect). The media had no interest in Bitcoin at this time.

These fine, unshowered people in New Hampshire were buying and selling books about Ron Paul, T-shirts, gold and silver coins, Costco-purchased candy bars and burgers for Bitcoin! And they were aggressive evangelizers -- I attended multiple seminars about Bitcoin's wonders, and the evils of a fractional reserve banking system while in New Hampshire.

I know many empowered and engaged libertarian members of society -- some Silicon Valley investors fit this mold -- but the brand in New Hampshire is different. I would typify it by saying it is fundamentally disenfranchised. These citizens feel, in their bones, that something is wrong in society. And, they feel powerless to affect that.

For those who attach emotionally to Bitcoin, they have concluded that (I am not making this up) a fractional reserve banking system is the fundamental ill.

In this worldview, Ben Bernanke is a great evil. Really! In fact, as of writing, over $50,000 has been contributed to a Bernanke assassination fund on the Darknet "Assassination Market". This beats Obama's assassination fund by at least 3x at the same market.

In fact, once you start thinking about inflation, it's hard to stop. In 2013, when I had seen Bitcoins go from $.05 / coin to over $65 / coin in just 3 years, I read that the Washington state ferry system was sold to the state in the early 20th century for $500,000. I'm sure the family that sold it made quite a lot of money, inflation-adjusted. But, I found myself thinking about how hard that family had to work to maintain their wealth over the next hundred years, and how much easier it would have been had dollars not inflated so radically, or perhaps had deflated.

On the one hand, libertarians might not be likely to be mid-tier engineers at your company. But, this rhetoric, on the evils of the dollar and the Fed, the benefits of a fully-funded currency that is (nominally at least) deflationary is endemic in Bitcoin. Because Bitcoins fundamental issuance mechanics limit how many more will be available, Bitcoiners in this category will urge you, at all costs, to somehow include Bitcoin in your blockchain plans. They undoubtedly own Bitcoins themselves, and will dream of the benefits of a large company needing to acquire Bitcoin.

Macro economists in general will note that providing strong incentives for reinvestment is a societal good. And, I believe that to be true. But, it would be nice, wouldn't it, to just sit back and not have to do that work..

Many Bitcoiners have experienced that over the last 5 years, and believe it's not only the proper way of things, but will be helped along by their own advocacy.

Recently, I had lunch with two very enthusiastic and intelligent Bitcoiners that work at a company with a strong in-store brand presence. The in-store brand is critical to the company's value, and is tightly controlled. One member was a libertarian, and one was a 'crypto-anarchist' type. Both of them had proposed a project at the recent company hackathon they wanted to talk about -- a bidding system for people to sell their places in line at the store. They intended to use Bitcoin as the currency for buying and selling places in line, and because they were blockchain savvy wanted to speculate about whether or not futures markets for line spots could make it into a version 2 product.

This is a terrible, terrible idea in my opinion. It only sounds good to someone who really wants to include Bitcoin in their company's plans. For a Bitcoiner, it ticks all the right boxes -- it thumbs its nose at authority (lines might be statist), encourages millions of people to buy Bitcoin, and has cool chances for future complications.

My feedback (I hope it was gentle) revolved around the brand impact. Any manager reading this knows such a project would be incredibly unlikely to ever see light, even in trial. It's bad for almost every brand I can think of (including the company they worked at), and has a number of needless complications, likely including requirements that the company become a broker of Bitcoins.

It's just a non-starter, for many reasons. I advised them to work with senior management to find some projects that blockchains could make a real impact in, and worry about working Bitcoin in to the fold later.

For what it's worth, they are currently fundraising for a Bitcoin-related idea, and seem less motivated to pitch non-Bitcoin ideas internally. But, I like to think that with understanding management that energy could be very profitably directed toward high impact projects -- they just don't have management with vision enough to put them on a blockchain project, and are left to their own devices.