An anonymous bitcoin user today released an anthem of sorts for the alternative currency that’s totally weird, kind of catchy, and slightly inspiring—in other words, a lot like bitcoin itself. The song, set to the tune of Swedish House Mafia’s radio hit “Don’t You Worry Child,” uses the crisis in Cyprus as a rallying cry:
You can listen to the rest, but if the song remains stuck in your head all day, don’t blame me.
What’s so fascinating and instructive about the anthem is how it mixes the themes of doomsday, liberty, and anarchy that seem to animate bitcoin believers. Yesterday I wrote about how those ideals are likely to run up against brutal market forces that could destroy bitcoin, which has more than doubled this month against other currencies and topped $1 billion in total value for the first time. But whatever the market does to bitcoin, the ideas behind it remain potent.
There is no central bank, government, or real asset behind bitcoin. It was created by an unknown person or group under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto—thus, the somewhat deifying lyric, “Satoshi said.” New bitcoins can be created by anyone, through a complex system that’s governed by all involved. Only 21 million bitcoins can ever minted, and more than half are already in circulation. Their value is determined on bitcoin exchanges that function like normal, though unregulated, currency markets.
To some, a currency beyond the grasp of sovereign governments is the perfect antidote to the global financial crisis that has shaken faith in institutions. As Paul Ford writes in a new essay that I can’t recommend enough, “It’s gold-bug thinking reinvented for an age of fluid transparency and instantaneous transactions.” Cyprus, then, is the perfect siren call for bitcoin bugs as depositors there fret over unexpected taxes and capital controls as part of the country’s fraught bailout.
There was a time
I thought my government was doing right
But they crossed the line
And now I’m fighting for my fucking life
Laiki took my funds
And now I think how this all will end
My money’s with bitcoin
‘Cause what they’ve done, they can never mend
The reality is that not that many people in Cyprus—or Spain, for that matter—are getting into bitcoin as a refuge from their local monetary crises. A recent surge in activity appears to be more in US dollars than euros. But reading the Cyprus crisis as bitcoin marketing helps clarify some of the currency’s core principles and animating ideas. This new anthem has the feel of a classic YouTube conspiracy video mixed with local TV advertising for gold coins and Arab Spring propaganda. Which is about right.