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Bitcoin: The Political ‘Virtual’ Of An Intangible Material Currency

This paper concerns the open source software project Bitcoin, which is often described as virtual cash. The paper investigates what ‘virtual’ signifies when applied to ‘cash’ and in turn what ‘virtual cash’ says about Bitcoin. Bitcoin is the latest cryptographic effort to create digital cash-like tokens, where Bitcoin’s designer Nakamoto argues that users now no longer have to trust a third party, traditionally the bank. Paradoxically, for Bitcoin it is key that nodes in the network agree on the status of the shared block chain database. Trust remains to be established, albeit in a different manner. Power is not destroyed, but transferred from banks to Bitcoin’s protocol. The paper concludes that ‘virtual’ refers to Bitcoin’s model of how cash appears to function in everyday exchange, allowing user privacy. Bitcoin does not model another aspect of cash, its function as a credential referring to debt. Bitcoin discontinues the concept of debt.

Mark Jansen

To cite this article: Jansen, M. (2013) ‘Bitcoin: The Political ‘Virtual’ of an Intangible Material Currency’ International Journal of Community Currency Research 17 (A) 8-18  <www.ijccr.net>  ISSN  1325-9547 http://dx.doi.org/10.15133/j.ijccr.2013.002

IJCCR 2013 Jansen

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