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While trying to explain Bitcoin to a friend, her response was:

To me this sounds like just an other monetary system which can be speculated on while making some people rich and keeping others poor. How does it attempt to solve deep rooted problems in our society caused by globalisation and capitalism?

She was of course referring to geographic and social inequalities, exploitation of workers, political oppression, depletion of natural resources, etc.

What are some of the ways decentralised proof-of-work currencies (and their underlying protocols) can work to improve these aspects of our society?

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Bitcoin itself, although conceived from an ideological background doesn't have an agenda. It is a tool. It will not solve societal problems by itself, but might help alleviate some issues, by providing competition to current solutions. Especially, wealth distribution in Bitcoin itself isn't better than in other currencies (see e.g. Business Insider on Wealth Distribution in Bitcoin, BitcoinTalk on Distribution of Bitcoin Wealth).

International Remittances

Bitcoin enables its users to send money for minuscule fees around the globe. This could be especially beneficial to foreign workers that want to send remittances to their families in developing countries.

Currently, they are dependent on expensive services such as Moneygram or Western Union and lose up to 15% of the sent money in fees. Additionally, the recipient needs to go to the next money transmitter shop to pick-up the money. In many instances this is a trip of hours.

The Unbanked

Bitcoin doesn't require its users to have a bank account, as any form of internet access is sufficient to send and receive Bitcoin. Today, there is an enormous number of people without bank accounts. For example there are about 10 million unbanked or underbanked households in the US. In developing countries more than 50% of the populations are unbanked, women more so than men.

Without a bank account, you are either unable to use or significantly disadvantaged regarding a wide-range of services, such as credits, saving, insurance, payment for contracts, and internet commerce. See for example: Guardian on mobile banking for the unbanked.

Bitcoin could provide an easy access and cheap payment system for many of these services. It could be significantly cheaper than current payment systems such as M-Pesa, and have additional advantages by not being centrally run.

Censorship

No user can be locked-out of Bitcoin. On the other hand, it is well known for such things to happen in centralized payment systems for various reasons: eBay and Paypal exports Embargo, Paypal blocks donations to Diaspora. This is especially important for protest movements that might be shut-down by their government, think Wikileaks, Occupy Wallstreet, or Social equality movements in repressive states.

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    If the poor keep getting poorer, it doesn't matter if they save 10% from transaction costs. 10% less poor will still be very poor. Bitcoin doesn't in itself solve the distribution of wealth problem. – Emre Kenci Jan 23 '14 at 13:49
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How does it attempt to solve deep rooted problems in our society caused by globalisation and capitalism?

It doesn't. Bitcoin doesn't contradict with capitalism or globalization. Bitcoin is not a political view or a set of society governing rules. It's a digital protocol for transfer and storage of value.

...geographic and social inequalities, exploitation of workers, political oppression, depletion of natural resources, etc.

I would say that Bitcoin can help with "social inequalities" and "political oppression" by reducing the power of the states and by reversing the central bank based monetary system which clearly favors banks. BUT, large government and central bank based monetary system are NOT inseparable parts of neither capitalism nor globalization. So I don't think all the problems you mentioned are direct results of capitalism or globalization.

...depletion of natural resources

Bitcoin might actually make this one worse. The argument is that mining consumes too much energy. Some argue against this with deductive arguments. See the related part on this page: https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Myths

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You can not make debts (no negativ values on your Bitcoin account). Liabilities are a major cause of poverty. At least in large scale (for countries having debts it is difficult to become rich).

For the same reason: No fractional reserve banking possible with bitcoin (well, that only if the banks use the bitcoin system internally).

I am no economist. Just a few quick ideas.

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    It's true you can't have negative accounts on your Bitcoin account, but you could still have borrow bitcoin, and owe somebody bitcoin. – Alex Millar Mar 28 '14 at 16:57
  • Well, you mean something like btcjam.com – I didn’t know of that service before. So you are right. – erik Mar 31 '14 at 23:21
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One societal problem Bitcoin could solve is Prejudice by Country of Residence. For example, a vendor in India may have difficulty selling to an American company because the American company does not want to send their credit card number to India because this would expose them to unauthorized payments in the future. Since bitcoin payments are secure, trustless, and one-time, bitcoin would solve this problem.

A second societal problem Bitcoin could solve is Inequality caused by Digital Theft. The bitcoin protocol could be used to prevent the unauthorized copying of digital property. Since most of the world's software developers live in India and China, bitcoin could significantly increase their ability to earn money and thereby reduce inequality on a global scale.

Bitcoin could be good for the Environment. Bitcoin is in many ways an alternative to gold. It is impossible to prove, but it is probable that bitcoin growth lowers the price of gold. This in turn results in a reduction in gold mining, which is very harmful to the environment.

  • That the introduction of Bitcoin is responsible for the decreased gold price is a pretty bold hypothesis considering that Gold has apparently a market capitalization of $6.7 trillion while Bitcoin's is $6.3 billion. ;) – Murch Mar 28 '14 at 17:11
  • Gold's large market capitalization doesn't mean it is not vulnerable to competition from small alternatives. I removed the link and mention to specific prices though because I don't want to say bitcoin is responsible for a 20% price drop! :) – Alex Millar Mar 28 '14 at 17:29
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Bitcoin was not intended to solve the worlds problems any more than the Internet was. It does however bring new question and thought to how society works, much in the same way the Internet does.

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If , as claimed, Bitcoins cannot be easily manipulated as fiat currencies are, and if they can be more or less anonymous, then they surely would be a major threat to the debt based world economy. I would suppose that if Bitcoins should get the reputation of being free from artificial Inflation, they might well take over as a desirable currency, thus alarming governments and banks worldwide. We could expect drastic efforts to sabotage Bitcoins, in the same way that the Internet is a threat to the "Establishment".

  • This is not an answer to the question asked, would be more fitting as a comment. – John T Feb 4 '14 at 0:30

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