Why cryptocurrency? Why have millions of people taken up buying it, using it, and building with it? This blog post lists key features that I've found noteworthy and caused me to learn something about systems that don't involve digital assets. I've grouped the features according to the barrier that they help overcome.

A. Barriers To Participation

#1 Transcends Borders: The vast majority of the world is physically unable to participate in the economies of the most affluent places (and many laws exist to keep things that way). Cryptocurrencies are designed to not stop at the border, and don't care who is sitting at the keyboard. In a world where racism and so many other ills still exist, systems that do not discriminate based on the keyboard user are powerful agents for change.

#2 Politically Neutral: Using cryptocurrency instead of fiat currency sidesteps the issue of endorsing a country's actions. Nations are responsible for many horrors, and they are strengthened by currency holders (e.g. seignorage). In a world of political conflict, we should welcome tools that are outside of the realm of politics.

#3 Global: The 21st century belongs to the global network. Instant worldwide value transfer is how people around the world can participate in market transactions that make them better off, and is an astonishing advance on the limitations of cash.

B. Barriers To Cooperation

#4 Verifiable: No need to trust when the computer can verify. Anyone with enough hard drive space can download an entire blockchain and check each transaction - there is nothing like this for banks, stock markets, or most other systems. Trustworthiness improves cooperation, especially over the Internet. It can also help prevent crime.

#5 Provable Tracing: New blockchain-based platforms are enabling the art market (i.e. NFTs) to trace transactions, notaries to prove signatures cryptographically, and tracking down stolen digital assets. Bank accounts, with their accompanying secrecy, do not have this quality.

#6 Morally Neutral: Credit cards take a moral position on their networks, and regularly cut off those who are on the wrong side of public/corporate morality. It is difficult to work cooperatively when money transfers are cut off, and cryptocurrencies offer a last-resort lifeline to those who are condemned, like whistleblowers.

C. Barriers To Imagination

#7 New Paradigms: New inventions bring about new ideas, and new paradigms. In a world where regulatory states have dramatically expanded and where walls keep people out, it's critical that people be able to drawn on new sources of imagining a brighter world. New possibilities are required to keep the flame alive. If money without government is possible, what else is?

#8 Cryptography Interest: Wider interest in cryptography, and billions of investment dollars, fuels scientific developments that are otherwise largely unfunded. Online shopping and banking depend on cryptography, and future use cases are impossible to know until they're built.

#9 Ignoring Rule Sets: The world is made up of thousands of overlapping rule sets that fluctuate and are largely unknowable. The global view of law is one of a boiling soup with ingredients being constantly thrown in by thousands of chefs. Freedom to focus on the consumer's needs, without concerning oneself with thousands of laws, is a powerful liberator of the imagination.

D. Barriers To Safety

#10 Free Of Government Interference: Government officials like charging for permits (and in some places: bribes), and they often want to have a say in what innovators do. This can be an existential threat for people who are almost by definition on the wrong side of officialdom, because they haven't yet become successful and powerful.

#11 Secure Against Taking: Much is made of crypto hacks but far, far more wealth is taken every year by unscrupulous companies, or confiscated by corrupted authorities. Security against taking is of immense benefit to many people in the world who do not benefit from stable, safe environments.

#12 Safer Transactions: Technology will never prevent scams but it does protect against certain methods of scammers. Irreversible transactions are essential for the safety of the proceeds of transactions. Even very smart people are surprised by the ways in which other types of financial transactions can be reversed by criminals. Furthermore, cryptocurrency is almost always sent in a way that prevents the recipient from drawing more funds, unlike cheques or credit cards.

E. Barriers To Entry

#13 Permissionless: Most of the best things about technology can be used without permission like IMAP (email) or HTTPS (websites). Being free to build without a business case, a license, or application is empowering and lowers the barrier to entry for smaller teams.

#14 Unencumbered By IP: The basic building blocks of the digital asset economy are not protected by patents. Bitcoin was gifted to the world instead of being the subject of patent protection, and this has carried forward to permit a rapid pace of improvement.

#15 Supercharges Small Teams: Ethereum was created by a small group of people, without the backing of Google, Softbank, Alibaba, or a government grant. Networks win or die on their merit and thousands of teams are competing at once. Blockchain technology allows a small group to build products in a way that traditional software can't because it includes a means of paying for development in the form of digital assets. Innovative products are costly and risky, and they now have a new pillar of support for making things the world doesn't even know it wants.


These are fifteen benefits of the new currency of the emerging virtual economy. In the second decade of the 21st century there's been an explosion of interst but the real benefits will likely only be known in the years to come. People are drawn in by tales of riches but they stay for the benefits to them, and those benefits look different to people in different places. I've heard many people in Ontario dismiss ideas about freedom or safety because they feel they don't need technology for this. But the experience of a Canadian government employee or a multinational corporate worker is hardly typical in the world. Developments and needs outside of Canada will likely dictate the future of this technology.

It's no small thing to boost the fortunes of people who don't benefit from what the well-off parts of the world take for granted. And in the meantime, compelling use cases and rapid improvements will continue to drive adoption in the places where government/safety benefits aren't the key driver of use.

What comes next? The unpredictability of what comes next for blockchain is a part of its benefit. Right now, tens of thousands of teams are building products on blockchains that they hope people will like. Art-related use cases have been big for the last year or two, with interest in NFTs driving billions in transactions. Decentralized marketplaces for tokens (like Uniswap) have often been the majority of transactions on Ethereum recently. New social networks are coming online, the financial industry is adopting cryptocurrency, and it is becoming ever easier to move money from traditional locations to the new global economy. Blockchain networks are always on, with no maintenance window or business hours, and they're always improving as developers around the world make them a little better each day. Whatever comes next, the benefits and features of cryptocurrency will carry forward and become even stronger over time.