Jul 25, 2022
Aaron Daniel is an Appellate attorney and author of The Bitcoin Brief, a newsletter analysing Bitcoin’s effect on law and society. In this interview, we discuss the legal arguments around making Bitcoin US legal tender, and whether it would actually confer any meaningful benefits.
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It is assumed that for Bitcoin to become widely adopted within the US, it would need to be made legal tender. Without such legal clarity, Bitcoin may continue to be viewed by the general population as an unofficial and risky form of money, liable to be prohibited by the state. Therefore, gaining legal tender status would be a seismic positive shift in Bitcoins development.
Attempts to move the country in this direction are often applauded by Bitcoiners. Whether it is US states commencing processes to establish protections for Bitcoin’s use (including efforts in Arizona to declare Bitcoin as legal tender), to activists and politicians advocating for the Federal government to consider making Bitcoin legal tender. The assumption is these are worthy actions.
But, what is legal tender? What utility and protections does such status provide money? What legal framework(s) would be used to confer legal tender status? And, is it necessarily so that such a classification would benefit Bitcoin and it’s users?
The consideration of any nascent technology in legal terms is always fraught with uncertainty and interpretation. The constitution and bill of rights are a firm basis for the development of the world's oldest and most enduring democracy. But, the consideration of modern developments through the prism of the 18th-century founders results in legal arguments that need testing.
Whist such testing is worthwhile, seeking to make a private digital currency legal tender in the US will be a huge endeavour. And, rushing to develop the legal case misses the more essential policy question: is it beneficial to Bitcoin and its users to mandate its legal standing? Fundamentally, should freedom money remain free: free from state interference, but also free for all people to accept or reject?