Texas becomes a key frontier for Bitcoin digital currency
by The Statesman
Michael Cargill teaches a concealed handguns safety class at his Austin firearms store while the online version of the business initiates FBI background checks on out-of-state buyers paying in bitcoin.
He says accepting the virtual currency has boosted sales by 50 percent.
“There are two things we like in Texas: We like our financial freedom, and we love our firearms,” Cargill said. Then, gesturing toward a wall of guns inside Central Texas Gun Works, he continued, “This is about people taking protection into their own hands. The same is true of bitcoin.”
The gun store is among a growing number of businesses that have embraced bitcoin in Texas, which boasts one of the world’s largest bitcoin economies and where the nation’s first ATMs catering to the currency were installed this year. The growth has been facilitated by a state government that has largely shielded bitcoin from heavy regulation, establishing Texas as a vital testing ground for the burgeoning movement.
Its popularity has spawned a philosophical battle between supporters and other state and federal agencies seeking to regulate a system they say can too easily facilitate money laundering and illegal trafficking. The results could ultimately determine whether bitcoin changes the financial norms across the country.
“In order to prevent money laundering, we need to have some points within the ecosystem where the financial intermediaries have some sense of who they’re dealing with,” said Benjamin Lawsky, New York’s financial services superintendent.
Created in 2009, bitcoin has gained traction as a way to buy and sell goods and services without using government-issued money. Businesses and individuals can also trade bitcoin for dollars and other currencies on an online exchange or by using certain bitcoin ATMs, avoiding third parties including banks.
In stark contrast to states such as Texas, New York is considering a licensing system that would require bitcoin operators to verify customers’ identities, maintain payment records and actively protect against cyberthreats. Lawsky says it is “naive” to think that bitcoin will go mainstream while operating in its current ad hoc fashion.
The warnings have done little to discourage the increasing use in Texas and other states that have not pushed for heavy regulations. Texas now boasts nine bitcoin ATMs — the second most after California — and has the world’s fourth-largest bitcoin economy, according to the open-source website CoinMap, which bases its assessment on the number of businesses that accept bitcoin.
Texas became the first state to issue guidance in April when its state banking department largely freed digital currencies from regulation by deeming them property rather than currency.
As long as operators sell on an individual basis or from an ATM’s own wallet — the term for bitcoin holdings — “that’s not money transmission. It’s more like a vending machine,” said Daniel Wood, assistant general counsel of the Texas Department of Banking.
Bitcoin ATMs in Texas are already operating in several kinds of businesses: a gun shop, bars and restaurants. The Texas Food and Beverage Commission approved bitcoin as an acceptable form of payment for food and alcohol, and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott accepted bitcoin campaign donations.
Bitcoin supporters say the currency is more difficult to manipulate than government-issued flat currencies because total circulation is capped at 21 million.
But critics point to the limited recourse in cases of fraud or theft, with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warning that bitcoin users are “stepping into the Wild West” when they participate in the market.
The world’s largest bitcoin exchange, Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, abruptly went offline in February and, according to a bankruptcy filing in Dallas, reported losing about $470 million in bitcoin, some possibly to theft. In another high-profile case, Ross William Ulbricht, a 2002 Westlake High graduate, is accused of running the now-defunct Silk Road online market, which used bitcoin. He is awaiting trial in New York on charges that include money laundering, drug trafficking and computer hacking.
Bitcoin entrepreneurs say they know the risks involved but don’t feel solutions will be found through more regulation. That’s why Albert Mata moved to Austin in September from Washington, D.C.
“We have bitcoin geeks getting together nearly every day,” said the former astrophysicist and founder of BitHouse, a bitcoin startup. “It’s just really obvious the bitcoin community is flourishing here.”
[Note the mindboggling irony of the “free” market economy enthusiastically embracing the secret dark internet economies sworn to replace it -- and in the meantime aiding and abetting illegal trafficking in human sperm, oocytes, embryos (experimental or "normal"), infants, children, adult men and women, organs, surrogacy -- not to mention illegal drug trafficking, prostitution, use by ISIS and any other terrorists, etc. Pretty amazing. Among the many articles documenting the connections among Bitcoin and transhumanism/futurism/posthumanism/technoprogressivism, see, e.g.,:
CONNECTION with TRANSHUMANISM:
-- Transhumanism and the History of BitCoin, at:
-- The Face Behind Bitcoin, at: http://mag.newsweek.com/2014/03/14/bitcoin-satoshi-nakamoto.html
-- Transhumanism and Money, at: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/kirsh20130306
-- (Bitcoin) Silicon Valley’s Elite Don’t Want to Secede. They Just Want to Stay on Top, at: http://www.wired.com/business/2013/12/balaji-srinivasan-joins-a16z/
-- Review: Singularity Rising by James D. Miller, at:
-- Institute for “Ethics” and Emerging Technologies (IEET):
Cryptocurrencies as a Single Pool of Wealth, at:
-- BBC - Singularity University plots hi-tech future for humans, Budapest Conference, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25000753
-- Bitcoin: Black Market Bait or Shrewd Investment?, at:
http://www.fool.com/how-to-invest/broker/2013/12/29/bitcoin-black-market-bait-or-shrewd-investment.aspx; also, https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&gl=us&tbm=nws&authuser=0&q=bitcoin+heist&oq=%22Bitcoin&gs_l=news-cc.1.9.43j0l10j43i53.55847.58952.0.749220.127.116.11.0.0.0.63.406.8.8.0...0.0...1ac.w5P5GISH1KY#authuser=0&gl=us&hl=en&q=%22bitcoin%22+%22black+market%22&tbm=nws
CONNECTION with FUTURISTS (who are transhumanists):
-- Kurzweil: Bitcoin attracts major investors, at: http://www.kurzweilai.net/bitcoin-attracts-major-investors
-- PARDON the DISRUPTION: The Future you NEVER Saw Coming, at:
-- Agricultural Futurist Jack Uldrich to Keynote Three Events in January; Foresight 2020, at: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11482597.htm
-- The Shape of the FUTURE: How to Help Tomorrow's Children Cope With a World of Accelerating Change
-- Welcome to 21st-century Ponzi scheme: Bitcoin, at: http://nypost.com/2014/02/15/welcome-to-21st-century-ponzi-scheme-bitcoin/
-- Beware of this Insidious New Currency Scam, at:
-- Blackmailers threaten to release EBOLA in the Czech Republic unless they are paid one million euros in Bitcoins, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2813293/Blackmailers-threaten-release-EBOLA-Czech-Republic-unless-paid-one-million-euros-Bitcoins.html
-- Apple nudges PayPal deeper into Bitcoin
-- Charlie Shrem to Forfeit $950K to US Government in Plea Bargain, at: http://www.coindesk.com/charlie-shrem-forfeit-950000-us-government-plea-bargain/
-- Bitcoin Weekly 2014 May 7: First political party to use blockchain for e-voting is from Denmark, The Rise of Digital Currency, Bitcoin’s niche in developing economies, at: http://siliconangle.com/blog/2014/05/07/bitcoin-weekly-2014-may-7-first-political-party-to-use-blockchain-for-e-voting-is-from-denmark-the-rise-of-digital-currency-bitcoins-niche-in-developing-economies/
-- Mt. Gox Halts All Transactions in New Bitcoin Setback; Brief Statement Replaces Exchange's Usual Website, at: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304834704579404101502619422?mod=djemalertNEWS
The article first appeared here. -- DNI]