Within the brains of the slightly fuzzy hominids known as humans, the concept of property is hard-wired.
Just look at the vocabulary we employ from the mundane: mine, his, hers, ours, theirs, take, get, own, have, steal, sell, buy, keep, to the esoteric: confiscate, exchange, escrow, lien, tax, duty, capital, loan, debt, interest, stake, liability, asset.
It may be fair to postulate that some of the very first words were actually invented for the purpose of claiming, protecting, and managing property.
In today’s interconnected society, consider the things that you own. Perhaps you have a television, some clothes, some personal effects that are meaningful to you. You may have a car. But hold on, is that car leased or subject to a payment plan? Well, in that case you don’t really own it, but you still call it “yours,” you still treat it as your own and so does everybody else (provided they are being respectful, of course).
Naturally, the same applies to any real estate you own. Most “homeowners” have a mortgage. Yet, they still call the house “theirs” and treat it with care, take pride in it and its appearance, and enjoy it with friends and family.
But of course, here we can identify the same issue of true ownership. You don’t really own your house. Personally, as the recent purchaser of my first terrestrial dwelling (I’ve been living on a sailboat for the last 4 years), I was struck by the enthusiasm with which every single person involved in the transaction exclaimed: “Congrats! You are almost a homeowner!” First it was the agent, then the lender, then the title company…and eventually when I was handed the keys by the selling agent, I rolled my eyes and silently mouthed along with her words: “Congrats! You are a homeowner!”
No, I’m not. I own a 20% stake in the home I just bought. But tell me, when I make my final payment on the loan, will somebody be there to congratulate me one, last, legitimate time on being a homeowner?
I doubt it. Because frankly, even then, I won’t be a homeowner. Why? Because I still owe taxes every single year, and substantial ones, amounting to roughly 2% of the purchase price. What happens if I don’t pay my taxes? Well at first it wouldn’t be so bad. I would get some calls, some offers to restructure my payment schedule, perhaps. But eventually it would get nasty, and a lien would be placed on my property, an immutable claim on my residence that must be paid off under threat of eviction and complete confiscation.
So I don’t really own my house, and neither do you. Nor do you own your car, since most states and countries require a yearly “registration” or “use” tax. Again, if you don’t pay your taxes, your property can be taken from you.
We are left with no true ownership over anything except for the trinkets mentioned earlier: our personal effects, things that nobody else would really want to bother with anyway.
It gets worse. You don’t even own your labor. Any gains you earn from your hard work is also subject to taxation, which may seem benign if it’s automatically deducted from your paycheck every month. You may even be lulled into feeling like the government actually sends you money every year in April if you are lucky enough to be due a refund.
But it’s not benign. Just try not paying your taxes. Things get nasty really quickly.
There is a difference between non-ownership (think Native American folklore), personal ownership (think “mine”), and collective ownership (think USSR). In most of today’s developed countries, we have a strange hybrid which conflates the latter two, but masquerades as the first. Yes, you own all sorts of things, like your house and car and television, but really they are collectively owned by “the people,” which is supposed to mean everybody, but actually means the government. However, when the spoils of taxation are distributed, they are done so with a non-ownership narrative. Even though you may feel like you could rightfully claim proprietorship over 2 square feet of central park, you’ll be told that nobody owns central park. It’s a common good.
So what do you own? Some things are easier to protect than others, such as gold coins. But we’ve seen precedent for confiscating even those. If you are thrown in jail for tax evasion, and a warrant is issued to rummage through your house for items of value which can be sold off on your behalf, then even gold coins are fair game.
Which brings us to my main conclusion, that Bitcoin is one of the few things that you can irrevocably own. In an extreme case, imagine you’ve stored your Bitcoins in a “brain wallet,” the strong passphrase to which only you know. As long as you own your mind, you will own your coins. You can be thrown in jail forever, and your coins will still be safe. Taking the logic further, it may take no less than physical violence and torture for you to be relieved of your Bitcoins. And if it comes to that, well, we’ll have some serious problems.
It doesn’t have to be much, but I really believe that everybody would be wise to own at least a small portion of Bitcoins, something to cherish and protect – something you can truly call “yours.”