The Bitcoin Foundation has announced a fundraiser to give 25 bitcoins to “an organization that is doing great work in finding a cure for ALS.” Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—is the neurodegenerative disease that claimed the life of renowned cryptographer Hal Finney earlier this year. The Bitcoin Foundation (BF) suggests that if you are “on #TeamHal,” you should nominate an organization to receive the funds and/or you should donate bitcoins to the effort.
This all seems well and good, until you read the stipulations for the award. The fundraiser’s organizers, who are name-dropped in the announcement as Erik Voorhees, Roger Ver, Tony Gallippi, Jason King and Gavin Andresen, aren’t willing to give the funds to just any organization that’s doing a kickass job finding a cure for ALS. Finding a cure isn’t enough in their eyes. To qualify to receive the funds, recipients must also be “a registered nonprofit in their local jurisdiction.”
Researchers Who Wouldn’t Have Made the Cut
In case the implications don’t immediately register to you, here’s what that restriction means: This award is highly exclusionary.
It means that people like Edward Jenner, the family doctor who invented the smallpox vaccine, would be disqualified due to lack of state paperwork. It means that Jonas Salk, the researcher who invented the polio vaccine, would be disqualified, as his funding came from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (not a registered nonprofit). Maurice Hilleman, inventor of the vaccine for Hepatitis B, would also not qualify, as he worked at the for-profit company Merck & Co.
The Bitcoin Foundation’s stipulations would disqualify anyone who doesn’t have expensive government paperwork, no matter how promising, and regardless of how close they are to finding a cure for ALS.
The Nonprofit Circle Jerk
What’s so great about being a nonprofit? Registering as a nonprofit with the state in America, for example, involves paying a large chunk of money—nearly US$1,000—to the IRS. It means accepting a gag order against involvement in political elections. It means lots of extra paperwork and corresponding paid employee hours to fill out that paperwork. All this adds up to spending precious time and resources on bureaucracy, as opposed to, you know, on working to cure ALS.
Beyond those costs and inconveniences, nonprofits frequently pay their executives much more than executives are paid at for-profit companies. Nancy Brinker, CEO of the famous Susan G. Komen breast cancer “nonprofit,” makes over half a million US dollars per year. So does March of Dimes’ CEO Jennifer L. Howse. In fact, US$400,000 is the minimum salary for the CEOs of the following “medical nonprofits”: Joslin Diabetes Center, American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Sick Kids Foundation.
At their most basic, nonprofits tend to rely on emotion-driven marketing and fundraisers more for growing revenue than for actually delivering useful goods and services. Many people feel good about themselves when they “give to a nonprofit.” Nonprofits know this, and they use it to pad their own pockets.
Heaven forbid anyone remember that honestly-acquired profit is the surest sign of meeting peoples’ needs and wants in the marketplace.
Antithetical to the Spirit of Bitcoin
The pay-to-play process of becoming a nonprofit is entirely antithetical to the spirit of cryptocurrency. The spirit of Bitcoin is access for all. There are no barriers to entry built into Satoshi’s protocol. Bitcoin does not require that you have government papers, special certifications or agreements with political actors to reap its benefits.
Bitcoin Foundation members ironically trumpet Bitcoin’s lack of entry barriers with utterances like We’ll liberate the unbanked! Trustless money transfers for all! But their new sham of a fundraiser shows that the Bitcoin Foundation is not, in fact, guided by Satoshi’s equal-access principles to facilitate their own projects.
As a state-registered nonprofit themselves, the Bitcoin Foundation has paid to play. And they want everyone else to, as well, even if it makes an organization’s goals more difficult to achieve. If an actual cure for ALS results from their fundraiser, that’ll be, ya know, a bonus.
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