An article recently came across my desk titled, “MIT is about to become the world’s first Bitcoin economy” from VentureBeat. They also said, “MIT soon to be Bitcointopia.” The article is from April, but as the world’s first Bitcoin world’s first officiating committee, Bitcoin Not Bombs could not let this claim stand.
The article is by Barry Levine, and concerns an experiment taking place at MIT to give $100 in Bitcoin to every undergraduate student and see what happens. MIT may be a leader in technology, but thinking this makes them the world’s first anything in Bitcoin only demonstrates their shortcomings in the field of economics.
First off, giving everyone an equal amount of Bitcoin may be an interesting experiment, but that’s not what emergent marketplaces look like. And even once a marketplace begins to organize among the students, it certainly wouldn’t be the first of it’s kind. The Bitcoin Project, as it’s come to be called, is the brainchild of computer science major Jeremy Rubin and MIT Bitcoin Club founder Dan Elitzer. Rubin told VentureBeat, “with all students involved, there’s a community with an understanding of Bitcoin, the first time a community has been so empowered.”
While that’s not technically what makes something an economy, it’s also not the first time such a community has existed. In the general sense, Bitcoin became an economy the moment it was released into the wild. In a more specific sense, Bitcoin became an economy the moment that famous first pizza was purchased. But even if you want to limit the claim to a community of people in close proximity in meat space, The Free State Project achieved that goal long ago. Events like Liberty Forum and PorcFest in New Hampshire are bustling Bitcoin marketplaces, and between events the community of Free Staters have been familiar with and using Bitcoin for years.
If MIT wants to study what ecosystem emerges from a large community who understand Bitcoin and use it daily they don’t need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from their alumni to run a campus wide experiment. All they need to do is send a camera crew to New Hampshire.
So, this claim is busted. MIT is absolutely not the world’s first Bitcoin economy, and to imagine so is laughable. I can’t say for certain what was, but the Free State Project is definitely the leading contender.