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June 19, 2013

Social entrepreneurialism twisted

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Written by: M P

By Maria Patsarika

Did you know about Bitcoin, the virtual currency? I didn’t. I found out this weekend reading the FT magazine. Bitcoin is one of the many entrepreneurial initiatives that feature all too often in the media. It is a monetary storage and distribution digital system, which enables transactions through exchange of codes, rather than “real money.” How innovative!

Beware: this is not any initiative. Its followers are described as “believers” and “evangelists”, who wish to see an alternative economy flourishing outside the margins of governmental control. In fact, Bitcoin’s most fervent followers claim themselves to be libertarians. Entrepreneurialism with a political hue then. I go on to read that this ubiquitous currency saw a sharp rise in March this year simultaneous to the Cypriot bailout, possibly thus stemming from people’s disenchantment with traditional banking. I ask myself naively: could such a thing be the future? In fact, a first reaction of mine reading the article was: ‘You’re not really informed, are you? All these incredible things happening out there by people younger than you are, people who are innovative, “future forwarding” (a new term for me) and you have no idea’ and so on…

I should be amazed then by the advance of modern entrepreneurial thinking and the vision of those young TED-like bright young people who did this start-up. On second, more persisting thoughts: I’m worried and disenchanted. If only Bitcoin was driven by the imperative to social and political change. This is a pure money making business without a hint of social entrepreneurialism. If you are shocked by the dry cynicism, perhaps its promoters’ expressed motivation will convince you: “My goal is to get rich” or “It’s a gold rush, it’s a land grab”. Apparently, a growing number of Bitcoin followers are only libertarianish – yet another new term for me – i.e. socially liberal and yet fiscally conservative, rather than libertarians. I doubt that the Greek or Cypriot bailout played any role here. It gave, however, a misleading socially ethical backdrop to launching Bitcoin.

It is alarming that the above is classified as “entrepreneurial”, “innovative” start-up. These are currently the buzz-words in progressive education systems worldwide, largely associated with civic growth as well as individuals’ flourishing. Is this the kind of young entrepreneurs society wants to see coming out of schools and universities? The technologically fanciful is not necessarily innovative – definitely not socially ethical. I see two routes: either strip these words off their civic connotation to reflect a crude money-making orientation; or refuel them with an ethics and practice of collective responsibility. It’s up to us all.

And so, I ended up with a couple of new words in my vocabulary and my disenchantment still intact.






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