Crypto’s “Freedom to Transact” May Actually Threaten Human Rights


Appeared In: CIGI Online

Publication Date: March 15, 2022

Excerpt From the Article:

[T]oo often, the freedom to transact is touted or treated as absolute, even where certain transactions may gridlock international trade or finance human rights atrocities. This obsession with transactional freedom among crypto-libertarians mirrors the distorted free speech absolutism promulgated by cyber-libertarians (an extreme view that has demonstrably silenced and endangered women and minorities online). Just as John Perry Barlow declared the internet to be “a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity,” crypto-libertarians espouse a kind of transactional absolutism whereby the individual’s “negative” freedom to transact without the interference of third parties is primary to all other rights and freedoms, whether individual or collective (ignoring that “negative” rights and freedoms often require positive or affirmative interventions by the state).

This is not to say that a freedom to transact could never become enshrined as a right or that rights do not expand or evolve — they do. But even then, it most likely would not be absolute, as rights rarely are. Even the First Amendment or freedom of expression, oft-cited by transactional absolutists as analogous to a freedom to transact, allows for permissible restrictions and limitations on speech or derogations to protect national security, public order or public health and morals, respectively. Those who tout the primacy of the freedom to transact misunderstand the nature of rights, specifically their interrelatedness. Human rights are indivisible and interdependent, meaning that one set of rights cannot be fully realized without the other. What good is the individual’s freedom to transact when other basic rights and freedoms are not ensured, whether because of acts of war or of other atrocities that require a collective response or intervention?

Renieris, E. (2022, March 15). Crypto’s “Freedom to Transact” May Actually Threaten Human Rights. Centre for International Governance Innovation.

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