Convention dictates that every Silicon Valley startup punctuate their their elevator pitch a line about how they'll make the world A Better Place. This mandate holds doubly true for cryptocurrencies and blockchain projects, which must aim not just for mere improvement, but the wholesale transformation of modern life. It's a tall order.
So far, the track records for Silicon Valley and cryptos in their respective world-changing efforts are inversely proportional to the scale of their ambitions. The big tech giants and some of the unicorns can certainly claim to have changed how we live; whether it's an improvement is a subjective matter. But when it comes to cryptos, real impacts are still a ways out. Bitcoin has spawned some fascinating speculative markets, and in a few extreme cases offers an escape from sovereign hyperinflation. But in terms of lifestyle impact on large swaths of people, crypto stuff has little to its name.
But now there is finally something coming out of the crypto world that is impactful and, I'd argue, unambiguously good. Meet Bail Bloc. A partnership between the magazine The New Inquiry and a nonprofit called the Bronx Freedom Fund, Bail Bloc works by mining cryptocurrency on personal computers and donating it to a fund that benefits those who've been arrested and can't afford cash bail. From the FAQ:
When you download the app, a small part of your computer's unused processing power is redirected toward mining a popular cryptocurrency called Monero, which is secure, private, and untraceable. At the end of every month, we exchange the Monero for US dollars and donate the earnings to the Bronx Freedom Fund. 100% of the currency your computer generates is used by the Bronx Freedom Fund to post bail for low-income people detained in New York effective immediately.
But wait! Doesn't this help bad, dangerous criminals go free? Not really. Cash bail is set in pretrial detention, before people have been convicted of a crime. Once a bail is set, the only factor that determines whether someone walks out or stays locked up is whether they're poor. For those who can't afford the bail, the choice is to wait weeks, months or even years for a backlogged trial to roll around – not a great choice if you have things like a job or a family – or to get it all over with and plead guilty.
It's an agonizing decision. On any given night, around 450,000 people sit behind bars in pretrial detention. Many of them are innocent. For a particularly tragic example of the toll this exacts, read up on Kalief Browder.
But it turns out that having access to some cash to make bail makes a big difference. For those who've gotten a hand from the Bronx Freedom Fund, for instance, 62 percent end up seeing their charges dismissed. That compares to around an average 90 percent guilty-plea rate for those who can't post bail.
The crypto side of the project is about as simple as it gets. Lease a bit of your personal computing power toward mining Monero – a bitcoin alternative that boasts stronger privacy protections and a fewer scaling constraints – and watch the digital pennies stack up. The user doesn't have to do anything really; the program runs in the background.
This kind of hands-off, feel-good, change-the-world-from-the-comfort-of-your-own-home “slacktivism” has been derided for years – and rightfully so. But cash bail is one of those issues where it really is just cash that makes a difference. And thanks to the legions of dreamers, schemers, speculators and manipulators out there, demand for Bail Bloc's Monero supply won't be in question anytime soon. Thus it's possible to create actual monetary value from just a 49-megabyte app and a willingness to let your computer run imperceptibly slower.
Alas, there will not be an ICO for Bail Bloc. But you can download it for free here.