Bail Bloc: mine Monero, generate CO2, send less money to charity than it cost to mine

Bail Bloc: mine Monero, generate CO2, send less money to charity than it cost to mine

There’s a persistent and troublesome phenomenon of liberals, leftists and social justice people seeing blockchains and Bitcoin and thinking that there’s anything in this phenomenon created by fringe right-wing cranks for fringe right-wing crank purposes that will serve any of their own purposes whatsoever. David Golumbia, author of The Politics of Bitcoin (US, UK), gets a lot of earnest social justice people asking him about BlockchainTM, and we have fragments here of a half-written collaboration intended to kill this terrible idea; it’s clear I’ll need to get moving on my bit.

The New Inquiry is an online news magazine of leftist bent that’s heavily into social justice causes. It’s also a 501(c)3 charity itself. Their latest project is a good cause with an absolutely terrible idea behind it: Bail Bloc.

The cause is to help fund bail for people who’ve been arrested but can’t afford the bail. 96% keep all their court dates, so that money will come back to bail out the next person. 4% don’t, so that money needs to be topped up. The Bronx Freedom Fund, who The New Inquiry are working with on this one, uses the bail fund to keep people out of jail when they don’t need to be, which turns out to make them less likely to be sentenced, which makes for a better society. This is a good cause that makes the world a bit better! Here’s The New Inquiry’s articles on the topic.

The money comes from mining Monero on your PC, then sending the money from that in. Hands up all those who can already see the problems …

Here’s the announcement tweet, from Editor in Chief Ayesha Siddiqi:


That’s a misrepresentation out the gate: you’re not donating your computing power — in the manner of Folding@Home, where computations are literally what you’re donating — but your electricity.

Photo by Hans at Pixabay, CC-0

Why this is bad: how crypto mining works

Cryptocurrencies that are “mined”, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum or Monero, use a method called Proof of Work. This involves destroying the environment in order to avoid having a central authority make decisions, because they couldn’t think of any less wasteful way to decentralise it.

It is a process of literally wasting electricity to decide who gets to mine the next block on a blockchain, and get some cryptocurrency. You run millions of calculations, which are then just thrown away, because the only point is to show that you can waste resources faster than everyone else. Nothing whatsoever is achieved by the calculation — everyone is doing a silly maths problem for no reason other than to have something to compete at.

I can’t find a link to this FAQ from the main website, but someone posted this to Twitter in response to a question about the obvious profligate wastefulness of mining:

Does this cost more to run in electricity than it generates in revenue for bail?

Unlike Bitcoin and other popular crypto coins, which require a great deal of energy to mine, Monero is ASIC-resistant, which means that it requires a comparatively negligible amount of electricity, and is therefore cost efficient.

Apart from not answering the question — the answer is “yes,” by the way — this is a near-meaningless pile of crypto jargon obscuring a completely false claim. Cryptocurrency mining is a zero-sum game, a Red Queen’s race. As miners compete to see who generates the next block, they will spend up to the value of the coins from that block to generate the block. So the cost of mining will rapidly approximate the revenue gained from mining the block.

With Monero, it’s actually worse, because quite a lot of the mining these days is done by malware and hacked web pages — you can certainly turn a profit if you just steal the electricity! So if you’re spending your own money for the electricity, you’re competing with thieves, and you will definitely get less money out than you put in.

What you are doing is getting $5 worth of coal, burning it into CO2, then The New Inquiry gets $4 for the Monero generated by your commitment to wastefulness. Then they send that to the charity.

(If I could draw, I’d put a nice diagram here of a cute cartoon coal-fired power plant belching smoke, maybe a few birds with XX for eyes on the ground nearby. “$5 of coal” with arrow pointing to the smoke. Arrow to computer, “$5 electricity, wasted.” Arrow to The New Inquiry, “$4 generated.” Arrow to the Bronx Freedom Fund, “$4 donated.” I’m sure you can picture it.)

Every month, the mining gets more difficult and needs more electricity (and hence more CO2) put into it. Monero’s mining difficulty, and hence the amount of electricity required just to produce coins at the same rate, has quadrupled in the past six months.

None of this is a useful or necessary process. The cryptocurrency mining process only exists at all because of the misguided design goal of decentralisation. As I note in chapter 1 of the book, an ordinary centralised database could calculate an equally tamper-evident block of transactions on a 2007 smartphone running off USB power.

Mine Monero, waste electricity, generate CO2 and send less money to a charity than you could have just sent directly! What’s not to like?

Nobody at The New Inquiry, and particularly not the technical team responsible, can reasonably claim ignorance of this — the reprehensible and profligate wastefulness of Bitcoin mining is regularly the subject of mainstream news coverage, most recently in Motherboard and that well-known hotbed of revolutionary socialism the Financial Times. Monero does not have as much mining as Bitcoin, but the same considerations apply: this is utterly unnecessary wastefulness that does direct damage to the world. They know, or should have known, what they are perpetrating here.

Fortunately, Monero miners are so often used in malware and hacked web pages that antivirus and ad blockers catch them reliably and will protect you from trying this terrible idea:


Of course, the obvious nod-nod wink-wink use for Bail Bloc is corporate theft — take back some of the surplus value you generate for your horrible boss and pass it to a charitable cause. The problem there is that corporate networks tend, for obvious reasons, to have good virus checking; run this and you can quickly share a fate with the sort of people who were fired for running Bitcoin miners at work back in the day.

The proponents

The about page features a lot of text on the good cause, and misrepresents the cryptocurrency angle in passing:

WHAT IS CRYPTOCURRENCY?

Cryptocurrency isn’t real money, but it has real-world exchange value.

Just as the US Treasury prints money to infuse into the economy, cryptocurrency is generated “out of nowhere” through an arbitrary process. But where the US Treasury needs a minting machine, all miners need is computing power. Cryptocurrencies are generated through users running software to solve difficult computational problems, in a process known as “mining.” When a problem is solved, the user is rewarded by a decentralized cryptocurrency network with units of that cryptocurrency. If enough users mine for the same cryptocurrency, it begins to have an exchange value.

This omits that the “arbitrary process” is doing the most wasteful thing you possibly can, just because that’s the rules of a particularly stupid financial instrument.

The project appears to have originated with Grayson Earle of the Dark Inquiry collective, whose understanding of cryptocurrency concepts and the issues involved, particularly externalised costs, appears unclear:

“If generating money out of thin air by using a computer program seems absurd, that’s because it is,” Grayson Earle, who dreamed up and co-leads the project, told In Justice Today. “What’s equally absurd is the money bail system, and that our entire justice system is premised on the assumption that most people won’t exercise their Constitutional right to trial and instead accept plea bargains to ease the burden on courts.”

Note how he immediately pivots to talking about the cause, because what he’s just said about cryptocurrency is obvious nonsense to anyone who knows how this stuff works. It’s not generated out of thin air — it’s generated by doing literally the most wasteful thing you can do with $5, to generate $4 for charity.

So what can I do to help fund bail bonds?

Most efficient method: send money directly to the Bronx Freedom Fund. I just sent them $39. They’re a good charity that makes the world a slightly better place. If not them, there’s a pile of others.

Easy method that doesn’t require thinking about it: appolition.us — an app that rounds purchases up to the nearest dollar and sends the change in, to the same end. Without generating stupendous amounts of CO2. Appolition isn’t a charity, but it’s still a better idea than Bail Bloc.

Worst method: the offensive wastefulness of mining cryptos at a loss. Whoever thought this was a good idea at any point wasn’t thinking clearly that day.

 

Update: The New Inquiry has just put up a new FAQ in which they straight up recommend that you steal electricity to, uh, fund bail for people arrested on suspicion of crimes. This is apparently a good idea. They also disagree with my numbers on mining. See followup post.

 

Update 2, February 2018:

 



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14 thoughts on “Bail Bloc: mine Monero, generate CO2, send less money to charity than it cost to mine”

  • Blame Phil Sandifer, who pinged me regarding this thing’s existence four hours before I finished the above and hit “post.” Cheers to David, Phil and Arkady for ideas and looking it over.

  • Maybe it’s more important that it makes a momentary splash culturally–getting people to talk about the bail system & get more eyes on Bronx Freedom Fund. I’m sure Bail Bloc won’t destroy the environment.

    • It probably won’t single-handedly, but it remains terrible in every way. And maybe it’s good for publicity for the cause. But I hope to mitigate what its actual detrimental effects will be. “But we only befoul the world pointlessly a little bit!” Yeah, and maybe you could not do that at all.

      • well, on the other hand, you’re saying that marginalized people awaiting trial arent as important as a ‘little’ environmental impact

        • I’m saying it’s a “tradeoff” that literally isn’t a tradeoff to sensibly make, and I just wrote 1300 words explaining why. If you’re going to talk it up, you also have to talk up why this is a terrible idea that literally does about 20% less for the charity than donating directly would. I’ve also noted that I’m not just telling others what to do, I sent the Bronx Freedom Fund $39 myself. Which is several months’ spew of sulphurous smoke from Bail Bloc.

          • Hm, not sure you really addressed my concern in the article but nonetheless, it’s clear that a direct donation is the way to go. Seems like most people don’t do that, though, which is what the app is trying to address?

          • yeah, that’s why I recommend Appolition – the convenience factor is really important.

            This is a complicated bit of publicity they’re doing and there’s a lot of arguable factors. There is a good argument to be made for the publicity value – i wouldn’t have donated to BFF if Bail Bloc didn’t exist. I wrote about Björk’s cryptocurrency adventure, which is terrible in every way but definitely got her publicity – I didn’t know she had a new album coming until I saw mention of her crypto thing.

            But that said, I think it’s not good to mention Bail Bloc without also mentioning why it’s absolutely a terrible, ill-conceived idea that nobody should actually run. BFF do recurring donations!

      • Wouldn’t a better way to help those people be to just send money in directly equal to how much your electricity bill would have gone up if you had wasted time mining a cryptocurrency. That’s going to be more money anyways.

  • This is a waste. Why not just send crypto-currency directly to this charity? Chinese miners can mine this stuff a lot more efficiently and for a cheaper price.

    Monero is a weird choice for a charity. Monero probably has the most degenerate users per capita. The only people who use Monero are pedophiles, serious criminals and very paranoid libertarians.

      • Yeah it’s true. I lumped big fish drug dealers in under serious criminals. But drug dealers have clients.

        It’s funny how everyone in the bitcoin community denies the role that btc plays in dnms though. Everyone pretends that monero is king of that market. They go as far as to say that dnm only accounts for 1% of bitcoin transaction activity. Meanwhile Monero is worth $123. You really think that the so-called king crypto of the multi-billion dollar black market is worth only $123? Obviously dnms are still using btc. I see lots of users complaining about btc fees and confirmation times in the dnm sub. Bitcoin can’t possibly be driven 99% by speculation. Because other than dnm, ransomware, money laundering, tax evasion, hookers (backpage) and gambling, there’s not much of a practical use for bitcoin. Surely dnm has a significant impact on bitcoin’s value.

  • This is ignorant in the extreme.
    Allow me to ess-plain:

    1 – NY power – and this is a Bronx charity after all – is heavily weighted towards hydro & nukes. I live in north Jersey, but am served by Rockland Electric. 50% of my power is non-CO2: hydro & nukes.
    The TVA was FDR trying to bring the NY Power Authority to Kentucky.
    So, prattling on about CO2 in the context of New York is to show your ignorance about NY and its power. Most of the people using this blockchain to free people will be NY and environs people.
    Even the US average is now less than two-thirds fossil. The rest is nukes and various renewables, of which hydro and wind are by far the biggest. The Northeast has tons and tons of hydro.
    2 – The money is recycled. If a defendant shows up for his court appt, the money goes to the next one, it doesn’t disappear. Being that upwards of 90% show up in court, every buck made is recycled many times. So whatever CO2 gets created goes to not one, but many, many people.

      • 2. You do make an explicit cost comparison: “What you are doing is getting $5 worth of coal, burning it into CO2, then The New Inquiry gets $4 for the Monero generated by your commitment to wastefulness. Then they send that to the charity.”

        So the fact that the $4 from mining is recycled at 96% efficiency at Bronx Freedom Fund (minus any Monero exchange fees, probably 1%) does change the cost-benefit significantly.

        Everyone knows a direct donation is more efficient, but there’s also political reality, attention and coverage, human irrationality, etc. involved with causes and donations. The fact is that running this program on my computer keeps me more engaged and focused on criminal justice topics, and makes me feel part of creating something. It’s a splashy, cooperative idea and it’s cool. Does that count for nothing?

        Bail Bloc also doesn’t have to stay with Monero forever. If another crypto with lower competitiveness and open source code is a better fit, they could adapt the app to mine that instead. Or, people will find a “Proof of” that’s less energy intensive than Proof of Work. Trying these concepts is how they get better, and raise awareness in the process.

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