Skip to main content
Log in

Cryptocurrencies and Business Ethics

  • Published:
Journal of Business Ethics Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, SETLcoin, Ether, Solar Coin, or Liberty Reserve exist since 2009. Because of their decentralized control, they are often considered a threat or alternative to the conventional centralized banking system. While the technological implication of some such currencies, especially of Bitcoin, has attracted much attention, so far there is little discussion about the entire field of cryptocurrencies and very little academic literature addressing its ethical significance. In this article, we thus address the impact of “blockchain technology” on the nature of financial transactions from a business ethics perspective. We begin with a survey on relevant literature from neighboring disciplines. Next, we work towards a 3 × 3 framework for current debates on the ethics of cryptocurrencies (see Table 1): we combine the micro, meso, and macro levels of business and society with assessments of the potential ethical impact of cryptocurrencies as morally beneficial, detrimental, and ambiguous. In addition, we highlight possible avenues for future research, such as the changing roles of the miners and regulators, the prosocial use of cryptocurrencies, the antisocial use for shadow banking and transactions in the ‘dark net’ and cryptocurrencies’ effect on inflation and deflation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. The review of the literature was concluded in July 2015 and contains only references published up to that date. .

  2. This latest turn nevertheless also caused a crisis for Bitcoin, as the open letter of Mike Hearn indicates (Popper 2016).


  • Akins, B. W., Chapman, J. L., & Gordon, J. M. (2014). A whole new world: Income tax considerations of the Bitcoin economy. Pittsburgh Tax Review, 12, 25–56.

    Google Scholar 

  • Andelman, D. A. (2014). Currency wars. World Policy Journal, 31(1), 115–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Angel, J. J., & McCabe, D. (2014). The ethics of payments: Paper, plastic, or Bitcoin? Journal of Business Ethics, 1, 1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  • Badev, A., & Chen, M. (2014). Bitcoin: Technical background and data analysis. FEDS Working Paper No. 2014-104.

  • Baek, C., & Elbeck, M. (2015). Bitcoins as an investment or speculative vehicle? A first look. Applied Economics Letters, 22(1), 30–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bajpai, P. (2016). Goldman Sachs files ‘SETLcoin’ patent: What it is and what it means. Retrieved May 16, 2009, from

  • Barkatullah, J., & Hanke, T. (2015). Goldstrike 1: CoinTerra’s first-generation cryptocurrency mining processor for Bitcoin. IEEE micro, 35(2), 68–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beck, B., & König, D. (2015). Bitcoin: Der Versuch einer vertragstypologischen Einordnung von kryptographischem Geld. Juristenzeitung, 70(3), 130–138.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benndorf, L. (2015). Bitcoins—Versuch der rechtlichen Entschlüsselung einer Kryptowährung. Saarbrücken, DE: Saarbrücker Verlag für Rechtswissenschaften.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blundell-Wignall, A. (2014). Bitcoin: More than a bit part? OECD Observer, 299, 31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boehm, F., & Pesch, P. (2014). Bitcoin: A first legal analysis—With reference to German and US-American law. In 1st Workshop on Bitcoin research.

  • Böhme, R., Christin, N., Edelman, B., & Moore, T. (2015). Bitcoin: Economics, technology, and governance. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 29(2), 213–238. doi:10.1257/jep.29.2.213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brandvold, M., Molnár, P., Vagstad, K., & Valstad, O. C. A. (2015). Price discovery on Bitcoin exchanges. Journal of International Financial Markets, Institutions & Money, 36, 18–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brito, J., & Castillo, A. (2013). A primer for policymakers. Policy: A Journal of Public Policy and Ideas, 29(4), 3–12.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cheah, E., & Fry, J. (2015). Speculative bubbles in Bitcoin markets? An empirical investigation into the fundamental value of Bitcoin. Economics Letters, 130, 32–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De Filippi, P. (2014). Bitcoin: A regulatory nightmare to a libertarian dream. Internet Policy Review, 3(2), 1–11.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dodgson, M., Gann, D., Wladawsky-Berger, I., Sultan, N., & George, G. (2015). Managing digital money. Academy of Management Journal, 58(2), 325–333.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dopfer, K., Foster, J., & Potts, J. (2004). micro-meso-macro. Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 14(3), 263–279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dostov, V., & Shust, P. (2014). Cryptocurrencies: An unconventional challenge to the AML/CFT regulators? Journal of Financial Crime, 21(3), 249–263.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dwyer, G. P. (2015). The economics of Bitcoin and similar private digital currencies. Journal of Financial Stability, 17, 81–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eberwein, H., & Steiner, A. Z. (2014). Bitcoins. Wien: Jan Sramek Verlag KG.

    Google Scholar 

  • Economist. (2016, May 2). Craig Steven Wright claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto. Is he? Economist. Retrieved May 16, 2003, from

  • Edwards, C. (2015). Bitcoin price crash finds new victims. Engineering & Technology, 10(2), 19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elwell, C. K., Murphy, M., & Seitzinger, M. (2015). Bitcoin: Questions, answers, and analysis of legal issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

    Google Scholar 

  • Erber, G. (2014). Bitcoin: Ein Zahlungsmittel mit Risiken und Nebenwirkungen. DIW Wochenbericht, 81(11), 232.

    Google Scholar 

  • Evans-Pughe, C., Novikov, A., & Vitaliev, V. (2014). To bit or not to bit? [Bitcoin cryptocurrency]. Engineering & Technology, 9(4), 82–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Extance, A. (2015). The future of cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin and beyond. Nature, 526, 21–23. doi:10.1038/526021a.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fernández-Villaverde, J., & Sanches, D. (2016), Can currency competition work? NIBER Working Paper No. 22157, April 2016.

  • Glaser, F., Zimmermann, K., Haferkorn, K., Weber, M., & Siering, M. (2014). Bitcoin—Asset or currency: Revealing users’ hidden intentions. In 22nd European conference on information systems, Tel Aviv.

  • Graydon, C. (2014). Pump and dump: Know the signs when trading altcoins. Retrieved September 29, 2015, from

  • Greebel, E. L., Moriarty, K., Callaway, C., & Xethalis, G. (2015). Recent key Bitcoin and virtual currency regulatory and law enforcement developments. Journal of Investment Compliance, 16(1), 13–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gronwald, M. (2014). The economics of Bitcoins—Market characteristics and price jumps, (pp. 1–11). CESifo Working Papers No. 5121.

  • Hayek, F. R. V. (1978). Denationalization of money, the argument refined, institute of economic affairs. London: Westminster.

    Google Scholar 

  • HU (2015). Blockchain for good: Distributed ledger technologies and the CSR Agenda. Call for Paper Humbold University Berlin (HU). Retrieved June 16, 2005, from

  • Irwin, A. S. M., Slay, J., Raymond Choo, K. K., & Lui, L. (2014). Money laundering and terrorism financing in virtual environments: A feasibility study. Journal of Money Laundering Control, 17(1), 50–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jacobs, E. (2011). Bitcoin: A bit too far? Journal Of Internet Banking & Commerce, 16(2), 1–4.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplanov, N. (2012). Nerdy money: Bitcoin, the private digital currency, and the case against its regulation. Loyola Consumer Law Review, 25, 111.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaskaloglu, K. (2014). Near zero Bitcoin Transaction fees cannot last forever. In: The International conference on digital security and forensics (DigitalSec 2014), pp. 91–99. Retrieved August 19, 2015 from

  • Kim, T. (2015). The predecessors of Bitcoin and their implications for the prospect of virtual currencies. PLoS ONe, 10(4), 1.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kleineberg, K., & Helbing, D. (2016). A ‘social Bitcoin’ could sustain a democratic digital world (April 27, 2016). SSRN:

  • Koshy, P., Koshy, D., & McDaniel, P. (2014). An analysis of anonymity in bitcoin using p2p network traffic (pp. 469–485). Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krugman, P. (2013). Bitcoin is evil. In: New York Times Blog. Retrieved January 12, 2015, from

  • Lee, T. B. (2011). Bitcoin prices plummet on hacked exchange. Ars Technica. Retrieved from

  • Lemieux, P. (2013). Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? Regulation, 36(3), 14–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marian, O. (2013). Are cryptocurrencies super tax havens? Michigan Law Review First Impressions, 112(1), 38–48.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marian, O. Y. (2014). Conceptual framework for the regulation of cryptocurrencies. University of Chicago Law Review Dialogue, 82, 53.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maurer, B., Nelms, T. C., & Swartz, L. (2013). When perhaps the real problem is money itself!: The practical materiality of bitcoin. Social Semiotics, 23(2), 261–277.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McMillan, R. (2014). Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox implodes amid allegations of $350 million hack. Wired.

  • Mik. (2015). Dubioser Konkurs: Tessiner bitminer pleite. Retrieved May 16, 2010, from

  • Moore, T., & Christin, N. (2013). Beware the middleman: Empirical analysis of Bitcoin-exchange risk. In G. Goos, J. Hartmanis, & J. van Leeuwen (Eds.), Financial cryptography and data security. Lecture notes in computer science (Vol. 7859, pp. 25–33). Heidelberg: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Möser, M., Böhme, R., & Breuker, D. (2013). An inquiry into money laundering tools in the Bitcoin ecosystem. In Proceedings of the APWG eCrime researchers summit 2013 (pp. 1–14), San Francisco.

  • Plassaras, N. A. (2013). Regulating digital currencies: Bringing Bitcoin within the reach of the IMF. Chicago Journal of International Law, 11, 385–389.

    Google Scholar 

  • Popper, N. (2016, January 14). A Bitcoin believer’s crisis of faith. New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2009 from

  • Raymaekers, W. (2015). Cryptocurrency Bitcoin: Disruption, challenges and opportunities. Journal of Payments Strategy & Systems, 9(1), 30–46.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sapuric, S., & Kokkinaki, A. (2014). Bitcoin is volatile isn’t that right? Business information systems workshop (Vol. 183, pp. 255–265). New York: Springer.

  • Seele, P. (2016). Digitally unified reporting how XBRL-based real-time transparency helps in combining integrated sustainability reporting and performance control. Journal of Cleaner Production. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.01.102.

    Google Scholar 

  • Segendorf, B. (2014). What is Bitcoin? Sveriges Riksbank Economic Review, 2, 71–87.

    Google Scholar 

  • Seitim Aiganym, Y. (2014). The usage of cryptocurrency as an alternative solution of issues of the world monetary system. Problems of Economy, 2, 50–55.

    Google Scholar 

  • Spiegel. (2016). Liberty reserve: 20 Jahre Haft für Gründer von Digitalwährung. Retrieved May 16, 2009, from

  • Stokes, R. (2012). Virtual money laundering: the case of Bitcoin and the Linden dollar. Information & Communications Technology Law, 21(3), 221–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tendermint. (2014). The security of cryptocurrency protocols. Retrieved December 12, 2015, from

  • Trautman, L. (2014). Virtual currencies—Bitcoin and what now after liberty reserve, Silk Road and Mt Gox. Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, 20(4), 108.

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Alstyne, M. (2014). Why bitcoin has value. Communications Of The ACM, 57(5), 30–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Gils, R. (2014). What are the permanent establishment issues, regarding the taxation of Bitcoin, and how can they be solved? Master Thesis International Business Taxation, Tilburg School of Law, Tilburg University.

  • Van Hout, M. C., & Bingham, T. (2014). Responsible vendors, intelligent consumers: Silk Road, the online revolution in drug trading. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(2), 183–189.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vejačka, M. (2014). Cryptocurrencies and their influencing factors. In Proceedings in GV-global virtual conference (No. 1) (pp. 185–190).

  • Vigna, P., & Casey, M. J. (2015). The age of cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and digital money are challenging the global economic order. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wong, J. I. (2014). New study: Low Bitcoin transaction fees unsustainable. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from

  • Yahanpath, N., & Wilton, Z. (2014). Virtual money: Betting on Bitcoin. University of Auckland Business Review, 17(1), 36–43.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zander, T. (2014). Does anyone have anything at all signed by Satoshi’s PGP key? Retrieved October 12, 2015, from

Download references


The authors are grateful for the help of NN and NN (names omitted due to blind-review process) for extensive bibliographic research. Furthermore, they would like to thank NN and NN for reading and commenting on the original draft as well as the instructive feedback by two reviewers.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Claus Dierksmeier.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Dierksmeier, C., Seele, P. Cryptocurrencies and Business Ethics. J Bus Ethics 152, 1–14 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: