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Cryptocurrencies and Business Ethics

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

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

  2. 2.

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

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Claus Dierksmeier.

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Dierksmeier, C., Seele, P. Cryptocurrencies and Business Ethics. J Bus Ethics 152, 1–14 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3298-0

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Keywords

  • Cryptocurrencies
  • Blockchain
  • Business ethics
  • Financial system
  • Social business
  • Trust
  • Bitcoin
  • Darknet
  • Shadow banking