Crypto Long & Short: Coinbase’s ‘Apolitical’ Stance Isn’t Nearly as Simple as It Sounds

As if the ructions of the year aren’t giving us enough cause to re-examine things we thought we understood, now we find ourselves questioning what a company is for, and what role it should occupy in society and in employees’ lives.

Earlier this week, Coinbase co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong published a post in which he stressed the company’s focus on the mission of creating “an open financial system for the world,” and asked that political issues be left out of workplace discourse.

The questions this raises are huge, and the timing fits right into tectonic shifts already underway in the role of capitalism in our evolving society.

Let’s look at some of the questions, to which there are no clear answers.

  1. Armstrong says Coinbase has “an apolitical culture.” What does that even mean, in these times of growing polarization on practically everything? Even being apolitical can be taken as a political stance. What’s more, when a company whose mission is to bring “economic freedom to people all over the world” requests that activism and politics be left at the door, you get a glimpse of how institutionalized the crypto ethos is becoming.
  2. What is an employment contract? Some will answer that it is monetary compensation for certain output. Others will argue that you give up your time in exchange for payment. If the latter, can the organization paying you dictate what you do in that time?
  3. Does a company have the right to define its own mission? The answer might seem like an obvious yes, but an extension of that is, does a company have the right to ignore topics its employees care about? Here the issue gets more divisive.
  4. Related to the previous point, is a company’s responsibility to its shareholders or its employees? Armstrong believes that focus is core to achieving the mission, and that is what shareholders have a right to expect. But the success of intelligence-based businesses largely rests on the employees. We’re not talking about…

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