In the past, if a government wanted a bank to close or freeze a customer’s account it would have to come banging on the door with a court order. Now, governments have shown that they can close private accounts at the drop of a hat. During the Freedom Convoy protests, the Canadian government drew up a list of individuals – on grounds that were never made clear, although the Justice Minister said that Trump supporters should be ‘worried’ – and banks immediately froze their customers’ accounts, no questions asked.
Indeed, payment companies are taking the lead and freezing their own customers’ accounts, because of vague offences such as perceived ‘misinformation’. PayPal recently closed the accounts of lockdown sceptics, doctors for informed consent, critics of trans ideology, even the Free Speech Union (perhaps for defending trans critical feminists). Other companies such as GoFundMe, MasterCard, Stripe, Etsy, and Patreon have closed the accounts of gender campaigners, right-wing campaigners and critics of vaccine mandates.
PayPal’s recent threat to fine its customers up to $2500 for ‘misinformation’ was a new step. Now they are not only closing accounts but also potentially seizing funds. Although PayPal implausibly claimed that the new ‘acceptable use policy’ was published in error – it was up for several days as a link from its Policy Updates page – the principle of PayPal potentially seizing customers’ funds had already been established. When it closed recent accounts, PayPal stated that it would be holding funds for 180 days to see if any ‘damages’ were due. The idea of holding and perhaps seizing customers’ money was already established in practice.
Similarly, during the truckers’ protests in Canada, GoFundMe decided that it was not going to pass on 9 million Canadian dollars of donations to the Freedom Convoy, since the protests had violated its ‘terms of service’. Instead, it would pass the money to ‘credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe’ (donors could get a refund if they filled in a form). Millions of dollars that had been donated by the public for a particular cause were reappropriated and used for some other cause.
Companies are violating the rules of their own market system. Private property rights are supposed to be sacred, protected with a single-minded obsession that outweighs almost everything else. The sociologist Max Weber said that the operation of the market requires that all authorities work according to ‘calculable rules’ and ‘without regard for persons’ (1). When you put money in an account you need to know that it is safe; when you make a payment you need to know that it will go to its intended beneficiary and not someone else.
Now, governments and companies are randomly freezing people’s accounts and they often won’t even tell you why they have done it. They are lording it over private interests. This has something of the Middle Ages about it, when all lands were nominally held from the king and could be seized at any time if a vassal was not sufficiently loyal; the lands would then be given to a more loyal follower. Now, the bureaucratic-corporate elite nominally holds the wealth of the world; we are graciously allowed to use it, so long as we do not use it for misinformation, in which case it will be taken back and reappropriated to a cause of its choice.
Here is another form of that nefarious principle that your ability to take part in public life is a privilege dependent upon good behaviour. With vaccine passports, you could only take part in society if you had obediently received the correct sequence of vaccines and boosters. If you didn’t get a booster on time, your QR code was deactivated and when you tried to buy a cup of coffee it would not work: ‘This code is no longer valid.’ Now, companies are taking it upon themselves to police the marketplace, so that you can only receive funds and make donations if you express the correct opinions on their flagship issues.
Public life is increasingly becoming subject to an ‘acceptable use policy’. If digital currencies go ahead, the potential for authorities to close accounts, freeze and reclaim funds and refuse purchases will be taken to a new level.
The public backlash against PayPal’s latest account freezes was phenomenal. Thousands of people sent complaints to Paypal and cancelled their PayPal accounts in solidarity, a pressure that led to some of these frozen accounts to be reinstated. The lordly presumption of the new corporate elite is terrifying; we must be prepared to fight it every step of the way.
(1) Max Weber, Economy and Society, Vol 2, Uni California Press, p975