Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer of the Human Rights Foundation, and Marty Bent, Host of Tales from the Crypt, discuss democracy, America’s election, and Bitcoin as a tool to defend individual freedom.
5:16 State of American democracy
17:59 Tendency of governments toward centralization
28:30 Technology changes the world; law guides it
33:47 Bitcoin should be protected as free speech
39:19 The future of encryption and the Travel Rule
48:25 State of privacy
52:00 Bitcoin yield curve via lightning
56:52 Future of privacy
1:01:10 Do votes matter?
1:06:30 Central banking will continue printing regardless
1:12:20 Wrap up
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Okay, let’s dive into this one with Alex Gladstein. He’s the Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation. He’s an advocate for freedom, of course, and he’s also served as the vice president of strategy for the Oslo Freedom Forum. He’s on the faculty at Singularity University. You can support the Human Rights Foundation through Swan actually, with every purchase you make by signing up to email@example.com/hrf, for Human Rights Foundation. 25% of the fees on every purchase you make will go to support Alex’s work. So, check that out. Alex, welcome to the show, man. Thanks for joining us today on this election day.
It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Absolutely. And we have, of course, Marty Bent. You all know him. He’s the author of The Daily Newsletter, Marty’s Bent. He’s creeping up on 1,000 issues. 1,000, it’s coming up, buddy. Upper 800s now, I was checking that out today, so that’s awesome, Marty. Of course, he is the host of Tales From The Crypt Podcast from the premier Bitcoin Podcast in the world. Marty, thanks for joining us today, man. Appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. Pumped to be here. Very special day.
It is a special day. These are like halving, like the Bitcoin halving, so the presidential elections only come once every four years, and as we all know, they coincide with presidential election years. So, that’s always mixed up for an extra special year with those two seminal events happening that usually have a great impact on the world, and in terms of the halving, it’s having a greater and greater impact every time we have one.
These gentlemen think and write and comment about ethics and freedom of governments around the world and the United States, about fairness, about elections, democracies, the state of governments around the world, and that’s why I wanted to have them on today. Of course, as a presidential election day, it’s a great day to kind of reflect on the values and principles of this country, how they’ve evolved over the years, and where we’re headed, kind of trending right now.
So Alex, let’s start with you. Can you share with us, broadly speaking, your view of the evolution of this nation’s ethics and principles, and how maybe they’ve changed for the better or for the worse? I know this is a massive question. Take as much time as you need. I think it’ll seed the conversation for the rest of this episode.
Yeah. I think there’s different levels to that question. First and foremost, today’s a great day, it’s election day. Our leaders, our rulers don’t know if they’re going to be in power in a couple months. And the people go out and they vote and they determine who the next rulers are going to be. I know that a lot of people, maybe especially in the Bitcoin community, are jaded about this process and don’t really believe it brings any real change, and maybe rightfully so, are focused on some more structural forces beneath the elections. But don’t underestimate the power of elections and what they can do in the world and how they’ve shaped the world. They are a very important piece of the architecture of freedom. They’re not the foundation, they’re not the base layer, but they’re a very important part that helps the system from getting stuck.
If you look at the things that I pursue and care about and advocate for, they are primarily free speech, separation of powers in societies, where there’s a competition of powers, where powers can check each other, and civil society organizations, whether they be nonprofit groups, or journalistic outfits, investigative reporters. These, to me, are all the most important ingredients of a free society, and elections are kind of like the cherry on top of that social geopolitical parfait. So, we need them, though, because they give this opportunity to shake things up every couple years, and ultimately, I think that we should recognize their importance while also realizing they’re not fundamentally everything that matters.
In fact, as many have rightfully pointed out, every dictator gets elected. But you know what, most of these elections you see around the world are rigged. In a free and fair election where both candidates have to go out and raise money and not one is given like special treatment from the government, this is a healthy process. In a lot of countries, it’s not like that. In a lot of countries, the government gets all the national airtime on the TV and the opposition doesn’t get any at all. That’s the way it is. In a lot of these countries, the government uses its entire Treasury to pay for the campaign of just one candidate, and the other candidate gets nothing.
In a lot of countries, the government sends in armed thugs to literally replace ballot boxes with fake results. I was interviewing someone from a West African nation of Togo the other day and she was telling me her whole life story, and she remembers this riveting election in 2005 where the opposition seemed to have won, and then at the end, the government sent in like SWAT teams and they just took all the results away, and then three hours later on national television, the dictator was announced as the winner.
So, I think that that is the reality for so many hundreds of millions of people around the world, and a lot of people don’t even have even the semblance of elections. If you look in China, it’s not like they go out and they vote for their leaders.
So, sometimes elections are fraudulent, some people don’t have them, and that constitutes four billion people, and the rest of us have the opportunity to make a difference. And I know it can feel like it doesn’t matter or your vote doesn’t matter, or whatever, but at the end of the day, if you look back in American history, I mean, voting, and elections, and who’s president has changed the world in a massive way. I mean, if it hadn’t been JFK, if it hadn’t been Nixon, if it hadn’t been Reagan, if it hadn’t been Bush, I mean, we’re talking about wars here, we’re talking about the Iraq war, we’re talking about the Vietnam War, we’re talking about Watergate, we’re talking about big, big, big historic things.
So, I guess my first point is, elections are really important and it’s kind of a cool day, we get to watch our… Nobody knows what’s going to happen. I think it’s a lot of fun. And so many millions of people, billions of people around the world would really risk so much of their life to have just this little thing that a lot of Americans take for granted. So, that’s one piece.
The second piece is prospects for the future. Not so exciting. I mean, I just finished submitting a paper for the Cato Journal, where I’ll be a speaker at an upcoming conference about monetary policy, and I’ve been studying central bank digital currencies, and financial privacy and freedom. And look, people are screwed in dictatorships. It’s not like they have a way to push back or fight for their rights when it comes to lobbying or legal processes, but even in democracies, the view is very dim. I mean, we’re talking the Bank Secrecy Act here, which doesn’t account for inflation, we’re talking the expansion of the travel rule, and we’re talking these amounts that are being surveilled going down and down, and down and down, right?
The ironic thing is that the fees that the government lives off of are adjusted for inflation, so I thought that was kind of funny. But the control is we can all kind of feel it coming in, even in democracies. And look, there might be a hope that maybe in a Switzerland, or a Finland, or maybe even in the United States, that people can create a movement, and push back, and force the government to make a private CBDC. I mean, as I explained in my paper, I’m not even sure that’s technically feasible, really, to have a truly free and private CBDC that can actually be a savings tool and a privacy tool like cash has been for so many years, I don’t think that’s even really technically possible for a variety of reasons. But maybe they could do it in a free country where you could go out and protest and vote. Most people don’t have that opportunity.
So, the paper concludes with the fact that I think Bitcoin is so important for the future of all societies, because really, it keeps that tool that we’ve had for as long as we can remember, obviously, generations and generations of the ability of people to save and the ability of people to have some privacy in their social interactions and their behaviors. And it’s this check against this growing Orwellian kind of corporate state monster, and even better than banknotes, it’s a way to actually have a savings instrument that’s separated from the whims of the government. And maybe that government is certainly better than a different government. Some central bankers have more independence from the elected officials, or from the dictators, than others. But in any case, I would not feel comfortable if the financial future of my family and my communities and my nation was in the hands of central bankers. That’s not something I’d be super excited about, but Bitcoin gives us a another option.
So, I would say that my second and final point here is that, underneath the excitement of Election Day, and acknowledging how important it is, and how lucky we are vis a vis some other people who live in God knows how many other countries, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, whatever, the future is in question, and it’s dim, but Bitcoin does give a little bit of a spark there. So, that’s where I’m at right now.
Appreciate that, man. Marty, you write a lot about, both on Twitter and in the Bent, about this country, and its founding principles, and criticize where the country is at now and how it’s evolved. I’d love to hear from you, because I think a lot of bitcoiners kind of listen to you on these subjects, on this matter, what are the founding principles that you value as an American and how have they evolved, either for better or for worse?
Yeah. I mean, just to keep it simple, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the purest form. The values of this country was founded on and really rooted in that, and private property rights, I would argue. And I believe that the founding fathers were very pressured and very smart and very meticulous with the way they crafted their message and the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
And I just think Thomas Jefferson specifically warns there’s need to be revolutions periodically to clarify those rights and to fight for them every once in a while. I just think, particularly the last few generations, last 50 to 100 years, arguably, that hasn’t materialized, and I think it is important that we realize there is this natural entropy to the ideals that this country was founded on life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness that are just simply eroded away by the political process. You have new laws being created every day, more lawyers being handed degrees every day to go make laws, and very seldom, if ever, do we give freedoms back to people. They just seem to be, again, eroded slowly due to complacency and inability to actually change the system from within.
And so I just think there’s a natural entropy that’s been playing its course and there’s been little pushback, particularly in recent decades, to claw back some of that freedom and liberty in the form of a revolution. I don’t think in today’s day and age, luckily for us, the revolutions don’t need to be bloody, thankfully, and Bitcoin, which allows us to peacefully exit the system and claw back some of those liberties on our own volition, and particularly when it comes to private property rights and control over your finances, which are the core to your ability to interact in the economy and act with liberty from first principles. So, yeah, I just think there’s been this natural entropy over time and I don’t think people have really fought back in earnest and many decades, and I think Bitcoin being introduced to the world is incredible because it actually creates a vehicle through which to act, to claw back some of those liberties, and it seems like people are.
With that being said, today, it looks like, just following lately on Twitter, of what’s going on on election day, it seems like turnout is going to be an all time highs, pretty historic turnout here in America for elections. So, it seems like people think that there is a problem and action is needed, whether or not the action of actually casting a vote is the most effective way to actually have an effect on any outcome in the long run. I would argue against, but it seems like people are noticing there’s a problem and think that’s the best way to act to fix what they perceive as problems.
But hopefully, if things don’t go according to plan, then it’s like, hey, it doesn’t matter if it’s Biden, the erosion of liberties are going to continue and we have to go through other systems, potentially, Bitcoin being a catalyst for that. I think that’s good. I think people are waking up. People know something’s wrong inherently. You just feel it in the air with the growing inequality, the growing tension, the growing social cohesion. I don’t want to sound bombastic or anything, but it’s time for a revolution to crawl back liberties and freedom in the digital age, which is becoming glaringly obvious that the trend these political systems are taking us down and these state entities are taking us down is completely Orwellian. You’re going to have the Chinese surveillance state exported to the rest of the world if we don’t fight to claw back freedoms right now.
Alex, would you agree that the natural tendency of centralized governments is toward more centralization and less freedom over time?
I don’t know. I mean, I think that historically, from really bird’s eye wide perspective, government seems to be inevitably becoming more decentralized. I mean, we used to all have kings, we all used to live in feudal systems. Most of us were serfs, right? There were a couple kings, couple princes, a couple people in the merchant class, but everybody else was just farming or doing whatever you could to survive. And that was sort of the way the world was for many thousands of years, and even before that, it was even worse in terms of like being nasty, brutish, and short.
And I always remind people, I try to, in my advocacy, that half the world still lives under authoritarianism, but roughly, the other half doesn’t, right? And there’s some incredible societies that have been built out there, whether it’s in Northern Europe, or Eastern Asia, or places ranging from Estonia to Costa Rica, to certain states in the United States that function really well, to Canada, etc. So, when you compare what we have today to what we had several hundred years ago, I mean, it’s not even close along any kind of possible metric, whether you think of be life expectancy, literacy rates, how much electricity per capita we have available to us, the fact that we can work all night instead of being in the dark. I mean, we’re clearly advancing as a civilization from that perspective.
And I would also say just internally in America, I do agree with Marty that there’s been some really depressing trends with basically just more restrictions, and I’m especially concerned about the restrictions around privacy and about finance, but you also have to remember that less than 100 years ago, or 100 years ago, we’re talking a huge number of people in this country didn’t have the same rights as others. I mean, we’re talking women had to fight to get the right to vote. Obviously, blacks weren’t legally treated as equals for a long, long, long time. Obviously, gays weren’t treated as equals, still aren’t entirely treated as equals. So, when we talk about equality of opportunity, which is something I deeply believe in, and I think equality of outcome, obviously, is a scam, but equality of opportunity is quite important. And we’ve made really big strides there. It’s quite impressive. So, that’s been somewhat inspiring.
There’s also some interesting trends that seem very positive in our country in terms of things like just decriminalization of marijuana is really important. I mean, that the war on drugs is one of the biggest blights on our nation and contributes to our world worst prison problem, which is probably the greatest embarrassment I have as an American, is our prison system, and how many people we lock up for nonviolent crimes. That’s improving pretty dramatically actually if you look at it in terms of how many states are slowly legalizing marijuana. I think that’s a really big deal.
I don’t want to be all dark here. I mean, I think there’s some mega trends here where you have more and more people who, they didn’t choose the way they were born, they were born a certain race, or they had a certain predilection, or whatever they had, opportunities are opening up for them legally speaking in the court of law, where now they’re going to be hopefully treated the same as anyone else, right? That’s a really big progress that we’re seeing. We’re also seeing major progress in some of these areas in terms of decriminalization of drugs. So, those are two things that I don’t think we should forget. But I do generally agree that the proliferation of restrictions around privacy and the sort of nanny state trend is certainly worrisome, but these two trends are kind of happening at the same time so sometimes it’s hard to track. Does that make sense?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Marty has gone black. There you are, Marty. Yeah, it does absolutely make sense. And I wanted to kind of piggyback on something that Marty was talking about and kind of toss the same question over to you, Marty. There seems to be the sort of natural evolution of… And Brandon Quittem recently wrote about this, and you highlighted it in the Bent, kind of these generational turnings, right? So, sort of cycles where you have this revolution, you sort of increase individual freedom, you kind of break up these centralized institutions, as you’ve lost faith in them, and then slowly over time, we sort of rebuild those centralized institutions and maybe we see individual freedoms and decentralization of government and decision making decrease.
I mean, we can use money as an example, the control of money. The founding fathers used a couple of great quotes that we’ve probably all heard before but I think are worth reiterating. From Jefferson, “Bank paper must be suppressed and the circulating medium must be restored to the nation, to whom it belongs. The Washington paper money has had the effect in your state that it will ever have to ruin commerce, suppress the honest, and open the door to every species of fraud and injustice.” The initial bank, the First Bank of the United States is what it was called, was based on a gold standard, right? And we didn’t see a Fiat standard really emerged until 1862 with the Civil War and the greenback, and we’ve gone back and forth. That’s kind of a metaphor for the swinging of the pendulum, back and forth between sort of decentralization and centralization of control in general.
Do you feel like we sort of are on the extreme side of centralization at this point and do you think that the constitution and our amendments, Bill of Rights and the amendments to the Constitution are nimble enough at this point to actually allow that pendulum to swing back some without there needing to be a violent revolution?
I don’t have faith that we’ll be able to change the system to the traditional routes. That’s not to say that we’re doomed if we don’t do that, but I don’t know, it’s tough. I like the Buckminster Fuller quote, “You don’t change an existing system by working within it, you have to create a completely different system separate of that system to change the paradigm.” And I think that’s true in this case.
I like to talk a lot about, and I’ve made this analogy on the podcast before, when our representative democracy was first designed, why was it designed the way it was? Why do we have representatives at the state and local level? Why do we have congressmen at the state level? Why do we have a president? Why do they meet centrally in Washington DC? At the time, it was impossible for a colonists and the citizens of the country to actually communicate with each other outside of the mailing system, which was on horseback and took days to get messages across the world.
So, digital world in which social media and the ability to communicate directly and instantaneously with each other, I think the mechanics of politicians, particularly, if you just look at them as variables and cogs in a machine to serve a certain purpose, which back in the day when government was first designed was to meet in a central location so these politicians can represent your individual voice and speak on your behalf locally in DC to form laws and amendments and stuff like that, I just don’t think that’s the reality of the times that we live in today. You don’t need anybody to speak on behalf of you, you can speak on behalf of yourself via the communication technology that exists. That’s not to say, I’m not like advocating for direct democracy, I don’t know what the solution is. I just don’t think the design of our political system, particularly here in the United States, is conducive for the pace of information spread that we have on the Internet and in the digital age. We move too slow.
And that’s the other thing. The percolation information throughout the political system is just not efficient at all. By the time these politicians finally get a bill to the floor or able to actually work on a policy, information has changed so fast on the ground, things are changing so quickly here, and I do think it’s a very inefficient process.
And again, another thing you have to think of at the inception of the country too is, what was the point of the government? Was it just to limit the intrusion of personal liberty? I think it’s safe to say, resoundingly, even though Alex listed off a bunch of examples of people becoming more liberated throughout the last century, which I do not deny at all, it’s those were the liberation of groups that were able to participate in our democracy that previously weren’t able to, but if you think about the individual, no matter what group they represent or they fall under according to certain descriptions, the individual certainly had a large intrusion on their civil liberties over the last 50 to 100 years. And I don’t think it’s going to be changed in DC, I think we’re going to have to slowly but surely sort of exit that system, and tools like Bitcoin help us do that. I think, again, there’s a natural entropy to this stuff and I think it’s starting to run its course.
Interesting, Alex, I mean, what do you have to say to that? Do you think that is it possible or what are the chances that we could sort of create a new system of governance at this point? There’s so much inertia behind the way that the Western world has been operating its governments, and do you think we need that, or is separation of money and state kind of enough to help right the ship?
Yeah, I mean I broadly believe what the cypherpunks believe, that technology will change the world as opposed to policy, and that society follows technology, and if you really want to change the world, work on technology. And back in the ’80s and ’90s, this is something that ended up being really prescient, right? But I mean, there is certainly a place for law and for government policy as it follows technology to avert disaster, or to go in a slightly better way or a way that opens up enormous possibilities that maybe societies didn’t even see. So, I’ll give the example of Section 230, right?
So, back in the 90s, lawmakers in DC made this policy that said that no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider, and it seemed maybe innocuous at the time, but it really gave birth to this huge, enormous Internet that we have now, which I personally enjoy. I mean, now it’s coming into question whether it can sustain itself moving forward. But the very fact that you could blog in the early 2000s and get your voice out, or you could start using Twitter when it first came out without the service that you’re on being afraid of getting sued was such a huge thing that allowed, again, the flowering of, really, the Internet generation. That wasn’t going to happen in China. I mean, laws get created with the opposite effect in dictatorships.
So, I wouldn’t rule this out. I do think we’ll follow technology, and the success of our nation will very much depend on how our policymakers chart the course as we follow technology. And in this case, obviously, for us here, we’re focused on finance, we’re focused on Bitcoin. And I’m skeptical, but we have precedent that we can make laws that will help lead us to more prosperous times. I’m very out on that for people who live in dictatorships, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but for people who live in democracies where we can campaign, we can push, we can lobby, we can whistle blow, we can expose, there’s certain ways where we could get what we want that isn’t just technology, that kind of follows technology. And that’s why on a long bed, I would obviously bet on liberal democracies over any other kind of political system, simply because it’s just more open and there’s more possibilities.
But I wouldn’t count out some sort of huge section 230-esque foundational piece of policy to come into play in the next year or two, some Supreme Court ruling about Bitcoin that actually, who knows, maybe it’s really good for us. I mean, I’d be curious to hear what Marty has to say on that, but, I mean, it’s not impossible. I think, you got to follow what Coin Center’s doing, but it’s not impossible that some of these scary things can get overturned and that people on the Supreme Court, if they’re strict about interpreting the Constitution, hey, maybe they protect our rights and create precedent that helps us be sovereign. I don’t know if Marty can react to that, but that’s my interest.
Before we go over to Marty to react to that, can you tell us what section 203 is, Alex?
It’s actually 230. Yes, section 230 is part of the Communications Decency Act in 1996, and it’s turned out, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other civil libertarians, to be what they call one of the most valuable tools for protecting free expression on the Internet. It’s interesting. You have to dig into it, but again, the nut graph is that no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
So, this kind of creates a shield for people to go onto these platforms and say what they want without the platform being afraid of getting sued. It’s allowed, obviously, for YouTube, or Vimeo, for God knows whatever else you’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter, and I understand we’ve got new problems now with disinformation. But I’d rather have disinformation than fricking government propaganda and censorship. I mean, you got to choose your evils here. But it’s not impossible that there could be some sort of Section 230-esque law in the Bitcoin realm where maybe in the next year or two, some court case goes up to the Supreme Court and they determine and policy ensues that governments can’t force people who hold Bitcoin to denounce their holdings or who knows what, I mean, we have to see, but these are things that can be shaped I do believe. I may be skeptical of them saving us, but it’s a possibility for us in America. Not going to happen in China.
Right, right. Marty, what are your thoughts, man?
Yeah. I’m thinking back, particularly to a conversation I had with Preston Byrne on the podcast, who is a lawyer, and he put out there that running a Bitcoin full node is an act of political speech, so therefore should be protected by the First Amendment. And I think I’m interested to see how Bitcoin does present itself in the court system here in the United States, particularly because I do think it’s inevitable it’ll happen someday, to some extent, whether or not it is brought to the Supreme Court on the guise of helping criminals, or sanction countries route around the travel rule in sanctions, or whether or not it is actually an act of free speech to run a full node. I would much prefer the latter because I think that would hold up particularly well in the Supreme Court, and I think it is a true statement, like running a full node and saying, “Hey, I support this network and the rules that are dictated by this software and I should be able to express my support for this network as a free American.”
And I think if you do that, it actually hearkens to that FAA, but we’re not going to have the same money until we wrest control of it from the hands of the government. Maybe this is the sly roundabout way that you actually get civil liberties back to a point and actually sort of eliminate all the overarching regulations that are being thrown at Bitcoin, including the travel rule, because hey, running a full node and accepting and receiving Bitcoin transactions via that full node is an act of free speech and active political speech and is protected by the First Amendment.
And that’s something I’ve been pushing heavily for and what I would like Coin Center and the HODLpacs of the world to really freeing Bitcoin on Capitol Hill as an act of free speech, it is code at the end of the day. It is simply text that you download and run and it just so happens to create this distributed messaging protocol, but has a sound monetary token attached to it. I do think maybe that is the roundabout way via the traditional political system that you preserve and claw back those civil liberties, if you’re able to get Bitcoin declared as free speech, free political speech, and then that allows you to use your Bitcoin node any way that you want to. It sort of makes all the other overarching financial regulations moot at that point.
Yeah. So, this is the same idea that allowed encryption to be kind of distributed to the masses, the idea that it falls under the auspices of free speech under the First Amendment. And those arguments are being made now that Bitcoin relies on encryption, that it’s speech, that it’s code, that essentially just comes down to being words or a code of some kind that is transmitted between people and it’s effectively speech. That idea, like you said, would have to be upheld in the courts, Alex, because we’re seeing legislation, and we can talk about that right. I want to talk about the lawful access to Encrypted Data Act and the Travel Rule, which are both running through government agencies right now. First, we can talk about the Travel Rule, which has been-
Before you get there-
Yeah, go ahead.
… I just want to comment on two things that some of you may have used. I’m sure a lot of you have used one of these things, maybe some or the other, but just look at Tor project and signal. I mean, if you look at Tor, I asked one of my friends at the EFF a few months ago about this, I don’t think any American has ever been arrested for running a Tor Exit Node, okay? I mean, we do have these rights that don’t exist in other countries and courts uphold them, and when you think about signal, sure, it’s open source, but Moxie Marlinspike’s got a huge team. They’re over here in California, They’re big, big organization. And they’ve they’ve been able to defend themselves as a great New Yorker profile recently, they’ve been able to defend themselves against government requests for… They don’t have a lot of user data, but obviously, they have phone numbers, but they’ve been able to defend themselves really well. Again, not happening in China.
I mean, you have to have a legal framework for the builders to build. I mean, I don’t believe Bitcoin is stoppable, but at the end of the day if you go back and look at the early ’90s and look at the cypherpunks, yes, technology was the thing and it was about writing unstoppable code, but the FBI, and the NSA, and the CIA, they were trying to stop the proliferation of this, and at the end of the day, they ended up losing in courts. I still don’t think encryption was stoppable, obviously, it was like hilarious because they would put the code on T‑shirts, or put it in their email signature line just to prove how unstoppable it was, but the government can still come and arrest people if they have a monopoly of violence.
So, again, just this idea that we have this society where that doesn’t have to happen all the time, that we can actually protect ourselves, not just through technology, but laws, very, very powerful. So, I just wanted to make that point.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for making the points. Well taken. I thought we could talk a little bit more specifically about the Travel Rule and this kind of anti privacy, anti encryption law that’s making its way and proposed by Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn. It’s called the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, and while the bill does not call for an end to encryption technology outrights, which would certainly be challenged in the courts, I’m sure, but tech firms have argued that there’s no way for lawful access to occur that would not break encryption, the security provided by encryption for all users. Two questions here, and Marty, you can start on this one.
One. What do you think, in general, about these pieces of legislation that are being prosed all the time, quite often now, that violate privacy for Americans? And, secondly, do you think that it even matters at this point? Is encryption as secure and as useful as we think it is or do you think hardware back doors and other methods used by spy agencies, for instance, have compromised it more than we sort of think it has?
Yeah. So, to touch on the first question about the Travel Rule, yeah, I mean, I think Alex touched on a bit earlier, they’re outdated, particularly the Bank Secrecy Act, which was pushed through law, I believe, in 1970 or 1971. At the time, it said, any transactions over $10,000 have to be reported. And if you adjust that for inflation today, that number would have to be something like 70, or $80,000 to be equal with what it was in 1970. We’re actually trying to lower that barrier now. So, in terms of purchasing power, it’s just widened the net of the amount of people that become deemed suspicious in the eyes of the Bank Secrecy Act.
And then the Travel Rule, this is something I’ve been harping on a lot and I think more and more people need to talk about. The Financial Action Task Force is the entity that basically writes the guidelines, suggests the guidelines other countries should follow within the purview of the Travel Rule, and it’s created by this unelected supranational regulatory body that nobody asked for and nobody voted on, more importantly, and they get to dictate… I mean, they don’t officially write the laws, but they write the guidelines that then become the laws and dictate that banks are now virtual asset service providers, have to share certain information about their customers with each other. And yes, it is a complete invasion of privacy.
The financial system, big tech, and big retail have proven time and time again that they do not have the ability to properly secure the data that’s being shared, very personal data, social security numbers, home addresses, phone numbers, spouses, all this crazy, intimate personal information being stored on very insecure databases that are proven time and time and time and time again to be hacked and to leak that data. And then on top of that, the whole guise for these laws and these regulations being put into place in the first place is to curb money laundering and crime that is perpetrated by drug dealers, sex traffickers and other criminals, mostly people doing political crime, actually paying to have stuff get pushed through a political system. And it’s the same institutions, mainly the big banks, that have proven time and time again that if the customer is willing to pay enough, they will let these criminals get away with this, like the Mexican drug cartels, Jeffrey Epstein had a bank account at Deutsche Bank after he got out of jail in 2008.
They’re not even stopping the biggest perpetrators of the crimes are they’re attempting to stop with these laws. They’re actually letting the biggest perpetrators of these crimes basically route around the system and work through the system if they’re willing to pay up. So, you’re, number one, hurting the individual by forcing them to give up a bunch of their personal information that is likely inevitably going to be hacked and distributed on the dark web, but number two, it’s all bullshit because the people who are actually money laundering the most money, trafficking the most people and drugs are actually able to work within the system, and the banks that facilitate that activity just get a slap on the wrist in form of a fine. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s inhumane. I forgot the second part of the question because I got so heated there.
It’s all right. You talked about both of these laws that are sort of being proposed right now and working their way through the system-
Could I just add some color to that.
So again, I’ve been doing all this research for this paper, and I’ll just give the listeners just a very brief thumbnail backstory. The Supreme Court case that started all this emotion was United States versus Miller, basically, which ended up legitimizing things like the Bank Secrecy Act by ruling that bank records are not protected under the Fourth Amendment, right? And this established what’s called the third party doctrine, which holds that citizens who voluntarily provide financial information to banks have no expectation of privacy. And this is what over time has enabled the government, it has given them legal precedent, at the Supreme Court level, to collect financial data from banks without a warrant or without probable cause, thus, we have this mass surveillance state from a financial perspective.
Coin Center has done some work in this space, and they’ve basically pointed out that when this happened, when the BSA was introduced then when it was later legitimized, the dissenting justices in these cases were very concerned about the privacy leaks that would happen through intermediaries, etc, etc. And you have to remember, at that time, most transactions, most small transactions at the time were done with paper money, right? And there was no big sort of data market, big brother thing that could suck up our data and learn about what we’re doing, and trace us, and engineer us, and sell us or whatever. It didn’t exist. So, they were concerned even then.
So, it’s interesting that a lot of these legal precedents have held for so many decades when things have changed so much. So, perhaps what we might see with perhaps a very constitutionalist strict Supreme Court now or whatever, perhaps is a revisiting of some of these cases about individual privacy when it comes to finance. And just when it comes to the travel rule, which of course is, again, as Marty said, a recommendation made by this unelected group of rogue states that include Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and Turkey, the US ultimately has to implement that.
It’s not like FATF dictates it, but FATF says it, and then the US often does what FATF recommends. Just the detail on that is that today, American financial institutions have to share information about transactions internationally of more than $3,000, right? So, that is something they just reveal or the government can have without a warrant. The proposed rule would mean surveillance for any international transaction of more than $250, okay? So, we’re talking about basically just like a huge expansion of the surveillance state, because so many of those transactions, whether they be remittances, maybe you Venmo somebody, maybe on TransferWise, Revolut, whatever, all those things are going to be surveilled now by the government without a warrant, if this passes, right?
And just to give you an idea of how the inflation plays into that, that $3,000 threshold, then, when all this stuff was legalized through the court system, was about $20,000 of today’s money. And the 250 was what was then 40. So, you’re now, just because of inflation, you’re just casting an ever wider net, you’re going up and up and up on transactions. So, we’re watching the growth of the American financial surveillance system happen in front of our eyes. And can the courts stop it? Maybe. I mean, probably not, but the answer is definitely not for folks who don’t have the opportunity to live in a free society.
Yeah. Marty, prospects of privacy tech on Bitcoin, because I think we all three agree here on the power of the cypherpunks writing code and unstoppable technology, exponential technologies being a much greater force for change than the political system that is, like you mentioned, slow and resistant to change, or even let alone revolution. What are your takes so far right now on the state of privacy, both on the base layer and on lightning, which is throwing a lot of promise and the big announcement you wrote about in the Bent today from Lightning Labs?
Yeah, I’m bullish, I think. Obviously just be up front with the state of the Bitcoin protocol in terms of being able to use in a private manner with ease. It’s definitely subpar. It’s not very easy to use Bitcoin privately unless you know exactly what to do. It has to be made easier for your average user, I think. But it has been made easier for your average user over time, over the first roughly 12 years of Bitcoin’s existence, and I think it will continue to get better. In terms of privacy attained via the protocol level, I think things like Schnorr and Taproot, if they’re implemented and when they’re implemented, there will certainly be a significant increase to the ability to perturb chain analysis heuristics that are used to track people throughout the Bitcoin blockchain at the protocol level.
I’m extremely bullish on privacy solutions, including Lightning. I think Lightning is going to be a great way to do that. I actually spoke with a gentleman from CommerceBlock today, it the company that’s making a stage chain implementation that’ll be implemented in a while called Mercury Wallet. That is a very unique aspect from a privacy perspective on a second layer solution. I think that in combinations with things like CoinJoin’s Wasabi Samurai Join market as well as CoinSwaps, which Chris Belcher is working on, as well as Pay to EndPoint are going to be very bullish on privacy for Bitcoin users in the future. Add Liquid to the mix there and Atomic Swaps between different second layer solutions.
Actually, on a 10 to 15 year timeline, I’m not really worried about people being able to use Bitcoin privately. I think it’s going to be pretty easy to attain sufficient privacy using Bitcoin with the combination of the protocol level and the second layer solutions that are coming to market. And I think it’s imperative that Bitcoin wants to succeed in the long run. I know there’s a lot of people who believe it only needs to be sound money, and it can be fully transparent, and you can know who has what, when, and it can still work, but I think the privacy tech only makes it more valuable and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.
Yeah. Alex, I want to get to you on privacy tech, but there is a question here Sean is very insistent that we talk about. Lightning Pool and the yield curve. He wants to hear from uncle Marty about… There we go, the yield curve, get to the yield curve. What is the significance of something like Lightning Pool being able to establish a yield curve for Bitcoin?
The significance is that it creates a real rate of return for your Bitcoin, obviously. It gives a time value to Satoshis. Like if you’re willing to give up your Satoshis for X amount of time, here’s the interest rate attached to that, here’s the value in the form of an interest rate attached to that. If you’re going to lock up your Satoshis to provide liquidity… And we’re talking about Lightning Pool specifically in this implementation. If you lock up your Satoshis for X duration of time and the person you give access to the Satoshi is willing to pay X interest rate, that is they are defining, in a free market, what the actual time value of your Bitcoin is, which is a fundamental building block of a robust financial system, lending markets.
I know Bitcoin is a fully reserved sound monetary system, but you are going to have lending. On top of Bitcoin, people are going to lend out bitcoins if they’re willing to so that others can start businesses and try to get a rate of return and create businesses that provide revenue above the original loan value so that they can get a rate of return.
And so the significance of Lightning Pool specifically is that you’re able to determine that rate of return in a truly capitalistic and free market fashion where it’s noncustodial, you literally just have a protocol, a pool protocol, where people willing to provide liquidity, which are large node operators that have channels with enough capacity, they are lending out their capacity to users who want to get bootstrapped onto the Lightning network specifically and use it as quickly as possible. And the amount they’re willing to pay to get on the Lightning network to leverage that is the real rate of return and the real time value of the Sats held in the Lightning network representing that interest rate that user buying channel capacity is willing to pay.
So, from a perspective of financialization of Bitcoin at a native level, it’s massive because it allows a free market solution to actually determine a real rate of return, and at no point are you giving up custody of your Bitcoin to anybody else. It’s held in a multisig, and nobody’s going to steal your Bitcoin. So, if you compare it to a centralized solution like BlockFi, they have their interest bearing account where you can give them your Bitcoin and they’ll lock it up, but then they’ll lend it out to the other side, to traders, and their bet is that the traders will be profitable enough that they’ll be able to pay back that interest rate so that BlockFi makes a profit. Alternatively, on the Lightning network via Lightning Pool, you’re basically getting a profit and able to produce an interest rate on any Bitcoin that you lock up by providing utility to individuals who want to use the Lightning network, which is pretty massive.
Yeah, that’s pretty huge. Raoul Pal talks about Bitcoin as like a pristine reserve asset, and the next level of sort of becoming the global reserve asset and really competing against the dollar and treasuries in that way is establishing a yield curve. And the fact that it can happen and it’s emerging now in a free market fashion is huge, and not being set artificially by governments or central banks is a big deal.
Hyper bullish indeed, and it’s fun to watch this actual decentralized and free market finance emerge on top of Bitcoin. I know that people get impatient to get these things developed, but when you’re dealing with money and a global system for the transfer of value, and 250 billion dollars at this point, potentially trillions of dollars over the next few years, you got to move intentionally and slowly. So, we respect that development coming out of Lightning Labs. They’re doing great work.
Let’s get back into this privacy question, Alex. And thanks, Shawn, for that question out of YouTube. What do you think are the prospects for privacy in Bitcoin to establish real privacy, both, obviously, in the United States policy-wise or encouraging policy to develop in that direction, but also globally, more importantly in nations that don’t have a legal system to help, at least in some way, shape or form, protect privacy?
Yeah. I mean, Bitcoin is digital cash, that’s what it wants to be, that’s what it was created as, obviously, an electronic peer to peer cash system, and some of that quest is going really well. What do people use cash to do? A couple different things, but a lot of the time they use it to hoard, in a positive way, they use it to save in a way that’s hard for someone to steal, or hard for someone to freeze, or they can kind of extract their banknotes out of the system and hold them in a relatively sovereign way where the only kind of threat is the government devaluing that currency, which we can get to.
But generally speaking, Bitcoin replicates this function of cash really well for people in almost every country in the world today. So, when it comes to hoarding or saving, I think Bitcoin is doing really well and replicating that part of digital cash so far.
The other part of private or, truly, I mean, if you make a cash donation to a church box or something, it’s anonymous, needs a lot of work. I am optimistic but short term bearish on this. I mean, I think it’s just going to take more time. I think what Marty just walked us through is really promising because whenever people think they can make money and get involved in and put their capital to good use, supporting privacy, I’m very bullish about that. So, I think that’s what’s going to be necessary to keep us moving forward or economic incentives for privacy. So, Pool is a great thing to dive into, and hopefully, to follow.
But generally speaking, yes, and HRF has supported Chris Belcher, and I think privacy in Bitcoin is programmable and it’s going to continue. And look, some people out there like Adam back, others, believe in this dream of having confidential transactions on the main chain, assuming we can have auditability, and it’s possible. I mean, who knows? Maybe in two or three years, this ends up happening where it really improves privacy. So, I think all those things are possible but we’re not quite there yet.
The other part of digital cash, which is all related, where I think Bitcoin is, obviously, farthest behind is small transactions and using it to do your stuff. And I know that this has been much derided because of very early misguided attempts to kind of force Bitcoin to do this, but if Bitcoin truly is to be this useful, private, digital cash that we can save and exchange with each other, it’ll be important to have some level of ability to use it to buy stuff. So right now, it’s primarily used as like remittance and a savings vehicle, but it is possible, especially with usability and privacy improvements, and potentially, merchants like Square allowing more adoption of stuff like Lightning, it is possible that with second layer solutions, you could start getting a kind of a cash-like usability here for this thing. I think that’s the farthest down the road, but I think all these things are connected and related.
But generally, I guess, short term bearish but long term bullish on Bitcoin privacy. And again, sort of it’s connected to the other components of how Bitcoin is becoming digital cash.
Yeah. I think those are the two most revolutionary aspects of Bitcoin, separating money and state, decentralizing the control of money supply and fixing it in that sense, and then the ability to take back some privacy, monetary privacy that can, I hope, kind of institute amongst citizens around the world, this idea that we can take back privacy, we don’t have to be complacent about it or give up or feel like we have been beaten down.
All right, we’re going to wrap up here going back and talking a bit more about the election and the United States. Marty, I want to hear from you about this idea that there’s apathy, voter apathy out there, or the idea that we should just abstain from voting in elections. There’s record turnout this year, and I think expanded early voting in a lot of states is making a lot more accessible. Like you said earlier, there’s a stark difference in a lot of ways, not necessarily in other ways, but in a lot of ways apparently, and then people want to come out and voice their opinions on that front. Where do you fall on the idea of abstaining from participating in the right to vote?
I certainly think it’s your right and I tend to exercise that right. I’m a big believer in meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Alex actually sent me a thread from Glenn Greenwald earlier today in preparation for this conversation. I think it just hits at it well. So, the first tweet of the thread is this idea that everyone can relax and go to sleep and stop paying attention once the good parents, Joe and Kamala are in charge is creepy and authoritarian, but has happened on January 20, 2009, when the anti war, civil liberties and anti corporatist movement vanished overnight. And to me, the political speak and the politicking from the politicians it’s really not that different, whether it’s Democratic or Republican politicians in control. Like William Barr right now is trying to add back doors to encryption technology and he’s part of Trump’s administration. Trump has continued the drone strikes in Yemen that Obama started. I’m a big believer in meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
I will concede that there may be a lesser of two evils, particularly around this election, but I don’t think it’s material enough to put all of your confidence in any one politician, particularly the president. I’m very bullish on creating freedom enabling technologies outside of the US political system specifically.
Oh, yeah, hell, yeah. Alex, you want to talk about exercising the right to vote and whether or not you think it’s important?
Well, that’s easy for me. It’s very important in the global context. I mean, again, it’s easy to be jaded, and I understand the meet the new boss, same as the old boss, but again, I mean, the next president is going to have a lot of big decisions, and people handle these things differently.
And those decisions gave us things like the Iraq war, and the war on terror, and the Vietnam War, and you can go back, and not all these things were completely inevitable. I mean, it might may have gone a little differently with a different person. The handling of the fall of the Berlin wall with George H.W. I mean, some of these things were handled well, some of them were handled really poorly, but the President is quite important. So, just for the sake of the people who live in fricking North Korea, you should go vote, would be my main takeaway.
But I do think something that I really wanted to touch on, maybe a good thing to sort of help include would be, especially if Biden is elected, we’re really possibly looking at this economic policy that’s going to rapidly shift more towards a sort of an MMT understanding of how the dollar system works. I think it’s probably inevitable, even with Trump, given the handouts he started to give out, and even though I think some of his policy advisors are going to be a little more reluctant to do this, kind of more bearish on this idea, but I think it’s inevitable that politicians get rid of this idea of the debt ceiling and they print a lot more money, and in the short term, it may go well.
So, the interesting thing is, I don’t know why bitcoiners would be opposed to this. We have our parallel savings system that we have, so it’s kind of like, “Hey, if they want to experiment with the nation’s money, hey, go for it. We’re covered. We’re going to be okay on our side.” And it’s our, I would say, responsibility to educate other people about this amazing technology so that they can also be involved in this, so that in case it doesn’t work out so well with the US dollar experiment, you at least have something. I don’t think anybody’s rooting for some sort of… I mean, trust me. Knowing a lot of Venezuelans and Zimbabweans, etc, you don’t want a dollar collapse. That would be so bad for the world in terms of every possible metric. But if it started to happen, at least you’d be kind of covered, right?
So, it’s just kind of an interesting thing to think about, is like Bitcoin and MMT as powerful forces dictating the next 20 years of, I think, economic life.
Yeah, the idea that Jerome Powell is going to win either direction. Here’s the cover of Barron’s, The Winner. “No matter what happens on Election Day, count on Fed Chairman Jerome Powell as the stabilizing force for the economy and the markets.” It recalls, I think, a time cover from 2008 about the plunge protection team here to save America. Times like this the media starts to glorify and making the heroes the people who are printing the money, because that’s what solving the problem, right? Yeah. Go ahead, Marty.
Well, I mean, that’s where the signal is, right? Who is really in control? We sit here and we squabble over politicians, Biden or Trump. I do think Biden would take us quicker down the MMT path towards the green New Deal, which I don’t think is a good idea and if I were, gun to my head, pick between Trump or Biden this election, honestly, I’d probably vote Trump. But with that being said, is that really where the power lies? It lies in the central banking system and the ability to print money ex nihilo so that you can misallocate the capital and just initiate these bad policies in the first place.
So, if you need to get to the core of where these problems are at, it’s the central banking system. There is no doubt in my mind that that is where the signal is, on that Barron’s cove, Jerome Powell. And that’s the other interesting thing, that is where the power lies, and he seems very vulnerable right now. He’s basically begging the politicians to do MMT and create a fiscal response because he is out of ammo. And in terms of who actually has the power and what is the source of these existential problems that we have in our society, it’s the money, it’s the money fix the world. You can’t have the ability to print money ex nihilo and misallocate capital on the levels and to the extent that we have as a society, here in America particularly, and not expect negative consequences.
Yeah, yeah. Alex, if you had to weigh the impacts that you think the centralized control of money versus centralized control of law has on humanity, what proportion would you say those two have in terms of detrimental effects?
Yeah. I think, obviously, the centralized control money is ameliorated if there’s an open society, which can have checks and balances on the people who control the money, obviously. So, you don’t see democracies go into hyperinflation, it just doesn’t happen, at least hasn’t yet. The societies that go into super high inflation over time that lead to the destruction of their currency or hyperinflation are countries at war, dictatorships, etc. They’re in shambles.
So, it helps if you have an open society, but ultimately, I mean, the temptation is just too strong, as Satoshi noted, to abuse and devalue for short term political gains. It’s very difficult to have this conversation because we don’t have counterfactuals, we live in the world and we don’t have other worlds to talk about, and we’ve seen such incredible progress in our world for the average person in their life in the fiat age, right? But there’s a lot of good arguments that stand that it’s not because of the wise decisions of the central bankers that we have these improvements, it’s rather actually because of technology and progress and civilizational advancement, and that’s kind of where I’d stand.
But again, it’s tough to talk to the average person about these things because they look at you like you’re crazy, because obviously, the world has improved dramatically for the average person by any metric over the last 50, 60, 70 years in terms of things like literacy rates, living standards, things like that, right? We all have these things in our pocket now, supercomputers, things like that. So, it’s fun to have this argument. We don’t have a counterfactual, we don’t have another world which isn’t fiat money, that didn’t go down that road, but ultimately, I do agree with, I think, the prevailing sentiment in the Bitcoin community, that it’s technology and sort of civilizational advancements that have brought us here, not the wise decisions of central bankers, and those will eventually fail us.
Yeah. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us on this Election Day, in this halving year. It’s been a big year for Bitcoin. We’re knocking on the door of price action going up 13,800 now, it’s been going up quite a bit, quite a rally over the last month or two. It should be shaping up to be a really exciting year once we get that loop, that feedback loop going of number go up and media attention and etc, etc. I think it’s just a win for all of us, for bitcoiners and for the world to get this idea out there more broadly.
Look, last election, it was $760. So, hey, we’ll see what happens in 2024. I hope we can do it again.
Yeah, that’s almost a 20X increase in the last four years. So yeah, it’s going to be an exciting time, and this election, I think, is going to be interesting to see how it plays out. Either way, I think we’re going to continue to go down the path of money printing, maybe more extreme on one case than the other, but I don’t think it really matters for Bitcoin. Vote with your node. Run a node, exit the system, vote for the separation of money and state, vote for your own monetary sovereignty, and just kind of keep a voice out there. Keep your voice up and raised.
And I think we’re going to have quite a bit of work to do to really commit as bitcoiners to carrying this flag, and it’s not always going to be easy, and we’re going to need to have to fight. And I think we’re here, shows like this to do this. I really appreciate the work of both of you fighting on that front. Thanks to everyone who is listening, who’s in the chat for fighting on that front as well. Run your nodes. Keep bitcoining. Gentlemen, thanks so much. Appreciate your time.
Thanks for having us on.
Can I say one thing? Fight to bring civility back too. We need to have civility in these conversations, even when you’re approaching nocoiners. Inability to have civil conversations these days is a net negative. Try to be civil with people.
Absolutely, absolutely. Before we head out, please smash that like button. It does help get this video out even after the live broadcast, so it’ll show up in people’s feeds. And also, swanbitcoin.com/dailybuys, get in on that action. Swanbitcoin.com/freebook. Grab Yan’s book, grab Inventing Bitcoin. Read it, share it, spread the Bitcoin knowledge, spread the love. That’s how we’re going to keep this thing rolling. Number go up, and education. I think that’s the formula for us. All right? Thanks, everyone. Take care.
Episode 8 –Andy Edstrom and Ansel Linder
Episode 9 –Rockstar Developer and Jeremy Rubin
Episode 10 – Bitcoin TINA and CK Snarks
Episode 11– Gigi and Knut Svanholm
Episode 12 –Adam Back and Preston Pysh
Episode 13 –Alex Gladstein and Matt Odell
Episode 14 –Robert Breedlove and Tuur Demeester
Episode 15 –Isaiah Jackson and Max Keiser
Episode 16 –Gigi and Udi Wertheimer
Episode 17 –Aleks Svetski and Jimmy Song
Episode 18 –Stephan Livera and Marty Bent
Episode 19 –Mark Moss and Ben Prentice
Episode 20 –Samson Mow and Parker Lewis
Episode 21–Lyn Alden and Jeff Booth
Episode 22– Robert Breedlove and Cory Klippsten
Episode 23 — Saifedean Ammous and George Gammon
Episode 24 –Jameson Lopp and Eric Martindale
Episode 25 –Preston Pysh and Andy Edstrom
Episode 26 –Lyn Alden and Nic Carter
Episode 27 — Erik Townsend and Yan Pritzker
Episode 28 — Max Keiser and Tone Vays
Episode 29 –Preston Pysh and Andy Edstrom
Episode 30–Raoul Pal and Vijay Boyapati
Episode 31–Dan Tapiero and Dan Matuszewski
Episode 32–Robert Breedlove and Parker Lewis
Episode 33– Danielle DiMartino Booth and Michael Saylor
Episode 34– Jeff Deist and Stephan Livera
Episode 35–Will Reeves and Yan Pritzker
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