A 12-part essay series exploring the digital disruption of the nation-state and the subsequent amplification of individual sovereignty during the digital age. This series is based on the 1997 masterwork: The Sovereign Individual.
In Sovereignism Part 1, we explored the creative destruction of nation-states wrought by the technologies and self-organizing socioeconomic systems of the digital age. In Part 2, we take a closer look at a key catalytic innovation behind the global transition to sovereignism: Bitcoin. Analogizing Bitcoin as the “ultimate offshore bank” is a useful mental tool that can help us better understand the mega-political forces, game-theoretic considerations, and economic incentives propelling this emigration of capital into the digital high seas of the 21st century.
Digital High Seas
Cyberspace is the ultimate offshore jurisdiction. An economy with no taxes. Bermuda in the sky with diamonds.— The Sovereign Individual
International waters have historically been the greatest geographic safe haven from nation-states. Gamblers, pirates, smugglers, and other sinners seeking to engage in state-condemned activities willingly make use of this ungovernable territory. This oceanic realm is rife with high degrees of risk, reward, and self-responsibility. But exactly why is maritime law so different from the legal systems operating within terrestrial nation-states? A simple cost-benefit provides the root cause: given the sheer size and uninhabitability of the high seas, the revenues a taxing authority might hope to generate by establishing a permanent dominion there are far outweighed by the necessary costs of enforcement. Even assuming economic activity exhibited sufficient density on the high seas to justify a profitable tax regime, the cost of defending this monopoly from other profit-seeking states would need to be carefully considered. For these economic reasons, international waters are the ultimate “wild, wild west” where states expend tremendous resources just to protect their territorial monopolies from naval assault.
Even stable states are mostly unable to profitably extort commercial activities on the high seas. Since the flow of water on Earth largely shapes the bounds of state dominion (many rivers and coastlines carve out the shapes of nation-states), the dominant power in these boundary territories tends to be dominant geopolitically. Aquatic access offers economic advantages: in moving energy or mass (mass is frozen energy) across spacetime, the hydraulic forces of water help mankind overcome the frictions of gravity, thus radically improving productivity. Pushing a 10 ton load on land takes exponentially more energy than pushing the same load on water. As a highly dynamic and low friction territory, water is an accelerant to the energy network of trade yet simultaneously an impediment to the establishment of permanent dominion. This makes coastline control a major geopolitical advantage. Indeed, unimpeded access to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans was key to 20th century US dominance, both economically and militarily. Considered in combination, the violence monopoly that can bring the most force to bear on the seas is usually the nation-state supreme. As naval strategist Alfred T. Mahan wrote in his classic The Influence of Sea Power Upon History:
Being surrounded by the vast emptiness of the high seas is a natural defensive advantage. The costs necessary for a tax authority to surveil, patrol, and collect in oceanic territory are simply staggering. Tax regimes must focus their efforts on terrestrial areas of high economic density to be profitable. Interestingly, economic dynamics of the high seas can help us understand the advantages of commerce in digital space.
Imagine that all commercial activity left its terrestrial base and was instead conducted aboard ships dispersed widely across the open waters of the world. Now imagine each one of these enterprising vessels had a cloaking device, rendering it invisible to the eye and undetectable by radar or any other means of surveillance. Imagine further that knowledge as to the identities of all souls sailing these high seas, all capital under their command, and all communications between them are veiled under a similar cloak of epistemic opacity. Finally, imagine this oceanic marketplace is suddenly ballooned to the size of the observable universe. How expensive and difficult do you imagine it would be to regulate such a stealth and expansive economy? Fantastical as all this may sound, commerce, identities, and capital domiciled in digital space enjoy equivalent advantages of defensibility, concealment, and untraceability. Although not yet mainstream, encryption technology continues to advance at an accelerating rate, rapidly reifying this analog fantasy into a digital reality for sophisticated sovereignists worldwide.
As the configuration of 20th century nation-states evinces, it is difficult to project dominion across the seas. In this way, the imaginary construction equating digital space to the high seas is useful for discerning the challenges posed to all unilateral attempts at controlling people in the 21st century. Would-be victims of economic tyranny now have recourse to the only inviolable safe haven for capital — Bitcoin. Nation-state power is premised on its capacity to confiscate wealth, an attack vector that stands to be largely neutralized by digital technologies. Sometimes the best way to meet an attack is with empty space, and the digital domain enables emptiness to achieve a vastness of cosmic proportions. With digital technologies, information and capital can be moved at the speed of light, cloaked behind walls of encrypted energy, and stored “everywhere and nowhere” in a seemingly limitless array of ways, limited only by developer imagination. Said succinctly: impenetrable digital defenses defy force. With the advent of Bitcoin, information, money, and memory have achieved an irreversible fusion: a path-dependent event forever altering the fluxions of socioeconomic self-organization.
Money without corporeality has mind-boggling implications. Every attempted unilateral transfer of economic value — inflation, non-consensual taxation, and direct confiscation — drives greater demand for more theft-proof capital. At the farthest end of the confiscation-resistance spectrum is the steady burning glow of Bitcoin. As citizens awaken to the natural advantages of sheltering their savings across the uncrossable chasm of the digital high seas, a feedback loop between escalating government overreach and digital escapism will emerge, with heavier-handed attempts at control driving ever-larger waves of capital flight. In self-defeating desperation, the tighter governments grasp, the faster hyper-portable capital will slip between their fingers and into the digital ether. With no regard for decrees, game theory always governs human action.
A direct result of governments tightening their grips is growth in Bitcoin’s market capitalization and network security, along with a commensurate shrinking in its perceived risk of ownership (hard money is a Veblen good). A recent example of this is the Nigerian central bank ban on Bitcoin, which has only accelerated local Bitcoin adoption. Ultimately, this dynamic will spin into a global game-theoretic vortex pulling all monetary capital into the ultimate offshore bank: Bitcoin. As government revenues collapse, the functions they traditionally provided — like voting, private property rights, identity, public services, defense, and many others — will cease, creating a vacuum in the marketplace for entrepreneurs to fulfill unsatisfied wants. A blue ocean of new market opportunities will burst forth as nation-state monopolies disintegrate. Dematerialized money demonopolizes most markets, since it minimizes the attack surface necessary for effective legislation and coercion, thereby deeming forcefulness decreasingly useful (with the exceptions of direct ransom and extortion, which are not scalable). In this way, buying Bitcoin is the big short on statism. Some of the greatest minds of our time have already chosen their side in this historic trade:
Life is a series of trades involving trade-offs. Individuals successfully anticipating and adapting to these mega-political sea changes will rise to power in a sovereignistic world. And key to the success of sovereignists on the digital high seas is capital access, privacy, and preservation.
Digital Offshore Banking
When this greatest tax haven of them all is fully open for business, all funds will essentially be offshore funds at the discretion of their owner.— The Sovereign Individual
In the 20th century, offshore banking became a preferred means of wealth protection. Insulation from seizure is in high demand by plunderer and plunderable alike, who both seek to shelter their funds from the confiscatory reach of others. Offshore banks are tax havens, social institutions that have existed ever since governments decided to finance themselves through unilateral taxation and inflation. But tax havens haven’t always been banks. Ancient Rome gives us the example of a tax-free port established on the island of Delos with the intention of undercutting competing jurisdictions and drawing economic activity into its harbors. The Delosian tax-free port was one of the original tax havens. Rhodes, a neighboring Greek island state, quickly lost trade to this tax-free port, and declined as a commercial power in the ancient world. An important lesson is available here: when properly armed with the optionality of competing service provider offerings, customers dictate the fate of markets. Clearly, customers always prefer to pay less for equal services. A similar principle pushes capital into the safest storehouses available in each era of history. In more recent history, banks have become bastions for safe capital storage.
A swiss bank account is perhaps the most infamous modern example of a tax haven. In the early 1800s, Switzerland declared itself a neutral state. Over the next 100 years, its banks gradually became an offshore tax haven for European elite. Following World War I in the early 1900s, this small Swiss industry began to boom. Due to the devastation suffered across Europe during the war, most governments were forced to raise taxes for reconstruction. By virtue of its geopolitical neutrality, Switzerland was not heavily damaged by the war, and therefore was able to keep its taxes low in comparison to its more belligerent neighbors. This asymmetry of governance philosophy attracted great flows of capital into Switzerland. Leveraging its nation-state’s geopolitical neutrality and the topological advantages of being encompassed by large mountain ranges in the heart of Europe, Swiss banking soon developed a reputation for high quality service geared toward an international clientele. Naturally, everyone desires to “hold the keys” to their own financial wellbeing, and historically Swiss bank accounts offered customers superior assurances of financial accessibility, privacy, and security. Across these desirous dimensions, Bitcoin excels by many orders of magnitude.
As a public utility that facilitates trade flows of private property, Bitcoin offers universal financial accessibility. A private key — the informational bearer asset allowing one to use Bitcoin — can be stored in analog, digital, or even biological memory. Private keys can be used to initiate Bitcoin transactions from anywhere in the world with telecommunications access, at any time of day. Holding one’s own private keys is the holy grail of self-sovereignty. Although Bitcoin’s transaction history is universally transparent, the ownership linkages between keys and holders can only be established through surveillance, and nascent software developments like Taproot continue to enhance Bitcoin’s privacy. With proper opsec, Bitcoin is true stealth wealth. In terms of security, the Bitcoin network is the most powerful and secure computing network in history. By virtue of being a pure digital money, Bitcoin can be stored in a wide variety of ultra high security custody schemas that are virtually immune to confiscation. Critically, Bitcoin is the only money in history absolutely immune to confiscation via inflation. Taken in combination, the accessibility, privacy, and security assurances of Bitcoin make it the uncontested tax haven of choice for all 21st century sovereignists.
By virtue of being “the ultimate offshore bank” in the 21st century, Bitcoin obliterates statism and nourishes an emergent global culture rooted in sovereignism.
Bitcoin is the soundest safe haven from unilateral inflation, taxation, and confiscation in human history. This digital free market monetary system finally returns “the keys to the castle” to their rightful owners — the individuals who sacrifice to produce the fruits of labor emblematized by money in the marketplace (but only those individuals holding their own private keys, Bitcoin held on an exchange is not Bitcoin). In this new paradigm, all capital stored in Bitcoin essentially constitutes “offshore funds” at the full discretionary control of their respective owners. Market actors are quickly realizing the importance of monetary sovereignty, and Bitcoin is rapidly flowing off exchange and into self-sovereign custody schemas:
The power, freedom, and sovereignty individuals gain by conducting their financial affairs in Bitcoin is an irrefutable Schelling point in the greatest adversarial game of them all — human action. Beyond being a game-changer, Bitcoin is an entirely new game — its derivative socioeconomic system of sovereignism promises to improve fortunes across the world as it incentivizes forsaking the use of force, forever.
The End of Mass Extortion
Power has always sought the readiest road to wealth by attacking those who were in possession of it.— William Playfair
In its grandest arc, civilizational advance is centrifugal to sovereignty: as market exchange makes us more productive through innovation and more virtuous through acculturation, power radiates toward the periphery. As sovereignty becomes more symmetrical, decrees and force lose relevance relative to economic efficiency. As the returns on politics and (its natural extension) violence decline, socioeconomic systems tend to become free-forming and decentralized, since under such conditions it is more profitable to cooperate than confiscate. An extreme example of this would be ancient hunter and gatherer society, in which violence could only win you the spoils from a single victim or small village, and the symmetry of information (reflected in the relative sophistication of ancient tools and armaments) was quite high, meaning that armed conflict was typically as risky as it was potentially rewarding. Although highly decentralized, the drawback of this ancient socioeconomic structure was defined by the axiom “might is right,” meaning that individual sovereignty was frequently disavowed by anyone carrying “a bigger stick.” As the first private property right not requiring protection through the threat of force, Bitcoin makes decentralized yet non-violent socioeconomic organization achievable. A profound innovation for civilization — perhaps unequaled since the invention of “clock time” — this global, digital, non-state digital cash permanently alters the logic of violence.
Force is the acceleration of energy across spacetime. The capacity to project and defend against force is a critical aspect in human affairs. Every age of civilization exhibits its own unique technological realities reflective of the magnitude and efficiency by which energy can be channeled through creations of the human intellect: including tools, money, and socioeconomic organizations. As one example of this process, consider how human weaponry has progressed from spears, to rifles, to nuclear bombs — each capable of channeling more force than the last. Typically, innovations in this area are catalyzed by warfare, which has a tendency to accentuate the necessities of survival among those it impacts. Necessity, it is said, is the “mother of invention.” Armed conflict is a forcing function that stimulates inventiveness; it is deeply related to the distinguishing feature of human action — the purposeful channeling of energy across spacetime toward the achievement of valued aims. War is the visceral collision of countervailing human wills, a hellfire which has repeatedly engulfed and redrawn the boundaries of civilizations across history. For these physical reasons, the methods by which mankind channels energy to wield coercion or violence — which are both force against others — are intimately intertwined with the shape of socioeconomic systems.
The calculus of violence contributes to why free market processes naturally favored monetary technologies that were hard to steal. Since the threat of violence is ever-present, people prefer to hold assets of maximum (exchange or utility) value relative to their costs to secure. Defensible, securable, and hard to produce assets are naturally resistant to the extortive efforts of others. These securability qualities were key to the selection of gold as money on the free market. Securability is a subset of the monetary property of portability, as assets with a high value to weight ratio are easier to move and less costly to secure. Bitcoin perfects the monetary property of portability, and its securability subset, by virtue of its digital purity: it can be moved at the speed of light and secured in any information-bearing medium. Solving the portability shortcomings of gold is one of the main reasons gold-backed currencies were introduced, which gave governments an attack vector to monopolize money supplies. Currency is a mechanism nation-states use to inflict mass extortion on societies through inflation and unilateral taxation.
Originally intended to energize and organize military forces, central banking (legal monopolies on money) have degenerated into systems of extortive force wielded unscrupulously upon citizens. Manipulation of monopolized money supplies is the primary lever governments have used to usurp sovereignty from individual citizens throughout the analog ages. From coin clipping to quantitative easing (QE), monetary meddling has always served a singular purpose: the extortion of citizens. Inflation here means specifically arbitrary increases in a money supply under legal monopoly control, and not symmetric supply expansion, like that occurring with the mining of gold or Bitcoin, or the issuance of free market bank credit, which are distinct because they are free market processes bound by their production costs, and risk of economic losses, respectively. Inflation is strictly an asymmetric, non-free-market phenomenon.
Inflation is taxation, yet its precise measurement is problematic. Inflation results in the general erosion of purchasing power over time, as “more money chases the same amount of stuff,” which results in more working hours necessary to purchase the same amount of basic goods to survive. The US government erroneously (or perhaps deceptively) quantifies inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is based on a calculation that it has been reconfigured many times to hit targeted rates, and excludes “volatile” categories like food and energy. Volatile here means the price changed, which seems self-defeating to exclude from an index intended to track price changes. In truth, inflation can never be described by any singular metric. Inflation is inherently subjective, just like the valuations enervated by the loss of purchasing power it inflicts upon market participants. Said differently, inflation is relative to the unique aims held by each market actor, making all “universal” inflation metrics inaccurate. The most accurate proxy for the inflation tax is broad money supply growth, a percentage change roughly equal to how much fiat currency holders are being diluted over any given time span.
Inflation is impossible to quantify in a specific dollar value since it is a subjective loss of purchasing power based on the basket of goods a particular market actor is aiming to acquire. In other words, each market participant subjectively sets (and resets) a unique inflation coefficient for themselves by buying, selling, and holding assets. But don’t let its subjectivity fool you: objectively speaking, inflation is taxation, albeit a more insidious and indirect form. Stated even more straightforwardly: inflation is only taxation. Despite centuries of Keynesian propaganda, inflation offers zero economic benefit to anyone other than the currency inflationists — the central bank thieves who profit from this legalized monopoly on counterfeiting. Direct taxation can be quantified more explicitly (in dollar terms) since it is billed and paid in currency denominations. Although most US taxpayers are conditioned like Pavlovian dogs to submit their forms and pay tribute every April to avoid IRS “scarygrams,” it is important to realize that taxation at rates not consensually determined is, by definition, extortion. Non-consensual taxation and (its sinister twin) inflation are criminal and immoral acts indistinguishable from theft. At risk of being repetitive, let me clearly edify the point: unilateral taxation and inflation are both acts of extortion perpetrated against citizens worldwide by central banks.
Market actors face major economic incentives to escape such ubiquitous, systemic extortion. Central banking is an institutionalized system of time-theft: one of the last vestiges of slavery in a world which has, in spite of the extortionary head-winds, morally advanced itself in many ways, thanks to the strident productivity gains of entrepreneurial ingenuity. In many ways, morality is a luxury, and inflation undermines its furtherance, in the same way it marginalizes other innovations. Fortunately for denizens of the digital age, an option to exit this rigged game is now available. Anyone who values their own time, or the time of those in their life, can now choose a money concordant with the absolute scarcity of time. This seemingly simple shift in perspective creates a hydraulic pressure of inducements that promises to bring about the final collapse of fiat currency pyramid schemes everywhere. To quantify the disincentives faced by market participants to hold their savings in fiat currency, and the commensurate incentives to move their capital into the offshore bank of Bitcoin, consider the following figures:
Fiat currency is premised on economic dynamics that all but force market actors to buy Bitcoin. An example will clarify: with the average US citizen paying $10,489 in explicit taxes to the US government each year, without considering the pernicious and more difficult to calculate impact of inflation (which depends on portfolio mix, performance, aims, etc.), the choice to hold savings in Bitcoin is a $1.2M decision assuming only a 5% annual yield on that capital over 40 years, and quickly balloons to a $4.4M decision assuming a 10% foregone savings rate. So, for the average US citizen, the question of whether to adopt Bitcoin is equivalent to: “would you switch your savings account for $1.2M in retirement savings?” And again, this calculation only accounts for direct taxation. Considering that the US printed approximately $4.1T in 2020 — a year in which its direct tax revenue was only $3.9T — using our proxy above means the effective tax bill (the combination of inflation and taxation) is roughly double the direct tax bill imposed on citizens (although inflation is disproportionately adverse to the poor and those depending on fixed-income, like retirees and pensioners). Extrapolating US money supply expansion from 2020, a doubling of the above figures more accurately conveys the true impact of the mass extortion effected through inflation and unilateral taxation, and the incentives for escapism.
Clearly, at higher annual inflation/taxation savings amounts and rates, the incentives to adopt Bitcoin as protection from nation-state predation on capital become astronomical, reaching over $700M assuming $100K in annual savings at a 20% rate. As this calculus dawns on market actors, the rush into Bitcoin, its attendant explosion in market capitalization, and the subsequent implosion of nation-state revenue models will be a spectacularly historic event. The question then becomes: how will humans self-organize in the wake of nation-state collapse? Driven by their own overreach and the widened optionality afforded to digitally fluent citizens, nation-state revenues will decline precipitously: an event that presages the collapse of any business. Those who consider this question and its possible outcomes probabilistically, and prepare accordingly, will find refuge in the digital high seas — a domain where 21M Bitcoin is the “law of the land.”
Sovereignists Set Sail
Taxing authorities have grown accustomed to treating their taxpayers as a farmer treats his cows, keeping them in a field to be milked. In the digital age, these cows grow wings.— The Sovereign Individual
Authority is a strong word: it implies the will power of some imposed over others. For taxation, authorities depend on taxpayers remaining in their terrestrial captivity or, at least, willingly complying with confiscatory edicts when living outside their legal dominion (see the worldwide tax regime of the US government, for instance). Nation-states depend on clearly defined and impermeable jurisdictional boundaries within which to monitor and tax economic activity. As taxation and inflation become more egregious, taxpayers are disincentivized from remaining inside (or, at least, complying with) jurisdictions. If too much commerce or capital exits a jurisdiction, tax revenues collapse, along with the wealth and productivity gains generated by the overly taxed economy. To maintain stability, parasitic tax authorities must be sensitive so as to not “kill” their hosts — the productive economies sustaining them. Throughout most of history, this economic struggle between tax authorities and taxpayers disfavored citizens due to their dependence on the private property rights, institutions, and the rule of law necessary for effective commercial interaction. Traditionally, all of these pillars of socioeconomic cooperation have been manipulable by force — the specialty of nation-states. The mutability of mankind’s representations of capital (assets), people (identities), and the relationships between them (property) gave the most successful wielders of coercion and violence free reign to twist the rules of the economic landscape to suit their politically determined agendas. Now, Bitcoin — an immutable, non-identity-based form of personal property — enables a separation from the central bank system of extortion by self-authoring sovereignists:
The root of Authority is ‘Author.’ Authorities take authorship and write your role in their story. A sovereign individual is the protagonist of their own.— Mike Hill
Analog age institutional authority now faces dissolution from an onrushing deluge of digital acid. With consequences comparable to the Gutenberg printing press, which broke the Church’s centralized chokehold on flows of knowledge, self-organizing networks like the internet and Bitcoin are dissolving nation-state strictures on commerce by giving mankind the means to permissionlessly port information and capital across spacetime, jurisdiction, and human mind. Tax authorities, which critically depend on their ability to restrict financial optionality for citizens, will now be forced to render ever-more valuable services to retain any revenue whatsoever. The power of individuals to “vote with their feet’’ by exiting fiat currency complexes leads to a world with a much greater emphasis on free choice and, therefore, smaller and less coercive governments and governance models. By re-localizing responsibility, sovereignism will result in a wide expansion of the sole human right: choice.
Conventional wisdom of the 20th century conceives of money as a monopoly product of the nation-state. Such traditional thought deteriorates in proportion to the differences of conditions between past and present. History is written as misfitness accumulates between the prevailing and the possible, eventually erupting into revolutions against the conventional. Nation-state monopolies on money are unquestionably misfit to a digital society capable of highly efficient self-organization (and continuous re-organization) as conditions warrant. Like metal filings near a magnet, socioeconomic organizations are shaped along the field lines of trust and security emanating from the prevailing technological realities in any given era. Trust-minimized money and encryption radically change the roles of trust and security in human affairs. Whereas analog institutions are expensive means of approximate verification, digital tools are an inexpensive means of absolute verification. Principally centered on the “don’t trust, verify” ethos of Bitcoin, economic forces will ensure that trust-laden analog institutions die while verification-focused digital organizations thrive in the 21st century. Sovereignism is a distinct fork in the winding road of human history that starts with the money.
Money is an instrument of pure optionality in the marketplace. In physics terms, money is the manifestation of power: in this case, the capacity to command the work of others over time. All systems of socioeconomic authority in the world are derivative of this primeval tool for channeling meta-energy across spacetime. Said another way: money commands most human creative energies. By monopolizing gold and issuing debt-based money in its place, central banking became the co-option of market actor optionality. Born of Bitcoin, sovereignism is the resurrection of individual optionality in a world of nation-state dominion. By equipping 21st century citizens with the power to accomplish more with less, to disappear into the digital ether whenever necessary, and to permanently dissociate themselves from command-and-control fiat currency complexes if they so choose, the digital age promises to be distinguished by a new social class of cognitive elites: the sophisticated sovereignists. As more and more sovereignists “set sail” onto the digital high seas, the societies they form will become more wealthy, peaceful, moral, and (therefore) attractive to others, leading to a virtuous cycle of civilizational advance.
Choice is the sole human right, and Bitcoin radically widens the spectrum of choice for market actors everywhere. Those who recognize this new reality, and choose the proper courses of action first, will inherit the Earth.
Sovereignism is a seemingly unstoppable mega-political transition: each market actor can either anticipate and embrace it or be forced to when the global fiat currency complex inevitably collapses. Trying to control sovereignists will be like trying to command a flock of starlings: a self-organizing swarm seamlessly splitting and recombining itself around and diverting itself away from any impediments to its flight path. Or perhaps we can analogize sovereignism to the ever-tempestuous seas: relentless and unstoppable tidal forces governed by the laws of gravity, rooted in principles of physics beyond the grasp of politics — energies that sculpt the shape of socioeconomic reality in spite of any centralized entity’s wishes. When digital optionality reigns, decentralization is king. The indispensable key to this self-organizing intelligence of the rising social class called sovereignists is the inviolable offshore bank of Bitcoin.
Sovereignism starts with Bitcoin, but where it ends no one knows. A study of similar historical transitions can provide guidance by proxy. In Part 3, we will explore a history of mega-political transitions to isolate common variables and use them to envision the future of sovereignism.
Thank you for reading Sovereignism Part 2: Bitcoin, The Ultimate Offshore Bank
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