Michael Saylor is the leading advocate for Bitcoin, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Microstrategy, author of The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything, and founder of Saylor Academy, which provides free education to students. He participated in a 90-minute panel discussion, during our 6th Annual Gala, alongside Society Senior Scholar Richard Salsman, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Blockchain Investment Group Eric Weiss, and host of the Coin Stories podcast Natalie Brunell.
We invite you to listen HERE or read the transcript below as the panel explores the history of money, the need for an objective standard of value, and the historical and future roles of gold and Bitcoin as tools to emancipate individuals from the manipulation of fiat currencies.
Line-up of Speakers (panelists): AF-Ana Freund; NB-Natalie Brunell; RS-Richard Salsman; MS-Michael Saylor; EW-Eric Weiss
AF: This final panel will focus on currency, both digital and fiat. To Ayn Rand paper currency should be backed by gold. But since her day, a new currency has emerged in Bitcoin. This 90 minute session is hosted by Natalie Brunell, host of the Coin Stories podcast and the Hard Money Show.
NB: Hello everybody. I want to first apologize because I'm dealing with a little bit of a vocal cord injury. This is actually lending some gravitas to my voice, so I actually like it. But, please excuse me if I need a sip of water and I'm going to hand it over to the gentlemen on stage to do most of the talking. First I just want to introduce our amazing panel, starting with Michael Saylor, Executive Chairman of MicroStrategy, one of the country's leading providers of enterprise software and mobile solutions. He's the author of The Mobile Wave, which anticipated how mobile, cloud and social networks would disrupt the status quo across most industrial and political domains. His Saylor Academy has provided a free education to over 800,000 students. Of course, many here know him as Bitcoin's leading evangelist with MicroStrategy owning over $2.23 billion worth of Bitcoin. So again, everyone, Michael Saylor. Eric Weiss is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer for Blockchain Investment Group. Eric began his career as a bond trader, earned his MBA from Columbia Business School, was director in the internet space at GE Capital, later joined the Internet Capital Group and the Stripes Group, and has since formed a number of technology-based internet marketing companies focused on lead generation, search engine marketing and social media. Welcome, Eric.
NB: And last but not least, we have Richard Salsman. He is a Senior Scholar at The Atlas Society and a professor of Political Economy at Duke. He's the founder of InterMarket Forecasting, an author of five books, including Breaking the Banks: Central Banking Problems, and Free Banking Solutions, Gold and Liberty, and Where Have All the Capitalists Gone? I want to start out this panel with just a 2-minute impression of Ayn Rand. What do Ayn Rand's writings mean to you and what does it mean for the world?
RS: Wow, I didn't expect that, Natalie, those are the best kind of questions to me, the ones you don't expect. What does it mean? That life is wonderful. That reason is cool, that achievement should be guiltless and you might be aware of your broader context. Because none of those things can be exercised unless you're in a truly free society. And she had, of course, a specific philosophy for advocating for that. But, that's what I most think of: A very uplifting message in terms of how fun it is to live life when you are a creator and you're free to create, as my fellow panelists are.
MS: Yeah, I first read Atlas Shrugged when I was 21. I had just finished at MIT and I had a classical engineering degree and then studied all forms of engineering and how to make things, and I'm an aeronautical engineer, so if you don't make them right, the plane falls out of the sky and everybody dies. And when I read the book, it struck me as this is someone describing the world run rationally, full of rational actors doing the right thing for the obvious reason. Because if you don't do the right thing, the economy falls out of the sky. The world comes to a grinding halt. And so it's always stood for rationality and order and life. I just found it to be incredibly inspiring when I read the book. I couldn't put it down primarily because she does such a good job of articulating the human misery that occurs when someone tries to use brute force to interfere with the order of nature or, or the rational order of things. And so I thought that it was very inspirational for me. It inspired me to go into business when I was 24 and it drove a lot of my actions in the years that followed.
EW: Yeah, I, too, first read Atlas Shrugged when I was 21. I had just started my first job on Wall Street. I was a bond trader and I guess the book was sitting behind my desk on the trading floor. And my boss's boss, whom I had never met before, walked through the trading floor and said, Who's reading this book? So I met my boss's boss and he said to me, I want you to come into my office after every chapter and let's discuss it. And I was like, this is surreal, right? So, right from the beginning it was very impactful. And then, you know, going to and from work on the subway, taking the book with me because it is a rather long book, and I'm not the fastest reader. And, you know, you'd get glances from people on the subway who were just kind of giving you a little nod like, oh yeah, yeah. So, I was predisposed to be inspired by the book. And then, when I did actually read it, a lot of things resonated with me. Ayn Rand did a great, great job of articulating things that I thought that I'd never actually articulated. And so it really struck a chord and has been an inspiration ever since.
RS: Natalie, when I was in college, I read Atlas Shrugged and I was still thinking about what career to go into, and I had Economics professors and I asked about finance, and they basically had this view that it was zero-sum, that it was parasitical. And then I read Francisco's money speech. I remember the day I read it thinking this, this could be a noble profession, this is a good thing. This is certainly not parasitical. So I went into Wall Street, largely, after reading that, it made me tip in that direction: to work on Wall Street for 20 years.
NB: Wow. Well, I definitely want to get to the money speech. And I also read Atlas Shrugged for the first time in college, right over the hill at Pepperdine University. Sotoshi was getting ready to release Bitcoin. I wish I knew about it. Back then I was about to graduate right into the recession. Would've been nice to know about it. But, speaking of Bitcoin, before we launch into some quotes and some aspects of Ayn Rand’s writings, when did you first encounter Bitcoin and what was your impression of it?
EW: Okay. First, I was a venture capitalist investing primarily in technology—venture capital that used the internet. And I went to a conference in Miami in 2013, a Bitcoin conference. And at the time we focused a lot on what value the internet was adding to a business. This was the first time that I'd seen the internet used to transmit actual value from party A to party B. And neither party needed to know or trust each other. And my mind was just blown away because prior to that the internet was really only good for transferring information in a not particularly secure way. So I knew there was something really significant here, and that's when I kind of got into it. So, end of 2013.
MS: Yeah, my story is I was a tech enthusiast. I wrote The Mobile Wave and published it in 2012. My day job kept me busy in the software business, but my evening avocation was looking at all different types of technology and investing in some. And my view of Bitcoin from 2012 to 2020 was cool, scary, dangerous, threatening, maybe revolutionary stuff, but I couldn't be bothered with it. And I liked Apple stock better, right? Or I liked Facebook better, or Google maybe was better, and I didn't really need it. I went about my day job, which is running MicroStrategy and my investments, and my copious free time was spent speculating in Facebook or Apple or Google or Amazon stock. And it wasn't until the world came to a grinding halt in March of 2020 that all of a sudden I had a problem. You know, my faith in the system, the overall economic and political system was broken, and my faith in the money was broken. And now this became a billion dollar problem. And I rediscovered Bitcoin once I had a gun to my head. And then I realized it isn't just an interesting, scary, random technology, but maybe it's the solution to the world's problems. And that's what I believe today.
RS: My story is very weird because my history had been studying monetary history, being very critical of central banking, very critical of fiat money and very pro-gold standard. I know you consider that a kind of a barbarous relic, but <laugh>, I knew of Bitcoin in the background, and it was students at Duke who kept coming up to me saying, “What about Bitcoin? Give some lectures on Bitcoin. Let's do something more on Bitcoin. It's closer to the standard you kind of want”; that is literally, Michael, what made me go study it. And it got to the point where a couple years ago, Jack Kriesel and I developed a house course where he teaches the course. He teaches the course to other students. The thing was sold out and he knows everything about Bitcoin. So I had students basically introducing me to it and prodding me to investigate it. And I love it. I didn't go into it as an investment, but by students bugging me. So sometimes students are helpful.
NB: It's been so interesting interviewing people in this space because sometimes it's students or children educating their parents, and sometimes including one of my good friends, it's the parent educating the kid about Bitcoin. So, you know, everyone comes to it from a different background. All right, Atlas Shrugged. It is set in a dystopian United States at an unspecified time in which the country has a national legislature instead of a Congress and head of state instead of a president. The US appears to be approaching economic collapse with widespread shortages, business failures and decreased productivity. Sound familiar? Where are we today and what do Bitcoiners think?
EW: I think that one of the topics that wasn't addressed in Atlas, which is pervasive today, is the inflation component here. And I forget the exact verbiage, but there are a lot of references in the book to your wallet being your money. And it's a trust that other people are going to honor that promise in the future. And what's undermining that promise now is that the money in your wallet, the product of your labor has been destroyed and you can no longer afford to procure the things and provide yourself the retirement and the life that you wanted. So I think that's where we are now and the biggest problem is the money. And obviously, you know, the dollar sign is what represented money at the time she wrote Atlas. And, I think now we might have an alternative that has the underpinning and ethics and morals that are consistent with Objectivism and the book in maybe a new way to store wealth and pass it on to future generations and preserve the product of your labor.
MS: You know, when I read the book in the eighties, I thought it was a cautionary tale and she was writing about the problems in Russia in the thirties <laugh>, that she was writing about the problems behind the Iron Curtain. And this is what might happen in America if we ended up ruled by a Stalin or a Mao or a whatever. And, I think I was oblivious to the encroaching authoritarian regulation and centralized control because I didn't really have an appreciation of what is money and what is inflation. In fact, I legitimately didn't really understand money or inflation until the year 2020.
MS: I don't consider myself to be stupid, right? And <laugh> objectively, you know, I was reasonably successful as an academic. At MIT I was at the top of my class and I was first in my class in high school, and I was reasonably successful in business. I took the company public, I made a ton of money as an investor. So with all my success, I really just had a massive blind spot toward money and inflation. And the issue is half of the economy is your productivity from what you do, measured on your P & L, and the other half of your economy is your wealth, which is how you store your productivity over time in the bank, and that's in the currency.
MS: So, you know, I would say back then I thought, well, it's a cautionary tale and it's allegorical and it's like Animal Farm or 1984, right? All these things that might happen to us. And today, I would say, yeah, I guess it all happened <laugh>, right? <laugh> Like 40 years later it was happening. It was happening in the money from 1971. Once we went off the gold standard, the money was losing 7% of its value a year from 1971, which means that centralized authorities were stealing 7% of everything you had from you every year since 1971. But I didn't understand it. My family didn't understand it. And, I think that on the other side, with regard to regulatory encroachment, I think it's pretty obvious now, right? That we have seen, especially in the past 20 years, you've seen regulatory encroachment in so many, many areas of business, for so many different reasons that is kind of unprecedented in the history of America. But it was always there. So I would say, yeah, whatever we thought was a problem somewhere else has arrived to be a problem here today. And so the book is apocryphal and, I guess, fairly instrumental in informing us.
RS: About a decade ago I wrote an essay called “Economics and Atlas Shrugged,” and I compared it to Samuelson's Economics text from MIT, and I said, “Here's this fiction book full of nonfiction truths about economics, and here's this nonfiction textbook full of fallacies.” But one of them is the monetary one. The historical context is interesting because in 1957, when that book came out, and she'd been working on it for more than a decade, as you mentioned we were on the gold standard. It was a diluted form of it, but it was the Bretton Woods gold standard. And Atlas does have it, if you look closely at scenes where there's a hyperinflation going on and the prices are out of control and are disrupting production and supply chains and things like that. So it isn't just regulations and taxes. She was identifying that the currency was being ruined, and price controls were leading to the shortages and things like that.
RS: So prophetic also in the sense of writing a book in 1958 and saying the US might go off the gold standard—it was unheard of in 1958. Nobody thought the US would go off the gold standard. She knew, of course, that FDR had gone off the gold standard in 1933, and gold was criminalized for many years. So I think that's interesting. And, last thing I would say about this, I think the key, and the way to join and partner with gold-standard people and Bitcoin people is the standard. It's not, whether it's the Bitcoin standard or the gold standard, it’s the idea of objective standards, that money should be a numeraire, that it should be a yardstick, predictable every day, measurable against other things. Not a rubber band that is arbitrarily manipulated by the government. That's what Bitcoin has, that's what the gold standard had. But you cannot have politics running these things. It's interestingly the markets that delivered these objective measuring instruments, and I think she recognized that. So it wasn't so much the gold standard, but the idea of an objective standard, of course in every field, but also in money.
NB: Richard, you mentioned the speech on money, and Eric, you mentioned something about wealth destruction. In this speech, there's a very strong warning that whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying the money. So how do you interpret this statement in the context of our current financial system and the emergence of Bitcoin?
EW: I would just point to the increase in money supply. I think that is the ultimate destruction of money. My numbers may be a little off, but roughly in the last two years, we went from about 13 trillion in M2 to 24 trillion in a couple of years. So anytime you increase the money supply that dramatically in such a short period of time, not only are you not on any standard, but you have literally destroyed the money.
MS: I think if you understand that money is economic energy and the currency is the fluid through which the energy moves in order to run the machines of the economy, then destroying the money is the same as opening up one of your arteries and bleeding you to death or sucking all the oxygen out of a room, or pulling all the hydraulic fluid out of a machine. In fact, the economy just comes to a grinding halt. And the subtle thing, of course, is that if you keep sucking 7% of the value, or 10% of the value, out of the currency every year, the half-life of the money becomes seven or 10 years. And if the half-life of the money becomes 10 years, you cut it in half, 10 times in a century. If you don't suck the energy out of the currency, the half-life of the money is forever.
MS: And so what we think of as death or a natural life cycle, like it's natural for things to die, it really isn't. You could live forever. Your economic entities could live forever if there wasn't a parasite that's actually sucking the energy out of them, killing them. So the debasing of the money is kind of like artificially accelerating the destruction of the entire economy. So, therefore, there's no point in striving for anything great a hundred years out or 500 years out or 50 years out if the useful life of the economic energy is seven years. And it's kind of like your kid is an Olympic athlete and they're about to run for the gold medal and I just show up and I just let you know that I'm going to bleed them a pint of blood every day for the next seven days before their race to help them out.
MS: And then you realize that they have zero chance of winning and there's no point in competing. So if we don't have good money, then every other aspiration is either going to result in a suboptimal, impaired, crippled outcome, or it's going to result in failure. And it would be quite a trick for me to get you to focus all your time on training for the marathon while I bleed you every night, because you're going to lose. It doesn't really matter what you do. So all the other things we talk about the economy become second order. If the money is broken, you can guarantee that everything else will be broken in the system until you fix the money.
RS: This line about destroyers among men start with destroying money—they might also start with destroying education, the propaganda that we see today. But the money aspect is interesting because historically, even when we were on metallic monies, tyrants would clip the coins. They would dilute the metal content. It was theft, it was counterfeiting. We have that today, but it can be done even on a metallic standard. And often, they did it during war. So I mean, talk about destroyers, they'd go to war and they would inflate for war. That still happens, but I would put it in these terms also to make it understandable in today's terms: when government is out of control, when government is spending crazily beyond limit, and of course getting elected doing so—“Here's another program, Vote for me”—think of the three ways government finances itself: taxes, borrowing, printing money.
RS: If they taxed you for the full amount, there'd be riots in the streets. There'd be tax revolts. We had them in the late seventies. Now they can borrow. And that takes the pressure off, right? Because you don't feel the pinch if you're not paying the taxes. Or if they have such a graduated income tax schedule that only a small fraction of people are actually paying the taxes. It's a way to get away with a gargantuan welfare state without getting thrown out of office. Now the net result of this is if they start borrowing too much and no one wants to buy the bonds anymore, they turn to the central bank and they say, you buy the bonds and you print the money. So this is destruction to the max, but that's the kind of sequencing that goes on, that's how it happens. And both sides might contribute to this, the side that says spend more and the other side that says tax less. See, they'll both get into office. But the net effect of that is massive deficit spending. And the only way you can hide that from the taxpayer is by borrowing and printing. So that's the context. I think, also, that behind the destruction and what's going on with the money today, they cannot have handcuffed objective money because they want the handcuffs off and want to do anything they want.
NB: That goes to show why I think so many things in our political system reward the short-term as opposed to thinking about the long-term consequences. We see it playing out and people are looking for political saviors, right? But it seems like we have to dig deeper and look at the financial system. The story of Atlas Shrugged dramatically expresses Ayn Rand’s ethical egoism, her advocacy of rational selfishness whereby all of the principle virtues and vices, our applications of the role of reason as man's basic tool of survival or of failure to apply it, rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness and pride. Is this reflected in Bitcoin?
MS: I would say yes, speaking for Satoshi <laugh>, the basic premise of Bitcoin is a shared, immutable ledger, and the empowerment of everybody on the planet to audit that ledger. So since everyone can run their own node, you know, you don't have to trust any bank, any entity, any government to know the truth. The truth is manifested every 10 minutes in the blocks. The truth is protected by the integrity of the cryptography. And, the underlying protocols are naturally conservative in a Newtonian sense and in a physical sense. So they represent conservation of energy. There's 21 million as a cap. You'll never have more than 21 million. This is the manifestation of the laws of thermodynamics. The Bitcoin protocol puts absolute transparency of monetary dynamics into the hands of all 8 billion people on the planet.
MS: And it puts it beyond the corrupting influence of a counterparty. And so if you think about what makes the universe work, it's the fact that gravity is applied universally to everyone everywhere at all times, and nobody can cheat, right? You just can't cheat gravity. You can't cheat the speed of sound. You can't cheat the speed of light. There are universal constants. And Objectivism all comes back to this idea that you need to adapt to the universe. You can't bend the universe. For short times you might get away with it, but over a long period of time, the universe wins. And all of our economic systems before Bitcoin were all relativistic, politically corruptible systems. The fiat systems are obviously easily corrupted, but even the gold systems, you shave the coins, you debase the currency, you water it down, or you steal it.
MS: And with Bitcoin, this idea of sovereignty is very critical. You are sovereign. The idea of ownership is knowing something, is owning something, right? Knowing is owning. If I know my private keys and in my private keys is all my wealth, as long as I know it, I have it. You can't have it. And every other form of money you can take, right? The gold you can take, the fiat you can take, the property you can take. So, this genius of Satoshi was: I'm going to give 8 billion people the ability to audit the entire 21 million supply; I'm not going to rely upon a central counterparty or bank or government in order to verify that. There's no way to cheat it. You can't, you can't cheat the system. And no one can cheat you with force. There's something natural about that, and appealing to, I think, an Objectivist, or anybody that believes in fairness and truth or sovereignty or freedom or liberty. And it's the first computer network, the first network where people kind of got that degree of sovereignty. It's certainly the most significant one with that degree of sovereignty.
EW: That’s pretty comprehensive. But I would add a couple general things. Conceptually, it's also kind of a rule. Bitcoin is a “rules without rulers,” right? The rules have been set, but the rules can't be changed on you, which I think is consistent with the Objectivist view of government. And then in addition to that, Bitcoin, it's not intuitive to almost anyone the first time you hear about it. I mean, even Michael, as I can tell you firsthand, had a high degree of skepticism when we first started talking about Bitcoin. So it's a little bit incumbent upon you as the individual to be a free thinker and individual thinker, have some confidence in what your beliefs are, have some beliefs to begin with, right? Know what you stand for and then educate yourself on Bitcoin. There are plenty of resources out there to do it, but you've got to initiate it yourself. It's not going to be spoon fed to you. And then if it aligns with what you believe, then it's there for you to embrace.
RS: The prior panel talked about AI, this is AI and money. Satoshi, was it ‘08 or ‘09 when Satoshi wrote the white paper? When you think about it, he was the intelligence. He, she, whoever this being was, the intelligence behind it, wrote the algorithm and then let it fly. And in a way that is like AI in the sense of a robot, an automatic autopilot self-driving car, it is a self-driving potential monetary system. Very interesting. So it's AI and money, but, it's always fascinating to me from the start of the time I started studying Bitcoin, how similar it is to those of us who may know Milton Friedman. Milton Friedman and the Keynesians were both against the gold standard and Mises and Hayek were for the gold standard. Rand, Greenspan at one point were for the gold standard, supply-siders in modern time were for the gold standard. But Friedman was against it and yet still wanted central banks to behave themselves. So he came up with a constant-money-supply growth rule.
EW: And he predicted e-money.
RS: Now think of that, I don't know whether Satoshi was a Monetarist, but that is exactly what has been embedded in that algorithm. It can only increase in glacial amounts and the incentives are in there for the miners and it gets halved every what, three or four years or so. And I think it's fascinating because Milton Freeman could never get any central bank to do that. He couldn't get them to behave, right? Because I think fundamentally that's not what central banks are for, they’re for financing government. They're not for delivering sound money. But I'm impressed by the fact that that algorithm, so to speak, of Friedman’s is embedded in it. There's many other things embedded in it, but that's one of the things. And, lastly, it's interesting that that's also the property of gold. So years ago, Professor Jastram at Berkeley wrote a book called The Golden Constant.
RS: And he went back 400 years and plotted the purchasing power of gold under all sorts of systems. And it's constant, how much does an ounce of gold buy in terms of real goods and services, commodities and things like that. And one of the reasons is it grows about 1% a year. The above-ground gold stock keeps rising because it's accumulated. The annual increment coming out of the mines is only about 1%. It's hard to get bigger percentage increases than that. You never get declined. You never get a collapse in the gold supply. And so it has that property, too. That's why I think anyone who cares about sound money has to be looking at these kinds of glacially increasing money supply programs, one of which is Bitcoin, one of which is the gold standard and was the ideal of Friedman that could never be realized, of course, under central banking. But it's an interesting property, an objective property.
NB: Well, I'm glad you brought up Satoshi because it leads perfectly into my next theme, which is that in the world of Atlas Shrugged society stagnates when independent productive agencies are socially demonized for their accomplishments. This is in agreement with an excerpt from a 1964 interview in which Rand states, “What we have today is not a capitalist society, but a mixed economy that is a mixture of freedom and controls, which by the presently dominant trend is moving toward dictatorship. The action in Atlas Shrugged takes place at a time when society has reached the stage of dictatorship. When, and if this happens, that will be the time to go on strike, but not until then.” So what are the similarities between Satoshi Nakamoto and John Galt?
EW: I've heard you talk about that before.
MS: So John Galt says, withdraw your productivity, withdraw your talent from the economy because it is corrupt. And, Satoshi said, withdraw your wealth from an economy that is corrupt. In essence, Satoshi is saying that to the extent that you could build a multi-billion dollar company, you could generate hundreds of millions or billions of dollars of profits. But if someone is elected that then triples the money supply, they steal two thirds of all your labor for the last 30 years, and they do it in about a week. And so, if someone can in essence steal everything you've done and everything you're ever going to do with the click of a button, then you can't win by playing that game. And John Galt kind of said: Well, we know we can't win no matter how hard we try, so we should just withdraw and go on strike.
MS: But, Satoshi took a different point of view, which is, yeah, we know we can't win as long as we hold the currency of a corrupt government. So the only way to win is to create an immortal, incorruptible currency. And of course, the only way to make an incorruptible or immortal currency is to get the people out of the way. And so in essence, you end up with millions and millions of disinterested computers that can't do anything but process the protocol. And there is no discretion of a CEO or a corporation or a government in the mix of it, but both of them are heroic figures that said, you're in a no-win situation as long as you stay in a corrupt system. You need to depart the system. One of them gives a solution of Galt’s Gulch and the strike, and the other one gives a solution of shift your money to cyberspace.
RS: Michael, I don't think I've ever heard it put so well that Galt’s Gulch would be equivalent to Bitcoin. I totally agree with that, and one way of looking at this is even if we can't get these institutions to behave; well, “even if” we can't <laugh>, can you immunize yourself, still do your creative work by creating other mechanisms that bypass, elude, you know, all the things we talk about? And I think the answer is yes, it's not the ideal society, we'd rather the entire world be open to us, that we not be holed-up in a gulch somewhere. But if that's where all the brains are and if that's where all the justice is, that could be a better world than the broader world corrupted, right? But I totally agree with you.
RS: They were also both engineers, apparently technologists <laugh>. So Galt is particularly an engineer in Atlas and creates this motor, this pathbreaking motor that nobody recognizes the genius of, and just takes it with him, or leaves it, actually abandons it. And, there's a whole bunch of technological advances in the Gulch. There's voice-activated buildings and things like that. But, I think this idea of it's not a cocoon really, right? Because it's an entire universe. It's growing, the Bitcoin universe is just growing enormously thanks to you and others, and made more aware to people. But, it's a way to immunize, I think.
MS: The small Bitcoin is Rearden Steel. It's the hardest material. Rearden Steel was the hardest metal in the world. And small Bitcoin, the asset, is the hardest asset in the world to build an economic structure. And then the network, the big Bitcoin network is the John Galt line. A network to transport value built of Rearden Steel. And, if you think about all of the systems that are going into this, we're really building a machine, right? And Galt is all about that great machine, the motor, right? We're building a motor to drive the economy to a new level of productivity. Ultimately, if you believe in the prosperity of the human race or progress or the future of civilization, it's all going to come down to the ability to construct a machine to channel that energy more efficiently than we have in the past.
MS: I think, in both Atlas Shrugged and in the modern Bitcoin ecosystem, you have engineers building machines to channel energy. Yeah, the only difference is in Atlas Shrugged, they don't have an easy mechanism to integrate the machine into the nation. And, you have politicians seizing the lines and seizing the assets. Whereas with Bitcoin, the machine is spreading everywhere in the world outside of the control of the politicians and the corporations and the centralized governments. And I actually think that the Bitcoin network will succeed where maybe the John Galt line was a bit more of a heavy lift.
RS: And remember similarly in Atlas, all the scare tactics, all the fear mongering, “Rearden Metal is a fraud, the bridge is going to collapse. This will ruin the economy, it’s a bubble.” I don't know if they said bubble or not. You see that against Bitcoin a little bit: “It's a fraud. Only fraudsters use it, it's going to collapse the economy.”
MS: No one's ever used Bitcoin before.
MS: No one's ever used Rearden Metal before.
RS: And then a few—Dagny, others—use the metal, demonstrate its worthiness. And that still doesn't convince a lot of people. But people on this panel are showing that it works. And, so I love that analogy.
EW: There's countless parallels. I mean, both saw the problem, used their ingenuity to build a better solution, and then realized that the problem would collapse without them. And in a non-confrontational, non-aggressive way, realized the best way to let it crash is to withdraw and put your energy into the new things. So, just tremendous similarities.
MS: A lot of people don't realize that Bitcoin wasn't the first crypto project. The other projects all relied on some kind of oracle or some intermediary or some centralized agent of some sort. The things that were launched by, say Nick Szabo before, and they abandoned all those projects because ultimately they all had an attack surface. And the attack surface was that corporation subject to regulatory capture, or that entity. And so, who is John Galt, right? Who is John Galt? He builds something and he disappears. Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? I think Satoshi realized that the only way for us to make this work is we have to build a system that is completely separate from the existing financial structure, the existing power structure. And so the heroic thing to do is he didn't raise money, he didn't do an ICO and raise $500 million to capitalize it, even though there was plenty of capital in 2010 for tech companies.
MS: He didn't keep any for himself. He didn't stick around. Amazing, right? We've got this thing in Bitcoin called Pizza Day. And the significance of Pizza Day is the Bitcoin network fires up January 3rd, 2009, and then it trades with no value until about, what, May, 2010, 500-plus days. And on Pizza Day, it's worth a fraction of a penny. Okay? So the price that was paid by Satoshi to create something that was virtuous and uncorrupted and incorruptible was give up fame and fortune, and self-interest, and expedience, and any kind of get-rich-quicker simple notion and do it the hard way and do it in such a way that you know, what do you get if you mine Bitcoin, you get more Bitcoin, What's that worth? Well, it's worth nothing initially until people decide that having something which is incorruptible and immortal and orthogonal to the entire corrupt $500 trillion financial system is something they might want to join in on.
MS: And the risk he took was, well, maybe people won't want to join. Maybe people won't believe in freedom and sovereignty and truth and, you know, and self-determination through cryptography, but maybe they will. And, Pizza Day was that first, okay, it's worth a couple of fractions of a penny, and then it's worth a dollar and it's worth $10. It's worth a hundred dollars, It's worth a thousand dollars. It's worth $10,000. And so that today it's alive and it's something, but it was able to be bootstrapped without a CEO or a board of directors or a headquarters or a nexus or any early founders. And, therefore, it does have this characteristic of incorruptibility. You could hold the gun to my head and tell me to change Bitcoin or you blow my head off. I can't change it. Incorruptible, immortal. And you can say, by pain of law, shut down all your Bitcoin mining in the entire country.
MS: That happened about a year ago in China. They shut down half the network and had no impact, just a slight blip. The Chinese shut the entire thing down. You could shut it down in any state, in any country, you can't kill it because it doesn't have a head. It's a diffused, decentralized swarm creature of sorts. And, the price that we paid, the price we paid was paid by the early Cipher Punks and by the true believers. And, Satoshi Nakamoto, which is the selfless act of giving this incorruptible, immortal, fair, equitable network to the world without any fiduciary gain or interest and without any original sin. You know? And where do you see that happen in the western world? Occasionally. And when it occasionally happens, something good comes of it. And, that's the story of Satoshi. And, Who is John Galt? <laugh>?
RS: Who is Satoshi? Yeah.
NB: Question. Yeah. It's really inspiring to learn about the origins and how organic the growth was for Bitcoin. Let's keep with the theme of the evolving political systems and also the importance of property rights. Rand's view of the ideal government was expressed by John Galt. “The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise. No man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, whereas no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality, to think, to work, and to keep the results, which means the right of property.” And Michael, you've said before that Bitcoin returns rationality to the entire financial system. It returns freedom and property rights to the entire human race. So I want to talk to you all about the importance of property. Richard, I'll start with you since I know you've written extensively on the importance of property rights, both historically and philosophically.
RS: Well, that's a big question. I'll only give a short answer <laugh>. You have to start with the concept that you own yourself, that you own your body and your mind, and therefore the products: your labor, then the products of your labor. So that's a very Lockean sequencing of the argument for, and you can say Ayn Rand shared that. So you own yourself, you own your labor, you own the products of your labor. So long as there's no physical force or theft going on, you should be proud of it, even if it's unequal to others, because labor's not the same. And so governments, yes, have to protect that or you’ll have barbarism. Common criminals are nothing compared to the criminality that has been instilled and instigated by governments over the years. Read, read the book, Death by Government by Rummel, 1994—a hundred million people dying under socialism in the last century.
RS: Basically by saying you don't own yourself, we own you, you're our slaves. Well, tying it back to this panel, <laugh>, I appreciate so much that Bitcoin is an opportunity that let people say I'm putting my property into a place that can't be touched. The anonymity of it is important too, because you also can't touch my body or invade my privacy. And I think that's a big part of the story, isn't it? That you have the anonymity. You know, we got rid of the Swiss privacy banking laws, right? A long time ago. Your bank account can be totally invaded by the US government. They can do whatever they want, but they can’t see anything you're buying. Now, they want the credit card companies to report that you're buying a gun. So Bitcoin avoids all that. You guys are the specialists, but property rights have to be preserved if we're going to have civilization. And, that's one of her insights.
MS: Socrates has his ideas and his integrity, and that's all he has. And he dies, he's killed. And if you roll the clock forward all the way to 2009, you could say that the only thing you could own is your own memories or your own ideas. And it's the core of philosophy. Everything else you don't own, you rent from a more powerful government or authority around you. So up until January 3rd, 2009, you couldn't own anything other than what's in your head. The Pharaohs couldn't own their property. You don't own your gold. You don't own land. If you think you own something in California, and I'm the mayor, I can take it from you by eminent domain. I can tax it away from you. I can take your gold, I can shoot you, and I can take all your stocks and your bonds. Nothing on this earth that you think you own, do you own, except at the pleasure of someone more powerful than you.
MS: January 3rd, 2009 is the singularity where for the first time in the history of the human race, you have property rights. And you have property rights because we come back to my first principle, the only thing you own is your memories, to the extent that your money is reflected in your memory, no one can take it from you. So Bitcoin was this invention whereby you could memorize a private key, you could put a thousand, a billion, a million, 10 billion, any amount of money in your head to the extent that the network has that wealth in it. And no one can take it from you or coerce it out of you via, you know, at the barrel of a gun. I can, literally, I can shoot you and take all your stuff right now, all your property if it isn't Bitcoin based on private keys. So the whole concept of property rights is if I don't have property rights, I don't have the right to my life force and my energy, I don't have the right to anything I've done in the past economically, nor do I have the right to do anything in the future.
MS: That's why the Huguenots came here. That's why people came to America. That is the basis of so many things that have gone on in the world, this idea that without property rights, you lose your past, you lose your future. Bitcoin is a technology to convey property rights via the technology of encryption and cryptography. And to the extent that you use it properly, you finally have perfected property rights. And not only can you resist any coercion, but you can for the first time take economic energy with you to the grave. The Pharaohs couldn't, right? The most powerful person in Egypt could not take economic energy with them to the grave. They tried to bury it in a pyramid. But people just break into the pyramids. But you take all the money in the world, you sell all your stuff, sell your land in California, sell your gold, sell your silver, sell your apple stock, sell your diamonds and gold and collectibles, and sell all your fiat currency and your pesos and your boulevards and your rubles and buy Bitcoin. Put it in your head. And now you actually own something economically. So we can now modify that phrase from “you only own your memories” to”the only thing you can own is your memories and your Bitcoin.”
MS: And, in 2009, you could own all the Bitcoin in the world as long as it was less than nothing because the network was worth nothing. Today you can own all the Bitcoin in the world as long as there's less than about $400 billion worth of stuff. But as the network grows, it becomes possible to shift more of the economic energy out of the system of coercion and corruption into a system of virtue, empowerment and sovereignty. And that entire process started January 3rd, 2009. And it's been just like a boil and a progression since then. And, what we are seeing is property rights come to life in human civilization. Everything you thought was a property, like you think you have property rights if you're Jewish and in Nazi Germany? Do you have property rights in Cuba, North Korea? You have property rights until someone takes them away from you.
MS: And if you're lucky enough to be American, you kind of had half your property rights or a third of your property rights. And if you're someone living in a more hostile regime, you've known forever, you didn't have any. Maybe in parts of Africa, they have 5% of their property rights. That's why Africa's still poor, because it's so impoverished. Bitcoin, not only does it give you perfected property rights in America or in China, or in North Korea or in Cuba, it gives perfected property rights without prejudice to everybody on the globe, regardless of their economic circumstances. If you have a $50 Android phone, you have the same perfected property rights that Bill Gates has. And, so it is the ultimate egalitarian, utilitarian entitlement of the right to property.
EW: Yeah, I would just add to that, that in a very unpredictable world where you don't know where you may end up, which country, which location, it's the only thing that you can truly take with you. So if you're fleeing oppression, if you're fleeing somewhere, all you have to have is your memory and you can walk across country lines and you have it with you. And I think, as someone who's in the Bitcoin business, that over the last year, with some of the geopolitical developments, a lot of people who thought they lived in a first world country and weren't concerned about any of these things, maybe they lived in Canada and then all of a sudden Canada said, “Well, we don't like that you're donating to this thing. We're going to seize your accounts.” Or maybe you're Ukrainian and you wanted to leave your country. Maybe you were a Russian oligarch and you didn't feel like having your assets seized. All these little things. And so all of a sudden people are kind of questioning how mobile are their assets, what are their property rights, and how difficult is it to take your property with you as you move around the globe?
NB: It's amazing to listen to voices like this, and you start to think, right, how is the world not on Bitcoin yet? How does everyone not get it yet? But, alright, before we start to wrap up in a little bit for question and answer, just a couple more questions. One of my favorite quotes and, really, themes, within Ayn Rand’s writings is just the idea that money is made possible only by the men and women who produce; productivity is so important. Today we are creating ever more debt. We are expanding credit in order to produce smaller and smaller amounts of productivity. How will Bitcoin make us more productive? And what does that future and transition look like?
MS: I guess I'll start. When you feel that it's impossible to store your life's work or to continue your life's work, the future looks hopeless. So in a world where if I told you that your money was going to be worthless on January 1st, 2023, there aren't very many long-term projects you would begin. If I went into your bank account and I converted all your money from dollars to pesos, devalued it 20-to-one, and then told you that you can get 3% of it back each year for the next 20 years while I continue to devalue it three-to-one every year afterwards, the world seems kind of hopeless. And so, to a certain extent, having a currency which doesn't lapse energy, that is true, that is incorruptible, that is also transportable—it means that 8 billion people can trade with each other across political domains at the speed of light. And that definitely is a productivity driver.
MS: And it means that 8 billion people can trade with their future selves. I can make a deal with my great-grandchildren, or I can look forward a hundred years and I can build something today and plan for a hundred years in the future. So having the ability to channel energy through time and space with integrity allows you to conceptualize beautiful things through time and space. Then another physical analogy I give is if you're in New York City and you look at one of those skyscrapers that goes up a hundred stories, and then you imagine taking the steel out of the skyscraper and then you imagine converting the schist, the granite underneath the skyscraper into sand, and then you try to figure out what happens to the building, you realize that if you have the granite without the steel, it's a six story building.
MS: And if you have the building on sand, it's a six story building for a few months until it's a one story building. So you can't physically build beautiful things if you don't have the material strength to fight against the forces of nature. Gravity, entropy. And I think you could think of Bitcoin as like a crypto steel. It's something if you wanted to build an economic structure that'll last a hundred years, you certainly can't do it with a peso. And you probably can't do it with the dollar. You can't do it with gold. You can't do it with most things. You need something that will hold its energy for a hundred years. And if you want to build something which is intricate, the velocity of money, and we haven't talked about it, but the velocity of fiat money is maybe 12 transfers a year at best.
MS: And the energy lapse is 30% a year. So you have a very imperfect material. The velocity of money or monetary energy through Bitcoin, especially on a lightning network, could be 12 million times an hour with no energy lapse. So, I think Bitcoin is really critical to productivity, because it represents a million times more efficient way to transfer energy through time and space. And we talked about half-life, right? 2% inflation a year is supposed to be fairly innocuous. It isn't. 2% means that your energy disappears in 30 years. This is the difference between me saying you have a life expectancy of 30 years or 0% a year lapse is a life expectancy of forever, right? At 0%, the energy and your life lasts for a billion years; at 2%, you lose half of it every 30 years, you're dead in a hundred years.
MS: So, the technical implication of a system that has energy lapse and low velocity is not well understood in the economy right now because we've been living in a world without steel, without glass. You know, building stuff in terracotta with wood and beams, they rot. Go visit Rome and look at what's left. They used to use wooden beams. None of them are left, right? They use certain metal pipes that rusted. None of them are left; 2000 years later that stuff is gone. Some of the granite’s left. I think structures built in Bitcoin, they'll be here. And this is so bizarre: if you were to say to someone, you know, you can actually build an economic entity that'll last a thousand years, they would blink and look at you and they would think, why would you even want to do that?
MS: And that's because they can't conceptualize anything in our modern world lasting a thousand years. But, you know, people worked on the cathedral, Notre Dame, they had an idea for something that might last. And is it stupid or irrational to want something to last a thousand years? It's just we've been so beat down, right? People have conditioned us to think that we shouldn't expect anything to last, nothing will be built to last, that we're accepting this kind of mediocre, corrupt, dirty money in the same way that you would be pumping dirty blood into your system or eating rotting food.
EW: I would say sadly, it's not taking a thousand years to see the destruction. Even if you just look at America, the American dream has largely been destroyed. And that's because you can work a respectable job, have the products of your labor, plan for retirement, as they could have a couple generations before. And you have been robbed of that now due to inflation. Your life savings will not take you through your retirement years because the money has been destroyed.
RS: Natalie, this principle, you name this principle of Rand that you reminded us of is so important: the value of money reflects those who produce stuff. Now, money is produced, but we don't eat money. We can't clothe ourselves with money. We don't house ourselves with it, whether it's gold or Bitcoin or this stuff < US treasury notes>. You can burn this. So, okay, when the lights go out or they stop burning fossil fuel, you could burn this. But it does remind us that you need money. What are the three things? Medium of exchange, store of value, unit of account. Those are the standard. Bitcoin meets that. Gold meets that, but this stuff is accepted because it's mandated. I hope you know that the legal tender laws require you to use it, and that's not true of gold or Bitcoin. So it's a very interesting principle that they can't get us to use this voluntarily because it's not reliable.
RS: They have to mandate that we use it. But it is important because as good as these alternatives are, Bitcoin, gold, ultimately, look in this room, we're not sitting on money, we're not eating money, we're not wearing money. This stuff does have to be produced. That's ultimately what you want your money to buy. And so unless there's freedom to produce all the stuff in this room, it doesn't matter how high the quality of money is, you're not going to get all this other stuff. So we should be reminded that it's not money per se, but the tool of money permitting us to produce all these things and create wealth.
NB: Yeah. And Ayn Rand has even written about how one of her favorite things about America was that we invented the concept of making money. And something, Eric, you said that really strikes at my core is this idea of the American dream. Because for those familiar with my backstory, my parents immigrated here. They grew up under communism in Eastern Europe, and they talked so much about how their peers and their colleagues back home, they were so jealous that they had the chance to come to the country of opportunity and freedom and the American dream. And yet my family then lost everything in the financial crisis and can't yet retire the way that they should. And their counterparts in Poland have since been able to retire. And my dad has wondered, did we make the right decision? And so I hope I can help them through Bitcoin, but really I feel like I'm on a mission of spreading Bitcoin and the idea that we need to return to hard money so that our money isn't counterfeited and stolen from us. And so, I kind of want to wrap up before we start Q & A with that idea of a mission, because one of the values of Objectivism is purpose. And I think Bitcoin has given a lot of us purpose, right? A renewed purpose and mission. So how does that speak to all of you?
EW: In the earlier panels today? I heard in the Q & A, a lot of frustration. I think generally a lot of people are very unhappy with the direction the world is going, and there's frustration and people are asking, you know, feeling helpless. Like what can I do at a granular level? What can actually be done? And I think Bitcoin, which has the moral and ethical underpinnings of all the things that I think everybody in this room believes in is something actionable. It's something that you can get involved in, it's something you can educate yourself about. Exactly, as Natalie articulated why she left a career in mainstream media, and gave up a tremendous career to come do this full time to educate people and talk about Bitcoin, it's because of the personal experience that she and her family had. And I think that's something actionable that we can all do and feel good about. I think it's why I'm involved. I don't speak for Michael, but, I know it's a big part of why he's involved because morally and ethically, it's something that he believes strongly in. And so I think it's something that everybody can do every day to feel good about, that you're helping yourself and others.
MS: You know, if I was giving advice to somebody, someone getting started in their career and they say, well, how do I prosper? You start by saying, learn to read, learn to write, learn reading, writing, arithmetic was the early trope, right? But, more precisely, learn to speak English and communicate in English because being the best communicator in Swahili or Tamil or any other great language has 1000th of the economic energy in it, means that you won't be able to sell your products and you won't be able to buy from the rest of the system. So, adopting the dominant economic language protocol is really critical. Learning math: you know, pretty important to be able to think mathematically. Another important protocol, learning the monetary protocol, adopting the dominant monetary protocol is the third idea. And Bitcoin is the dominant monetary protocol.
MS: And here I would say, not any crypto protocol. There are 20,000 cryptos that are garbage and they're a waste of time. Just like you tell your kids to learn 192 languages; no. Like Navajo is not going to make you successful anymore than the native language of 4,700 tribes in Africa. It's not going to make you successful. If you meet with the person that's an advocate for that, they're going to tell you why you should, but they'll be wrong. They're disinterested. There is a right answer, and the right answer is to master the dominant monetary protocol. Bitcoin is the most ethically sound, technically sound, economically sound of these monetary protocols we have available to us in the world. And it's about 95% dominant right now amongst all of the true crypto networks. So the mission is to spread the protocol, spread the gospel, if you will.
MS: There is a solution, right? And there's a lot of false alleys you can go down that will actually lead you to nothing. So, educate the world that there is a solution. Teach people how to master the protocol. If you are sitting in the middle of Siberia right now and you've mastered the Bitcoin protocol, you can spin up a Bitcoin miner and generate hard currency, monetize your energy, and you can do it without prejudice or bias, on the same terms and conditions as someone with a trust fund on the upper East Side, there's no difference. And likewise, if you're a chess tutor and you're on the internet and you speak English and you can actually accept Bitcoin, you can give lessons to someone on the upper East side and they can pay you with their trust fund and you can monetize your labor just as effectively as someone that lives in Kansas City. So if you want to enter the modern economy, right, you need to master the language protocols, master the monetary protocols, and in so doing, you better yourself, you better the world. I think my mission is to spread that protocol and the gospel of that protocol to all 8 billion people on the planet and all hundred million corporations on the planet because it's coming and the alternative is hopeless despair.
RS: When you speak of inspiration and purpose, for me, I never would've guessed 12 years ago that there would be a renewed debate about money. People discussing what is money, what should money be, what should the role of the State be in money? And the interviews I've done on Bitcoin and elsewhere, I've noticed three aspects. Political-legal: are they going to ban it or not? Is it property or not? Is it a commodity or not? Is the SEC going to make it a security or not? But also the technics of it, and the economics of it. And those who are just into the technics, I think are beginning to learn, hey, there's a politics, and economics here too. And the people who just go at it, you know, from an anarcho-libertarian standpoint, you know, are going to F the state and get rid of the Fed and everything. Well learn a little bit more about the technics and the economics of it. It isn't just politics.
RS: So it does have these three tributaries and I think the people up here, you guys, know all those three parts of it almost better than anyone. But that's what's been inspiring to me, that there is even a debate because it was gone 12 years ago. The Fed was just printing money, bailing out banks, and that was the end of it. Occupy Wall Street, we're all going to hell. And, no one was talking about this standard, that standard, what's the history of the gold standard, Bitcoin, who's Satoshi? It's wonderful, especially among the young. They, by the way—the young—think I have a four letter word. I'm the gold standard guy, so they called me the shiny rock guy. So I'm considered very old fashioned. You might know this, Michael, because I'm a fan of the gold standard, but I am a fan of Bitcoin, too. It is inspiring.
NB: It is very inspiring and I just want to thank everyone here on the panel, Michael Saylor, Richard Salsman, Eric Weiss, and I want to open it up to questions from the audience. Oh wow. Go ahead.
MS: I was worried there wouldn't be any questions. <laugh>.
Question: So, my question is fairly simple. In China where they ban Bitcoin, we still see China accounting for, what, something over 20% of the Bitcoin mining? They're not supposed to, but they are. I can't go to my grocery store and fill my shopping cart using Bitcoin, at least not yet. We know that, historically, the surest way to undermine a government without going to war is to be able to undermine its currency. So, we know that governments tend to want to protect their currency. In China right now, Bitcoin's a dissident activity. How will we know whether or not Bitcoin is going to become mainstream or be a dissident activity? What will the tells be, where we can start to see which way it's going to go?
MS: I think it's going to be accepted in different levels to different degrees and different nations. For example, in Cuba and in North Korea, it's illegal to own property at all. And, in China property rights are partial, and capital controls are pretty strong. On the other hand, in the US we just had the head of the CFTC and the head of the SEC embracing it. The head of the CFTC has embraced it as a commodity that he enthusiastically looks forward to supporting. And the head of the SEC just recited the legend of Satoshi Nakamoto to the heads of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve and all the other major government agencies just last week. So I think we're making great progress in the US as it's embraced as a digital commodity.
MS: I think we're also making great progress all throughout the western world, and even in countries with capital controls, I think they're embracing it subject to their existing capital controls. And so I think we've crossed the event horizon where it wouldn't be embraced. The real question is to what extent is it embraced? Is it embraced as an asset you can hold in a stationary account, is it embraced as a cross-border payments mechanism, or is it embraced as a full currency? And it doesn't really matter because I think that we've got a decade from 2020 to 2030 where it will be progressively embraced more by institutions. But, if it's simply embraced as a substitute for a digital gold, right, and it takes the entire decade that takes us up from 20,000 a coin to 500,000 a coin, and if it's embraced as something more than that, it'll start to replace parts of property and then it will go by another factor of 10 or more.
MS: So, the thing to look at is how investors and how regulators view it. The places where you'll see the most hostility are places like North Korea and Cuba, where they literally don't want you to own anything. And, the places where you'll see the second most hostility will be countries with weak currencies that have to have capital controls or else their currency would collapse. Like in Argentina and in China and in Lebanon and in Turkey—they've got struggles where their currency is going to hyperinflate. And so when you're in a situation where you have a weakening currency, you tend to put in place capital controls, price controls, wage controls, export controls, all of which are happening in a lot of those places.
MS: Eventually they'll happen in the US, too, right? Even here. But all of that is second order to the primary thing, which is we've invented digital energy. This is digital energy. It is a block of a billion dollars of energy, a billion dollars of labor, a billion dollars of material manifested in cyberspace as some ineffable thing that you can hold in your head. And you've only got two types of countries, right? You've got the ones that understand that it's digital energy, it's a commodity, and they're going to allow you to do something with it. And then you've got countries that reject it, that aren't going to be able to stop dissidents from doing something with it. So yeah, in North Korea and in Cuba, they can try to squeeze the life out of the economy, but the difference is you could never carry a billion dollar building around in your pocket in North Korea, but you can carry a billion dollars of Bitcoin around in your pocket or in your head now.
MS: And so it's going to be a lot harder to stop the spread of this asset throughout the entire world because telling people they're not allowed to burn a fire is one thing, right? It's kind of against the natural order of things. You can't use fire in North Korea. And I start a fire and someone sees the flame and they come to put it out. But telling people they can't hold digital energy in their head is the same as saying you're not allowed to think math in North Korea. And when you tell people you can't think in mathematical terms, you can't memorize a key or you can't sing in your head silently? Good luck with that, right? I think that those civilizations are so irrational, they tend to collapse under their own weight or like North Korea and Cuba, they kind of undid themselves. The rest are going to have to allow it in the open to some degree or another because fighting digital energy is like fighting digital information. And although the Chinese hated the open and free internet, they couldn't stop the spread of the computer, nor would they want to.
RS: Natalie, can I just add, quickly, this? This concept is interesting: what governments will ban, not ban. Here's what I worry about. The history of government banning the gold standard or sabotaging it. We didn't go off the gold standard because there's not enough gold. More gold has been mined in the last 50 years being off the gold standard than in the prior 50 years. It's when these currencies become significant and they compete with the monopoly issuer of money, the monopoly issuer of money wants to get rid of the damn thing. And so it could be the case that the only reason they really haven't fully gone after Bitcoin is it's not prominent enough. So we'll have to be aware of this as it becomes more, if it becomes, I think it will become more prominent, they're not going to be very nice to it.
RS: In the beginning, they co-opted the gold standard, too. The Fed was on the gold standard originally, so in the beginning, “Oh, this is great, we'll be on the gold standard”—robbing the reputation of what was earned in the market. They borrowed that, right? “Well, we'll issue our currency based on gold.” But gold established its reputation before the Federal Reserve showed up, right? Same thing here. If you see these early kind of friendly treatments of Bitcoin by government officials, beware because they don't want any competition. They want to be the monopoly issuer of money and they'll get rid of Bitcoin as fast as they got rid of the gold standard.
EW: I would also just add to that, that I don't think it's a spectator sport. I don't think it's a sit back-and-watch for these signs. It's perfectly analogous to John Galt and the Gulch, right? There's a thousand pages of how people who believed actively recruited the people that mattered to come. And I think it's a mission, it's a process. There is no alternative. If anybody's got a better alternative for the monetary system, I'd love to see it. So I think that's where the passion comes from. Once you see it and you understand it and you identify it, you become an advocate for it because you don't want to see the world go to crap.
NB: I think there was a question right behind you, right?
Question: Thanks. Professor Salsman, in your excellent book On Golden Liberty, you talked about the history of gold, how it really became the golden constant having a purchasing power that holds true throughout history. A Roman citizen can buy a nice toga with one ounce of gold. And today a person can buy a nice fine suit with that same one ounce of gold. Comparing it to Bitcoin, Bitcoin wants to be the digital gold, but we all know that Bitcoin's been quite volatile in its earliest days. Like one person paid 11,000 Bitcoins for two pizzas. And do you see there's this price discovery going on with Bitcoin trying to eventually become a digital gold. And, how long do you see this go on for?
RS: This is the economics of it and I would just say briefly, since Bitcoin is set up to grow in supply glacially, you just have to back into, then, why would the price be so volatile? It’s totally based on the demand, right? It's not like the Federal Reserve, it's not that the supply is being boomed or busted. It's change in demand. Well this is a very early technology, so the demand will fluctuate. I leave it to you guys to speak more about this because you trade in the stuff. I don't. [MS: It'll monetize over 30 years.] Yeah. So if it, as Michael describes it, monetizes over time, that would stabilize it. By its nature, it would stabilize and become more of a constant, in that regard. But, it is an issue. I mean, if it declines 70% in a year, that's a lot. And it's a lot for the Bitcoiners to say, this is really money, because money doesn't do that. Well, it could be a baby money. It wants to be a money, it could be a money if it's allowed to grow to be a money. But that's when it would start sharing these properties of the gold standard.
MS: The key is to step back and just see a world of 8 billion people and they're moving Bitcoin around hundreds of times a day or thousands of times a day. You have to look out 30 years. And the volatility of the asset between now and 30 years from now is secondary compared to the profundity of the idea that 8 billion people can own their own property and freely trade with each other without the corrupting influence of a malefactor. So we're really looking to the long term. We're not fixated upon the near term. If we wanted stability, we would just put our money in US dollars and watch it slowly dwindle away.
NB: When in doubt, zoom out. That's, um, there was another one right behind you, right? Yep.
Question: Aloha, Nate. Um, so we all understand the negative externalities of a full fiat system. Do you see a future of zero sum where it's either a full Bitcoin hard-money standard or the fiat system wins? Or do you see some sort of hybrid system where they counterbalance each other, a check and balance sort of deal?
MS: I think that Bitcoin's going to gradually grow and it first demonetizes the other cryptos, and then it demonetizes the precious metals, and then it demonetizes investment properties like the fact you have a third apartment as an Airbnb and that's what you're using for your retirement. And then it demonetizes various bond funds and indexes. And in that timeframe you're going to see weak currencies like Sri Lanka and Lebanon collapse and they will collapse in favor of the US dollar. People will use the dollar. So you're going to see the US dollar spread on digital rails to billions and billions of people around the world as the medium of exchange. Then I think you'll see the weak properties like do you really want to have a third home as an Airbnb home and a random place to save with? Or would we rather just have a Bitcoin?
MS: Well, maybe in the US you like that, but if you lived in Kenya, you know, you would think twice about investment properties in Kenya or in Lebanon or in a war zone. So they can both coexist, and 10, 20, 30 years from now, a rational world would be one where Bitcoin is a fair, egalitarian, ethical, monetary asset available to billions and billions of people. Then the fiat currencies will come from the powerful nation states. If you think Europe and China and the US will continue, you'll probably see those three. I think the bottom 100 will probably get squeezed. As long as there is an effective government, there is an effective currency. When the government collapses, the local currency collapses, but then people generally want to flip to the US dollar or maybe if they're in the Chinese sphere of influence, the CNY.
MS: And, you know, I think that most people in the Bitcoin world, what we see is the world's going to be billions and billions of people with a lightning wallet with BTC as a savings account or long term store of value and USD as a checking account or a short term medium of exchange. And in the US sphere of influence, the USD will be the unit of account, and in the Chinese sphere of influence, the CNY will be the unit of account. And that's the next 20 to 30 years. After that, I don't have an opinion. Stuff will change, you know. The telepathic implants and the holographic meta-universe will probably cause us to redefine some of our core things. But if you're looking for the next 20 to 30 years, it's not a revolutionary jarring, you wake up one morning and the dollar's gone. It's really an evolution where you wake up one morning and you say, why would I buy an S & P Index? Or why did I buy 13 rental properties and I have to rent them out? Right? Too complicated.
RS: I think in 50 years, gold and Bitcoin will have largely displaced fiat monies. I think it's a very bad situation now because fiat money is fighting these two, but when the world went off the gold standard in 1971, central banks owned and held and controlled 60% of the gold stock. What do you think it is now? They own and control maybe 15%. That means gold is largely held in the private sector. Bitcoin is largely held in private hands anonymously, right? These are repositories for future, wonderful monetary systems. And the governments, by wrecking their own currencies, basically invited other people to work with sound currencies. It's only a matter of time. The time is happening now, you know, Michael. People are doing this now, they're saying to hell with your fiat monies, we're going to make our own monies not out of whole cloth like you guys do, but out of hard work, mining, mining under the ground and mining in computers. So I'm optimistic that there's no way these fraudulent, unbacked pieces of paper can compete. They only do it by force and eventually people will say, stop forcing us. We're going to use this sound money.
NB: We're in a very interesting part of the simulation. All right, I think we have time for one or two more questions. Oh, got one back there. Okay.
Question: Great panel by the way. Incredibly impressive. Thank you, guys. I wanted to ask about blockchain technology and its implications for liberty beyond just monetary policy implications. So, something where you trust the code, you trust the protocol, you don't trust a government, you don't trust a corporation, you don't trust a human. That to me is pretty profound and it's beyond just monetary implications. The one thing that I've seen, for instance, is YouTube built on blockchain that can't be censored, the free exchange of information without a government, or a corporation, or a moderator. So there are powerful concepts, in my view, beyond just monetary policy for the technology itself. And I'd love to get your thoughts on that.
MS: I think Bitcoin represents a decentralized crypto security network, the most secure network in the world. And the two characteristics it has are, it's most secure to attack in the near term, and it has the most integrity or durability over the next thousand years. So something that's anchored in that can be separate from, and not dependent on a government, a corporation, or any one individual. Now, on top of that, we're seeing open, neutral, permissionless protocols, like Lightning not owned by anybody that have a million times the performance and functionality. And people have been building a lot of applications on that, the obvious ones are payment applications. Like I move money back and forth a million times a minute. But the other is people have been working on chat applications and podcasting applications and the like. I think that you'll see that a decentralized crypto network that is transnational and neutral can serve as the foundation for other applications, but they will come later, on the other layers.
MS: And, there's a lot of exciting stuff in that area. If you follow what Bitfinex is doing with Keet and some of the other Lightning apps, how they end up, it's unclear. Although, I'm also of the opinion that there's a lot of very compelling applications that can be built on top of even centralized apps somewhere in the world, if they had a decentralized monetary network to plug into to power them. So, the jury is still out about how all that will develop. But, maybe the last point is there's a corruption of the economy. There's a corruption of the economy where you have many centralized organizations that are subject to nation-state capture, and you don't have free speech, you don't have free action, and the like. The way to fix the problem is not by fixing the captured entities.
MS: You can't fix the Googles and the Facebooks and the Apples and the Twitters, directly, without fixing the money first. So the right order is: Fix the monetary layer because that's the pure energy layer. Then you can start to fix some of the transaction layers, and then after that, you can fix the application layers. But it has to be in that order because the other order would be, I've tried to create a virtuous, reformed company, but then, of course, the politicians of government just shut it down and they deplatformed it and it went to zero. We've seen that happen a lot. So you can't go in the other direction. You really have to focus on fundamentals. And the fundamental thing is energy. The universe runs on energy. Until you create neutral, open, permissionless, digital energy, you can't create anything of beauty and substance and durability above it or in addition to it. It has to be that order, I think.
EW: I would also add that blockchain has a lot of applications as the underpinning of a lot of different types of networks. But if you had your choice to be an investor in any net type of network in the world, the network you would want to invest in is the money network, not the social media network, not the photographs network, not the YouTube video network. You want to be an investor in the money network.
NB: All right, we are out of time, unfortunately, but I just want to say thank you so much, everyone. Thank you to our panelists, Michael Saylor, Eric Weiss, Richard Salsman. I just want to say how honored I am to even be up here with the three of you. I'm just a recovering mainstream journalist who learned about Bitcoin. Sure. And here I am interviewing these greats. So thank you all so much for coming. I hope you got a lot of value out of it.
AF: Thank you, Natalie. Thank you. And thanks to all of our panelists that contributed to these conversations today. And thank you to all of you who financially contribute to support our work.