Title : “Disruptive Leaps – “Let’s Talk Bitcoin – Episode #134”
URL : http://youtu.be/3bmeohism0g
Organization : “Let’s Talk Bitcoin” Network :
Web Site : http://www.letstalkbitcoin.com/
Host 1 : Adam B. Levine
Contact : LinkedIn Profile , Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Host 2 : Andreas M. Antonopoulos
Contact : LinkedIn Profile
Web Site : http://www.antonopoulos.com/
Guest : Jeffrey Tucker
Contact : LinkedIn Profile
Web Site : http://www.liberty.me/
Announcer (Adam B. Levine) : Today is the 9th of August, 2014 and this is episode 134. This program is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Cryptocurrency is new, highly experimental, and we’re not experts – just obsessed companions, walking the road towards a more peer-to-peer future.
Adam B. Levine : Welcome to “Lets Talk Bitcoin”, a twice-weekly show about the ideas, people and projects building the digital economy and the future of money. My name is Adam B. Levine. Today on Let’s Talk Bitcoin I’m joined by Andreas Antonopoulos, one of the other hosts of the show.
Andreas Antonopolis : Hello.
Adam Levine : And today we have a special guest, Jeffrey Tucker – one of my favorite economists and a spirited Austrian. Jeffrey, how are you?
Jeffrey Tucker : Everything is really great. I’m so happy to be here. It’s really great that we’re able to meet up. I’m on the road a little bit doing this and that. I just got back from a nice Bitcoin meetup in Washington D.C. last night.
Adam Levine : So you are in Washington right now. What are you in Washington for?
Jeffrey Tucker : I came to introduce a series of seminars for, first the Charles Koch Institute, and then a nice interview on “Reason TV”, and now I’m headed to give a big lecture to the “National Convention of the Young Americans for Liberty”, which is kind of a political organization. But when you ask me to speak you’re not going to get too much about politics. You’re going to get a lot about crypto-anarchy.
Adam : So we have a lot of listener questions. Since we’ve booted up the forums I’ve been posting, “Hey, we’re going to be talking to these people. Do you have any questions?” So the first one that we have comes from the listener “Strip”. He says, “Is it necessary for Bitcoin to be a symbol for some kind of idea? Is the symbolism important? Is the idea important? Or is it the tech?”
Jeffrey : So this is a very interesting question because lot’s of people have different views about this. Even in Bitcoin meetups you find some people who have very conventional understanding of Bitcoin as a superior payment network. They see it as an improvement over Paypal. Then you meet other people who come out of the cyber-punk, anarchist world, and see it as a tool for liberating the world from nation-states. These are very different views, right? My own opinion about it is that it’s both things, and all things, and people should just hold whatever views they want to about it. The beautiful thing about Bitcoin is that it is not dependent upon our opinions of it. Nobody is in charge of Bitcoin. I don’t think it is necessary that we have a particular ideology going into our Bitcoin promotion or ideas. We can all interpret and understand it in a different way. If you think about it, it’s almost like electricity or internal combustion or something like that. These are gigantic and technological improvements that have entered into civilization. Many people have different ideas about how the technology is going to be used. That’s good and fine, but the tech is going to take it’s own direction regardless of what we think about it.
Andreas : I love the idea that it is both, because I think that the technology itself is most certainly neutral. It’s a technology that can be used for a variety of purposes. But at it’s core it encompasses certain principles : principles of transparency, principles of openness, peer-to-peer use that is decentralized and egalitarian. And here’s the trick, a neutral technology is not neutral if you put it in a world which is terrifically biased and skewed. Or as George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” So in a time of universal financial deceit, a transparent, open and egalitarian financial network is a revolutionary technology. It is political – not because it is inherently political – but because it is put into a context of deceit. The act of creating equal access finance with transparency – in our world – that is revolutionary.
Jeffrey : This is a wonderful way to put it! So often, Andreas, when you speak I often feel like I am sort of 1.0 and you are 2.0 – and I completely agree with what you said. I also love how Bitcoin embodies all of the coolest technologies of our time. What I am about to speak on at the Y.L. is about all of the beautiful technologies that are driving the world forward. From cryptography, open source program, and distributed networks and peer-to-peer relationships – these are entirely changing the world. I’m not sure if people are aware of this – especially these highly politicized young activist. The ground is shifting beneath our feet, and Bitcoin represents, I think, the most developed embodiment of all the coolest technologies that we’ve seen emerge over the last five to ten years.
Andread : I’ll give you another example of a technology that is inherently neutral, but when introduced into a society that was hopelessly biased it caused a revolution. That was the telescope. Galileo put two pieces of ground glass on the ends of a tube and peered up into the heavens, and what he saw was not heavens. What he saw was circle objects in elliptical orbits rotating around the sun. And that was simple truth. It was completely neutral. It was just reality sitting out there. But you drop that into the middle of 16th century Catholic church indoctrination, and that is a nuclear weapon on mass enlightenment which destroys all of these preconceived notions of a firmament – a heaven above, a material world below. Geocentricity instead of heliocentricity. That is an enormously revolutionary act, and it simply involves opening your eyes and looking up, and seeing something that directly contradicts 800 years of dogma and indoctrination. Does that make the telescope a revolutionary technology? Does that making looking reality in the face a revolutionary act? No, it’s completely neutral. It just is.
Adam : But it’s disuptive. It’s very disruptive.
Andreas : It ended whole nation-states. It destroyed kingdoms. It brought down royal families. It upended the world. It lead to people nailing proclamations of doors and taking of on ships and colonizing a new continent with completely different ideas. It lead to the French revolution. It lead to a victory of democracy over the middle ages – the “dark ages”. It lead to the end of the Holy Roman Empire. And it was just two pieces of glass on a tube. Again, it’s not the technology itself, it’s the context within which it appears.
Jeffrey : In Thomas Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” it’s really, really interesting his description of a prevailing orthodoxy, and a paradigm that comes to be overthrown in the course of development of science in which there are too many anomalies that appear that are not explained by the prevailing paradigm. Then the paradigm collapses and we enter into a pre-paradigmatic state, where there is a lot of argument about what we are going to believe now about the future. Then a new paradigm emerges. As I was reading I couldn’t help but think that that applies also to social and political systems also – not just scientific paradigms. I really feel like we’re living through one of those right now. Andreas, you mentioned the underlying context here of a, sort of, equipotent world in which peer-to-peer relationships are the dominant thing. I really see that as the emerging new paradigm, and the failing paradigm – that is ending – is one of hierarchies and third-party trust relationships – whether it be banks, corporations or nation-states, actually.
Andreas : The problems is that these changes are, obviously, massively destructive because there are a large number of people in very powerful institutions invested in maintaining the status quo. No matter how wrong it is. No matter how perverted it is. No matter how much pain and suffering it introduces into the world. It’s very profitable for some, and you know, as another saying goes , “If your paycheck depends on you not seeing they truth, you won’t see the truth.”
Jeffrey : People get really embedded into the current paradigms, and to orthodoxies. People don’t understand really. This is what Thomas Kuhn’s book was an attack on, is the Whig’s theory of history – that there is a, kind of, smooth evolution of marginal improvements that go from thing to thing to thing. What he said was that actually we, sort of. hurl from one paradigm to another. There are all of these establishments that exist raised up around certain belief systems, and people are born into a certain structure, and they absorb that into their belief system. And they hang onto that for as long as possible until it becomes essentially impossible to do otherwise. This is what I think is essentially going to happen with Bitcoin. We all encounter ressistance to it. We are surrounded by people who are resistant. We see, sort of,a gradual enlightenment taking place. I notice in the last month, for example, I’ve personally encountered two people who were radical, radical Bitcoin critics a year ago, who have completely changed their minds in light of of just experience. That would be Peter Schiff and Jim Rogers, two intellectual investors who I really respect, who used to laugh at me for my views on the subject, who have now come around completely and admitted that they were completely wrong and are looking forward to a beautiful Bitcoin future.
Andreas : Well some of the strongest advocates in Bitcoin were originally skeptics. It’s in the nature of a skeptic – an honest skeptic – to ask hard questions. When you encounter someone who – as soon as you introduce Bitcoin to them – doesn’t just dismiss it, but dismiss it by asking really hard questions. Then you notice that they’re eagerly listening to your answers. They present you with their objections, and they are hoping that you will be able to overcome those objections to give them rational arguments to rethink their position. An honest skeptic will give you arguments, will let you demolish them, and then will make that change, absorb the new data and become an advocate. Some of the strongest advocates, I think, started like that. Then there’s a completely different category of person who is a skeptoc, but does not want to assimilate any new information that would violate that thinking. They don’t ask questions. They have preconceived ideas of what’s true and what isn’t, and any attempt to tell them about Bitcoin is dismissed. That’s how you know the difference between an honest skeptic and a dishonest skeptic, I guess. I don’t think it is surprising that people like Peter Schiff made that change, because that’s where our strongest advocates will come from.
Jeffrey : Can I tell you how it happened? It’s actually very funny. So, I’m bumping into Peter Schiff, and I’ve been arguing with the guy for like a year-and-a-half or even two years about Bitcoin. Because even before I became an advocate I was not a critic, right? He was one of these critics who would give like 65 reasons why Bitcoin is a terrible ides – one of these kind of guys. Then I ran into him in Las Vegas at “Freedom Fest” and he practically grabbed me by the lapels and said, “I have the most amazing story to tell you. My company started accepting Bitcoin, because I figured ‘Well, if I can get it converted into dollars right away, I don’t care .’ People can pay me in bananas – if it is converted into dollars it doesn’t matter to me.” So he enabled a widget on his web site that allowed his clients to pay in Bitcoin. And he said to me “You know, I can’t believe it. When I usually get international transfers in for some of their product they have to wait for or five days for a wire transfer and pay huge transactions fees for Paypal, and credit cards are ridiculously expensive and always involves some fraud issues.” He said, “But with Bitcoin, did you know that I can process these transactions even before the client gets off the phone and I pay virtually zero transaction costs?” And he’s telling me this – with wide eyes – as if he’s telling me news, you know? So I said, “Really Peter, is that right?” and he said, “Yeah, I’m telling you, that’s what’s right.” I said, “Well okay. I’m glad to hear this.” It’s the experience I think.
Adam : The experience really is it. That really is it. I think we all started as skeptics. I was looking at Bitcoin for a good year before I really felt like it was something that I might put some money into. And that was seeing it crash and come back a couple of times. It just seems like everybody has their own comfort threshold.
Andreas : Right, and as we expand adoption we’re reaching a comfort threshold of more and more people. They see the first crash, the second crash, the third crash, the forth crash, the fifth crash – and it’s still not dead, which is kind of remarkable. The number of obituaries that have been written for Bitcoin in quite staggering.
Adam : I thought it was pretty remarkable.
Jeffrey : I’m sitting here so thrilled, Here it is – I guess we’re approaching August 2014 – and I started writing about this subject around February 2013. I didn’t expect what would happen, but I wrote about five or ten articles right away, since I kind of stared engaging the Bitcoin economic structures and seeing what they’re all about. Then, in a funny way, the ceiling fell in on me. All of my old colleagues and friends started coming out of the woodwork to say that I was not of sound mind – that I had forgotten all of the lessons that I previously knew, and that I had, sort of, lost it. I was severely attacked and criticized – and it shocked me really. I have to admit to you that it is has been delightful over the last year-and-a-half to see how all of these people have shut up. You know? I hate to feel that sense of schadenfreude, but I just do.
Adam : It’s nice that there’s more support for it now, but we still haven’t hit that 1% yet,
Andreas : Yeah, Jeffrey, you said something that got my attention, which is people telling you, “Have you forgotten all the lessons? Have you forgotten all the things you know?” And that’s really the primary criticism of an established paradigm. The lessons and the things you know ; the conventional wisdom which is being drummed into your head. Especially if you study the subject – as an insider, as an academic in the space, or as a professional in the space – and you become skilled and expert in the space, that means you have reached the apotheosis of indoctrination. You’ve absorbed all of the dogma and become adept at teaching it to others. So the ironic thing is that the people who are able to escape the paradigm first are the ones who have never been schooled in it. If you come at it and say, “I don’t know anything about money so this Bitcoin thing looks good.” you’ve got a better chance of learning something. But if you think you already know everything there is to know about money and you have that conventional wisdom in your head, it’s almost impossible to escape that paradigm. It invades your life in every way. It informs your academic success. You’ve written papers about it. You’ve taught thousands of others the same thing, and reinforced it in your own mind. You’ve expanded your view within that narrow framework. You’ve explored it’s edges. You’ve taken it from a vague description to hard lines and sharp edges. Then stepping outside of that is almost impossible. So you see that sometimes a person who comes along and throws all of that in disarray is someone outside the field. It has to be, because they’ve avoided the indoctrination. It’s the patent clerk at the Austrian patent office who says, “Newtonian physics? I don’t think so.” It’s the tinkerer who has no formal training in electronics who understands a new perspective. And it’s the half-programmer, half-physicist systems-thinker “Satoshi Yakamoto” who is obviously not an economist, who comes along and says, “Well how about we do it this way?”
Jeffrey : I love what you just said, and I hope that somebody transcribes those two paragraphs you just said. I know in my case I had a serious problem that everything I thought I knew argued against the legitimacy of Bitcoin. It became a serious problem for me mentally, because I couldn’t make sense of it in light of my theories. But at some point I decided look, “What am I going to trust? What I actually see out the window? Or the theories that are in this hundred-year-old book that I’ve got rolling around in my head?” I finally had to trust reality over theory and hope that at some point they could reemerge together in a way that makes rational sense to me. But there was a whole long period in there where I couldn’t actually bring the two together. But none-the-less Bitcoin is happening. So I had to take almost a kind of a leap out of my prevailing orthodoxies in order to embrace Bitcoin. Then, gradually – over the course of about twelve months – I began to put it all back together again. Now Bitcoin makes sense to me in light of what I previously understood, but with some tweeks, you know? So there is a certain amount of intellectual humility which is required to leave one paradigm and enter another.
Andreas : When you said you had to make an intellectual leap it brought to mind another beautiful example of paradigm shifting and just stepping completely outside of the accepted norms and doing something so obviously weird and different that it shocks everyone, and it forces them to reconsider reality because it simply works. That’s the story of Dick Fosbury. Richard Fosbury is the athlete who was the first person to do the high jump with a backwards flip. Nobody had ever done it that way. Everybody would run up to the pole and, kind of, scissor their legs over it. That was the established way of doing it for decades – possibly even hundreds of years – who knows. He ran up and jumped backwards, and at first the reaction was that the judges tried to figure out if this was actually allowed.Can you do this? Is this part of the rules? Because he immediately set world records by doing this weird backwards flip. And they said, “Well, the pol is still there, it didn’t fall off.” It completely violated the existing paradigm – completely crazy and weird looking – and, of course, the next year everybody was doing it.
Jeffrey : That’s a great story.
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Here are the headlines for August 9th, 2014 : Lake Tahoe Property sells for 1.6 million Bitcoin. Bitcoin momentum growing in emerging markets. Hacker swipes $83,000 from Bitcoin mining pool. The Bitcoin derivative boom could be a mark of the cryptocurrency’s coming of age. [Huboy?] bets big on multisig with quick wallet acquisition. Bitcoin Foundation seeks more time to address virtual currency rules. Hungary’s 200 volt now accepts Bitcoin for laptops, tablets, t.v.s and more. Check it out at cryptokit.com.
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It’s time for the magic word. Today’s magic word, for episode 134, is “liberty”. That’s L-I-B-E-R-T-Y. You’ve got until the 13th of August to visit Letstalkbitcoin.com and enter the magic word for your share of the LTBC audience rewards.
So, today’s second sponsor is a little bit different. With 62,000 LTBC, community member [Seen mason?] asked that we use his time to talk a little about the situation in Gaza. His perspective is this : Between 1947 and 1949, seven to eight thousand non-Jews were expelled from their family lands in Isreal and hundreds of villages were destroyed. Those people were kept under occupation without rights or a state for 47 years. Muslims, Christians and others within Isreal can’t rent or purchase land in about 80% of the country, and are basically second-class citizens by law. While, on the other hand, any Jewish person born anywhere in the world may gain Israeli citizenship and take the land of a non-Jew.
And with that, I’ve pissed off about half of our audience. Just kidding. Thanks to C. Mason for his perspective. My mind is very one-track.I tend to focus on things I can positively impact. Mostly this just seems like there is no winning scenario. It’s not about the people, it’s about the politics of control – which is probably a whole show unto itself. And certainly just because one side of the story has terrible stories doesn’t mean that it’s not just as true on the other. And that’s the thing, I guess. It’s just not about you or I at all. In the Middle East – just like everywhere else – our leaders make bad decisions just because it’s the best – as they see it – of the available options. Is it good for anyone really? No. But that’s not the world that we live in – yet. So that’s it. Back to the show.
Adam Levine : So Andreas, a little bit earlier you mentioned patent clerk, Newtonian physics. Intellectual property really has been – for hundreds of years now – kind of a core part of how people both monetize and protect. And it’s been interesting watching disruptive technologies – specifically cryptocurrency, which isn’t really governed by patents, and can’t really be controlled by patents – and on the other hand you have things liike 3D printing, that made a lot of progress over a couple of years, but that was only because some 20-year-old patents had expired and now these parts were able to be made by just anybody who wanted to make them as opposed to the one manufacturing conglomerate that had the legal right to be able to do it before that point.
So, Jeffrey, I’m curious, where do you think intellectual property controls can fit within a Bitcoin framework, and what impact would it have had if the situation had been different in the cryptocurrency space.
Jeffrey Tucker : So my own feeling on intellectual property is that it is basically an artificial thing that can only exist in an age of the nation-state, and that’s governed by the physical world threats of monopolistic elites who control the world through compulsion and coersion. That’s fundamentally at odds with what the digital age is all about : about malleability, reproducability, immoirtality and distributed networks. The idea of some elites gathering together to allocate who owns what in the realm of ideas is incompatible with this. Seriously, I’ve done a lot of work on the history of intellectual property – the ideological structure surrounding it. It wasn’t really until after the beginning of the 21st century that we saw hardcore, really serious attacks on the idea of IP – and it’s because digital networks really broke the system down. We saw some opposition to IP even as early as the beginnings of the industrial revolution, but nothing really substantial and serious until the digital age. Basically, I think the system is broken down and isn’t going to last, and it is very interesting to me to see how large corporations are starting to realize this and stop putting so much energy and time into enforcing their patents and copyrights – and starting to use the new networks of open source cooperation and the sharing economy to their advantage.
Andreas : Here, here. That’s a great commentary. Intellectual property is an artificial construct for monopolizing ideas and creating cartels around abstract concepts. The basic problem is that no one really has an original thought that they’ve conceived completely by themselves without anybody else being involved. Innovation is simply expending a culture of four-and-a-half million years one millimeter forward by combining all of the existing inputs and producing something slightly different – something that probably a few thousand other people have probably done somewhere else. The idea that you can take that and create a monopoly around that – while originally envisioned as a way to reward creators – has ended up creating these islands of stagnant creativity and isolation by removing things from the culture. The age-old compact – the social compact, that is even encoded in the U.S. Constitition, which is that “Congress can secure rights for creators in order to promote the arts and sciences.”. This idea that these patents and copyrights are of limited time – so that you take from the cultural Zeitgeist, you enhance it or advance it a tiny bit, you get a short-term reward, and then you give it back to the public domain so that others can build upon it. That compact then got perverted. Starting with the Disney company, who as soon as they saw their Mickey copyright runnning out, went ot Congress and got it extended 73 times – until copyright essentially became infinite, instead of limited in time, They were quite happy to take “The Brother’s Grim” and every other cultural story, appropriate it for their own needs, and then give nothing back to the popular culture. Take all of the stories of our ancestors, turn them into copyright material, and then give nothing back by perverting the copyright law. We’ve seen this happen across the board in intellectual property. Well, open source breaks that cycle. It recognizes that collaboration and creation moves faster, and innovation with collaboration moves faster – and if you give back to the community the community will give back to you again and again, and it creates this feedback loop of accelerated innovation. Whether it is Linux, or Wikipedia, or a thousand other things which have come from it – especially now with the introduction of the “Creative Commons” law and licenses. Those are amnazing things, and what they’re showing is that there is a much better way to do it.
Jeffrey : I heard something last night that really intrigued me, because I’ve tried to understand the best way to describe open source projects and what they mean. At the Bitcoin meetup last night somebody said that the great thing about open source technology is that it, sort of, takes away the obligation we all feel to constantly reinvent things – to constantly recreate, on our own, from scratch – all things. Always reinventing the wheel in a world of intellectual property, as you say, requires absolute originality. But open source programming – and open source everything – allows us to draw from the energies of others, and take what’s already been done and build on top of them. So you have this cumulating capital that grows over time. I was trying to thinkof a right analogy. It’s as if you had, sort of, one cake that is baked by the entire world, that is constantly getting ever better and ever more delicious, and the more people eat it there is ever more cake for ever more people. Rather than individual cakes by individuals constantly throughout history, you have one big cake that everybody is constantly making better and testing and bringing their own ideas to. I thought that was a really nice way to think about it,
Andreas : Yeah. The core fallacy at the heart of the concept of the intellectual property is the word “property”, because one of the absolute characteristics of property is that if you have property and I take that property, you no longer have that property. It is by definition singular, unique, unitary and not sharable. But if you have an idea, and I copy that idea, we both have that idea. And if I give it to ten more people, all twelve of us now have that idea – and we can all build on it. And you lost nothing from the fact that I have the idea. It’s not property, and it’s not property because it’s not tangible, it’s not destroyable. It’s infinitely copyable. If you have invented something and I copy that, then really what we are doing is doubling the rate of invention. Because – at the end of the day – you didn’t really invent something, you just expanded on thousands of years of culture. Your addition is standing on the shoulders of giants, and really hasn’t raised the bar that much.
Jeffrey : The whole idea od property in the first place – as you said – comes about because of the existence of scarcity. It’s a social construct we invented to stop conflicts, to deal with the problem of rivalrous control over the physical world. Once you migrate to the digital world you get simultaneous consumption of all things – with no depreciation of the original object – property is no longer necessary. It becomes just an absurdity. You know, it is important to remember that in history people have had mistaken views of propert over all sorts of things. For example, in the 18th century, and up until the early part of the 19th century – people thought that slaves were legitate forms of property, In fact, there is a 5th Amendment to the Constitution that was put in there to protect property rights over other people [chuckle], you know? Now we recognize that was just a mistake. So in the 21st century we’re gradually realizing that this is also a mistake to apply the term “property” to the realm of ideas?
Adam : But was it always a mistake? Because the arguments I hear both of you making basically revolve around, “Now we have digital things.” But that wasn’t true even 30 or 40 years ago. So 200 years ago, when intellectual property was getting started inthis country – in the United States – I have it in my head that it might actually have served a purpose, because the inventor was at the mercy of a manufacturing partner that might take years and might actually kick them out of the business because the inventor doesn’t control – or have any claim to – the very centralized and capital-intensive means of production. So Lincoln had a quote that I like. He said, “Patents added the fuel of interest to the fire of innovations.” I wonder, did they ever serve a purpose in your eyes, Jeffrey?
Jeffrey : No, I don’t think so, and I think what we need to do is totally revise intellectual history. There origin of the steam engine was a similar kind of problem. I mean, it was a great innovation, but it got locked down by oatents and nothing happened of any value for another 10 or 20 years, because everybody was, sort of, prohibited by law from adding to it. It was very interesting what happened with even things like the cotton gin. Who’s that guy – Eli Witley – supposedly invented it, but he didn’t invent it, he improved it slightly and got a patent on it and then went around spending the next 20 years cracking skulls to prevent innovation, He finally learned his lesson after he bankrupted himself spending so much money on patent lawsuits. It’s the same thing with the Wright Brothers. They came up with pretty cool little onnovation that gave them the title of being the first in flight, and then they spent the rest of their whole lives enforcing the patents. Meanwhile, all of the other countries in the world actually improved airline technology. By the time World War I came along the U.S. had the worst airplanes in the world, because we had the tightest patent controls [laughter].Yeah, I don’t think that patents have ever served any kind of purpose, and we really need to revise our intellectual history.
Adam, you said something very interesting about how maybe intellectual property is not really relevant in the digital age, but it might have had relevance before. But I really feel like we should have known that IP was not a good idea, even dating all the way back to the Gutenberg bible. When the Gutenberg bible came along, of course there was no IP over the psalms and the other texts that were being printed. But there was a confusion, because people associated the ideas on the page with the physical property of the page itself. We couldn’t really conceptualize the fact that these were really difference products. I mean, the ideas in the book are part of the non-scarce realm, the book itself is part of the scarce realm, and so we have this merging of these two things – one non-scarce and one scarce – and one beautiful thing called a “book”. But it took us a long time to realize that we are dealing always with two realms – one scarce and one non-scarce. We just didn’t know it – fully and completely – until the last few years.
Adam : So Bitcoin emerged as a very hobbiest sort of thing. It was very, very amateur, very experimental – “Let’s see what we can accomplish. We’re doing this because it’s neat that we can do this.” And I recently read a book called “The Master Switch” by Tim Woo, and in that he tells a bunch of different stories of information empires as they succeed and then fail. One of the stories he tells is about AM radio and FM radio. AM radio strikes me very similarly to how Bitcoin emerged, and FM radio seems like maybe after these recent discussion about these rules that are being made in New York. Maybe that’s the situation that everything that comes after will fall under. So I’m curious, do you know this story?
Jeffrey : I’m not aware about it.
Andreas : It’s been a while since I read Tim Woo’s book, so maybe you can remind me while we explain it to our listeners.
Adam : It’s a fairly lengthy thing, but the ideais that, in the early days, a kid who wanted to set up a radio station could set up a radio station with one of these little crystal radio things, and it was a hobbiest thing that people did because it was fun. You could set up a broadcast and you could listen to things, and this was very new at the time. Basically, it took like forty years to develop, but by that point it had developed into quite a successful industry, and there were a variety of monopolies, actually. Because at the time the only way you could get a station from somewhere non-locally was to use AT&T’s long distance lines. That actually was one of the reasons why FM radio was kind of suppressed, because FM radio came along and it esssentially made it so that ranges and power requirements were such that, before, it was unfeasible with AM radio to do re-broadcast stations – where you broadcast from one hill and then it is re-broadcast from another hill. The range was too short and the power requirements were too great. But when FM radio came along, it essentially made it so that anybody who wanted to do this could very cheaply set up these networks of stations and re-broadcasters, and that was one of several reasons why the FM radio paradigm – which it actually invented the FM radio technology and funded the research to do it – then sat on the technology. So the FCC came along and said, “In order to maintain the standard you can use much less power than you could with an equivalent AM station, so that it will only give you an AM equivalent broadcast distance.”. I’m rambling, and doing a kind of terrible job with this, but it seems like sometimes – especially in the last hundred years – these are used as weapons to suppress technologies.
Andreas : Not sometimes, Adam. Every single time, in every disruptive technology, the existing industries have used every weapon at their disposal to fight for incumbency and to prevent disruption. Which is, of course, the normal reaction. which then tells you what regulation does. Regulation starts off – at least presumably, or presented as – consumer protection, and it very quickly becomes a way to distinguish incumbents and to protect them from competition. Because they become adept at navigating the regulation, they co-opt the regulators, and then as soon as disruption happens they turn the regulation around and point it as a big weapon against the disruptors. That has happened in every industry. It’s happening today in every industry.
Jeffrey : In the end they never succeed. That’s what’s amusing. History progresses in any case, it’s just that the regulators can slow us down, but that can’t ultimately stop it – which makes it just a vast waste. I feel this way about a lot of these Bitcoin regulations that are coming out. It’s going to make the sector function less well, it’s going to make it less competitive, there’s going to be less focus on the consumer and more focus on compliance. But im the end, fifty years from now, none of these regulations that they’re trying to pass right now are going to have any relevance for whether – and to what extent – Bitcoin adoption is going to take place. Bitcoin is going to take its own course eventually. It’s just a matter of how many victims you want to create in the meantime. That’s what it’s all about.
Adam : Well, in New York, for example – again, we’re talking about proposed rules here just real briefly – that essentially say that you have the same compliance requirements if you do anything with Bitcoin – and users that have some basis in New York – as you would if, basically, you were a minor bank. The reporting requirements are very stringent, and it basically makes it so that with the current way that cryptocurrency is, it’s kind of incompatible to be complaint and to not create and entirely new cryptocurrency. So, I’ve been wondering about that. I mean, it’s kind of easy to create a new cryptocurrency, so if New York wants to go along with this type of means, doesn’t it make sense to actually either – maybe not them, nut somebody else does it – but create a cryptocurrency that actually complies with all of these requirements that they want. That has the real name currency attached, and that doesn’t require you to Jerry-rig it, rather than using Bitcoin where – yeah, you can use it, but you’re throwing out all of the advantages that came with it, so why bother?
Andreas : I think that’s mistaking a feature for a bug. The fact that Bitcoin is incompatible with these regulations, that’s not a bug in Bitcoin. That’s a feature. That’s one of the best features in Bitcoin. It’s incompatible with these regulations because those regulations themselves express the existing paradigm, and that is exactly what Bitcoin is disrupting.
Adam : But I’m going to call you on this, Andreas, because Bitcoin is neutral. So, at the same time, you’re kind of putting an ideology onto it. So, that’s what I’m saying —
Andreas : No. I’m not —
Adam : Bitcoin has the ideology baked into it. Can you twist that ideology and create something else that’s very similar but that doesn’t have that exact thing.
Andreas : No. What I’m saying is that Bitcoin is neutral, but Bitcoin is neutral in a way that violates the tenets of a very “not neutral” regulatory system that assumes that the best way to achieve consumer protection is to have all of the personal identifiable information of consumers given to several agencies with lax controls – so they can lord over it and supposedly stop “bad guys”. And what that does is actually destroys consumer protection. Privacy is consumer protection. The idea that by giving all of your private information you will be protected as a consumer is perverse. And the fact that Bitcoin does not conform to that idea because it is neutral, because it allows consumers to interact without having to go through this perverse activity of giving up all of their personal information just to transact – that is not a bug in Bitcoin. That is the feature that makes sure that Bitcoin will not fit into these comfortable regulations, and it won’t fit into the comfortable regulations because the regulations themselves are perverse – the idea that consumer protection is ensured by taking all the private information of consumers. And when consumers have a choice, to choose how they want to be protected, they choose not to give out their personal information. That —
Adam : — But that is the point. —
Andreas : — It’s neutral. —
Adam : Yes, in reality, given the choice. But they don’t have a choice. If this happens, then the only legal uses for Bitcoin will be this type of use – where you are disclosing all of this information. So that’s what I’m saying, is that in the world we live in, if this happens is it better to keep using Bitcoin and still disclose all of that information because you’re going to have to anyways – if you’re in New York, and under the subject of all of this nonsense. Or is it better to create something that, kind of, bakes it in? More importantly, what about people who are not us – and who are not in this for the ideology of it – think?
Announcer (Adam B. Levine) : Thanks for listening to episode 134 of “Let’s Talk Bitcoin”. Content for today’s episode was provided by : Andreas M. Antonopolis, Jeffrey Tucker and Adam B. Levine. This episode was edited by Denise Levine and Adam B. Levine. Music for today’s show was provided by Jared Rubin of “Security Beats” and General Fuzz. If you’re a developer, you might be interested in our upcoming “Coins For Commits” program. As the platform goes open source in the coming weeks we want as much help as possible, and you’ll earn LTBC for your commits. If you have any questions, send an email to email@example.com and I’ll help you find the right person to speak to.
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