28 April 2021

On today’s show Preston Pysh talks with Alex Gladstein, a humanitarian expert with the Human Rights Foundation. They talk about the global impact Bitcoin is having on initiatives to remove tyranny and protect individual rights.



  • Alex got started in Bitcoin many years ago.
  • How the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) thinks Bitcoin can help.
  • Bitcoin, hashing, and China.
  • What are the biggest barriers to entry for people in less fortunate areas?
  • Bitcoin in Venezuela, Turkey and other areas that have high levels of debasement.
  • Lightning network versus on chain Bitcoin.
  • Alex’s thoughts on privacy compared to other tokens.
  • Banning Bitcoin and the impact for the countries that have tried.


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Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

Preston Pysh (00:00:03):
Hey everyone, welcome to this Wednesday’s release of the podcast, where we’re talking about Bitcoin. On today’s show, we have an incredible guest that’s been in the Bitcoin space since the very early days, and that’s Alex Gladstein. Alex is the chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation, where he’s actively been partnering with world changing activists and creating innovative solutions to unite the world against tyranny.

Preston Pysh (00:00:25):
Now on our show, we typically talk about all the things from a financial lens when we talk about Bitcoin, but so many people miss the profound impact that’s having on privacy, individual rights, protection from oppression, and the list goes on. There’s no better person to bring these stories and impact than Alex. So without further delay, here’s my conversation with the one and only Alex Gladstein.

Intro (00:00:51):
You’re listening to Bitcoin Fundamentals by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Now for your host, Preston Pysh.

Preston Pysh (00:01:10):
All right. Hey everyone, welcome to the show. Like I said in the introduction, I’m here with Alex Gladstein and Alex, [mia 00:01:16], it’s exciting to have you here because you and I exchange a lot of messages on Twitter and here we are finally talking face to face, really excited to be doing this.

Alex Gladstein (00:01:25):
Getting down to brass tacks. Let’s do it.

Preston Pysh (00:01:27):
Let’s do it. All right. So I want to start off by just allowing you the opportunity to just tell us a story that’s just kind of opened our eyes to some of the stuff that you’re seeing. Because the stuff that we’re about to talk about today is just so wholesome and so exciting for a world that seems to be going awry. And so, lay a story on us that’s kind of a current event. Maybe something that you’ve seen recently that is really going to capture everyone’s attention.

Alex Gladstein (00:01:57):
Yeah, well, my mind was blown this morning when I was speaking to a young man from the Congo, from the DRC. And I wanted to start with his story because I’ve just been so moved by it all day. And it’s something that I think encapsulates a lot of why I think Bitcoin matters so much for freedom. So I wanted to start a little bit with the history here. It’s inspirational, but if you are to be inspired, you have to start from someplace lower. And unfortunately, we have to go quite low.

Alex Gladstein (00:02:24):
About 100 years ago, there was something called the Congo Free State, he was telling me, so from basically the late 1880s till 1908 or so the king of the Belgium, King Leopold, he had free reign over this enormous territory of more than a million square miles, where he basically worked the Congolese people to death to produce rubber. So some 10 million Congolese perished in the service of king Leopold as slaves.

Alex Gladstein (00:02:51):
Now it’s important to note that the rubber that they produced ended up fueling the car revolution. It helped attach cars to roads and helped power a lot of the events that were happening in the industrial world, and we’ll continue to see that as we move through this story. And in 1908, the world was like, “Oh my God, this is so horrible. You should just do regular colonialism.” So from 1908 to 1960, the Belgians just did normal colonialism in the Congo, which was still pretty bad.

Alex Gladstein (00:03:19):
And they had some of the largest gold mines in Africa. So of course, our reserve currency at the time, a lot of it was coming from the Congo. Again, a very important thing for the world. And what was really interesting is as we started to edge towards World War II, he was telling me something that was really fascinating was that apparently the Congo is what provided essentially almost all of the uranium for the Manhattan Project.

Alex Gladstein (00:03:42):
So the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually had uranium in them that came from a place called Shinkolobwe in the Congo. And the uranium there was of such incredible quality. It was called like a freak of nature essentially. There was uranium elsewhere, but the US government on the recommendation of Einstein really needed to stockpile then make these things ended up getting it from the Congo. So again, something that really changed our world.

Alex Gladstein (00:04:06):
Fast forward a little bit to today, something like 80% of the coltan in the world is mined by hand in the Congo for our smartphones. 70% of the cobalt used for car batteries, 40% of the tantalum that we used for electronics. So this is a place where some of the world’s most amazing riches lie just beneath the surface. And yet it has this history of brutal colonialism. In 1960 finally, the Congolese people got independence and their democratically elected leader was assassinated within the year by the foreign powers that didn’t like him very much.

Alex Gladstein (00:04:37):
And essentially, we installed this guy Mobutu who rules until 1997. He changed the name of the country to Zaire and he ruled it until then. And of course they had to deal with some of the world’s worst hyperinflation, endless massacres, imprisonments, torture, et cetera. They finally got done with Mobutu, and then they entered into several wars, which increasingly became about these rare minerals. Now finally to get to today, the guy I spoke to this morning is a youth activist in the Congo.

Alex Gladstein (00:05:07):
He co-founded something called Lucia, which is a big nonviolent movement to push for reform in the country. And this is someone who’s grown up, his father, his grandfather, they’ve all grown up in a time where they didn’t have control over anything, whether it was the European colonialists, or the local dictator, or foreign corporations, they were essentially just slaves to the moment or actual slaves.

Alex Gladstein (00:05:29):
And what’s so amazing is that these people who have been really successful in building this nonviolent movement have started to understand Bitcoin. And they started to realize how powerful it’s going to be for them in the future, because it really gives them like property rights like they didn’t have before. The Congolese people had all these incredible stuff, but it could just be taken from them by people with guns, or with more guns. And that’s just the way it’s sort of been for so many decades.

Alex Gladstein (00:05:55):
And until you to that point where you bring Bitcoin to the story. And just last week, Lucia, which is very prominent on Twitter, they have like a quarter million followers. They started tweeting out that they’re really excited to begin accepting Bitcoin. And they’re learning all about it. And a bunch of the people in the movement are orange pilled. It kind of is this like light at the end of a very, very long dark tunnel for a lot of people.

Alex Gladstein (00:06:17):
And I think that’s what a lot of folks maybe who might be listening to your podcast, who are Americans or Europeans, they might not grasp. What I’ve told you here so far is kind of like a more indicative story, a more average story of a human on this planet over the last 100 years than the lives that we’ve lived or that our families have been able to live. And Bitcoin is so transformative because it’s going to allow these people to put their time and energy and value into something that they can control with math.

Alex Gladstein (00:06:45):
And they can control with a mobile phone, which so many people in Congo have. And I think that’s just going to be a big shift in the balance of power from, again, whether it’s foreign powers or the local authoritarian state to the industry.

Read More

Preston Pysh (00:07:00):
Talk to us about that last part just a little bit more. So I know when you were describing all of this to me, I’m thinking, “How prevalent is a smartphone?” And over in the Congo or for a really a lot of the different places that we’re going to be talking about, for people to take immediate payment for something via QR Code or however they might go about doing it.

Alex Gladstein (00:07:23):
On average today, about half the world has access to a smartphone, about 50%. So we’re talking three point something billion people, and that is increasing at a rapid pace. So some estimates out of some of the smartphone manufacturers, maybe take them with a grain of salt, but by the end of 2022, close to 70% of the population will be connected in this way. So you’re talking in the very near future, 70% of the world’s population that will be able to control its own financial destiny.

Alex Gladstein (00:07:54):
And already half, of course, we know that that half is more about close to 100% of people in Belgium and more about 30% of people in a place like the Congo. But the key is that the people who run these grassroots movements and communities and organizations, they are connected. And then the information, the knowledge can sort of trickle down through their movements. So we’re in the beginning of something big, it has clearly hit the developed world fastest, obviously.

Alex Gladstein (00:08:24):
The majority of the world’s Bitcoin mining infrastructure, all this stuff is happening in the developed world. But the thing that makes me really moved basically is that the same opportunities are open for literally everybody, anyone who can get access to the internet which again is creeping, is marching across the world. The Bitcoin network is open for business. It does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how wealthy you are. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is, what you believe in. It doesn’t matter what your political proclivities are. It is open for you.

Preston Pysh (00:08:54):
So Alex, let’s just backtrack a little bit and talk a little bit about you first, because one of the most prevalent questions that I got whenever I posted on Twitter that I was going to be talking to you is, people wanted to hear your backstory. They kind of know what has been your driving force through the years. So talk to us a little bit about before you went to work, the Human Rights Foundation, before you even knew about Bitcoin, what was the motivation? What was the thing that was that fire inside of you that wanted to go ahead and take this on and work for the organization?

Alex Gladstein (00:09:27):
Look, I’m a child of 9/11 and the Iraq War. I was in high school during 9/11. I was a senior, well, a junior actually during the invasion of Iraq. And I remember distinctly as a junior in high school, having to get up on stage, I was like on the debate team and debating both sides of whether we should invade this country. It’s been seared into my mind ever since that I had to go up and do that and essentially argue to invade this country.

Alex Gladstein (00:09:52):
Of course at the time, my 17 year old self was fed lies, basically. From what I know now, that really deeply affected me. And as I went into college, I originally was going to be an engineer and I just got so taken by, why did we invade Iraq? And I wanted to learn more about political science, geopolitics, the way nations work together, or fight each other. And I ended up majoring in international relations at Tufts up in Massachusetts, where they have the Fletcher School, got a lot of exposure there.

Alex Gladstein (00:10:19):
Spent a year in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies, which gave me a very different perspective. Very, very interesting because the population is so diverse. I took a class on Islam and democracy, which was fascinating. Was a year long class. We did one third of the course on Western philosophers, one third of the course on Islamic philosophers. And then we did like case studies, but a full third of the class could recite the entire Quran by heart. So it was a very different group of people than what I had in Medford, Massachusetts.

Alex Gladstein (00:10:47):
And it drove me to think about the world more broadly. And I ended up getting an internship at the Human Rights Foundation in 2007. Of course, as the financial crisis developed, it was tough to get a job, especially in this sector. So I was counting myself lucky and I spent my summer making backpacks movies and books and films dubbed into Spanish that would be smuggled into Cuba by my colleagues.

Alex Gladstein (00:11:11):
So we’re talking like I was sitting there burning basically DVDs that looked like Brittany Spears or YouTube or something. It looked like music. But in reality on the little kind of like a transparent center circle in the middle of the DVD, we actually inscribed what it actually was for this group of underground librarians in Cuba. And it would be stuff like V for vendetta dubbed into Spanish. So my initial summer was very blowing, mind expanding.

Alex Gladstein (00:11:38):
We carried out this project, at the end of the summer they wanted to hire me. And starting full-time in 2008, I’ve been working for HCF ever since studying authoritarianism, studying how freedom movements work around the world, learning about how technology can empower, but also control. And ultimately 10 years after I started, I got really deep into Bitcoin, but I had 10 years of working with democratic movements around the world, working with nonviolent activists, learning about what was happening in Russia, in China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia.

Alex Gladstein (00:12:11):
So I spent a full decade kind of on the front lines of freedom before I really got into Bitcoin. So, that’s kind of where I come from.

Preston Pysh (00:12:19):
It sounds like the various philosophies that you were studying at the time just really kind of made you extremely open to just ideas in general, critical thinking. Would you summarize it that way or would you think … how would you go about describing it?

Alex Gladstein (00:12:35):
I think ultimately, but I’m very skeptical in one of these personality tests I’ve taken the caliper, I’m like a 99% on skepticism. So I make you really prove it. And inevitably I have one of these stories. I searched my email a couple of years ago for the first mention of Bitcoin. I was curious. Came in 2013 from some Ukrainian activists who had wanted to see this was like the year before Russia invaded Ukraine. So they were interested in seeing if we could support the civil society movement there.

Alex Gladstein (00:13:06):
I had some conversations, the Human Rights Foundation actually started, we started accepting Bitcoin in 2014. So it was like on my mind, I remember reading that Marc Andreessen piece, which was fantastic. I wouldn’t say I was skeptical, I just didn’t really get it for years. So people now who are like, “Oh my God, it’s so confusing. Help me. I don’t get it.” Look, it took me like three years to really grok Bitcoin. And a lot of people do it way faster than me. Look at Michael Saylor.

Alex Gladstein (00:13:32):
So, you can grok this thing much faster than I did, and I would encourage you to, but really by the spring of 2017, of course usually price is the greatest teacher. As chattering started to begin that spring, we held our first human rights event at the conference we do called the Oslo Freedom Forum. It was in May of 2017 and we had our first Bitcoin and human rights sort of program. And it’s really grown ever since.

Preston Pysh (00:13:58):
So I don’t know. Did you see the posts from Professor Hanke this morning talking about Venezuela and the dollar?

Alex Gladstein (00:14:07):
I’ve been following him, and it’s incredible that he’s head of this troubled currencies project. That’s literally what he’s supposed to be in charge of. And yet he doesn’t understand Bitcoin. It’s like, not only does he not understand it, he thinks apparently that he can make something that’s even better. But look, that’s a common trap. And maybe we can talk about that. When someone comes from like the political world or the humanitarian world or the human rights world, let’s say post 2016 into the cryptocurrency space, you are just going to get assailed with all this blockchain not Bitcoin, like, we should use these like permissioned blockchains to do X.

Alex Gladstein (00:14:45):
Like it may have been bad in terms of ICOs and people losing their money, but oh man, what an effective social attack on Bitcoin was the whole blockchain not Bitcoin thing. Because anyone who was involved in the humanitarian aid organization, the state department, anyone who’s thinking about how can we use this technology to help people? It’s like they just immediately skipped over Bitcoin because it was like the old thing clearly not worthwhile.

Alex Gladstein (00:15:09):
And then they went and wasted all this money and time on creating these new blockchains and cryptocurrencies. And I just get very depressed when I think about that. But I do think I try to give people the benefit of the doubt at first. Just given the existing literature, someone who comes from a background like mine is going to fall into this stuff first. And it’s our responsibility, at least I see it as my responsibility to help pull them out of the muck and show them the way up the mountain.

Preston Pysh (00:15:36):
What do you think causes this, that people are looking for? They’re basically saying, “It can’t be Bitcoin. It’s been around too long. There has to be a better technology.” What is driving that behavior where it’s almost like it’s too good to be true, or it’s like a counter attack on their own thinking? Why?

Alex Gladstein (00:15:55):
There is no one pulling the strings behind the curtain, this isn’t organized conspiracy. But when you search through the media over the last decade, you will see whether it’s the New York Times or EL Pais in Spain, or Deutsche Welle in Germany, or Asahi or ACNP in East Asia. If you just parse the Bitcoin media and I’m trying to do this in a more systematic way so we can actually show people what is transpired. But the amount of fad on Bitcoin is just astronomical.

Alex Gladstein (00:16:27):
So when you actually are someone who’s just trying to learn about Bitcoin and you see it in the newspaper, whatever, especially in the early days, which might be fair, but like post 2015, post silk road, still it’s all about it’s too volatile. It’s going to boil the oceans, it’s used for terrorists. It’s used for criminals. It’s too slow. It’s too expensive, whatever. People are just very critical towards this in a way that it’s part cluelessness, part arrogance, part closed-mindedness.

Alex Gladstein (00:16:57):
I don’t know what to tell you, that’s the symptom of these reporters. They just don’t think it can be the thing. And that trickles down to everybody else. Especially people approaching it from a non-financial point of view. So people who are not looking at price charts, people looking at the human potential of this thing beyond the price. They have been completely sidetracked. And it’s a long, hard road down through the swamps of the blockchain not Bitcoin land, really long, hard road.

Alex Gladstein (00:17:24):
And people get this, I’ve spoken to so many of these people, especially back in 2017, they were like, “I want to do something more than just money.” This is like what pervades the humanitarian mindset. There’s this idea, they just want to help. What they don’t realize is at the end of the day, what people need is money that they can control as we’ve seen through stories like the one I told at the beginning of this interview and what I’ve seen around the world ever since.

Preston Pysh (00:17:47):
Do you think that the flood is an issue or a detriment to the progress?

Alex Gladstein (00:17:54):
Bitcoin doesn’t care. Bitcoin is going to trudge along no matter what you say about it. As I wrote in this column for Bitcoin Magazine last week, it’s this Trojan horse, what’s going to drive it forward is the number go up technology. The fact that it’s an incredible store of value and that its purchasing power appreciates over time versus Fiat currencies. Like that’s really what gets people interested and that’s what drives it forward. And that’s what increases its adoption in network security and all the rest.

Alex Gladstein (00:18:19):
But again, for the people who are approaching it from a non-financial point of view, they aren’t looking at that. And they’re pretending not to care about that. They’d almost as blinded them. The performance in price and the fact that it’s always talked about as an investment or speculation or whatever, I think has blinded them from actually exploring it deeply and understanding what a political revolution it is. But as far as like, is it a problem? Yeah. I think a lot of these journalists are going to feel really deeply regret over what they’ve done. I do. I do think so.

Preston Pysh (00:18:47):
I almost see it as a benefit in a weird way, because I think at the end of the day, the biggest thing that has led to the point where we’re at right now, which I call deep entrenchment into the existing financial rails is the fact that everyone was just kind of looking at it as this nothing off to the side. And then it makes these giant quantum leaps every four years. And everyone’s like, whoa, where in the world did that come from?

Preston Pysh (00:19:15):
And then they write all their stories and then it kind of cools off for another two years or three years. And then it makes another big quantum leap in these four year increments because of the having. What it’s done in a weird way is like you said, you called it a Trojan horse. I completely agree with that where it just keeps rolling itself into the global economy and the roots just get deeper and deeper. Now we have an entire derivatives market, multi-billion dollar derivatives market wrapped around it. And it’s like, you can’t turn the thing off now.

Alex Gladstein (00:19:45):
Yeah. I’ve always thought that the strangeness of it in your words has actually been a good thing. That’s not the problem. The problem is what that has done to this sort of the mainstream media. And I think that’s where we went down this blockchain not Bitcoin thing. And that’s what’s going to set so many people back. In terms of when we reflect in 30 years, how could we have helped human suffering the most? I mean really throughout from 2016 onwards, Bitcoin should have been like a key rail for that.

Alex Gladstein (00:20:14):
Whether it is in … Read this piece and CNN a couple of years ago about how I thought that Bitcoin could improve foreign aid, so much of foreign aid gets lost in the middle, eight times almost 80% of what is donated from the donor at home doesn’t make it to the person you’re giving to it’s because there’s all these middlemen in the middle. And just that ability to have that peer to peer borderless censorship resistant payment rail for aid is incredible.

Alex Gladstein (00:20:37):
And I did it the other day. Someone came to me and said, “I want to support the Myanmar Democracy movement.” And I was like, okay. So I looked through my Rolodex. I found someone I knew who did some work there. I got in touch with him. One of his friends was kind of like a Bitcoin on the ground. So I just kind of connected the donor to this guy. And in minutes, he had sent a nice gift into Myanmar, into Burma and that person’s sent a screenshot of, “Hey, came through all good.”

Alex Gladstein (00:21:01):
And then that person used it to support the democracy movement. And I’m just thinking about what a waste it is for us to have all of these intermediaries and the bureaucracy and how many lives we lose. Think about Venezuela, the World Bank stuff, they wouldn’t touch Venezuela. And basically until Maduro is gone, they’re like, “I don’t know, we can’t like send money in. He either stops or gets angry.” And I’m sitting there like this was a couple of years ago and I was talking to these World Bank people and I was like, “Look, forget your blockchain stuff.

Alex Gladstein (00:21:29):
We can send in appreciating money now directly peer to peer that he can’t stop. And then I know these people who will take that and use it to buy food and feed people in these camps. Why don’t you do this?” And then they shrugged and moved on.

Preston Pysh (00:21:46):
That’s truly their response, it’s just like, “Cool story, bro.”

Alex Gladstein (00:21:50):
Yeah. They just have the cement skepticism, which again, I think comes from what they read. So while it doesn’t affect Bitcoin, it affects people like the sort of media bias. It is tremendously unfortunate and just bizarre. Look at the coverage that Dogecoin gets or this new Altcoin, the mobile coin thing that’s going to go on signal. These articles are like super positive. They’re like, “Oh, this is so cool. How cute? Dogecoin.” But like as soon as Bitcoin comes around, “Oh my God. It’s like boiling the oceans. It’s going to crash tomorrow.”

Alex Gladstein (00:22:20):
But they’re willing to like have a laugh with Dogecoin. It’s truly amazing like this useless software project which no one’s contributed to in years, which is clearly just like the crypto version of Game Stack. Has no real human value for people and they’re like drooling over it. And yet the thing that’s actually going to change the world, they’re just mocking. It’s almost like if we go back to the Trojan horse allegory, the Trojan horse was a weird thing.

Alex Gladstein (00:22:42):
And the Trojans were like kind of standing on their walls, looking at this thing in their field. And they’re like, “What the hell does that?” And they’re like, “Well, let’s take a closer look,” and they go in and then they have this like debate and they end up deciding against the wishes of Cassandra and Lac Kwan, who both are like, “Don’t let that thing in the city.” They both bring it in. And at night, of course, the Greeks come out and the rest is history.

Alex Gladstein (00:23:01):
And this is kind of what’s happening with, as you’re saying, with the financial system, is that people are looking at this thing and there’s this mix of it’s strange, but it’s also increasing a lot in value. Let’s bring it in. The fact that it has the NGU, the number go up thing has allowed it to get into the financial system. But I guess what I keep underlining is that the communities or specialties or industries in the world that don’t care so much about price increase, who are more focused on “humanitarian values”, they don’t care about price increase.

Alex Gladstein (00:23:33):
They’re only looking at the bizarreness and they can’t make heads or tail of it. And it’s really a tragedy that it hasn’t been leveraged more to help people.

Preston Pysh (00:23:40):
Yeah. At what point does that stop? Did we go through another cycle or does the price hit a certain point where it’s just becoming quite obvious? I thought when the price hit a trillion, that it was going to be a major kind of earth shattering moment for a lot of people in finance, but maybe the number’s five trillion, maybe the number’s 10 tray. I don’t know.

Alex Gladstein (00:24:01):
So far, what I’ve realized is I was out there, I really cut my teeth in terms of Bitcoin public speaking and writing between let’s say late 2017 to now, but full stretch of 2018 and ’19. We’re talking, the price is going the other direction and I’m still staring at it being like, “Oh my God,” I’m looking at all the other features of this thing. I’m looking at the open source nature, the fact that nobody controls it. The fact that it’s permissionless, you don’t need ID to use it.

Alex Gladstein (00:24:26):
The fact that people are building Lightning network on top to scale it, the fact that you can have multi Sig and you can have like groups of people custodying this thing in a way that the government can’t confiscate. And my mind is getting blown while the price in dollar terms is like tanking. So for people in the human rights community, I think if once they start to grasp it, I think the ups and downs and the price don’t matter quite as much.

Alex Gladstein (00:24:48):
But I guess you’re right. I am surprised that the last eight to 10 months has not made a deeper impact on people. It leads me to believe it’s going to be very, very gradual and a really difficult decade for a lot of these people. The media, especially, they’ll be the last people to adopt this thing. So the whole way up, we’re going to have these stories about how terrible Bitcoin is, even though we’re watching people change their lives through this technology the whole way up, man, all the way to 2030, when it’s going to be servicing way more than a billion people, you’re going to have people attacking it in the loudest megaphones the whole time.

Alex Gladstein (00:25:25):
It’s literally, you watch the orange pill effect and it really is like a pill that you have to administer to someone and then they have to administer it to someone else. And you watch it work. And like it’s starting to work its way into certain things. There’s a guy at the state department that I chat with. He’s orange pilled, but he doesn’t know what to do because no one else is that into it. Or I knew someone at Apple two years ago and he totally orange pilled, but he’s like, “No one else at Apple is orange pilled.”

Alex Gladstein (00:25:52):
So they slowly kind of make their way through these communities. And that’s what I’m seeing and trying to contribute to in the global human rights community right now, that’s kind of like my mission. I’m like, “Look, these dictators, they don’t really understand it. At least not yet.” And even the ones that are using Bitcoin are not hobbling. They’re like using it, they’re mining it, or they’re stealing it and then they’re selling it for dollars because they’re locked out of the dollar system or something like that. They’re not sitting there stacking.

Alex Gladstein (00:26:18):
So the activists have an opportunity of a lifetime here of a millennium really, probably will never see anything like this again, where the sort of like global base money shifts in this way. So you get a chance to be on the ground floor for that. What an exciting time for these human rights activists, people like the guy from the Congo I described earlier, who’ve always had the deck stacked against them. Here’s an opportunity for any oppressed people to actually just sort of start to turn the tide against the oppressor.

Alex Gladstein (00:26:46):
It doesn’t matter where you are, but if you start to understand this now and start to use it as a money, you’re going to be in such an incredible position over the next decade. So my goal here is to work behind the scenes to try and talk to as many movements as possible, lead as many workshops as possible. And that puts me at the realistic predicament of this stuff is still tough to use for the average person. It is so much better than it used to be.

Alex Gladstein (00:27:11):
And even in the last year, it’s gotten amazing. Even the last 18 months, the wallets that are available, the ease of use, the way that you back up your funds is really dramatic and Lightning is really starting to pick up. And I’m not a super technical person, but I am able to set up a note in my living room and attach it to my phone and have Sphinx running off the few channels I have downstairs. And I’m streaming SATs to Marty and Matt off my phone. We’re getting there with Lightning. It’s like actually happening. It’s really exciting.

Preston Pysh (00:27:44):
I’m really excited about Lightning too, because the speed at which you can just send SATs and the size, you can send just minuscule amounts. It’s crazy. I’m in this chat for the Miami event and we’re just chatting about where we’re going to meet up and this and that. And I can tip people for their comments, five SATs, 100 SATs, whatever. And it’s instant. It’s just kind of mind blowing. So my question for you is, I would imagine years ago you were doing on chain transactions to people, you name it, wherever you’re trying to [crosstalk 00:28:17].

Alex Gladstein (00:28:17):
Yeah. We still are. Still are.

Preston Pysh (00:28:19):
Are you starting to transition into using the Lightning network instead of doing on chain transactions?

Alex Gladstein (00:28:25):
Yeah. And here’s where I think stuff like this week’s events where we have massive $30 fees. If you want it to go in right away, start to play a role as well. Up until now, again, the fees have been fairly low and we’re just trying to teach people, once they develop that own internal curiosity, they’ll go ahead and they’ll dive in and they’ll get orange pilled. But Bitcoin is voluntary peaceful system, you can’t force it on people.

Alex Gladstein (00:28:50):
Until now, honestly, [interjunctions 00:28:51] have been reasonable and like even just getting them to the on chain transaction is a good achievement for people who are going from like zero knowledge to Bitcoin to actually using it in a couple of months. That’s an aggressive timeline. Again, for me, it took years. So good news is the UX is getting a lot better. And yeah, we worked with a couple of guys who are making these awesome open source Lightning Wallets, the guy who created the Moon Wallet, and the guy created the BlueWallet, we’ve been working with them, getting them in conversation with activists.

Alex Gladstein (00:29:22):
It’s been really, really fun and their tools are incredible. I love the way the Moon Wallet is experimenting with different ways for you to keep your backup where it’s not always just writing down a bunch of words. It’s like a sort of a two or three thing with maybe your email and something else. And they’re trying to cater to people who are the average smartphone user and that’s so essential. That’s really where we need help now.

Alex Gladstein (00:29:43):
Because like, honestly, the infrastructure is laid for Bitcoin to function incredibly well for people who need to receive donations, send remittances, store their value to be their own bank and move money around. We don’t need anything else. Bitcoin is good to go where it is. It just needs better apps to run on top of Bitcoin and Lightning. So that’s kind of where I’m focusing on and where I’d like to see the most improvement in the next year or two.

Preston Pysh (00:30:07):
You sent me over an article that you recently wrote. It’s just phenomenal, by the way. And have you released this publicly yet?

Alex Gladstein (00:30:15):
We can talk about it though. Yes. November I presented at the Cato Monetary Conference and I presented a paper which is going to be out in the spring edition of The Journal, the Cato Journal, which will be out, I think, any day now. And I wrote a paper essentially on what I think is going to happen in the wake of the war on and disappearance of cash. So cash is disappearing from our society.

Alex Gladstein (00:30:41):
I identified kind of three roles that cash plays for people, obviously people around the world save in dollar bills. Savings is a very important function. Privacy is a very important function and small transactions. So I’m trying to think, what is going to be the heir to the social role of cash in our societies? And the paper explores the two options. One is the central bank digital currency. And the other in my view is sort of the Bitcoin Stack.

Preston Pysh (00:31:05):
So talk about the privacy when you’re looking at Bitcoin, because there was a lot of people in the questions that were being proposed to you that wanted you to get into the specifics of Bitcoins’ privacy relative to some other tokens that are out there that seem to be designed a whole lot better than Bitcoin for privacy.

Alex Gladstein (00:31:23):
I think the best critics are like the Minera people. But if we could lay out all the Bitcoin critics in terms of honesty, effectiveness, what they’re actually saying, the Minera critics have the largest grain of truth in their arguments because Bitcoin is vulnerable from a privacy perspective. I think kind of, again, it depends on where you come from, colors your understanding of the system a lot. I’m not a computer scientist, so I’m not coming at this from this idea of, we need to have perfect privacy.

Alex Gladstein (00:31:51):
I’m coming at it from the human rights and practical kind of political nature of what these people are doing. And an understanding that the legacy system is what we’re fighting against. So this isn’t some, I’m not looking at this as like Bitcoin versus some much more private coin. No, I’m looking at this like, okay, credit cards and bank wires versus Bitcoin. I’m going to choose Bitcoin 100 times out of 100 times. So yes, if you use it without care, especially if you KYC yourself to provide a full amount of information.

Alex Gladstein (00:32:21):
Okay. Yes. Then chain analysis people, if they get that information from that company, they can follow the transactions and you could get in trouble. But the thing is that introduces a huge amount of doubt and hesitation. Even if you’re like the worst possible Bitcoin user, there’s still like issues and delays. And it would still be uncertain if you were to get caught. In the banking system, it’s just like a snap of fingers or a button.

Alex Gladstein (00:32:44):
It’s like the government could just be like, “Whose visa, please tell us X.” Everything’s labeled. Everybody’s using it with their full ID stack. These comparisons are to me, not even close. And I think it’s so important that we realize that Bitcoin again is pseudonymous by nature. Your identity is not in the blockchain. And there’s just a lot of emerging tech that I think will improve our situation now where yeah, the average person is at risk if they don’t think hard about privacy.

Alex Gladstein (00:33:13):
But we’re moving in a situation where stuff like on chain coin swaps are going to become more prevalent, more doable from a software point of view, from a wallet point of view over the next year even, maybe year and a half. And Lightning is just obviously such a huge upgrade because the transactions can happen on the chain. And I know there’s like another conversation about Lightning and privacy, but obviously you’d rather be on Lightning. It doesn’t have a chain that you can follow.

Alex Gladstein (00:33:37):
So I’m aware that Bitcoin has a lot of vulnerabilities in the space. And I think people who kind of come at it from the privacy claim perspective are probably, probably Bitcoin’s best critics. But I think a lot of their claims are often exaggerated. And at the end of the day, it’s really Bitcoin or bust. And that’s why it’s so important that we work on this project together, this big open source money project, we all got to work on it together. If you care about privacy, I think you should be working at Bitcoin privacy projects.

Preston Pysh (00:34:02):
Why do you say it’s Bitcoin or bust?

Alex Gladstein (00:34:05):
Well, because for me again, from this political science background, it’s all about power and control and in money, that means who’s in control of the mint? And in every other cryptocurrency or central bank digital currency or stable coin or whatever, there’s like some small group of people that can control the monetary policy. We will put aside all the random Altcoins. And we’ll just look at a theory for a second.

Alex Gladstein (00:34:31):
I’ve been trying to understand this, this is clearly the second, most famous second most robust, second most decentralized, whatever cryptocurrency. Like very few people would argue that, very few people would put a Dogecoin or Ripple or whatever ahead of it. So I was like asking some Ethereum engineers. Okay. So they’re doing this huge transition to proof of stake. Has me a little concerned, proof of work is the thing that allowed us to escape from the whole world, which is proof of stake, which your wealth determines your power.

Alex Gladstein (00:35:00):
So, very curious. Okay. Looking into this. All right. So what is the theory of issuance going to be in 2022 and 2023? Nobody knows. Like it could be anywhere from 100,000 to two million. So we’re in a world where you are trusting a small group of people to make that decision for you. You are not in control. So this to me is like, and this is the absolute best of all the other systems when we talk about all coins or other cryptocurrencies.

Alex Gladstein (00:35:27):
What they’re hoping for at the best is essentially this is a Fiat currency, like a small group of people trying to do their best with noble intentions to mess around with interest rates and the amount of money that’s available to stabilize the economy. And if you actually look at the track record of that, it’s really bad. The dollar supported by the petrodollar, which we can get into, and the Euro and the yen and a few others have done well. Dude, most Fiat currencies are absolutely abysmal in the world today. Like the vast percentage of them.

Alex Gladstein (00:35:57):
In fact, 1.2 billion people live under double or triple digit inflation in like 35 countries. So what are the odds that your monetary policy deciders in a system like Ethereum are going to be like the fed, as opposed to like the Iranians or like the Argentines or like the Lebanese or the Turks, et cetera? It is not so easy. Okay. So there’s this massive amount of uncertainty over the monetary policy of these other currencies.

Alex Gladstein (00:36:26):
And to me, they’re very similar to Fiat in terms of, again, it’ll be a small group of people who controls the arrangement of how much money is to be issued. And ultimately, that’s what Bitcoin gave us an escape from. And that’s what gives us it value is this absolute scarcity that it has a predictable supply that nobody can change. And that’s what really drives its adoption forward. The things that I’ve talked about so far, a lot of these aspects of Bitcoin are secondary. They come with the package.

Alex Gladstein (00:36:54):
All these cypherpunk values are awesome, but at the end of the day, Satoshi’s most brilliant invention was burying them inside this like digital gold narrative. Which isn’t just a narrative, which actually works. So that’s why I believe it’s worth our time to focus on this project because I think it has the right game theory behind it to succeed. And it’s the only one where we can’t change the monetary policy and where the users themselves control the system.

Alex Gladstein (00:37:22):
This is just so important. And you can read this block size war book just to, understand this, but corporations and cartels and even governments one day, they can’t control Bitcoin. They aren’t going to be able to change it to meet their desires. Whereas that happens all the time with the other Altcoins. So for me, the reason why it’s Bitcoin or bust comes from again, like the sort of political science power control background.

Preston Pysh (00:37:45):
Leo asked you this question online, and I loved your response. So I want to open this up so our audience can hear how you respond to this. He asked, why do you criticize communist China and then advocate the dissidence should use a surveillance coin, Bitcoin with majority of its hash rate in China?

Alex Gladstein (00:38:02):
So I gave him a couple answers there. So first of all, I think as we’ve probably seen this week, the miners don’t control Bitcoin. I think this is one of the most important thing for someone who’s going to start to take a serious look at Bitcoin to understand. And I think Nick Carter said this, you really got to understand the protocol and how it works if you’re going to start taking this thing seriously and try to study it as an asset or as a currency, whatever you see it as.

Alex Gladstein (00:38:25):
And throughout the block size war, which raged really from 2015 to 2017, we were able to see that an alliance of Chinese billionaires and Silicon Valley corporations and Wall Street investors with 83% of the hash rate in the world on their side couldn’t get what they wanted and actually ended up getting wrecked when they made their own coin, which is now worth one percent of what Bitcoin is worth. So that is a very illustrative example of the fact that-

Preston Pysh (00:38:53):
I love how you don’t say the name of it, by the way, but keep going.

Alex Gladstein (00:38:57):
Yeah, no need to. There’s too many of them at this point, it’s splintered into so many pieces. But less than one percent of one BTC, let’s put it that way. That’s where we are with that project. But yeah, those people had serious power. No one has anywhere close to that kind of hash rate today. And we just saw 25% drop off the network this week, and that’s one of these things that people say, “What if the Chinese government turns off or attacks the mining?”

Alex Gladstein (00:39:19):
Great. This would literally happen. Fees would go up and then a few days later, the difficulty algorithm would kick in, and the reality shift. Yeah, exactly. We’re watching it play out right now.

Preston Pysh (00:39:32):
Alex, I think it’s important for people to, before you go to your second point, I hate to interrupt you. I think it’s important for people to realize that just because you have 51% of the hashing power doesn’t mean that you’re going to … like if we were rolling dice and your dice had a 51% chance of winning and mine had 49% chance of winning, It’s not like you’re just going to keep rolling the dice every single time and win between the two of us, which would be your ability to continue to build on the longest chain.

Preston Pysh (00:40:00):
It requires so much more hashing to continue that attack. And then what they’re attacking in the first place. And I just think the whole 51% thing is blown so far out of proportion.

Alex Gladstein (00:40:13):
I love this taking us apart. I think it’s very important. Because it’s one of the biggest attacks thrown at Bitcoin by guys like Mike Green. They’re like, “China could just like kill it or whatever.” And I tried to take up this apart in a long essay I wrote for Quilla that got posted on the Zero Hedge back in February, I think it was called Can Government Stop Bitcoin? And I was basically like asking the questions to the reader, why haven’t government stopped Bitcoin?

Alex Gladstein (00:40:35):
And I go into the 51% attack. And we realized that, how would you even going to get that equipment? There is like a huge global semiconductor squeeze right now. Like they’re not available. Even if you’re a government, you’re going to have to put at this point, at this point, we have to realize Bitcoin is still small. We’re a trillion dollar asset here. You’re asking governments to put aside really important equipment orders for like aerospace and defense to do this attack.

Alex Gladstein (00:40:59):
And then it’s not even guaranteed to work. And so, the other option is all right, well, if we’re not going to go and like round up tens of thousands of these like shoe box size miners, and try to accumulate a 51% or try to somehow buy out the world’s supply for the next two years, which is what we need or something like that. “We’ll just take over the pools.” Okay. “Well, oh look, most of the pools are in China.” Well, what happens is whenever there’s funny business at one pool, the people who are directing their power to that pool immediately switch to somewhere else. We saw this happen in November.

Alex Gladstein (00:41:31):
Literally the CCP arrested the head of one of the big pools in China back in November, and within like a few days, all of the hash power, which was very significant, which was pointed to that pool was switched elsewhere. The miners themselves have the power over the pools. This will get even more incredible after this upgrade where we’re going to be talking about the miners themselves being able to do like the construction of the blocks instead of the pool operators.

Alex Gladstein (00:41:56):
So this is sort of based on better hash. This may come in the next few years, which would help decentralize things even further. But just the science behind trying to do a 51% attack is just like super, super unlikely. And it’s much more likely that governments instead actually just try to mind or earn or tax Bitcoin as we move forward. And to answer Leo’s other questions, to me dictators accumulating Bitcoin, again, it’s this Trojan horse idea.

Alex Gladstein (00:42:21):
Looks pretty at first, looks like a nice prize, but what they don’t realize is that it’s like sort of eating and eroding their power away on the inside. How do governments have power over their citizens, especially authoritarian ones? Through control of money. This is like one of the key things. So they’re literally bringing this thing to the inner sanctum, into the group of bureaucrats and technologists who run these governments, these dictatorships.

Alex Gladstein (00:42:43):
And they’re forcing them to figure out how to steal or mine Bitcoin. And these individuals are having this virus planted in their mind about how there’s money the government doesn’t control. And they’re going to tell their families and their friends and that thing’s just going to spread. And the final thing that he said was that, “How could you promote some surveillance coin?”

Alex Gladstein (00:43:03):
Ironic for him to say that, because actually getting back to the CBDC conversation, China is rolling out a surveillance coin called the digital yuan or the DSF. And this is something that will micro track every single transaction that you may have done with cash, or even with a FinTech app in China. And it’s going to get the government complete control over the ability to remotely confiscate, the ability to discriminate at will in mass, the ability to turn off like bank accounts of people who belong to a particular minority or who have a particular political belief, or even the ability to force suspend.

Alex Gladstein (00:43:37):
So they’re talking about this idea of being able to force these negative interest rates. So this surveillance in control coin is coming. And for me, Bitcoin is like the alternative.

Preston Pysh (00:43:47):
I’d say that was a slam dunk.

Alex Gladstein (00:43:51):
But he’s a good critic because those are good questions.

Preston Pysh (00:43:54):
Those are great questions. And they’re questions that you hear a lot, but when you’re comparing it to the digital yuan and you’re talking about privacy, is just totally nuts because you can VPN, you can create a wallet on the spot, start collecting Bitcoin payments from anywhere on the planet. And how are you possibly going to stop something like that? You’re not.

Alex Gladstein (00:44:16):
In the Trojan horse piece, I tried to lay this out. What’s interesting about Bitcoin from the privacy point of view is that the privacy advancements are kind of coming because of sort of economic concerns. Businesses right now are not adopting Lightning for moral reasons. They’re not adding Lightning for deposits and withdrawals for moral reasons. They’re adding it to help reduce fees. So Bitcoin has this whole, again, it’s this whole kind of Trojan horse thing that goes deep.

Alex Gladstein (00:44:44):
It’s not just your accumulation of asset itself. It’s you as a business, why would you adopt Lightning? No, it’s not going to be for privacy. In fact, that’s probably going to be something you’re going to minimize when you talk to regulators. You’re going to be talking about the fact that it’s going to save on fees for everybody.

Preston Pysh (00:45:00):
Yeah. It’s kind of amazing to see how the incentive structure of self-interest drives so much of this, but it’s so good for the collective. Like when have we ever seen anything that other than really capitalism, if capitalism is done in a way where it’s not being manipulated, like the money supply’s not being manipulated where the self-interest of the individual is actually good for the collective whole.

Preston Pysh (00:45:24):
And it almost seems like everything within Bitcoin kind of has that at the roots of it. It’s kind of crazy when you just take a step back and just kind of think about it a little bit.

Alex Gladstein (00:45:35):
Yeah. The alignment of incentives is a very powerful construct in Bitcoin. Just to finish the thought of what’s next after Lightning, Jimmy Song has mentioned this a couple of times recently, there is this idea in the developer community that it would need another soft fork after tap. So we’re talking maybe three to four years from now, but there’s something called cross input Signature Aggregation, or Sig ag, which would essentially make it cheaper for you to collaboratively spend as much as possible when you do transactions on the network.

Alex Gladstein (00:46:03):
If you’re doing a transaction with maybe like 100 people, that would be way cheaper than just doing a transaction by yourself. So it shifts the incentives around privacy would make it cheaper to be private. And that would be really something else. Because then again, you get the businesses and exchanges fighting for the right to use this new privacy technology, but not for privacy to save money.

Alex Gladstein (00:46:22):
And it benefits their bottom line and the bottom line of their customers and it makes them more successful. So this alignment, I just haven’t seen it before. And it’s so refreshing because like, again, I’m coming from this human rights world where you really have profit and morals are often like at a loggerheads. Like if you’re trying to go make money by doing business with China, you have to shut up about human rights. You basically have to look the other way.

Alex Gladstein (00:46:45):
But here everybody who’s getting involved in Bitcoin, it doesn’t matter what their agenda is. It doesn’t matter whether they’re altruistic, whether they care about the cypherpunks or freedom, who cares? Most people who are buying Bitcoin don’t care about that stuff. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are. You’re going to help drive this financial liberation tool for everybody else. And I’ve never seen that before.

Alex Gladstein (00:47:07):
And again, it’s very refreshing for a world that is just so compromised when it comes to morals and where we have all these companies like Airbnb sponsoring the genocide Olympics in 2022. And we have Ray Dalio and everybody else going to the Davos in the desert in Saudi Arabia a couple months ago. And no one can separate their business from these dictators and these human rights violators. It’s really hard.

Alex Gladstein (00:47:33):
Well, here’s something that like, you don’t have a choice, you get into Bitcoin and you’re being forced to support something that’s a freedom tool.

Preston Pysh (00:47:42):
We throw around the term the Trojan horse. But when you really look at what you just described, which you’re really talking about it as a Trojan Hydra, where it gets in and people were curious, they’re looking at it. They’re seeing all the crazy stuff happening with Dogecoin and everything else. And it just kind of comes into the castle gates. And then once it’s in there, as the soldiers emerge out of the Trojan horse, everyone that you try to attack then doubles in what you were describing there with the software updates.

Preston Pysh (00:48:13):
So people are looking at Bitcoin as it exists today. But what they don’t realize is by next year, taproot is going to roll out. It’s going to enable more capabilities. And then you’re talking about the cross aggregation that steps in. And people are then incentivized to make it the privacy arguments that a lot of people were making today, in my opinion, are short-sighted in their comments because they’re not understanding what’s in the pipeline.

Preston Pysh (00:48:36):
And what’s possible from an engineering standpoint that people are already seeing today, the brilliant engineers like Jimmy and many others like Adam Back and whatnot that are working on these things that aren’t going to roll out till later, those are the things that make it a Hydra that you just can’t stop it at that point. It’s just growing and evolving.

Alex Gladstein (00:48:57):
And I think, again, I’d have a different perception, if I thought honestly that we could have these like alternative cryptocurrencies and they could work. But it was a one-time deal, man. It was like this group of people or person or whoever they were came up with this idea to separate money in state. And they knocked it out of the park first and only shot. We’re never going to get an attempt again at, “Hey, I created money over here.” Immediately you get taken over by corporate interests.

Alex Gladstein (00:49:23):
For the first year plus of Bitcoin after it was launched, it literally didn’t have an exchange rate and that’s not repeatable. I think people don’t think hard enough about that.

Preston Pysh (00:49:31):
Well, and I think it’s easy for us to look at this and almost say that like, “Hey, this was the thing that was designed from the start.” But there’s been many forks. The one that you were talking about earlier that will remain unnamed. I remember distinctly when that was about to happen. And everyone’s like, “All right, which way is this going to go?” Well, if you own the tokens on the protocol today, you get both tokens after that four.

Preston Pysh (00:49:58):
And if one of them takes off and takes all the value and the other one goes down to only one percent of the value of the other one, you have both of those, you still win. Just like DNA evolves over time. What’s nice about this is as this protocol continues to evolve and whatnot, you’re going to continue to get both of those.

Alex Gladstein (00:50:21):
That’ll test it too. We’ve basically had, well, definitely the world’s largest government and the world’s second largest country, China and India, both tried to outlaw their citizens from exchanging Fiat with Bitcoin. Didn’t work, usage has exploded in both places since they tried to do that. Same thing’s happening in Nigeria, didn’t work. People just shifted to peer to peer marketplaces.

Alex Gladstein (00:50:41):
You had Trump and Mnuchin try to roll out this like midnight kind of like intensified surveillance law about self custody, that didn’t work. They gave it their best shot, failed miserably. Now we’re kind of moving forward. So the thing is battle-tested, it was sort of a unique kind of a birth that I don’t think other projects can really repeat. And that’s why, again, I think that all these other privacy coins are important for scientific experimentation.

Alex Gladstein (00:51:09):
A lot of their stuff, this is what Adam Back said, a lot of their stuff’s going to be brought onto Bitcoin eventually, hopefully. Adam started Blockstream as this idea of making Bitcoin private, he thought it wasn’t private enough and guess what? He’s went out and he made Blockstream and he made liquid. And now they’re trading tens of millions of dollars using complete blind transactions, using CT, confidential transactions.

Alex Gladstein (00:51:31):
And they’re experimenting with it. And they hope to one day bring those kinds of technologies to the base layer. And we’re just like, we’re going ever closer, but it’s very important for people to know that Bitcoin’s philosophy from a design perspective is to be careful and conservative and to be kind of like the US constitution where it’s really only going to change if there’s a really good reason. And otherwise it’s going to remain.

Alex Gladstein (00:51:51):
And that is a very different philosophy of design than all these other coins, which are like move fast and literally break things. All these other coins, I don’t know what they’re going to be like in six months. It’s all about predictability.

Preston Pysh (00:52:04):
It also shows you that there are people behind the scenes, a small group of people that are pulling the strings. That’s the only way that it can move in such a quick manner. If it’s truly decentralized in a major way, you can’t move quick. It’s impossible to do. I hate to use the word impossible. I don’t want to [crosstalk 00:52:24].

Alex Gladstein (00:52:26):
Let’s talk about one dilemma which I think isn’t talked about enough, which of all of the little, we won’t call them trolls. They’re nice little folks on the internet. Of all the critics, I do think what’s most interesting to think about is what’s going to happen in the next 10 years globally. So if this asset continues to do what it’s done year over year and we go to like right now, we’re at, I don’t know, somewhere probably close to 200 million users if you count all exchanges and you count everybody who’s huddling and all that stuff.

Alex Gladstein (00:52:57):
If we go to a billion users, so if we kind of five X the user base from here, it could happen by 2025. I’ve had to get a little more bullish on that I think. Then obviously that price is going to follow as well. And we’re going to be looking at a very, very valuable thing here. So the question is, what happens to all the people … The question I’m always asked is, what’s going to happen to all the people who don’t have Bitcoin yet in 2025 or 2027?

Alex Gladstein (00:53:24):
And I think it’s an interesting topic to discuss, and I wouldn’t be as optimistic about it if Lightning didn’t exist. And if the idea of like you being sort of born into Lightning and never needing to touch the main chain didn’t exist, I would be very pessimistic about this to be honest. Because you’re already watching main chain fees get to what, 35 bucks right now. I know it’s like a unique scenario and they’ll probably go back down around anywhere from five to $10 after the next difficulty adjustment.

Alex Gladstein (00:53:49):
But we’re clearly going to live in the world where fees are going to be in dollar terms at least, and maybe that’s a devalued dollar, but over 100 to do business on the main chain and maybe eventually higher than that. So the question that people ask who are really hopefully honest critics are like, well, what’s going to happen when the average transaction is that expensive and no one can get in?

Alex Gladstein (00:54:12):
And the answer is, you’re probably going to be born onto a second layer and you can still use it non-custodial and you’ll always have that option of hopefully waiting three or four or five days if you need to, to make that Bitcoin transaction on the main chain and pay a smaller amount. Do you ever think about this, how it’s going to be like in five, 10 years and how people are going to interact with this fee structure and kind of what that means for the world?

Preston Pysh (00:54:38):
I just think Lightning is going to be used way more than what it appears today. When I was talking with Ryan and he literally were here just like you and me talking right now, held up his phone in front of me with his invoice for me to pay him five SATs or whatever it was. I sent it to him and it just immediately happened. I’m thinking to myself, “My God, this is nuts.” When I look at the work that you’re doing and let’s just say, I want to send somebody $100 or $1000 dollars worth of Satoshi’s, the ability and the [crosstalk 00:55:13].

Alex Gladstein (00:55:12):
Global instant final settlement.

Preston Pysh (00:55:14):
Instantly and to be able to … I could just imagine a person receiving that and then looking at the value. And then 20 days later or three months later, that value is still there if not a whole significant amount higher in buying power. How couldn’t a person like see that?

Alex Gladstein (00:55:35):
Well, they just haven’t seen it yet. And two points on that. Number one, I think a big thing is going to be Paxful adding Lightning, because they’re going to do it. And Paxful is a competitor to local Bitcoins, is active in 100 countries around the world. Almost every country that’s not an OFAC list is available. And people use PAX for their bank account. They have their Bitcoin in there and then they move in and out whether it’s with gift cards or with cash or wires or there’s just a dizzying array.

Alex Gladstein (00:56:02):
If you just go to Paxful, pick a country, Jordan, Costa Rica, whatever, you can start seeing kind of the way people are doing these transactions now. We’re talking in Nigeria alone as of December, they had 1.3 million users. So I think globally they’re in the tens of millions of users on this platform. Okay. So this is like a big, big platform. And adding Lightning is going to be so big for folks in these emerging markets for withdrawals and deposits for the fee savings alone.

Alex Gladstein (00:56:28):
Just to not have to deal with the fees is going to be massive for these folks. Forget the fact that it’s instant. And we can also, hey, guess what? It’s private too. So even if you have this KYC pack school accounts, is what it is, it’s very similar to your KYC Bank of America account. And guess what, the government’s probably going to know how much money you have in your Paxful account, or how much money comes through just like with your dollar account in your Bank of America account.

Alex Gladstein (00:56:52):
But as soon as you withdraw that cash out of your Bank of America account into an ATM and into the street, they don’t know what’s going to happen to it after that. So as soon as you withdraw Lightning directly natively out of your Paxful account, no one else knows, no one’s the wiser at that point. So I think it also gives that thor privacy, which is what we’re looking for from the human rights perspective.

Alex Gladstein (00:57:12):
So that’s really, really big. And you’re going to see this kind of emerging markets stack, hopefully where people are using these open source wallets, like moon or BlueWallet, and they’ve got their Paxful account. And they’re just doing business instantly around the world regardless of what they’re buying or where that person’s located. The other thing that’s more sad is to think about this is all with a very small relative investment into Lightning.

Alex Gladstein (00:57:35):
Honestly, you’ve seen it, there’s Lightning labs, there’s essentially four companies that are kind of working on in a big way. And then there’s a lot of app developers. But think about just the amount of money that was sunk into like Filecoin or one of these mega BS ICO projects. Imagine if that had gone into freaking Lightning. So we haven’t even seen what real investment can bring to this space. At HRF we have a software development fund.

Alex Gladstein (00:58:02):
We’re giving grants out to these Lightning developers and Bitcoin developers and 10 to 20K makes a massive difference. That’s kind of where we are right now in the space. So you look at something like a Filecoin or algorithm or whatever one of these projects and had that money gone into Lightning instead. And I think that that’s where we’re headed is a lot of that money is going to go into Lightning and Lightning tip projects instead as we move forward. So I am kind of excited about that.

Preston Pysh (00:58:27):
What are the biggest barriers to entry for the underprivileged portions of the world and what steps are being taken or need to be solved at this point?

Alex Gladstein (00:58:37):
We were in a club house room the other day with a guy from Ethiopia, which they have the Burr, which has 20% inflation and this is a country of 110 million people or something like that. So these folks have no access to blue chip stocks or fine art, or even gold is a hard to get ahold of, dollars are hard to get ahold of. It’s just very hard for them to store their value. We’re talking sheet metal, cows is how they would do it.

Alex Gladstein (00:59:00):
So Bitcoin’s a revolution, but he basically was saying that outside of the cities, it’s still very low cell phone penetration. So you’re either relying on, he’s basically saying the adoption of cell phones is happening very fast. It takes years, but they’re getting cheaper and cheaper and more widespread. So he is saying that he doesn’t necessarily think in three to four years, that that will be a big issue. He’s a little concerned about the makeup of the phones.

Alex Gladstein (00:59:26):
So the hardware itself is a lot of Chinese hardware where they kind of choose for you what can be on the phone. So he’s seeing maybe some issues there that need to be thought about by the Bitcoin community. But in general, look, I think it’s about much like the evolution of the smartphone, where when it first came out, it was very expensive, hard to use, clunky. The UX was terrible. It was only for the rich, et cetera. And now it’s like this incredible tool for almost everybody to have all the world’s information in their pocket. So it went through this curve.

Alex Gladstein (00:59:55):
I think again, you’re going to kind of see that with Bitcoin where clearly yes, it’s like people in the know, young, smart people, people in finance clearly get into Bitcoin earlier in emerging markets than others, but then it grows like that virus, it grows from them. They use it to send remittances to their family who then have to learn about it and it just kind of expands from there. So I think people need to know there’s a violently steep curve coming in terms of adoption.

Alex Gladstein (01:00:21):
But there will always be regrets that we didn’t do X or, “Man, I wish I could have gotten this person into Bitcoin in this year or whatever.” I think there’s going to be words, some sort of discourse developed around this psychology of like, why didn’t we do more? I’m thinking about it now. So you can’t force Bitcoin, again, it’s this voluntary peaceful thing. But look, at the end of the day, the cell phone use is a big deal and folks trying to build stuff that’ll work on bad phones and low internet are doing good work. So there are a lot of those folks out there.

Preston Pysh (01:00:53):
Talk to us a little bit about just your general knowledge of Venezuela and how Bitcoin has evolved there.

Alex Gladstein (01:01:01):
Yeah. So when I first started at the Human Rights Foundation, we were running the program called Free RCTV. This was back when Hugo Chavez was shutting down basically the last private independent TV station, 2007. So I’ve been working on civil liberties in Venezuela for a long time, have interviewed several Bitcoiners who have escaped Venezuela kind of at length for different things that I’m working on.

Alex Gladstein (01:01:21):
You have different phases, you had a political crisis where there was creeping authoritarianism that the wider world didn’t want to acknowledge that was sort of happening as they were celebrating Chavez as some sort of like anti George Bush figure. This was very popular, very mainstream view, really until like almost 2009, ’10. Then it started to become clear he was very authoritarian even to people who were his fans. After he died, things really spiraled out of control.

Alex Gladstein (01:01:47):
Obviously Maduro was unable to control the country in the same way. Oil prices dropped and there was massive hyperinflation and is now the largest refugee crisis in the world. Absolutely devastating given that it used to be the place that people from the Southern com like Argentina and Chile, they would be escaping military dictatorships in the ’70s and ’80s and going to Venezuela. She used to be the richest country in south America.

Alex Gladstein (01:02:09):
So for Venezuelans to go through, this has been nothing short of totally heartbreaking. However, there are a lot of folks who got involved early, like earlier, a lot of young people, a lot of young folks figured it out in 2015, ’16, they were mining at the time. One of these guys I interviewed, he actually helped start [Ledin 01:02:25], which is one of a larger sort of industry services now based out of Canada. But he and his brothers were mining in Bitcoin for a couple of years there.

Alex Gladstein (01:02:35):
And they ended up having to escape. The government came with like an armed squad and seized all their mining equipment. Thankfully no one got hurt. The government was very perplexed. They saw the mining equipment and they thought that they meant they got the Bitcoin. They were like, “That’s not how that works.” So they were able to use the Bitcoin to start a new life in Canada. I thought that was really amazing. I interviewed another guy who escaped to Argentina.

Alex Gladstein (01:02:57):
He got involved in some sort of dispute with the government where they claimed he was a criminal, even though he wasn’t, but now he’s able to send money back to his mother who is in Venezuela in Bitcoin. She uses it to support herself. There’s just so many stories like this. And I think for me, one of the most powerful things as someone whose family went through the Holocaust, was this idea of like, you could flee your country and back then you only brought what was on your back, like the clothing on your back.

Alex Gladstein (01:03:22):
And today you can bring your wealth with you, which is truly remarkable. And I’ve given advice to people who are, for example, leaving Iran these days, help them out on this. People are selling their homes and they’re converting to Bitcoin and they’re getting on a plane, getting the heck out, and they’re bringing it with them in this digital format. People are sending money in and out of Syria to people who are stuck there.

Alex Gladstein (01:03:46):
People have escaped countries like Sudan. I interviewed a guy from Sudan, which has a horrible inflation problem that their inflation is in the hundreds. They have an inflation rate of something like 150 or 200%. And he’s living in Europe and he’s sending the hardest money around back to his family in Khartoum. And they’re able to get by through that. We’re early here. Again, I think Feddersen was estimating based on the claim based numbers that maybe 10% of Americans have interacted with Bitcoin or cryptocurrency.

Alex Gladstein (01:04:16):
The global numbers is lower than that, especially in these emerging markets. If the global is two percent and America’s 10%, it’s probably way less than that in a lot of these emerging markets, but hey, in some of them, look at Turkey, man, look at Argentina, look at Nigeria. These are huge countries, 200 million, 100 million, 45 million people. They’ve got the highest per capita usage in those countries. So it’s a changing world.

Alex Gladstein (01:04:41):
There’s unfortunately no data science being done outside of Matt Aalborg who does killer work with and HEF would like to help here somehow, but there’s no one doing socioeconomic studies of Bitcoin adoption in emerging markets. I think that’d be fascinating. So we’d like to see more of that. Right now we can just kind of look at the exchange data and we can see stuff like look at India, man.

Alex Gladstein (01:05:03):
According to the Indian exchanges in an interview that was done a couple of weeks ago, there’s six million handlers in India, 10 million crypto users, but six million Bitcoin handlers. And I thought that was something else. That was something else. I know it’s a big country, but we’re at the beginning of something big here. You know what I mean?

Preston Pysh (01:05:21):
Well, and it’s fascinating because when you look at the adoption curves of just new wallet addresses and whatnot, all the numbers are just exploding. So when you were throwing out earlier some of the figures that you were saying that where we might be in four or five years from now, the trend line of this appears to be pretty predictable as to where we might be at that point in time, based on just these really large numbers in the trends that we’re seeing. Would you agree with that Alex?

Alex Gladstein (01:05:49):
Yeah. I was talking to someone today and I was using an S curve chart historically to try to explain to them that it’s like you see all these technologies start with zero to one percent adoption then eventually they hit this inflection point. And things like airplanes, televisions, dishwashers, air conditioners, things that required infrastructure took a lot longer to get to like 50% or 80%.

Alex Gladstein (01:06:12):
But then you have like digital stuff, like the internet, email, things like that, mobile phones, much faster. So Willy Woo, he’s been on this show and he was posting something the other day that showed basically that Bitcoin adoption, when you look at the full picture, looks pretty similar to internet adoption. And that makes sense, the S curve is going to be more like the internet or the mobile phone than it was for the car or the airplane.

Alex Gladstein (01:06:37):
It’s just a digital technology that makes sense. So again, the big questions that I think a lot of people should be asking if they’re involved in anything outward facing to the world over the next decade is, how am I prepared for this adoption cycle? Regardless of the price of Bitcoin going up or down, the adoption is going up. We’re not going to be at 200 million users by 2025. We’re going to be way higher than that. And what is that going to mean? And I think more people should be thinking about that.

Preston Pysh (01:07:07):
All right. So Alex, I want to cover a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, which is Bitcoin and patriotism. What are your thoughts on this idea?

Alex Gladstein (01:07:16):
I think this is going to be an increasing topic of debate and this idea that Bitcoin is anti patriotic for Americans is going to be kind of a rising narrative. I’m really interested in it because it’s made me do a lot of thinking about the way that our currency currently works and the volume and discourse around this is just going to accelerate over the coming decade as Bitcoin gets stronger and the dollar gets weaker over time.

Alex Gladstein (01:07:40):
Not just because of Bitcoin, but because of other bigger macro trends in the world regarding China and Russia and the EU kind of doing more business together in their own currencies and less in American currency. So I’ve done this super deep dive into the petrodollar system, which I’m going to write about next week for Bitcoin Magazine. It’s been really eyeopening and I’m grateful to be an American. I am very grateful. I’m very lucky that I’ve had the petrodollar system, I’ve been born into it.

Alex Gladstein (01:08:07):
And it’s really incredible that we have this mechanism that had really that Nixon and Kissinger figured out that allows essentially us to create this artificial demand for dollars through the sale of oil. And then for those profits to be put back into American treasuries and other things, the other assets that we have, it’s just incredible. And it really has made us very unique in our ability to expand both the social welfare and the military state.

Alex Gladstein (01:08:35):
And I’ve just been trying to like study it as much as I can. And I just feel like from what I’ve seen, we could be better if we didn’t have the petrodollar, we can grow from here. This is not the end of the road for America. I refuse to believe that petrodollar system where we essentially have to have this relationship with these murderers in Saudi Arabia who really like spawned all kinds of terror beyond just like the things you’ve heard about with Khashoggi and the women they’ve tortured in prison who are just trying to drive.

Alex Gladstein (01:09:03):
Really, you look at what they funded across the Islamic world, the Saudis have been on a rampage in terms of funding extremist thought, things like that. We’ve had to support these folks because we need their assurance that they will only sell oil in dollars. And I’ve really gone deep here. And I feel like if we eventually moved to a different standard that America will still be powerful dynamic and a world leader, especially in Bitcoin. Look how much infrastructure we have, look how much we’re contributing on every level.

Alex Gladstein (01:09:36):
And I feel like this petrodollar thing is not what our founders wanted. It was literally created by Kissinger and Nixon. It was not created by the founders. I think it led us to do some weird things that we may not have done, but it’s power is waning, as you’ve seen folks like [Winn 01:09:52] Alden write about and I think we’re moving onto the next thing. And look, we moved from gold to petrodollar and now we’re going to move from the petrodollar to something else. And I think that’s going to be Bitcoin.

Alex Gladstein (01:10:04):
And I think that the result of that is going to be better America, but I’m very curious to hear what you have to say.

Preston Pysh (01:10:11):
I kind of feel like I’ve probably taken people who make that argument that you’re not patriotic very personal. In fact, I’ve blocked a few people who have made that suggestion just because I feel like I’ve paid a huge price with my service through the years that people that are making that argument against Bitcoiners. I look at it like this, this thing is like an unstoppable force.

Preston Pysh (01:10:40):
You can either choose to participate in it and evolve, or you can turn a blind eye and cut yourself off and say, “I’m going to cling to the past because that’s the thing that has enriched my personal life and it’s my business model or whatever,” and refuse to acknowledge that we’re seeing a transition that’s unstoppable. So I guess for me, I’m looking at it from just that lens of like really simplicity.

Preston Pysh (01:11:09):
Like you can’t stop this, this thing is a decentralized network. It’d be almost like saying, “Well, we’re not going to participate in the internet. We’re not going to allow the internet protocol to happen here, regardless of all the benefits that it might bring to our society.” I see it through the exact same lens with Bitcoin. And so for somebody to claim that that is anti-American, or you have no patriotic duty to your country if you support this is the biggest eye-roll ever for me personally, I actually take it personal.

Preston Pysh (01:11:39):
So people might think that I’m overreacting, but if you’ve walked a day in my shoes, maybe you would maybe take it a little personal as well.

Alex Gladstein (01:11:47):
Yeah. And I think that there’s a difference between patriotism and jingoism. And I tried to break this down recently, but if you look at the founding doctrines of our country and the values that we were created with, not necessarily everything we’ve done since certainly whether it be the prison system, slavery, fact that women couldn’t vote for so long.

Alex Gladstein (01:12:06):
But the actual founding ideals, I’m very patriotic towards those in terms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the bill of rights, and free expression. And these things are incredibly important. And Bitcoin really lines up with a lot of them. It’s non-discriminatory, it is the best property rights we’ve ever seen. It helps with free expression and unstoppable code and speech. So there’s so many things that Bitcoin lines up with with the values that I think people should be proud about in terms of America.

Alex Gladstein (01:12:34):
It is a helpful check against our excesses and without getting into it, this concept of the forever war that we can have. Bitcoin is something that ultimately, I think will check that. I think it will also check a lot of the encumbrances we have abroad that are really due to this sort of need to ally with these certain countries due to the petrodollar, things like that. It also will probably check this sort of surveillance state that was exposed recently.

Alex Gladstein (01:13:00):
That really is just sort of this encroaching thing on all Americans. So for a bunch of different reasons, I really think this thing can really be seen as a patriotic value and that it can actually help us beat off some of the more authoritarian or undesirable things that we’ve developed like this whole financialization of the country in the world. I think there could be some restraints there that are brought to us by this new system, but it’s certainly something that’s fascinating to think about.

Preston Pysh (01:13:29):
One of my favorite comments that you made during this discussion was this idea of if a communist country is allowing this into their system, it’s a Trojan horse to them because they’re going to lose the power that they have of overwatch of everything within their country and their citizens. It’s just an amazing idea that I haven’t personally really thought about how much of, and I hate to call it a cancer, but for their autocratic ways, it is a cancer for what they’re-

Alex Gladstein (01:13:58):
They will, they will use it immediately, in the next couple of years, if they’re not already to do things like get around sanctions. But again, in the long haul, man, as it sinks in and people realize there’s money that government doesn’t control. If you’re into like seizing other people’s property, if you’re into violent redistributionism, we got some bad news for you, because people are going to be able to control their own wealth in a peaceful way that is extremely difficult for you to confiscate.

Alex Gladstein (01:14:27):
So again, I think it checks the worst impulses of these kinds of redistributionist regimes. It will take some time and you should absolutely expect these rogue regimes and honestly, whatever politics anybody has, who cares? Whatever. If you’re a communist, if you’re an end cap, whatever you are, you’re going to want Bitcoin at some point in the next 10 years, there’s even a bunch of, I don’t know how they kind of hold it together, but there’s even a bunch of socialists on Twitter that are super into Bitcoin and cool.

Alex Gladstein (01:14:56):
Everybody’s going to need it. Everybody who’s a dissident or in opposition in a country where there’s a leadership, especially one that’s a little more authoritarian, they’re going to need this because or else, how else are they going to keep their funding going when their bank account gets frozen? A lot of Bitcoin’s attributes are completely apolitical and they’re really almost administrative. So it’s almost a way that you can upgrade how you run your movement or organization or company in a way that has nothing to do with your end goals.

Alex Gladstein (01:15:23):
But from just a meta point of view, yeah, this is bad news for folks who want to do violent distributionism. And I think it’s just a really good healthy check on governments. And it’s very anti-authoritarian and that’s why I love it so much.

Preston Pysh (01:15:37):
Alex, I’m sure there’s a ton of people listening to this and they’re thinking to themselves, “How in the world can I help Alex or the initiatives that you are working all around the world right now?” Can they donate? Is there a place they can go to donate? Just talk us through what somebody who’s listening to this and feeling really motivated to help out, what can they do?

Alex Gladstein (01:16:01):
Well, I hope if you stuck with us so far that you’re a Bitcoiner. And I think what’s really neat is despite the fact that all the critics are saying that governments are going to ban Bitcoin, that is far from the case. And in fact, it’s like a very favorable … Bitcoin is seen very favorably in United States from a tax perspective in terms of you being able to donate it. So when you donate Bitcoin, you get a write off at the value of it today.

Alex Gladstein (01:16:23):
Even if you got it back in 2012 or 2016, you can take the write off today. Obviously you’re not paying any gains, it’s donation. You can think of it like a seed that will into a tree, because at HCF, at least we’re really focused on holding this Bitcoin for like some sort of duration. We may sell off small slices of it to fund programs over time. But we’re trying to build something here and we grow a big tree. So if folks are interested, they can donate Bitcoin to our general programs, just to So the most simply.

Alex Gladstein (01:16:54):
If you want to donate to Bitcoin development, core development, or Lightning development, or app development, or research in emerging markets, we have a fund for this, and that’s at D-E-V F-U-N-D. The other way to get involved is at events. I’ll be down at Bitcoin 2021. I look forward to meeting a lot of folks there and talking about HCF and human rights and how they interact with Bitcoin.

Alex Gladstein (01:17:18):
But we do a series ourselves called the Oslo Freedom Forum, more details on that to be out soon, but that’ll have like a heavy Bitcoin track as well. So you’ll have all these awesome talks by activists and people changing the world in different industries. And then we’ll have this kind of track running where activists and advocates and journalists can learn about how to sort of administratively adopt and use Bitcoin. So I hope folks can join us there, follow me on Twitter at Gladstein, and let’s keep it going.

Preston Pysh (01:17:46):
Alex, I thoroughly enjoyed this. We definitely need to do it again. I just love hearing the stories. It’s just fascinating to hear these firsthand accounts on how this is changing people’s lives, and I’m just such a fan of your work. So thank you for making time and coming on the show. This was just really fun for me.

Alex Gladstein (01:18:02):
Thank you. Thank you, Preston. Bitcoin is freedom. So let’s see what we can do with it.

Preston Pysh (01:18:08):
Hey, so thanks for everybody listening into the show. If you enjoyed the conversation, be sure to subscribe to the show on whatever podcast app you’re using. We really appreciate that. And if you have time, leave us a review. So thanks for joining us this week and we’ll catch you next Wednesday.

Outro (01:18:23):
Thank you for listening to TIP. To access our show notes, courses, or forums, go to This show is for entertainment purposes only. Before making any decisions, consult a professional. This show is copyrighted by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Written permissions must be granted before syndication or forecasting.


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