30 March 2022

Preston Pysh interviews Alex Gladstein about the humanitarian impact that Bitcoin is having on self-sovereignty all over the world.

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  • Recently, the Senate is directing the State Department to investigate the economic impact Bitcoin is having on El Salvador – what is going on here?
  • Alex’s thoughts on how financial privilege blinds people to Bitcoin’s true impact.
  • Alex’s comments on the cypherpunk movement and why it was so important to Bitcoin’s foundation.
  • Bitcoin’s privacy problem.
  • What interview was the most memorable for Alex’s new book?
  • Why are so many people with power in the world reverting to tactics of control?


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 (00:00:02):

Hey, everyone. Welcome to this Wednesday’s release of the podcast, where we’re talking about Bitcoin. On today’s show I have backed by popular demand, Mr. Alex Gladstein. Alex is the Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation, and is generally just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to all things Bitcoin. On today’s show, we’re going to be talking about Alex’s new book and we’re talking about the humanitarian impacts that Bitcoin is having all around the world. One of the major themes in Alex’s book is how financial privilege can blind many market participants to the real impact that Bitcoin is already having all around the world. And based on all of his firsthand account stories that he shares during this interview, you’ll quickly see why he has that opinion. So without further delay, here’s my conversation with Alex Gladstein.

Intro (00:00:44):

You’re listening Bitcoin Fundamentals by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Now for your host Preston Pysh.

Preston Pysh (00:01:07):

Hey everyone. So like I said, in the introduction, I’m here with Alex Gladstein, Alex, welcome back to the show. It’s great to see you again, we haven’t chatted for a while I’m excited to get into this today.

Alex Gladstein (00:01:17):

Yeah. Pleasure to come on. Talk about the book and current events and all the crazy things that have happened in the last 10 months or so since the last time I was on.

Preston Pysh (00:01:26):

So you’re writing this book and you’re locking it down with your publisher. How much has played out. I’m just curious how much has played out since locking down your book in world events. I mean, from week to week, we pretty much have a decades worth of things that are happening. So when did you submit to your publisher and when did they take everything to print in that timeline process?

Alex Gladstein (00:01:50):

Yeah, so we began the editing process in maybe, October, and we locked texts in January, kind of very end of January. And in the past six, seven weeks, we’ve seen two things happen in the world that are kind of progressions from the themes I was riffing on in the book. The first one of course relates to the fact that many of the chapters in my book relate to people who use Bitcoin as almost a human rights tool where their bank accounts are frozen or their activities have been restricted because of who they are, whether that be their beliefs, their ethnicity, their religion, whatever. I tried to really globetrot and go to different parts of the world, whether it be Latin America or Africa, or the Middle East, Asia to do that. And what was most astonishing to me first was the Canadian government’s reaction to the trucker convoys fundraising. And that whole episode.

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Preston Pysh (00:02:48):

That was unbelievable.

Alex Gladstein (00:02:49):

It was an unbelievable episode and it continues to play out, but it very much is a growth from some of the things I was observing in the book around, for example, anti-police protests in Nigeria and the Nigerian feminists getting kicked off their FinTech apps and having to use BTC pay server instead like that happened in the fall of 2020. And that totally starts to foreshadow what happens in Canada. The most shocking thing about that of course, was that Canada’s regarded as a liberal democracy, one of the most open societies in the world and really underlined, I think for everybody that, “Hey, if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere.” And I think this pre Russia invasion of Ukraine, there was this really widespread sentiment on social media, in the Bitcoin community, in the wider cryptocurrency community of like, “Hey, we’ve been focusing on price for the last two years, but this is actually what it’s all about.”

Preston Pysh (00:03:41):


Alex Gladstein (00:03:42):

People were like, it was kind of almost refreshing to get a community focus on this like, “This is what it’s actually about money that the government can’t control.” Now, did the truckers screw up dissemination, distribution? Yes. And we’ll get into that, but the point is that and Lynn Alden had an awesome thread on this back in February, but essentially when you raise funds with Bitcoin, even if you screw up, the government has to put all this work into finding you and docking you and serving you in a court or whatever. Whereas when you raise funds with GoFundMe, it’s like a button click or a phone call. So even though these folks really screwed up and they used a static address and they did a bunch of things that I think are problematic.

Alex Gladstein (00:04:29):

A lot of the Bitcoin still got spent and distributed. So, I mean, it’s kind of funny that even when you have bad OPSEC, it’s just such a different paradigm than the legacy financial system, which is built for control. Bitcoin is built for freedom, but it’s nation and you got to know what you’re doing and you can screw up. And they, and these truckers sort of did screw up in some ways, but at the end of the day, it’s not built for control. So the Canadian government still had to do a whole bunch of stuff and continues to have to do a whole bunch of stuff to try and the work through the court system and try to get these guys and try to get these funds. And as of today, they’ve only gotten the small percentage. And I just think that speaks volumes about Bitcoin’s efficacy as a protest fundraising tool.

Alex Gladstein (00:05:13):

And then on the 24th of February, Putin invades Ukraine. And I mean, man, this is obviously the topic that has changed the world. It will be in history, seen like the U.S. invasion of Iraq or the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is like that level of importance of event for a variety of reasons. And one of the interesting things of course, was that there was a fog of war and not a lot of people thought it was going to happen. I mean, I think there was a widespread, obvious focus at the time, we had the Olympics in China and people were kind of like, “Hmm.” Our chairman at HRF, Garry Kasparov had this old joke about, well, “What do you think happens when the enemy encircles your country? What do you think happens next?” And we could see it on satellite image, but people understandably were skeptical of U.S. government intelligence. A lot of people, especially in the Bitcoin community don’t trust the U.S. government.

Preston Pysh (00:06:05):

I didn’t think it was going to happen. I mean, I kept seeing the reports I was like, “They’re not going to invade Ukraine.”

Alex Gladstein (00:06:10):

No. And there are incredible Russian journalists who work for The Guardian, New York Times who didn’t think it going to happen, who live in Russia. I mean, so it’s like, “Who are Russian?” So there was a lot of fog war stuff going on, but ultimately Putin invades, and then the West freezes the Russian Central Bank reserves. And there’s been some really great discussion on this, especially by Luke Gromen on the Grant Williams show and by other folks, but really a watershed moment you had the memo by [Zlatan 00:06:41] at Credit Suisse come out and look, things take time. But clearly the last eight months, our watershed moment in terms of understanding inside versus outside money, I mean, first you had Afghanistan, you had the fall of Kabul and you had the United States government just simply just freeze the reserves of that particular sovereign.

Alex Gladstein (00:07:01):

And then you had this and it seems like Putin probably knew this was going to happen. And he had certain plans in place, but for a one superpower to just be able to freeze another superpower savings because the other superpower chose to save in its rivals liabilities is now something that is a global discussion topic, whereas it just wasn’t before. So now you’re thinking about China, the CCP, “Okay. What happens if they invade Taiwan later this year?” Well guess what, trillion dollars of their assets are going to get frozen. So they’ve got about $1.1 trillion of American securities that they’ve saved. So I think that causes pause and hesitation and the realist view, which I have a couple different hats, but I mean, obviously I’m a human rights activist, but I’m also trying to have this realist view of monetary economics and the way the world works from that perspective, the realist view quite obviously, is that over the next few years, and especially over this decade, big powers are going to diversify their savings away from the U.S. Treasury.

Alex Gladstein (00:08:07):

And that was the other theme that I wrote about a lot in my book was monetary history and how essentially we went from gold as the reserve currency to essentially the U.S. dollar or the U.S. Treasury as use of currency. And how I think eventually we’re going to go to Bitcoin. And that was a big part of a couple of the chapters in my book that tried to do a retrospective on that. So to come out of the book publishing process and see just the super vivid use case, obviously for Bitcoin, from as a freedom money at the micro level, and to see all these critics come out and say, “I was wrong on Bitcoin. We need it.” All these telegram groups I’m in with all these kind of terrified people, they were like, “Oh, I mean, Hey obviously I guess we need Bitcoin.”

Alex Gladstein (00:08:54):

And then to see the macro effect of what I had been talking a lot about with regard to the trajectory of the dollar system start have a clearly historic milestone. And we’re living in history right now as you and I speak so we’ll see what happens obviously. But to have those shootings happen right after was pretty amazing. And it felt like the process of writing, which started for me in 2020, during early 2020, two things happened obviously we had COVID shutdown. I was at home all the time, doing a lot of reading. I made a pledge to myself to learn more about the bond markets, because I thought that was kind of interesting and I didn’t know much about it. And I spent two years learning about that. And then I started to interview people in the space that I thought were interesting.

Alex Gladstein (00:09:44):

And I had this book project in mind and that’s when I interviewed, for example, Adam Back and a few other folks. So I did a bulk of the research and kind of early writing in 2020. And then in 2021, I started putting things together in a series of kind of reportage for Bitcoin Magazine that would later start to create the skeleton for the book. So I really liked the way it all came together. And the cool part is some of the book obviously was published as chapters. They were later edited and ordered in a way that I think makes a narrative sense. But the cool part is a lot of those stories had been out there and I got so much feedback from people. So I was able, because like thousands and thousands of people would read the stories and a couple would say, “Hey, maybe you’ve got this wrong or whatever.”

Alex Gladstein (00:10:31):

So I kind of like Wikipedia or kind of crowdsourced some of the things that maybe I had gotten wrong or whatever. And that means the book is pretty polished from that perspective. And I’m really happy and confident about everything that’s in there. But anyway, to conclude the opening here, what a time to publish the book. And I mean, wow. I mean, what a time. And again, it reminded me of the process of writing because I had written, one of my chapters is about how Bitcoin adoption works globally and how sort of this Trojan Horse For Freedom and I write this chapter and I’m thinking a lot about it. And then all of a sudden I see this populous leader in Central America, like top Bitcoin and I was there and the crowd when Jack Mallers announced that it was so astonishing.

Alex Gladstein (00:11:18):

And then just to start to see that unfold and then to get to go down there and do a big piece on that, I thought was important, but yeah, we’re just living history right now. And this El Salvador story continues to be important. I mean, just today we saw that the Honduran government, which clearly had been mulling Bitcoin adoption because the Central Bank put out a statement about Bitcoin adoption today, like the Central Bank of Honduras put out a statement about Bitcoin adoption today. I mean, wow. So that they put that out and they basically said, “Cool your ideas. We’re going to do a CBDC.” It seems so we’ll see.

Alex Gladstein (00:11:54):

I mean, I wouldn’t be shocked if again, you see some things happening in Central America, it just seems inevitable. But for now this new government leftist government in Honduras, which I obviously thought would be really interesting if they did something with Bitcoin, because ultimately I think leftist governments will, but that comes out today and you’ve got the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee going after this bill that they want to pass that basically mandates the State Department and other agencies to do a thorough investigation of El Salvador’s Bitcoin adoption. And it’s like-

Preston Pysh (00:12:30):

Let’s talk that. Let’s get into that before we go into the book. I want to talk more about this because I read this on Twitter today and I also wanted to just comment. I think Twitter is the best peer review for anything that you can possibly write on the planet though. The academic peer review process is totally dead just post it on Twitter and you’ll get real feedback. You might not like the tone that the feedback comes in, but you’ll get real feedback. Okay. So this announcement, this Senate plan to direct the State Department to investigate El Salvador’s Bitcoin adoption. This is a four page document that goes into a very specific definition of at least my interpretation of what I read was they want to fully understand the benefits and potentially detriments of having a Bitcoin legal tender system in a country. What impacts that has on businesses, individuals, you name it.

Preston Pysh (00:13:26):

And then the very last portion of this four page document, it said that the U.S. government wants a study conducted on what the ramifications of that might mean to the existing dollar reserve system. It’s just like a maybe two sentence comment about a study on that particular topic. So this just came out today, what the heck does this mean? And the turnaround time was what? 90 days or something like that, Alex?

Alex Gladstein (00:13:55):

Yeah. So look, I did a comment for Politico about it this morning, but essentially I would imagine you would agree that the sort of big takeaways like wow, the U.S. government’s extremely serious about Bitcoin adoption in Central America, like the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s making this a massive priority.

Preston Pysh (00:14:11):

Even the president of El Salvador seemed pretty shocked based on his comment on Twitter like, “I can’t believe.”

Alex Gladstein (00:14:15):

Yeah. I mean he’s like, “Hey, we’re some little country this is crazy.” And no doubt with the prodding of Treasury and FinCEN and OFAC and all the rest. But look, I think that’s the big takeaway is that the U.S. government’s taking this extremely seriously. That’s the general takeaway. But look, I think could we get some interesting new data from such a study? Yes, definitely. I mean, there could be another data point. A U.S. government data point, which we also, we should take with a grain of salt, but it’ll go in there and they will, I imagine, try to figure out percentage of adoption. They’ll try to suss out some of these claims that Kelly’s making, it can’t hurt to have another data point. So that’s one thing, but when you read through this memo or this potential bill, it just strikes me that it’s kind of set up to produce a negative outcome.

Alex Gladstein (00:15:02):

It starts out by talking about how will this challenge essentially, the travel rule type financial Dragnet rules that the United States has in place, like how will this challenge the KYC AML regime, and how will it challenge the World Bank and the IMF and how will it challenge the existing monetary orders, essentially the questions I think they’re really trying to ask. I don’t think necessarily, they’re trying to figure out like, “Oh, is this good? And should we do that?” I think obviously they know where they stand on that they don’t want to do this. I think what they’re trying to do is can by throwing their weight around here, maybe can they discourage other countries from doing it. And maybe Honduras is evidence of that. We don’t know, but obviously that government was mulling it clearly, if the Central Bank would put out a statement.

Alex Gladstein (00:15:46):

I mean, there’s no reason the central bank would feel the need to put out a detailed statement about Bitcoin adoption if they hadn’t been this discussing it internally. So maybe the U.S. government put some pressure there. I’m not sure. I think Kamala just went down there and they seem pretty tight. So I’m not really sure what’s going on there, but could we get something interesting out of it maybe, but I think the big takeaway is simply that U.S. government’s very concerned that the Bitcoin model could break the current system and yeah. Wow.

Preston Pysh (00:16:16):

The irony for me is that the way that you phrased that last sentence is how I think most of the world is going to perceive this is that Bitcoin broke the old system. When in reality, the old system is breaking itself. And there’s this thing over here that just happens to be ready to catch all of the broken pieces and kind of piece it all back together again.

Alex Gladstein (00:16:40):

Yeah, no, no, no. Bitcoin’s the life rafts, not the iceberg.

Preston Pysh (00:16:43):


Alex Gladstein (00:16:44):

100%. No, I agree with that. Of course, but I’m just the vibe I got. No, but the vibe I got from reading what they’re saying is what I’m kind trying to conclude here with is that the bill is a set up for a memo or a finding that says Bitcoin’s the iceberg. That’s all.

Preston Pysh (00:17:03):

And even if it does… And I agree with you, and I think even if it does say that, and it comes back with, “Hey, this is really bad. Everything’s going to… I think the critical question that has to be asked when a person would that report is, “So what can you do to prevent that from happening or to prevent that from evolving in that direction? Do you have that authority to prevent that?” And I think you and I both know the answers or we suspect, we know the answers to both of those very difficult questions that any individual company government body is going to have to ask itself, as they’re trying to understand and wrap their head around this. And the answer is, no, you can’t, you don’t have a unilateral authority to prevent this thing on a global scale for every single participant to not participate. And as long as that, what I just said is a true statement. If that’s a true statement, then you have to choose to participate. Right?

Alex Gladstein (00:18:04):

Yeah. And I also think that, look, I think it also just helps us recenter and realize how exceptional the El Salvador move was. And look, obviously I’d been very critical of Bukele taking a lot of heat on Bitcoin, Twitter for being critical of Bukele, but whatever, man, I think that if he plays his cards, right, he could do great things for his country. But I went down to El Salvador with people from Venezuela and with Ecuador, from Ecuador and Nicaragua, I went with people who’d seen this movie before that like all the tell-tale signs, like when I first started working for the Human Rights Foundation in the mid 2000s, guess what Chavez did? Well he sacked the attorney general. He restacked the Supreme court. He changed the law so he could keep running in office. And this is an obvious blueprint.

Alex Gladstein (00:18:51):

We know where this is going now. Maybe Bukele is the exception and he’s doing all these things without a goal in mind. That just seems like a stretch. We can hope that he doesn’t take the big steps and that he sees the wisdom in restraint. I mean, that’s the hope he still has a way out, I think that he could still be this forever remembered figure who was the first to understand the Bitcoin standard. I mean that this is very much in the cards, but he’s got to cool it with the getting rid of his rivals and cracking down on descent. Otherwise, I think he’ll disrupt the legacy and he’ll be more remembered for other things, unfortunately. So we’ll kind of see, but just generally speaking, I think that it’s such a powerful reminder of the fact that what he did was so unique. And even though I have again, strong criticism of what he’s doing in a broader sense, politically, I did credit and even cheered the fact that he chose Bitcoin because he didn’t choose the CBDC.

Alex Gladstein (00:19:52):

And that was remarkable and it continues to be remarkable and I’ll continue to give him credit for that. And when you look at the fact that the Honduran government’s kind of saying, “Well, maybe we’re just going to go to CBDC route.” Like, “Wow. I mean, you’re talking about the difference between a monetary system of freedom versus a monetary system of control.” And ironically seven hours ago from when you and I are talking right now, the Fed, having a Twitter account by the way is hilarious, but okay. So the fed tweets, “Why is the Federal Reserve considering a hashtag CBDC now one out of three thread?” What a wild statement to make on this very day and with they have a graphic and everything going on. So it’s like, they’re setting it up. The fed is going to roll out a CBDC at some point. I mean, we’re hearing from Powell. We heard from today that, “Oh, it would have to,” he’s like, “It’s got to have privacy, but also identifiability.” Okay. Well that means that it’s not going to have privacy.

Preston Pysh (00:20:50):

You notice how they’re definitely not talking about it for a peg. Which the whole thing is about having a unit that is not being debased that pegs and holds everybody to a monetary standard without de basing it and shoving it into the hands of a select few group of people. So that’s the thing that I think so few get, when you get into the CBDCs is first and foremost, it has to be pegged. It has to have a fixed supply that can’t be manipulated by a single point or a few people in a room and no CBDC is going to do that.

Alex Gladstein (00:21:32):

Yeah, no. And look, I like to answer the Fed’s question. Why is the fed considering a CBDC now? Well, I have three answers, number one, to replace cash with the tool surveillance. That’s like on the writings on the wall for that one, number two to establish limits on who can use dollars another big one that’s kind of obvious, but number three and to your point, yeah. It’s to make it easier to conduct expansionary and repressive monetary policy. I mean, they can do helicopter money, they can do programmable money. We’ve been in all these debates the last few years of does QE cause inflation. And in my latest essay, I tried to a really breakdown how I thought that there’s just tons of evidence to show that basically government intervention in the bond markets, QE causes massive asset inflation.

Alex Gladstein (00:22:17):

And I think that’s really, really clear and has all kinds of externalities, but it doesn’t necessarily cause consumer price inflation directly. However, the Fed has accounts to directly with Americans. This is a different ballgame and a CBDC would basically marry the Fed’s ability to do QE and eat up sovereign debt with the ability to directly credit, basically bank reserves into people’s pocketbooks, which is spending into the real economy and will be really inflationary. So we’re talking about like programmable stimies. So I think that this idea of CBDCs is far beyond just the surveillance tech piece. I think we have to talk about negative interest rates. We have to talk about expiration dates on money. We have to talk about the monetary piece 100%. It’s essentially going to be as a tool to disincentivize savings and to incentivize consumption spending, because that’s what our economy kind of requires right now.

Alex Gladstein (00:23:15):

That’s what the powers that we want. The whole green span Fed model that was so brilliantly described by this journalist Christopher Leonard in his new book, The Lords of Easy Money, which I definitely recommend people read is that they basically said we’re going to do three things. They said this in the ’90s, after the recession in the early ’90s, they’re like, “We’re going to fight price inflation. We’re going to ignore asset inflation and we’re going to bail out the economy and the crashes.” I mean, that’s basically the green span playbook, and guess what they did all those things. And now they’re going to have to fight price inflation. Because that’s where we are. But I think that the CBDC just plays into the macro story here in a really big way. And ultimately one of the chapters of my book relates to the cypherpunks and they saw this coming. That’s what Bitcoin was invented to fight was the CBDC.

Alex Gladstein (00:24:08):

I made a joke the other day about how I thought that maybe there’s this theory of Satoshi being kind of like someone sent back in time from a dystopian future to kill off the CBDC the same way that the Terminator was sent back to save John Connor so he could fight Skynet, et cetera, et cetera. But you kind of get the idea that like, it is this incepted idea that was literally nothing more than a blog post, essentially on a message board and a little bit of code that has now grown into a, not just a serious contender to a CBDC, but something I think that will help us fight and defeat it, which really amazing. So I’m super into this being the legacy of the cypherpunks in the 1980s, them seeing the writing on the wall, Neil Stevenson, even writing about it in his books, in the ’80s, knowing that electronic control of money would lead to both surveillance and sort of that easy monetary policy, programably easy monetary policy.

Alex Gladstein (00:25:06):

And then literally them designing a thing that could fight back. And that’s where we are today. And we’re lucky to live in one of one of the many different parallel universes. We’re lucky to live in one of them where Bitcoin did get invented, and we do have a tool to fight back. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be super, super bullish or optimistic about the future as I am now, but anyway, really great data talk lots happening very, very clear that we’re about to see this battle kind of unfold even domestically between CBDCs and Bitcoin. And we’ll be here for that.

Preston Pysh (00:25:46):

I like the three points that you lay out in that response to the Central Bank, because each of those three points that you make, which obviously, I don’t think anybody can even argue any of those three points, but each one of them is a breakdown in trust. They lead to a breakdown in trust of the user of that CBDC. Because you’re putting optionality into the currency that can just totally usurp their buying power at no notice if you tick somebody off or somebody doesn’t like what you’re doing or whatever.

Alex Gladstein (00:26:23):

I’ve been following this guy, I love this guy FedGuy12, Joseph Wang writing about his experiences, working as a trader at the fed for years and years and years. And I’ve been noticing that he’s increasingly, I don’t know, he’s on the right side here, which is really interesting. And he tweeted today, “A CBDC is just a surveillance tool and has no place in the free society.” I’m like, “Hell yeah, that’s the right take.” And it’s amazing that somebody who worked inside the beast for a decade or whatever, that’s his viewpoint. He saw how this sausage is made and he was like, “No, we don’t want this. This is not good for us.” And he told me that I talked to him and I read a lot of his stuff in preparation and during research for a recent essay that I wrote on basically foreign policy and QE, which I think is a very overlooked topic.

Alex Gladstein (00:27:13):

But essentially he was essentially saying something like the fact that usually the bond market plays is sort of a check on government power, just like the Senate and the House are check on the executive branch and just like the Supreme Court is a check on the executive branch. Well, the bond market’s a check on government power too. And that actually basically through the Fed’s actions, they took that check away. So I think that somebody who saw that all go down post-2008 and it’s like, “Wow, there’s just all this centralized power coming together.” Sees that a CBDC is just the worst possible thing. I mean, it’s like adding kerosene to the fire. I mean, it’s like anything they can do now. I mean, man, if they can just program stimulus it’ll be abused.

Alex Gladstein (00:27:59):

And democratic politicians aren’t necessarily at fault. There was a guy [Jack Ref 00:28:06] he wrote a lot about gold standard and the U.S. moving off the gold standard in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, French writer, French diplomat, I believe. And he talked a lot about how in the democratic society, the politicians are always going to choose inflation. They’re not going to choose [crosstalk 00:28:26] it’s just, it’s like they’re designed to do so. So if our democratic system has this Fiat central banking model, where there are no restraints, and what I’m describing is literally just history. In fact, they will continue to run up a deficit. I mean, especially if you’re the reserve currency, I mean, look, our debt is now 31 trillion, 30 trillion. And Fed’s talking about raising rates. Well, guess what, they raise rates. I mean, rates for every 1% in rates that they raise, you get another 300 billion that we owe in payments right this year.

Alex Gladstein (00:29:06):

So our federal budget’s only 6 trillion. So if we go up 3%, you’re talking almost another trillion dollars of in, of payments. And this will literally bankrupt the country. So it’s going to be very interesting to watch this all play out. And all of these things around CBDCs kind of come out of what I learned about and wrote about in the book, because they dovetail those two themes that neatly dovetail with the Canadian truckers and what we’ve seen with regard to the U.S. policy versus Russia and the sanctions, which is the micro and the macro, which is the Bitcoin has this tool for individuals to fight back against repression. And to do protest money, let’s say. And the macro being this potentially new outside money, neutral digital reserve asset. So those were the two ideas that I was most taken by and fascinated by and puzzled by, as I was writing the book and the chapters all move through kind of both of those themes, the micro and the macro.

Preston Pysh (00:30:09):

I can just say for people listening to this, your first person accounts and stories throughout the book are absolutely phenomenal. Just reading those first hand accounts it’s just like, I don’t know how to really describe it. It just, it really put a face to this movement and just made it so real for me. And when you start off the book, you have a title here, some subtitling in the start of the book and the subtitling was just when I read it, I just sat there. I’m like, “This is such a powerful statement because it encapsulates so much of my day-to-day interactions on Twitter and people in this space are pretty much with Americans and people who live here stateside.” I don’t see the actual impact that this is having, because so much of what our conversations revolve around is an investing number go up discussion point.

Preston Pysh (00:31:10):

But this is the subtitle. You say, how financial privilege, blinds dollar users to Bitcoin’s importance. And I read that and I just thought to myself, “My God, that is so true.” And I tried to just kind of put myself in any other person around the world. And you provide so many, you talk about Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, you list all these countries throughout the book that you have done firsthand account interviews with people that are Bitcoiners in these nations and their point of view. And my God, what a powerful read. I mean, it’s phenomenal. So I guess in there, the question for me is what account for you just sticks out in your head. First and foremost, as I ask that, what person or which story or situ just kind of jumps out at you as just being a really powerful example of all of the… I’m telling you folks, there’s not one, there is, this book is just full of these accounts. What do you got?

Alex Gladstein (00:32:16):

Yeah. So for me, I think I’ll say general thing, and then I’ll mention someone specifically, but the collective, when you breathe in the book, if you’re able to read, check your financial privilege and get a sense of what Preston’s been talking about, which of course I’d be very grateful for in welcoming of your feedback. I think the collective TLDR is just like, “Wow, humans are so persistent and resilient.” And these people who are stuck in situations that are so unimaginably bad and so much worse than someone like me could imagine. And who are, I mean, I am so privileged, especially financially privileged, but all kinds of privileged over for a lot of these folks. And they’re able to find this hope in this new kind of money is just, and it’s not a geographic thing.

Alex Gladstein (00:33:07):

I’ve got chapters on Togo and Palestine and Cuba. And we go to Nigeria, we look at El Salvador. We really go around and Afghanistan. And we go to all the different continents and it’s just really neat and fascinating that all these totally desperate people who literally have nothing to do with one another, they all have this common thing that has changed their life and gives them optimism for the future. And that to me is just like one of the big takeaways. It just made me so optimistic writing the book as for a specific person. One of the interviews that I started to do in 2020 was with my friend Roya Mahboob who’s one of Afghanistan’s first female tech CEOs. And I’d actually known Roya for a while before I realized she used Bitcoin. I think I met her in 2013 or 14, and it didn’t really come up until a couple years later when I was at an event with her and we’re just chatting.

Alex Gladstein (00:34:01):

And I just somehow the word Bitcoin came up and she was like, “Oh yeah I’ve been using that for a while.” And I’m kind of like, “Wait, what, tell me more.” And my story about her was I kind of got the chance to dust it off, go back and talk with her extensively and do a piece right around the fall of Kabul. This was a few weeks after Kabul fell. So for me, it was a chance to go back, kind of get the message out about why she originally used it, which was so fascinating because she’s in this society where women are either legally or socially not permitted to use money at the same level as men, the husband’s brothers, uncles of folks they take the cash when women come home, you can’t really open bank accounts. I mean, you can, but it’s discouraged, et cetera.

Alex Gladstein (00:34:48):

Whatever’s not illegal is sort of socially pushed back against. So she had this company that she started and I detailed the whole story in the book, but was really amazing as is called Citadel, which is this theme in Bitcoin. So I thought what was really funny about my interviews with her were that number one, her company was called Citadel, which is of course this kind of idea in Bitcoin of like, “Where we’re all going to live after the hyperbitcoinization, but that’s her company name. And the other thing was that she got her start building something called the silk road for the U.S. government in Afghanistan. Which of course I also thought was really funny, but basically she starts hiring women to work for her. And they’re trying to figure out all these payment options and they don’t have an M-Pesa type thing in Afghanistan.

Alex Gladstein (00:35:37):

All the FinTech that we use is censored. Their currencies are not doing so well over time. So look, somebody points out Bitcoin to her. This was in late 2012, I guess. And she’s like, she’s got an open mind. She says, “Let’s do it.” So throughout the spring and summer of 2013, the fall of 2013, they’re like, she’s paying these women in Bitcoin. And then it gives them the sense of financial freedom, because they can actually own the asset that she teaches them how to set up a wallet. They were of course, much more rudimentary back then, but they worked basically the same way. And whenever the women wanted to spend, Roya’s sister made a side business buying the Bitcoin back either for goods or for cash. And that’s just this little ecosystems she built and over time, hundreds and even thousands of women and girls learned about this in this way.

Alex Gladstein (00:36:29):

Now of course the crazy part of the story is that the Bitcoin price crashes at the end of 2013 dramatically. So she has to make everybody whole, it’s a huge setback. Everybody accuses her of being a crook. It’s really, it makes you think about those early years when you literally were crazy for using it. Bitcoin’s risk was so high that no one took you seriously. I mean, today, you and I can have these serious conversations because we have all this price history under our belt and people take it seriously, because it is serious. It’s a trillion dollar asset, et cetera. But back then it was not serious. So she risks it all. And afterwards though, she can’t shake it. She’s like, “There’s something there. That’s so cool that we could have this money that women could be equal in essentially that does not discriminate based on gender.”

Alex Gladstein (00:37:17):

And two stories she told me that I include there are, first of all, the fact that her sister, that side hustle turned out to be very lucrative because she held onto the Bitcoin and she ended up paying for education to Cornell with it, which was amazing. So that was the first thing, this Bitcoin that these women earned ended up being a huge treasure later on when they saved it. And then this other person and who worked for her fled the country, brought her Bitcoin with her, made it all the way to Germany across Iran, Turkey, the whole thing boat flipping over the horrible stuff that Afghans have to go through to get to a better life, makes it to Germany, has brought the seed phrase with her, ends up having this nest egg and 2017 is able to sell some of it and start a new life in Germany.

Alex Gladstein (00:38:02):

And that’s where she is now. And these two stories I thought were really something else. And the last thing I’ll mention about that piece, which is I thought this Roya herself was the specific person that remained in my mind as kind of the most interesting, although all of the people I talked to were awesome and fascinating in different ways was the fact that she had gone to Kabul about a year ago and tried to convince her parents to buy some and to diversify into it. And they were like, it wasn’t like that they didn’t believe her because she became kind of world renowned for her work in this area. It was that they just were uncomfortable procrastinating. And the craziest lesson is that they ended up not doing it.

Alex Gladstein (00:38:45):

And then similarly to the way that when Putin invaded Ukraine, everybody was shocked was like kind of a surprise. You saw all those things on social that I saw people were hanging out in Kyiv partying until the day it happened. Similar like to… I mean, people knew that the army was coming the Taliban were coming, but it was extremely sudden. And her parents had to flee and guess what? Couldn’t bring their savings with them. So she has this regret that she wasn’t able to sufficiently persuade them to do this because had they just diversified a little bit to Bitcoin, they could have brought some of their wealth with them. And that’s a theme that I’ve seen all across. All the writing I’ve done is like, and stories that didn’t make it into the book that will be maybe for a future book about Syria, Venezuela, other places like what a powerful thing.

Alex Gladstein (00:39:33):

Yeah. And now Ukraine, I mean there was great CNBC piece out there by one of the journalists there, McKenzie who’s she’s been really, really great on the Bitcoin beat lately. And I talked to her a lot, that story gave her some sources and she ended up writing about a young guy who fled Ukraine with 40% of his life savings, intact. Whereas, most people lost everything. And that idea of refugee money is extremely powerful. So anyway, I thought that story was a big takeaway for me in the book. But yeah, I mean, to me, the Cuba and the Palestine pieces were the ones I went the deepest and they were, I knew a lot about those two areas, but I learned so much in doing the research and writing this each piece is very long and detailed and covers a lot of history about each because I felt like it was so important to have a nuanced view.

Alex Gladstein (00:40:25):

And I really, really changed my own mind about a lot of things as I wrote those pieces. And I just, it’s two very different scenarios, but two situations where people are trapped between two kind of almost external forces. In both cases, they have the local corrupt government, whether that be the Cuban dictatorship or the Palestinian authority. And then they have this foreign presence, whether it be the Israeli the IDF or the U.S. and the U.S. embargo, and both of them are putting this pressure on them and hurting their ability to do commerce and to save and transact and to enjoy the things that you and I have as privileged Americans. And I just thought the dichotomy of both of those stories was quite powerful. So I definitely am very proud of those two chapters as well.

Alex Gladstein (00:41:15):

Especially just given that like, I mean, such a Bitcoin is just badass. It’s this one thing that they can say, “I’m going to use this and I don’t care what you have to say.” And one of the women I interviewed in the cubit chapter, I found her on Max and Stacy’s telegram group. And it’s just like, it’s amazing. But she’s now doing… Well, she got in early 2020, and she’s doing well enough now that she’s supporting one of her family members in America, with Bitcoin she’s like a Cuban middle class, meaning extremely poor medical worker who works for the state in that country. And she just was stacking sats and learned about it that way. And everybody can do that. And it just gives me a lot of hope. So, yeah. I mean the book covers a lot of ground. Yeah.

Preston Pysh (00:42:04):

Speaking of covering a lot of ground, one of the sections of the book that I was just thoroughly impressed with, this is not a topic that I’ve ever covered on the show before. At least I don’t think I have you talk a little bit and you write about the birth of the cypherpunk movement and how it was the seeds in the Bitcoin. And you talk about interviewing Adam and you cover the whole cast of characters that were part of the cypherpunk movement. Can you cover a little bit of this research with my audience and just kind of give them a background of how all this all kind of sprung out of that movement and the timeframe this happened decades ago to give them kind of an idea of when this really kind of started kicking off and a little bit of the backstory, because I don’t think that we’ve ever covered this on our show.

Alex Gladstein (00:42:49):

Yeah. So I think I try to set up the book with a couple, as you say, kind of immediate characters to show you people who are using the Bitcoin around the world in ways that might surprise you. And then I tried with chapter two to bring it back to before those people even had thought about a money that their government didn’t control. There was a whole group of folks working towards providing that tool for humanity and they were the cypherpunks. And look, the research goes through a lot of books writing that was done in the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. And there’s a veritable treasure trove of reportage from Wired magazine from the ’90s, that’s so phenomenal on this, especially by this guy Stephen Levy, but Wired magazine in the ’90s was amazing.

Alex Gladstein (00:43:37):

If you read this stuff, it’s so, so cool. I mean, they were living a similar moment to what we’re living now. And what’s funny is of course Adam Back, I ask him about this and he’s like, “Oh, today’s way crazier than that.” Because he was a frontline soldier in the crypto wars in the ’90s. And I mean, now it’s even way more wild, but at the time, yeah. I mean, again, I think what you had was this collective realization that as things digitized in society and as especially communications and money became electronic, that was going to open up new paths for governments to surveil and control people, especially in conjunction with large corporations and cyberpunks were extensively about this. And one of the characters in that story is David Chaum who I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with one day a few years ago just kind of spending a day with him and just talking to him about, about his life and what he’s up to.

Alex Gladstein (00:44:28):

But he was one of the first to really, really saw the need for not just encrypted communications but encrypted money. And essentially in the ’70s, scientists came up with ways for two individuals to trade a secret on the internet. This was done out of research at Stanford University and it was really, really groundbreaking. But this sort of concept to practice takes time. And actually it took about 15 years to get from the sort of what we would call like the RSA paper based on Whitfield Diffie’s work around public-key encryption in the mid ’70s to having an actual device that could allow me and you to have essentially an encrypted message online. And that obviously was PGP. So the PGP project, Phil Zimmerman right. Pretty Good Privacy. That kind of came out in the early ’90s, but it was built on the back of all this stuff by all these academics who had been exploring these issues, David Chaum, not least among them.

Alex Gladstein (00:45:29):

And you look at you go back you read his stuff from the ’80s and ’90s. And he knew it. He was like, “Look, this is going to be the so Orwellian state. We got to stop it.” And they knew back then. And basically the cypherpunk movement is the validation of a realization that there’s two ways to protect our rights. We can ask the government for them or we can seize them ourselves through open source code. And this is always what I’m thinking about today with these debates around CBDCs, Bitcoin, whatever, back then, yeah. You could go to the U.S. government. I mean, it’s same characters. Clinton was president, Senator Biden was very involved in cracking down on free speech on the internet and on encryption, same people that are leading our country today back then did not want America to have privacy on the internet for the same reasons that they don’t want us to have Bitcoin today, whatever child porn, terrorism, crime, they make up anything.

Alex Gladstein (00:46:20):

They just didn’t want to give up the power. They wanted the clipper chip, they wanted a device in every American’s consumer technology piece of equipment that would allow them to have basically a key into the private messages. So I think what was so interesting is just seeing the cypherpunk ethos is that, no, we’re just going to go ahead and seize our rights to open source code and ask for forgiveness and not permission. And that was essential. I mean, they had to do that because you weren’t going to lobby your way into freedom back then, and you’re not going to do it today either. And that’s why I think Bitcoin is so important, we’re not going to be able to like, there’s a lot of these people who a lot of them, I respect they think that we can convince the government to make private cash.

Alex Gladstein (00:47:02):

There’s just a lot of reasons why that’s not going to work. And I think I was inspired by the cypherpunk in that they saw that this was such a kind of existential threat. And after kind of making it possible to have encrypted messaging, which was kind of the first battle, the war, or the holy grail, I guess was e-cash. And it was this thing that had always been talked about in sci-fi writing again Stevenson, his books were so formative for I think a lot of these people and you go back and Reason did a really good kind of video series on the cypherpunk, early years. But you look at these people like Tim May, John Gilmore, the other folks Eric Hughes, the cypherpunk manifesto, all this stuff they got together in the early ’90s and they decided, “We’re going to fight back.”

Alex Gladstein (00:47:48):

And Adam Back was part of that. And Adam Back it was no coincidence that he was the first person to get an email from Satoshi Nakamoto. He had decades of experience in distributed systems and cyber money. He was very much a part of that. And so my essay my second chapter in the book goes through all these characters and we learn about what David Chaum, what he tried to do with DigiCash and why it failed. And then kind of people like Adam Back and Wade and others Nick Szabo kind of looking at why it failed and then get this realization that I felt was lacking in the genre of, although Aaron from Bitcoin Magazine, [Eric Wade 00:48:33] has done a really good job describing this as well, that it wasn’t just about the privacy piece.

Alex Gladstein (00:48:39):

We need to remember that Satoshi did not unveil Bitcoin after a surveillance scandal like The Snowden Files, he or she, whoever it was unveiled Bitcoin after the great financial crisis and after government bailouts of banks and after moral hazard was established. And I think that, and it’s very powerful that they choose to kind of integrate 6102 and the Executive Order 6102, which made holding gold illegal in America into kind of these key numbers in the Bitcoin code. And that they chose a birthday of April 5th, which was the date that FDR issued that order. And all this stuff about monetary history, just sort of littered throughout Bitcoin. And it really gives you the clues that you need to understand, not least the Genesis block and chancellor and the brink of bail out of banks. Again, that Bitcoin was not just about e-cash and the title of the white paper.

Alex Gladstein (00:49:31):

It was not just about privacy. It was about that. And the cypherpunks that’s obviously kind of where they started, but you get this realization from Adam and others, that what was really essential was to actually create a money system that the government didn’t control that was a decentralized mint as Adam puts it. And that’s what Satoshi figured out. So you could kind of see in Satoshi’s work that they were standing on the shoulders of these cypherpunk giants who fought for free speech on the internet, but also that they had seen what happened to gold and how it got killed as a money. And how do U.S. government basically inch to defeat it and then replace it with its own debt as the world reserve currency, that clearly was on the mind of these folks and against Satoshi sits at the end of a long line of them, but they all contributed.

Alex Gladstein (00:50:21):

And at the end of the day, I thought, what was so powerful was that it’s really a monetary innovation and not necessarily a technological innovation. And that really my thesis essentially of that chapter is that I don’t think you could have had Bitcoin or a decentralized money without the kind of the monetary policy focus. The 21 million piece is what makes everything else possible? So that’s, I just loved going through all that history and doing that piece with Adam was great to get a lot of his time to be able to just learn about all these interesting things that he did when he was younger. And it’s completely amazing.

Preston Pysh (00:50:58):

I mean, It really puts on a showcase of if there was one person or this was multiple people, the amount of foresight research knowledge that was there with just the hints that you were talking about that are embedded into a lot of this stuff. And I mean, that is just at the as surface level, as you can get compared to everything else that’s underneath the hood, that’s going on. It’s just it’s miraculous.

Alex Gladstein (00:51:28):

Yeah. And you really get a sense especially from Hal Finney worked at DigiCash or rather Nick Szabo worked at DigiCash. Hal, what I was trying to say is Hal worked at PGP, Hal was one of the first contributors to Phil Zimmermann and they were all part of this community that they were fighting the surveillance state. But how and others realize that to really to fight the surveillance state, you got to fight central banking, but they realize this has got astonishing conclusion, which most people just would’ve completely missed. I think. And still to this day, the like digital liberties activist groups in the world are just not tuned into why Fiat central banking is a problem. That’s just not on the radar at all.

Alex Gladstein (00:52:11):

And we can thank, “Thank God that Satoshi figured this out,” but it wasn’t just him or her or whoever it was, it was, it was many people who through trial and error figured this out. But Hal, especially you can can see that he kind of took some of Nick’s ideas about Bit Gold and married them with some Eric Wade’s ideas. And he had his reusable proof of work thing in all four, which was really the last big innovation before Bitcoin. And yeah. I mean, what a legend, I mean, dude, he was running Bitcoin and in a way within a few days was like, “Oh, this could be worth like a $10 million.”

Preston Pysh (00:52:46):

I know the post. I love this book. The book of Satoshi is we’re talking about books. That goes into all the old posts and just, you can go back and you can read what these guys were saying at the Genesis block at that point in time. And it’s just miraculous. The accuracy of their foresight is just unbelievable.

Alex Gladstein (00:53:09):

Yeah. And now a big thing in Bitcoin today is, and to which of course, Hal kind of predicted he’s like, “Look in the future I think it’s going to be Bitcoin banks and Bitcoin will be the reserve currency. And we’ll all use these let’s say paper Bitcoin, or Fiat instruments on top of the bit.” And you know what, I think he got to at this point say that’s definitely a possible scenario for where we’re headed, but a lot of foresight there. But I wanted that to be right there at the beginning of the book to help the audience understand kind of socially, politically, where did this thing come from? This tool that all these people are now using all around the world, where did it come from? And why was it created? And then to then marry that I go right in from that chapter right into the chapter about the petrodollar. And just to think about monetary history.

Preston Pysh (00:53:54):

Which is phenomenal by the way, which is false.

Alex Gladstein (00:53:57):

Thank you.

Preston Pysh (00:53:57):

People have not.

Alex Gladstein (00:53:57):

I appreciate that.

Preston Pysh (00:54:00):

I want to ask one other, believe it or not, Alex, we’re already at an hour. The petrodollar piece of your book is phenomenal. I would make the argument for people that maybe are not intimately familiar with how it arose, what it means more importantly, what it means for policy decisions and policy trends that we’ve seen over the past four decades. What an amazing piece inside the book, just to kind of understand all of those dependencies and trajectory that kind of came out of that. The thing that I know you get hit up a lot about transitioning and pivoting here that you get hit a lot by is in the privacy space for people that look at Bitcoin and they say, “There’s better privacy solutions.” And as a person that works in human rights, we think that you, Alex Gladstein should be a much bigger proponent for the other solutions that are out there. You have a chapter in your book that’s titled Bitcoins, Privacy Problem. Tell us your thoughts here and give us a little insight into the way that you view this.

Alex Gladstein (00:55:13):

Yeah, well, I think again, a lot of this was colored by my talks with Adam Back and other cypherpunks, but there kind of two ways to approach e-cash. One is to focus on privacy, and one is to focus on basically monetary policy. And I think Adam and I, and many others agree that Satoshi made the right call focused first and foremost on monetary policy on creating a predictable, credible monetary policy that the whole world could appreciate and understand quite easily. And that had an incentive structure that would protect it over time as more and more people joined it as opposed to got corrupted over time, which is what would happen in like a proof of stake type scenario. So I think that one of the interesting things Adam mentioned to me is that he was glad that he didn’t tell Satoshi about this one particular paper that was kind of focused on zero knowledge proofs, which would later give rise to Zcash.

Alex Gladstein (00:56:08):

And the reason why is because it would’ve made Bitcoin too bulky like these at least let’s say up until now, these kind of highly, highly encrypted transactions are just larger in terms of just the information that they carry. And one of the key, key, key things about Bitcoin, and I’ve mentioned it in different places in the book, but is that essentially there’s been obviously attention over the years, it’s largely over now, but there was definitely a really existential moment in Bitcoin history, 2015 to 2017, where there was essentially a fight over how kind of big the blocks would be in Bitcoin. And this all has to do with this idea of being able to run the Bitcoin software at home or having to trust a server somewhere else to do it.

Alex Gladstein (00:56:55):

And I think that Adam knew even then that he kind of focused on privacy tech at the base. It would make the transactions really big and people wouldn’t really be able to run the software at home to verify for themselves everything. And they’d have to trust somebody else because you’d need very specialized hardware to do this. And that was the right decision to focus on making things so that anybody could operate Bitcoin at home. And that necessitated vulnerabilities in privacy, again, Bitcoin’s pseudonymous obviously we know all about chain analysis and how if you’re not careful somebody can just watch what’s happening. But I think the right call was made in terms of like, we can develop privacy as we go. And of course the people who create other alternative cryptocurrencies that focus on privacy would argue the opposite.

Alex Gladstein (00:57:47):

But Hey, I mean my general take as to why I think the most important thing is to help privacy in Bitcoin. There’s two reasons. Number one, I just don’t think that these altcoins are going to last, they might be used with tools today. Sure. And you see that you see like Samourai wallet allowing its users to do swaps with Manero. Well, maybe it can be a useful tool today, but who knows what it’s going to be like in a year or two years? We just don’t know. And the thing is, some of these privacy coins are going to get basically canceled from exchanges. That’s what happens. How many exchanges accept Manero, which I think most kind of cypherpunk types would say would be like the most legitimate privacy coin.

Alex Gladstein (00:58:34):

The answer is not very many. And there’s a reason for that because law enforcement is not so sure about Manero. Okay. So it doesn’t really pass the KYC AML regime and exchanges aren’t really interested in that fight. But guess what, Bitcoin can’t be canceled. You can’t cancel Bitcoin as a cryptocurrency exchange operator. It’s like the whole reserve asset of the whole system. So there’s this approach that I think people like Greg Maxwell had where they basically said, “Look, we’re just going to overtime add privacy.” And if Bitcoin had debuted as Manero wouldn’t have survived.

Preston Pysh (00:59:13):

You wouldn’t have been able to roll the horse into the yeah.

Alex Gladstein (00:59:16):

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So it starts out very imperfect, but man, we’re getting there like you can… And look, it’s not to the point where a all Gar can do trillions billions of dollars or even $100 million and get away with it. This is one of the reasons why I think I’ve seen a lot of interesting stuff on sanctions and Bitcoin but-

Preston Pysh (00:59:41):

I’ve seen, yeah. There’s some of the [crosstalk 00:59:43]

Alex Gladstein (00:59:43):

Just to be brief on it. Bitcoin’s really good for the masses and you can actually privately use, you can use the lightning network and you can use free and open source wallets, and you can withdraw Bitcoin from Cash App via lightning to a Muun Wallet, for example. And you can tip somebody and the privacy there is extremely strong, like sending lightning in Bitcoin has very good privacy right now. So there are ways to achieve privacy pretty simply, but you can’t do $100 million in lightning. So it’s kind of limited to daily interactions and smaller things. The bigger you get in Bitcoin in terms of the size, and you have that need to convert it into the dollars or different currency, that’s where you’re going to get caught. So that’s why it doesn’t make sense for Russian oligarchs to use because all of those on-ramps and off-ramps are tightly policed.

Alex Gladstein (01:00:32):

And that’s why these are like BitConnect thieves got caught. They were getting caught in the liquidation process. Now it’s a different world maybe pressed in 10, 20 years when we could buy stuff, everything with Bitcoin. Now that’s a different world, but we’re not there yet. And today we are where we are. So I think that the right move was to develop Bitcoin’s privacy slowly over time. And it’s really getting there. I think in the next couple years, it’s really going to get there. And I think that I just think our energies are best spent. This is our best shot. This is our one best shot. So why not the privacy Altcoins because we should all be focusing on Bitcoin. Because it’s our best shot. For all the cool stuff that the Manero people have done, Manero is not going to become the neutral reserve asset of the world.

Alex Gladstein (01:01:15):

It’s just not going to happen. It’s not going to happen. So Bitcoin could do that though. And it could really be the standard for everybody. I also just think that Bitcoin mining is such an important part of what makes Bitcoin, Bitcoin and all these other altcoin privacy tokens are all moving to a proof of steak thing. So I think they’re moving away from like the proof of work thing, which is such a critical part of Bitcoin. So at the end of the day, I think that there’s a lot of really good reasons to just kind of focus on Bitcoin privacy, but Hey yeah. If you need to use something like Manero, I mean go for it.

Alex Gladstein (01:01:45):

I mean, there’s risks with all these things, but I’m really excited about where we’re going with Bitcoin, Bitcoin privacy and obviously so has Adam Back, I mean he invented Blockstream or launched it, literally to try to make Bitcoin more private and you know what, he has, he has Blockstream has done a lot of work on lightning, it’s done a lot of work on liquid and confidential transactions and he continues on his quest and I think we should continue on ours. Yeah.

Preston Pysh (01:02:10):

I’ve got kind of a not a Bitcoin specific question. So I recently read this book Red Handed and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the book or not, but in general it goes around and it talks about all the perverted incentives that have matured in the past two decades, I would say between China and all of these people in charge, running from Wall Street to academia definitely on the politics side, it covers both political parties and how… And it covers in Canada with Trudeau and just all of these people that are leading all of these various facets of society and how they’re moving towards this socialist, dictator like power where they… I don’t want to say that they’re all for it, but they’re much more accommodative or sympathetic to it, I think is probably the better word they’re sympathetic to it. We saw this with Charlie Munger recently talking about it. You see, see a lot of Ray Dalio’s comments you see, then I could just go on and on in the book is I’ve walked away from reading this book and just disgusted like absolutely disgusted. And I guess-

Alex Gladstein (01:03:31):

Meaning more about the corporate complicity with China or more about the general sort of trust in centrally plant systems, which is it?

Preston Pysh (01:03:40):

A little bit of both. A little of both. And just, I just don’t understand how people that have been the beneficiaries of a free and open system for so many decades could basically be turning their back on the thing that supplied them with all of this. I’m going to use the word power, but it might not be the right terminology. And they’re looking at a system in China of just this total control, this absolute communist control and almost Zuckerberg was also talked about in the book where they’re almost admiring it. And I don’t understand what’s driving that. What do you think you could? Because at the end of the day, it’s all about centralization and control. It’s like absolute control. What is driving so many people that are controlling the world today to be promoting this or sympathy?

Alex Gladstein (01:04:33):

It’s very Hobbesian and it’s very Leviathan. It’s like order in chaos. And they’re feeling that their society is breaking down. And they’re looking at this kind of-

Preston Pysh (01:04:47):

It’s the whole WEF narrative. It’s the people at the WEF the World Economic Forum for people that aren’t familiar with it.

Alex Gladstein (01:04:55):

No, no. I just mean that the people who are starting to suck up to China or started to portray in a good light are taken by this idea of order and order being most important. And that our families need order. And the most important thing is enough food to survive and just social order as opposed to freedom and innovation and disruption, that’s where they’re trending. And there are things that make them feel that way. And that’s very unfortunate. And I think that again, the cool part is that we have this uniting global technology that’s being developed by people all over the world that’s the total opposite.

Preston Pysh (01:05:34):

And they see that as chaos.

Alex Gladstein (01:05:37):

Yeah. I mean there’s no better tell of what Bitcoin is than the fact that the CCP banned Bitcoin infrastructure right before its 100th annual anniversary last summer. I mean, it fears Bitcoin. There’s no big tell of what Bitcoin is than the fact that Putin didn’t incorporate it into post sanction plan. He’s working with gold and India and China. He’s working on the fact that he knows that the West will basically allow him to keep making his bond payments and to keep selling his oil, but he did not incorporate Bitcoin. And there’s a reason he’s afraid of it. He’s unsure about it. It’s not good for tyrants. It’s not great for central planning and not great for statism. And I think it’s good for humans though, and it’s good for open societies.

Alex Gladstein (01:06:26):

And one of my chapters in the book talks about how I think it just resonates with American values. And I don’t mean the American experiment, how it’s played out. I don’t mean slavery and what happened and genocide with the Native Americans. And I don’t mean all those things. What I mean are the founding ideals, the sort of Jeffersonian and kind of ideals of the original declaration of independence and the ideas that made America powerful. And that still make it for all of our warts a place where a lot of people want to come to obviously. And that still leads the world in a lot of ways. And I think that is really important because those ideals are things like free speech property rights, and open capital markets. And that’s what Bitcoin represents. And that’s not going to work for the CCP.

Alex Gladstein (01:07:08):

They can’t have free speech property rights and open capital markets. The Yuan will never be a reserve currency because it can’t be fully open. It can’t be fully convertible because they can’t have that. They need control. So I just love the way it kind of sets us up for the next decade where it pits different styles of governance against each other. I think it’s going to be really, really interesting to watch. And it makes me bullish about America. I think that America can be very, we talked about this before, but I mean, America can really dig in and resonate with Bitcoin and look, it may be the thing that succeeds the dollar system and there are things there that are going to change our lives for sure. But I think for the better over time, I think for the better over time, for sure.

Alex Gladstein (01:07:50):

I thought one of the more interesting things that Jack Dorsey said in his recent interview with Michael Saylor was at the beginning of their chat in February, was that he thought it was unfair that basically handful of people in Washington get to set the price of money and the rules for money for the people in Nigeria. And he just thought that was just a broken system. And that’s just very deep, that’s what is profound about all the things I learned about when I wrote check your financial privileges, how did that happen? How did that come to be? And how are people fighting back against that? And that’s what Jack’s obviously dedicating his career to would be trust and spiral and everything he’s doing at block, you can really kind of see it Red’s on the wall but he thinks of neutral system would be better.

Alex Gladstein (01:08:34):

And I totally agree. And yeah. When you think about checking one’s financial privilege yeah, I mean we are very, very privileged for a variety of reasons and our government is too. I mean they can just freeze and no other superpower has that ability of just like, “Oh, we’re just going to freeze your savings.” Just to do that. And when we do it, we spend our power to down and we can’t ever do that again in the same way. And I think that a world where there’s a reserve currency that’s neutral is ultimately going to result in actually a more fair world. But one thing I want to mention before we break is that I also, coincidentally got the pleasure of writing a forward to a different book, which just came out called Bitcoin is Venice by Allen Farrington and Sacha Meyers, which honestly is the best book on Bitcoin that I’ve read personally is just an extraordinary work about the past and future of capitalism.

Alex Gladstein (01:09:28):

And I would really encourage people to read it. It’s super, super deep and really mind blowing. And the chapters in it are just so brilliant and the authors bring so much, they bring so many different perspectives from so many different kinds of thinkers from communists and Marxists all the way over to Austrians to they just kind of, they really sweep the last several 100 years of thinking into this book. And they talk a lot about the things that we know are true like the fact that this is not capitalism is one of their chapters and like, what would you and I go out and we see is not capitalism. I mean, it’s all rigged. I mean, everything is politically controlled, like obviously the fed is not capitalist for to set the price of money is not capitalist.

Alex Gladstein (01:10:16):

So they go into all this stuff and they have this incredibly powerful chapter on energy and Bitcoin, which I think everybody needs to read. And it just opens with this chart, which shows so powerfully the capita electricity use of countries in the world and their income essentially. And it’s so obviously and clear that more advanced countries use more electricity per capita, this is a very important thing for us to reflect on like, “Yeah, guess who doesn’t use a lot of electricity guess who has a low carbon footprint?” Burney. Okay. So it’s very clear that as we advance as a civilization, we’re going to use more energy. This is such an important point. And their chapter in that book on energy and the environment in Bitcoin is the single best one I’ve read. And I mean, they basically make the assertion that if you’re an environmentalist, you have to support Bitcoin. And I think they back it up it’s really, really well done.

Preston Pysh (01:11:11):

I literally ordered this book while you were saying all this.

Alex Gladstein (01:11:15):

Yeah, No. I wanted to just read this one little tiny thing from it.

Preston Pysh (01:11:19):

Yeah, please.

Alex Gladstein (01:11:20):

But yeah, it’s I thought this was beautiful, but this is their thesis. It’s just one paragraph. And their whole thing is that Venice as you know or as you may know was kind of this break from the European feudal structure of society where you had Lords and surfs, essentially Venice really broke that it was this time and place where capitalism came out and meritocracy came out and cosmopolitan commerce and trade and was not really built on a military, might it was built on ideas. It was a super powerful thing. So they basically state that today we’re in like a neo-feudal system that kind of menaces came back essentially, in that their thesis is that some parts of society can avoid collapse by embracing Bitcoin.

Alex Gladstein (01:12:05):

And they say that we are sure, it seems hyperbolic to most, if not outright ludicrous, but it’s actually fairly prosaic. It means that those social units that voluntarily choose to embrace Bitcoin, a global digital sound open source, programmable money will be in a position to accumulate long term oriented capital at a disproportionate rate to those who do not, they will have a superior economic foundation from which to build healthy, social, and political institutions, which will contrast to those left behind as medieval Venice did to the remnants of the Western empire. This is the thesis of the book in a nutshell. And I just thought that was so powerful and delighted that they asked me to do the forward.

Preston Pysh (01:12:40):

The Bitcoin has become the future capital allocators to rebuild the new system?

Alex Gladstein (01:12:46):

No, no, 100%. And I’ll just read this one other sentence that again, they believe that this rebooted feudalism that we live under, they believe that there’s Bitcoins like this sprout coming up and it’s this new model. And they believe that in the book, they go through a variety of reasons why they think people around the world will be able to avoid feudalism through Bitcoin. And they have this sentence, which really hit me in the fields where it says, “We think for some, but we hope many and we pray for all.” And I just think that’s so powerful. That’s what I think what we’re doing out here.

Alex Gladstein (01:13:22):

I mean, obviously you spend a lot of time educating people about Bitcoin talking to them about it. I think that’s the feeling. We all know where this is going and we hope that people listen, but we pray for everybody. I mean, we really want everybody to be in this thing before the day comes, when the big squeeze happens and we all that’s going to happen at some point, it’s going to read like some science fiction book, but there’ll be a big squeeze where in a matter of 72 hours, all of a sudden,

Preston Pysh (01:13:53):

Once in a millennial.

Alex Gladstein (01:13:54):

And we want to get everybody in before then that we care about and that’s our quest. So we do what we can. And hopefully my book will contribute to the ability of people to do so and to convince, and to just dialogue with people who have fallen prey to this pounding narrative from the mainstream media and governments, that Bitcoin is dangerous and risky and extremists and criminal and all these things. And hopefully it’ll show that’s just not the case. And that it’s just this powerful humanitarian tool. That’s a liberation technology. And that we should not want to short it. We should want to invest in it. I mean, for the good of everybody. So I would say that’s the TLDR, but just very grateful for you giving me the opportunity to come on and talk pleasure about the stuff that’s been really, really fun.

Preston Pysh (01:14:44):

Yeah. My pleasure, Alex, what an honor to have you here. And I can tell you phenomenal book, your research, your ability to humanize stories and make Bitcoin way bigger than number go up because it is, it is so much bigger. This is just, I think a little bit beyond words and not even remotely comprehensible to people today as to what this thing is. And for me your book has just done a phenomenal job of just highlighting a lot of the stuff that, especially for an American and maybe a person in very developed economy, doesn’t see, they are totally warped by what it is that they use and what they have access to on a daily basis. And I don’t think they realize what so many people on this planet don’t have and what they’re seeing from their vantage point, your book does such a phenomenal job doing that. So feel free to highlight anything else that you’re working on or whatever. And we’ll wrap it up from there, but thanks so much for making time and coming on Alex.

Alex Gladstein (01:15:53):

Thank you. No, this was great. No, I’ll see a lot of you all, hopefully in Miami in a few weeks, I’ll be speaking on the main stage with three of my dearest friends, Yeonmi Park, an incredible north Korean who-

Preston Pysh (01:16:05):

Yes, I follow her. She’s awesome.

Alex Gladstein (01:16:07):

I mean, she wrote In Order to Live and had the most dramatic escape and just is one of the bravest, the most persistent people in the world. She’s gotten to tell her story on Rogan and all kinds of other places. So I get to be with her. She has some really interesting thoughts on Bitcoin, which I’m excited to share with the world. And my friend Farida Nabourema who is a character in my book actually, who’s from a country that is still ruled by the French colonial currency system. And she kind of views Bitcoin as a currency of decolonization, which I find so fascinating. So we’re going to talk about that. And then my friend [Foti 01:16:42] from Palestine from the West Bank and he, he again, is a character in the book. And we’re going to talk a little bit about why he’s optimistic about this technology and how it meaningfully and measurably improves the lives of people in Palestine. So we get to do that panel, which I’m really jazzed about. I think they have us between Peter Thiel and Salinas. So hopefully we’ll have a full-

Preston Pysh (01:17:02):

That’s awesome.

Alex Gladstein (01:17:03):

… full room, which will be good. We’ll see you guys there. And then the Oslo, I just want I’ll choose the Oslo Freedom Forum, which is going to go down at the end of May in Norway. And it’s a freedom conference. It’s a human rights conference, but we’re going to have an amazing financial freedom track sponsored by CT. And we’re going to have just a variety of killer speakers ranging from a lot of the people that I’ve talked about in my book, who are Bitcoin advocates from authoritarian countries in emerging markets. People like Abu Bucker, Nur Khalil who’s on Jack Dorsey’s Btrust board from Nigeria to [Leon Odvocav 01:17:41] who’s Navalny’s right hand man. And the person who’s been intimately involved with raising tons of Bitcoin over the years for the Russian opposition movement.

Alex Gladstein (01:17:50):

And then we’re going to bring them together with some of the more prominent folks in our space. Whether it be Jack Mallers or Lynn Alden, or Jeff Booth, or Elizabeth Stark, Matt Odell, et cetera. We have a really killer speaker lineup. So I’m really, really excited about that event. So folks can go to and sign up today if they want to join us. And we’ll also have a live stream if you want to tune in at home. So appreciate the opportunity to show that too.

Preston Pysh (01:18:17):

We’ll put links in the show notes for all of that, and also for Alex’s book. And Alex, thank you for making time. This was phenomenal.

Alex Gladstein (01:18:25):

Thanks for having me Preston.

Preston Pysh (01:18:27):

If you guys enjoyed this conversation, be sure to follow a show on whatever podcast application you use, just search for. We Study Billionaires, the Bitcoin specific shows come out every Wednesday, and I’d love to have you as a regular listener. If you enjoyed the show or you learned something new, or you found it valuable, if you can leave a review, we would really appreciate that. And it’s something that helps others find the interview in the search algorithm. So anything you can do to help out with a review, we would just greatly appreciate. And with that, thanks for listening. And I’ll catch you again next week.

Outro (01:19:00):

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  • Alex Gladstein’s new book: Check Your Financial Privilege.
  • Allen Farrington and Sacha Meyer’s new book: Bitcoin is Venice.
  • Related episode: BTC029: Jack Dorsey’s Involvement In Bitcoin & Jack Maller’s El Salvador Announcement w/ Alex Gladstein.
  • Related episode: BTC023: Bitcoin’s International Impact w/ Alex Gladstein.
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