Bitcoin: Revolution des Geldsystems oder digitales Gold? | Andreas. M. Antonopoulos Interview 1/2
In today's video we have a very special dialog partner for you. In my opinion, he is the most interesting person to interview about the Bitcoin topic. We had the opportunity to talk with Andreas M. Antonopoulos
about the topics: What is Bitcoin exactly? Why do you need Bitcoin? How he assesses that big investors, like for example, Elon Musk, have started investing in Bitcoin. And if regulations are a risk for the whole Bitcoin ecosystem. As Andreas does unfortunately not speak German, we did the interview in English. In the video settings you will find German and English subtitles, though.
Have fun with the interview, now! Hi Andreas, welcome on our YouTube channel and here on Twitch, live. So we're really happy to have you here. It's our first interview with a real professional, let's say, from the Bitcoin world. And I think in the English speaking environment you're one of the, let's say, most known people to explain Bitcoin in really understandable and not technical vocabulary to new joiners in the Bitcoin space. So we're very happy to have you here and ask our questions. Ah, thank you so much, Thomas.
Yes. My first question would be... Maybe we'll start really basic. Maybe really short, in a minute: What is Bitcoin for you? Because last time, we had a chat on our Discord and there was a really young guy, and he asked: "What are you talking about? What is this Bitcoin?" How would you reply to this? So Bitcoin is a digital currency that exists on the internet only. Not in any physical form. And it is a digital currency that operates based on a set of rules defined in software.
And the most important characteristic of this digital currency is that once set in motion with these rules, it operates independently of any control and is not controlled by or issued by a government. It is not controlled or issued by a corporation. There is no one person, or organization, or group of people even who can ultimately control Bitcoin.
Very much like the World Wide Web or email, Bitcoin is a system, a protocol defined by certain rules. And everyone who participates in the Bitcoin system works with those rules. Now, Bitcoin is the name of the system.
Bitcoin, the system, is a collection of computers that anyone can run all around the world. Bitcoin is also the network that is formed when these computers collaborate. Bitcoin is also the recording of all of the activity on this network. And finally, Bitcoin is also the currency that is used for payments on this network as well as that rewards those participants for providing security for this network.
So it's a form of money. It is a network. It is a system. It is a computer language or protocol. And it's open to anyone to participate. It's not controlled by anyone. Okay. So now you say there's no central institution controlling this.
Is this the main advantage? Or how would you explain to someone why one should have Bitcoin or participate in the Bitcoin network, at least, or be interested in it, let's say. For me this is the main advantage, and the reason this is the main advantage is because Bitcoin provides an open, neutral, global and borderless system of money that anyone can participate in without restrictions. So we currently live in a world where 13% of humanity have access to strong reserve currencies and liberal, democratic governments. 87% of humanity does not have access to either strong currencies or liberal democracies or worse, neither.
So Bitcoin represents an opportunity to have, as a basis for online commerce, perhaps even for commerce in real life, a system of currency that cannot be restricted only to some participants, that is by default available to everyone everywhere without restriction, simply by downloading and running software on any capable device and communicating over any communication network. This is basically an open universal system of money that is available for all of humanity. And, since the introduction of gold coins a few thousand years ago, we have not had a truly universal system of value on this planet. And what Bitcoin represents is that but in a digital form that is transmitted easily and quickly and safely anywhere in the world.
So you always say Bitcoin is for the other six and a half billion people. What you mean by this is the six and a half billion unbanked people, right? If I understood it right. Yeah, it's not just the unbanked. It's the unbanked, the underbanked, the minimally banked and those who live under either authoritarian governments, corrupt banking institutions or both. And all of those people need access to a stable form of money that cannot be taken from them.
That cannot be controlled. That allows them universal access to basic financial tools. And that has never existed before. And now with the internet, we introduced the possibility of everybody on the planet being able to communicate with everybody else without restrictions.
Well, Bitcoin is a way where everybody on the planet can communicate value to everybody else without restrictions. It's an extension of the main ethos of the internet. Okay, but if you say Bitcoin is for the six and a half billion, I think you and me, we are both part of the 1.5 billion which have access to banking. I mean, I can buy stocks. I can do whatever I want with my money.
Of course, it's tracked and there are central institutions. Are there reasons why I should care about this. Or, people like us, let's say, privileged people. In my opinion, yes. There are three primary reasons why you should care about this. The first one is a bit more futuristic and a bit more selfish.
And that is that this type of technology, by making money purely digital, purely protocol-based and available on the internet without restrictions. We can do things with money we've never been able to do before. Whether that's micropayments or new forms of economic instruments or economic activities. Really, kind of exploring electronic commerce on the internet to a whole other level that has never happened before. All of these things that become possible. Bitcoin is after all an evolution of money.
And while credit cards and debit cards and bank transfers work for you, they work with some very significant restrictions. They're not fast, they're not secure and they impose a lot of restrictions. So freeing those up to the level of internet technologies certainly is better.
So you could say, "How do the people of the world, who have the internet for the first time, can now use YouTube and Netflix to get a video education?", or "Why would someone who's privileged, from a western nation who has a television, need the internet?" Well, because you can imagine a whole new level of television that has never existed before. The same thing here. There is a whole new level of money that is a significant improvement over the traditional.
[F]: So... [A]: The second... [F]: Okay, sorry. [A]: Yes. No, no, go for it. The second reason is because in the current environment you can only engage economically with a small minority of the human population. That means you cannot access an enormous pool of talent. Potentially investors, potentially startup companies.
Potentially professionals all around the world, who have skills, who have basic internet connectivity, but are cut off from you because of a very restricted financial system. Not because of their lack of ability to communicate, their lack of productive capacity or their lack of skills. So you know, this is a big world.
And so saying we'll just have a small island where 13% of us live and that's enough ignores the possibility of engaging the full productive potential. And the third one, of course, is that many countries and many peoples, who are part of the 13% of those who have liberal democracies and strong currencies, are temporarily part of that 13%. Historically, both democracy and strong currency are fragile. And it is not inconceivable that you may end up starting in the 13% and finding yourself in the 87% later in your life.
As a Greek, I have watched my family go through that transition - It's like, "We're European!", "Oh, not so much.", "Oh, yes, again", "Oh, not so much." several times in my lifetime.
So the institutions of liberal democracy, the institutions of strong, reserve and stable currencies are themselves fragile. You may find yourself not in a democracy anymore. Ask someone from Turkey under Erdoğan how European the feel right now and how strong their democratic institutions are. Ask someone from Cypress about the bail-ins in 2013 and the strength of their banking system.
Or look at any part of Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia to see some examples right in Europe that, nevertheless, have very, very fragile environments. So even if you are one of the few privileged right now, that may not last. End even the Euro as a currency is both restrictive and suffers from inflation.
So in terms of managing risk that's another reason why you might want to look outside of these systems. You had a nice picture, a nice story on your recent video. It's like being on a cruise ship, right? And cryptocurrencies might just be one of the uncomfortable places in the rescue ships, right? [A]: Yes, on the lifeboats.
On the lifeboats, yeah. Just a sort of diversification. I have just another question. You just said that there is no entry barriers to get into the Bitcoin network, right? Unless, to just have an internet connection.
But one tendency we could see now or, at least, I could see, is that there is more and more KYC added so it's getting easier and easier to buy Bitcoin. There are more and more platforms. Now you just download an app, and within seconds you can swap your Euros or Dollars for Bitcoin. But it's all in a KYC environment. When I buy my Bitcoin on a specific German exchange, when I retrieve them to my private wallet or to my own wallet, then I need to confirm that this is mine, this is not a third-party wallet or something. My question is: Is there risk that the Bitcoin will split one day into "Dirty Bitcoins" , not KYC-ed and clean Bitcoin, which come from the clean KYC-ed providers.
KYC in this regard - "Know-Your-Customer", "Anti-Money-Laundering" and all these processes. There might be a tendency. I mean, when you're sitting on the island of the 13%, one of the things you might start doing is shooting at the bullets coming to your shore, building walls around the perimeter of your island. And this is a tendency. This is the reason why the financial system is so fragmented.
And this basically says, "For the comfort and in order to satisfy the thin moral superiority of the 13% of the island, let's condemn 87% of humanity into permanent poverty so we can feel better about ourselves." And presumably this will reduce terrorism. Even though in fact, what it does is increase terrorism and risk in the world because when you cut off large parts of humanity and say, "You do not deserve to have access to the technology of money.", you know, the reaction of that is obviously despair and not always peaceful.
So part of the problem here is the assumption that money that has been KYC-ed is clean. You know, if a German company, for example, sells cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia and gets paid for those cluster munitions so they can bomb Yemeni villagers to death, is that money clean? According to the German banking system of course, it is absolutely clean. According to my moral calculus, it is dirty as hell and covered in blood. So we have to be very careful with our assumptions and our terminology.
The banking system is not designed to deliver justice or morality. It is designed to preserve a certain system and structure. So whether you believe that is good or not doesn't matter.
The bottom line is: The world needs a universal system of payment that is free of controls. We talked about buying Bitcoin. And the idea of buying Bitcoin starts with the assumption that Bitcoin is an investment that is on the side of your life.
It is something that you engage in as a tourist. You visit the Bitcoin land, and then you return to the Euro, which is your permanent residence if you like. But really, that's not how it works for many of the people for whom their permanent residence is a currency like the Zimbabwe Dollar, the Indian Rupee, the Venezuelan Bolivar. This is not a luxury they can afford - to simply go back and forth. In fact, they need to live in a more stable environment. So in that environment you don't buy Bitcoin as an investment.
You earn it through your labor. And when you earn it through your labor, there is no KYC process. You're not buying it from an exchange. In fact, in order to buy it from an exchange you need a bank account, which means you're already on the 13th percentile. Right? [F]: But how big is the part from the whole Bitcoin cake? How big is the part of people earning their Bitcoins instead of investing in it? Ah, good information.
We don't know. And that's a good thing. The reason we don't know is because it's impossible to monitor the totality of how Bitcoin is transferred, who owns it and why. As should be the case in a healthy, open environment. See, the ability for one central entity to be able to collect surveillance information about an entire economy is in itself a reflection of an idea that everything should be under the control of a central entity.
Bitcoin doesn't operate that way. So there's no way to know how many people in Venezuela are earning Bitcoin and getting paid by companies very little in terms of traditional Know-Your-Customer Anti-Money-Laundry. Obviously, as a business owner, I have responsibility to know who I'm paying from my payroll, but that's the extent of it. I don't have to report it to anyone, and if I'm paying them for their labor, they can do whatever they want with their money. It's money. That's how it works.
So we don't, in fact, know what percentage of it. But again, it doesn't really matter because the question is, "How do we measure that?" And the really important thing is: Do we measure that in terms of Euros? Or do we measure it in terms of lives? You see, someone who is earning €100 a month to survive in India is as valuable as someone who is buying €10 million, you know, in a week because they have an enormous amount of wealth. For the perspective of the network those two are equal. And this is another really important concept that the Bitcoin system gives us. And that's neutrality.
We don't care if it's a big transaction or a small transaction, if the owner is rich or not, if they're European or not, if they're human or not. The system is completely neutral to the transaction. Just like the internet doesn't make really big distinctions between someone visiting your website and someone visiting Google. The IP packets get delivered regardless. This is a very important principle in the Bitcoin system.
Is there any risk? You said that the banks... I mean I agree with you. There's no... Maybe this was not a good expression by me when I said, "a dirty Bitcoin, clean Bitcoin." What is dirty, what is clean is a definition for everyone on his own, but...
Do you think that there's a risk for Bitcoin that the banking system, financial system, governments, central banks, etc., impose their KYC and other regulations on the whole system? And put it like a clock over it so that it's much more difficult to get into the environment. In practical terms we're already seeing that happening in Europe, but it is an effort that is ultimately futile. Because all you're doing in that particular case, is trying to identify addresses that belong to certain people. But once Bitcoin has moved to those addresses, it can move again and again and again and again many, many times. You see, part of their problem here is that the banking system comes at this from the perspective of the banking system.
And in the banking system in order to open a new account you have to go through a multi-hour, day or week process presenting all kinds of documentations to a very serious banker, who will then evaluate your values, a human being, and decide whether you deserve access to a financial system or not. And in that environment, if I simply say, "That bank account is not allowed.", you can't just go open another one.
Well, in Bitcoin I can create an address. Oh wait, and another and another and another and, in fact, I can do so 10.000 times per second without communicating with anybody else.
And then I can take the one transaction that I was able to achieve and bounce it through a thousand new addresses. And you've lost track of it. So... This creates a situation where you can start applying these regulations, and they have these massive gaps where things can leak through.
And if you try to tighten those gaps, all you're doing is you're making your job more and more impossible. Either you end up with a situation where you make it impossible to use Bitcoin in a legitimate way, which only ends up punishing those who are trying to follow the law. Because, of course, criminals and everybody else, who doesn't have that kind of luxury, simply ignores those regulations. And not only are you making it difficult for those who are following the law, and failing to actually control any illegal activity, but what you're also doing is your gradually marking more and more and more of the Bitcoin as "dirty" at which point it doesn't really matter whether you think it's clean or dirty. You're just basically pushing people out.
Now, what happens then? If you make it difficult for me to buy and sell Bitcoin on legitimate exchanges instead of buying and selling Bitcoin for Euros, what I'm going to do is I'm going to stop exchanging it. I'm going to keep the Bitcoin. [A]: And then I'm going to spend... [F]: What some exchangers do, right? Like PayPal and so on.
You can buy there, but you can't get them out of the PayPal wallet. Right, and I'll do the exact opposite. I'll earn Bitcoins from my labor or I'll buy it on an exchange originally and then you make it difficult for me to exchange it back. So what I do is I stay in the Bitcoin economy. I then buy products and services with Bitcoin, and I sell my products and services for Bitcoin, and I no longer touch the Euro. All you did was you blew up all of the bridges between the Bitcoin and the Euro.
So if I now have to decide: Do I stay on the Euro island? Or do I stay on the Bitcoin island? Well, the Bitcoin island just welcomed 87% of the human population, and the Euro island, as we already know, is limited in its use. So I'll just stay over there. It's quite alright. I'm very happy. I can buy anything I want with Bitcoin.
And if you make it more and more difficult for me to cross back and forth, I'll just stop crossing back and forth. So you don't end up breaking Bitcoin. What you do is you simply blow up the bridges between the two systems, and you make it difficult for those who are legitimately trying to do this. Also...
you're beginning to reveal the kind of illiberal tendencies the governments are increasingly showing. If your government does not really believe in some fundamental human rights regarding privacy, regarding the use of money of its own citizens, who haven't broken no laws. I mean, you're talking about applying these things to people who have done nothing illegal with this. You know, that shows illiberal tendencies of governments. It doesn't say anything about Bitcoin itself.
But we are going to get into more of that kind of conflict for sure. When you say you stay on the Bitcoin island, Bitcoin has a little bit of a problem, please convince me of the contrary, that, I mean, it's a deflationary payment system, right? Not now. [A]: Yes. [F]: Now it is inflationary because there are more Bitcoins created, but at a certain point it will be deflationary.
It's already disinflationary because its inflation rate is already less than 2%. [F]: Decreasing? [A]: Yes. So why should I spend my Bitcoin if it's getting more worth from day to day because this means deflation, right? So I better spend my Euros and keep my Bitcoin to myself so it's not an asset that will circulate. So maybe it's less of a cash use than a gold use some people say, right? I mean, it's perfectly fine because what is going to end up happening is I'll end up spending all of my Euros, and if I'm not earning any more, I'm then going to spend a small amount of my Bitcoins to buy a larger amount of Euros. I mean, what you're saying is in a disinflationary economy that presumes that my Bitcoin is increasing in value over time.
So I treat it as an endowment. I treat it almost like a trust fund. Maybe this year I need 1% of my Bitcoin to live. Next year it will be 0.5%. The year after it will be 0.25%. And so I can gradually reduce my principle and use the rest to spend.
Effectively, the increase in purchasing power is the same as receiving dividends on a traditional investment and retiring on the dividends without touching the capital. So you can use that kind of annuity-based mechanism. And I'm sorry if these words don't translate easily into German. That's certainly one of the strategies, but, I mean, oh, what a calamity.
What you're saying is that gradually my savings are increasing in value over time, and I have to spend less and less and less of a percentage of them in order to live? That sounds like not such a terrible way to live. And so that's a much better environment than living in an inflationary environment where inflation is anywhere from 3% to, by some measures, 10%. And effectively, my money is sinking every year. But there's the psychological risk that you always regret any purchase. Like on your discord, you have the Bitcoin Pizza Emoji, which probably refers to the first pizza which was was bought for how many Bitcoins? 10.000? Something like this. Yeah, 10.000 Bitcoins.
But you know, what you're forgetting is that the person, who bought the pizza for 10.000 Bitcoins then, could the very next day cook a pizza and sell it for 10.000 Bitcoins. So if you look at only selling then and trying to buy now, it's very depressing. But if you look at it from an actual use case of the economy, I have been earning and spending and earning and spending Bitcoins since it was $5 each or thereabout.
When I was spending it at $5 each, I was also earning it at $5 each. So I was getting paid a lot more Bitcoin for my hour. Now, I'm spending it at $50.000 each. I'm earning a lot less Bitcoin per hour, but again, you experience much less volatility if you're engaging in regular economic activity because it balances out. Effectively, my spending and my earning become a very broad dollar cost averaging kind of thing. Right? So you don't experience that.
Everybody focuses on the fact that Laszlo bought two pizzas for 10.000 Bitcoin. Nobody focuses on one of my friends who is baking baklava and selling it for thousands of Bitcoin, right? And he kept some of them, I hope for him. Yes, he kept enough. And again, that's the thing.
You just need to keep enough. So the currency works over the long term regardless of its price at any point in time as long as you are engaging in economic activity. So sometimes Bitcoin drops and, you know, that means I can buy less with it, but at the same time, when I go and speak at a conference and they pay me in Bitcoin, I'm getting a lot more Bitcoin for that specific event. So I'm happy because I'm getting more in even though I'm not getting as much out. But you would start to spend your Bitcoin up from the moment you don't have your dollars or other fiat currencies anymore, right? [F]: Because I'm in the situation... [A]: Yes, because Gresham's law. Yes, exactly.
Because I mean, I spend only Euros, and I've invested in Bitcoin, but maybe the term says it already. I've invested. I'm not using it as a currency now. Maybe... I hope it will change one day but not as of now. [A]: Ironically... [F]: So do I have a problem in my perspective? Sorry. No, you have it absolutely right.
Ironically though, I wouldn't start spending Bitcoin as soon as I have zero Euro because then I have zero buffer. In fact, the way I look at it is I have a security amount in fiat and other liquid assets that are inflationary that I use to pay not only my regular expenses but also some kind of emergency, you know. If I end up not having much work, I want to have six months worth of living expenses. Plus one medical emergency. You know, in the US by the way we don't have healthcare. So you break a leg, you're looking at six months salary.
So I'm going to have that in fiat. Why? Primarily, because it actually gives me the ability to save more of my Bitcoin. Because the problem is: If I have zero fiat and an emergency happens or my job is lost or I have some kind of emergency expense, now I have to sell Bitcoin. But not only do I have to sell Bitcoin, but I don't get to choose the timing. So I might be selling Bitcoin at the worst time possible at the worst price possible. I'd rather be able to choose that time and not have it forced on me so I will have a reserve fiat that I can spend.
But yes, I mean, it's no different than any other form of portfolio management. You basically construct a balanced, diversified portfolio that includes an allocation in a high risk, high volatility but very, very high return asset. That is that you want to make a bit less liquid so that you don't spend it. And you can save in that for the long term. Now, how much you put in each one of these categories of risk and liquidity obviously depends on how old you are, what kind of work you do...
And your understanding of what you're investing in. Exactly. So if you're looking at it from an investment and savings perspective, you have to take these things into consideration. If this is the only way you can earn money because you live in Venezuela, none of this matters, honestly. If you're able to save even a tiny, tiny fraction, you can really go get ahead quite quickly compared to what's happening.
And so again, we have to always remember that for 87% of the population of this planet a lot of this is luxurious thinking. It's a luxury to even be able to think of it. Like, "what do you mean by savings?" For the vast majority of people on this planet generational savings is an unachievable goal. And that is partly because of a broken monetary system.
So I know that for the following question you have a different point of view than most of Bitcoiners I see in the space. Recently, there were many parties around for celebrating the all-time highs, and you're not discussing prices, and this is what I really appreciate because when I want to understand the technology, I'm not looking at the price. But there are some big companies and big, famous people, like Elon Musk with Tesla, or, how is it called, Microstrategy, getting into the Bitcoin space and buying for hundreds of millions or even billions of Bitcoin. You see it as a bit critical.
You don't party on this. Why? Or, did I misunderstand? I'm not a critical and I'm not clapping hard enough apparently, but... You know, I see it as a mixed experience. Part of it, obviously, is a recognition that there's something there, and that something is worth putting in a significant percentage of money. I mean, but then again, you've got to think about what is $1.5 billion to Elon Musk? It's not that significant from the perspective of a company like Tesla or the richest man on earth.
The idea of hedging inflation risk with 0.2% of your portfolio does not seem that radical from that perspective. Or the idea of doing something rather frivolous and adventurous that may end up being a mess. Again, 0.2%. So it seems like a lot from the perspective of Bitcoin.
But it's not really. Not in the big scheme of things. What it tells you is that we are very, very early in the evolution of this. If in fact, it ends up being an influential global currency and grows to encompass a significant percentage of the global economy, at that point, 0.2% of Elon Musk's fortune will seem like a joke comparatively. The other thing, of course, is that if we focus too much on those who have money to put in instead of those who have put in their creativity, their sweat, their blood and tears, who risk their lives to teach others and to save others from dictators in countries where the penalty of even owning this is death, forgive me if I'm not applauding Elon Musk so much. It's not exactly a risky activity.
We need to keep perspective. This is about the other 6.5 billion. I'm glad that some of the richest among the top 1.5 billion are paying attention. It's not as if Elon Musik didn't have access to other investments. So wow, the endorsement is fun. I don't think it means anything for the real purpose of Bitcoin.
And to me the real purpose of Bitcoin is providing universal access to basic finance. Something that Mr. Musk never lacked. So is there a problem.... I mean, many Wall Street firms are coming into the whole crypto space and creating fancy stuff like DeFi and different derivatives and you can short everything and leverage it. So how do you see that the crypto world gets more and more financial professionals into it, which are often advocating for more regulation because people are too "dumb" to take care of their own money, and they should secure it for you.
It's amusing, isn't it? I mean, it is so patronizing to arrive in the middle of a technology revolution and say, "Please grant me not only admission but power because I have money, and I would like to change the rules. I Just found this. It's awesome. Now, let me tell you how to make it better." Sit down, sir. We did not invite you. What I mean is this: One of the really interesting things that many of these financial professionals have not yet really appreciated about this technology is the fact that no one is in charge. So you cannot bribe, threaten, regulate, course, annoy, or do marketing to persuade anyone to change the rules in your favor.
The rules of Bitcoin are not only set in software, but in order for them to change you have to have more than 99% of everyone participating regardless of amount agree to change the rules. And as we've seen before, most recently in 2017, when a bunch of very rich people, including some who are engaged in mining at a very large scale within the Bitcoin community, decided that they wanted to change the rules, and the rest of the community said, "No!" The end result was they ended up creating another coin. A copy of Bitcoin... [F]: Bitcoin Cash, right? that has a lot less value and a lot less attention and a lot less economic participation.
What these financial professionals have not yet realized is that, unlike all of the other markets in which they can take power and make money and use money to buy power so they can make money to buy power, that chain, which has created so much economic inequality and corruption in the world, is broken by Bitcoin. Because you have money, and then you go to buy power, and you discover you can't buy power. You cannot gain control over the system. So there will be economic inequality in Bitcoin. Those who have money can make more money by putting it into Bitcoin, for sure. And they will be to put more money into Bitcoin than you or I can put in.
But, unlike every other financial system that they've ever tried before, once they are in, they can't simply change the rules in their favor. And this is a critical thing to understand because here lies the power of decentralization The fact that they can't change the rules simply by buying themselves more power means that they have more money to play, but they have to play by the same rules as everybody else. And that works in some ways to reduce the actual economic inequality by changing the inequality of power in the system. I hope that you liked the first part of our interview with Andreas. In the second part, we talked about safely storing your Bitcoin, which cryptocurrency alternatives to Bitcoin are interesting for him and what he thinks about the argument that Bitcoin uses up so much electricity. If you don't want to miss the second part of our interview, you should definitely subscribe to the channel.
Thanks for watching and see you next time.