Alex Gladstein on Blockchain and Tyranny Vs. Bitcoin and Freedom
In this episode, Dave talks with Alex Gladstein about the recent news that China and President Xi Jinping, have publicly expressed admiration for blockchain technology. This news spiked the Bitcoin price at the beginning of November, but Gladstein is weary for what China's public praise could mean for cryptocurrency in general.
Gladstein recognizes that blockchain technology by itself is really just a mechanism for control and surveillance of financial data. He believes from a human rights perspective that the real value of the blockchain comes from decentralization, which is essential to Democracy. He states that Bitcoin is the greatest example of a decentralized blockchain and that in the wrong hands, this technology would be used as a tool for tyranny instead of freedom.‚
- In China, It's Blockchain and Tyranny vs Bitcoin and Freedom
- From Pigs to Party Fealty, China Harnesses the Blockchain's Power
- Celsius Network - Enter "BITCOINMAG" to get $10 off any deposit over $200
- Haven - Get $5 in Bitcoin, Litecoin or Zcash
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RAW Unedited Transcript
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Hello, and welcome back to the show ever stalwart ever skeptical. I'm Dave Hollerith back again todig a little bit further and try and come up with answers in this weird experiment we call Bitcoin. Today I want to look at the intersection between cryptocurrency and human rights. I've got an interview with Alice clouds team Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation and the world renown Oslo Freedom Forum. Last week, Alex read an op ed about China's recently publicized love for blockchain technology. It created like a huge price spike for Bitcoin. But Alex has a much more profound and kind of scary interpretation about what this news could actually mean.
One comment he said that struck me during our interview is that without financial freedom or privacy, democracy dies, there aren't enough companies actually trying to revolutionize finance. But I think our show sponsor the Celsius network is one of those. The Celsius network is trying to revolutionize the way we think about financial services. The TL dr version of it is the Celsius network lets you earn interest on your crypto and instantly borrow against it.
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Well, first off, I want to wish you a happy Guy Fawkes Day. Yeah, it's amazing to watch theFootage out of Hong Kong where protesters are donning masks and participating in a peaceful uprising. So I guess I want to start and ask about what you've been up to lately, because it's been probably about a year since I've really talked to you. And I know you've been busy as heck. And when I knew you were, you know, mainly doing things with HRF and the Oslo Freedom Forum, and I feel like you've expanded your repertoire that you put out a book that I have called the little Bitcoin book and then you've also been doing stuff with singularity you Yeah, I've been lecturing for Singularity University for the last couple years about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency and decentralized technology and the surveillance state. I've watched a few of the videos I didn't know you've been had been doing them for so long. So one in particular, I wanted to ask you about why decentralized technology matters to democracy.
You tell me who qui sneezes? Sure, well, please, then these was a public figure in ancient Greece who came up with the idea that we should be ruled by rules and not by rulers, you know, more than 2000 years ago, and of course, the first he was met with shock and anger, etc. Why would we want to give up all this power, but over time, his idea evolved into what we now know as democracy, the Greek word for you know, ruled by the people literally. And over time, his idea was like a virus and it's spread around the world in a kind of an amazing way where now more than or roughly half of all humanity lives under some sort of like representative democratic government where the people control the people in power, meaning like the people, the citizenry, elect and can get rid of the rulers, which is a pretty amazing thing. And to me, democracy is a tool that humans used to decentralize political power, which used to be an exclusive thing for kings, tyrants, lords, the religious hierarchy, etc. and I make a parallel comparison to information and the internet and how the internet was a tool or is it tool that humans have used building on top of technology, like the printing press and the telegram, etc, to basically decentralize the means of production of information and access to information.
So today, because of the internet, you know, most humans can access like almost all knowledge, whereas several thousand years ago, you had to go to the Library of Alexandria and be somebody to know that stuff right? Or don't know even just a tiny fraction of what the average person knows today, right, which is pretty amazing and more so the Internet has allowed people to create information and to have their voice heard. So the third area where I believe technology has been used by humans to decentralize society for goodnumber one, politics Number two information. Number three money. So I believe we're at like the kind of the advent of the separation of money from state through Bitcoin. And I believe that over time, that coin will, you know, has already started to provide sort of an escape valve and a parallel economy for people. But over time, I think it will have a positive effect on society probably even more significant than democracy in the internet. Can you sort of calibrate that significance? Because the internet is the most significant breakthrough that, you know, that I've experienced in my lifetime?
Sure. And the and these, these breakthroughs seem to be coming in batches now. But right, yeah, you know, in modern times, governments issue fiat money and they control the money supply, and they can dictate, not only things like interest rates, but also you know, when money is printed, and you know, basically either a dictator or a small group of people will have been able to be in that power. And there's something called the Cancellara.
Fact, which was coined by a British banker of the name Thomas cancel on in the 19th century, and he basically observed that like whoever is closest to the money printing benefits, and whoever's first gets hurt, right? So like the elite and the bankers would benefit from like new money being printed, right? But people at the very bottom would be hurt because the money supply would be increased and their savings their heart and savings would be diminished, right. So over time, I think you can understand that like all the money actually depreciates in value over time, right so the world's best performing fiat currency ever is the British Pound sterling. But even that one has lost 99.9% of its value versus things like gold over time.
Likewise with the dollar dollars also lost 90 plus percent of its value since it since it was it was created. So So fiat currencies depreciate over time, also the people in charge of money in the digital age now get intopowers, so they don't just get to dictate you know how much money there is. And they can devalue notes and they can confiscate money, etc. And they can sort of rig the system. But now now that money is becoming increasingly digital, and in a world where 92% of all transactions are digital, now they can surveil, sort of like more surveillance, they can exert more power in terms of confiscation of assets, freezing of payments, etc. So the more digital the world becomes, if you have a dictatorship of money, you know, you know, there's a lot of bad implications for the average human. So I think the separation of money and state and getting the money supply and control of money out of the hands of like a small group of people is really, really good. What Bitcoin has given us is the opportunity to have like an open source community that has checks and balances inside of it to be in charge of money. So instead of like a small group of like either dictators, oligarchs, or or even elected officials being in charge of money, these are all even at the very best still.
Men and women who are fickle right and who could be corrupted right? Power corrupts absolutely. So instead Bitcoin is very similar to representative democracy inside Bitcoin you kind of have the miners, the people who spend an enormous amount of resources and electricity to mind blocks and add records to the chain are kind of like the White House kind of like the executive branch, they have the power, but the coders who developed the Bitcoin software and maintain it and suggest improvements in the protocol and who suggest changes to the protocol. They're kind of like the legislative branch, or like the senate and house representatives, kinda like the Congress. And then you have the users who are the people who operate the 10s of thousands of full validating nodes across the Bitcoin network across the world who are largely unknown to each other. And these people kind of operate sort of like the Supreme Court so they can like look at actions by the executive and they can look at laws from the Congress and they can deem them unconstitutional and strike them down the people who run Bitcoin nodescan consider, like blocks put forward by miners and reject them if they don't play by the rules of Bitcoin. And they can like look at new suggested changes to the Bitcoin software and reject them if again, they don't kind of adhere to the rules of Bitcoin. So the Supreme Court is so important in lyst in American society and kind of the independence of the judiciary is paramount in any democracy. In that same way, the ability of users to audit and validate Bitcoin, and the rules and the money supply is paramount in Bitcoin. And when you have the money supply, kind of like in the hands of not one person or one small group, but like this community, which which is sort of checked where power is checked in amongst itself, I think this is sort of the best possible way. So this community has come up with a monetary policy that is known to everyone that extends far into the future where we know new bitcoins not going to be created. We know the release schedule and You know, I think that kind of predictabilities is very helpful. It takes the sort of fickle, often, you know, usually unfortunately greedy human nature out of things. So I think that this is an upgrade on on money just as much as the internet was an upgrade on information and as democracy was an upgrade on on governance, the other main term from history I feel like you brought up during that same talk was the panopticon, which that sort of goes into why I wanted to talk to you, which was about the recent blockchain news around China. So could you briefly explain what the panopticon is, and then go into that as a way to talk about the op ed, you just published for Bitcoin magazine? Sure. I just published a piece called in China it's it's blockchain and tyranny versus Bitcoin freedom. And I think the reason why the panopticon is relevant is because I'm kind of all throughout human history. rulers have tried to have like control over their people right going up to con was aSort of a device or kind of a metaphorical device. Yeah, dreamt up by philosophers where, you know, the rulers would have like omniscient knowledge of what people were doing. But over time, this has actually been constructed by, in part by the Chinese government where they use like social media apps, like we chat and surveillance cameras to kind of like really monitor the population. So you can basically say that the Chinese government has built more or less at panopticon, but it's not good enough for them not quite good enough for them. In China today, only about half or or a little more than half of all financial transactions take place through the social media apps, another another quarter take place through like credit cards and the traditional banking system which which is also you know, relatively survivable. But you know, quarter at least take still takes place with cash, which is really hard to surveil. So you know, the government's not satisfied with the situation because they know that if they really want to spy on your spending habits say more about you than your words. So it's really, really important for the government is paramount for a dictatorship that wants to like survive.
people to understand like all the payments that are happening. So what the Chinese government has done is try to create a financial panopticon, and they're pushing this idea of like, like, like a state issued digital currency or a digital Yuan, which the central bank that People's Bank of China would mint and distribute to private banks and social media companies, where users citizens in China would end up using this new sort of currency is digital, you want the difference between the existing legacy financial system in China, which is, you know, mostly digital, and the new system would be primarily one of surveillance and control currently, you know, the Communist Party if they want to, like know about Dave Dave's a WeChat user, they have to go through 10 cent the company that owns WeChat and like get your records, right, because Dave's transactions actually are on like an internal ledger inside WeChat right. They're not actual like base money, right? WeChat kind of settles with banks, etc. You know, on occasion, what would be way better for the government is if they had an actual like it.
They knew the details of every single transaction. And that's the goal is to create a money kind of like a base money that is a surveillance mechanism. So what they've stated their stated goals are basically to produce a new kind of like digital currency, which would live on a ledger where they would just kind of have this internal tracking mechanism over every single, you know, transaction between banks and clients, between b2b b2c everything so they would kind of see everything. And that's what they've stated that they want to sort of do and they want to get rid of cash and replace it with this digital Yuan. And they really want it to be something that that that is the foundation for the global expansion of the Chinese economy. Right. So this isn't just about Chinese people. Look, it may work in China, but they want it to work. They have grander ambitions. So yes, they want the digital Yuan to be something that all Chinese people use that all of their financial transactions are tracked and ultimately controllable by the Communist Party. They also want all the countries in the built in road which are like scattered across the developing world.
Hey, real quick, I want to pause the interview to go back to something Alex said, democracy dies without financial privacy. If you're looking for more private markets to shop, you should check out haven. It's one of the coolest shopping apps on the market Haven is the world's first privacy focus shopping app for iOS and Android to use the several advanced technologies to keep your information private while remaining easy to use. You don't need to know how advanced technologies like crypto and Indian encryption work to keep your data private on haven. All you need to know is that it just works. You can buy and sell goods on haven with crypto, we're talking Litecoin z cash, even Bitcoin, if you're willing to spend it on Haven, you can even shop and chat with other users with the added comfort of end to end encryption, which basically means that all of your data messaging and personal identification, all that stuff is stored locally on your device. Haven is like the Craigslist for Cypher folks. Own your own information and own your project.without sacrificing quality, check out haven today. Head over to get haven app slash Bitcoin mag pod to get $5 in free crypto today, Graham, what was the link again? David get haven dot app slash Bitcoin mag pod. Now back to my interview with Alex Gladstone.
Okay, yeah. Belton road initiative. Can you give it to me real quick? Yeah. look just like the US orchestrated the Marshall Plan which was the development project which rebuilt Europe after World War Two. The Chinese government is involved in a similarly if not even more so ambitious project to build infrastructure architecture across the world, starting in China and going outwards across like a New Silk Road across Central Asia through Europe. They've also been heavily involved in South Asia, Africa, Latin America, and again, even in the heart of Europe. So the Belt and Road is like a series of investments and loans where the train Government, you know, basically comes in and builds bridges, ports, cities, police and security technology, street level surveillance systems, telecommunications devices, 4g 5g networks. And ultimately, what I'm suggesting is that the digital you want will be part of that, you know, the sort of lingua franca of currencies, they want it to be the like, like universal global reserve asset for for all of these countries, and they, they are doing a good job, and this may actually happen, and that's why when Zuckerberg was testifying at Congress recently, he was kind of like, well, it's either us or China, right? He was trying to position himself and Libra as you know, Facebook's cryptocurrency project Libra as kind of like an alternative and he's definitely on to something there because like to compete against what the digital you want, may be if it's if it works, and it works inside China and it works and they can unroll it across the world, you're going to need something like Facebook's 2 billion wrong international user base challenge digital Yuan. So you know, at the end of the day, the US government
Right now is very short sighted and he's angry about Libra. But at the end of the day, they may realize something like Libra is their only way where Libra can be $1 raised asset as promised to actually challenge the Chinese government. So you're going to see this like new kind of space, race of currency start to unfold with Bitcoin kind of being like the wild card. In the back, I kind of think that Bitcoin technologically is just going to take some time to become more dominant. But you know, in the future, I think I think Bitcoin main that winning the whole thing and becoming the world's kind of like global reserve asset, but that may take decades. And I think in the short term, Chinese government may succeed in the digital Yuan, which would be a huge loss for human rights, a huge victory for Xi Jinping, I think you're going to see the United States and Europe trying to sort of struggle to keep up you know, they may issue like a Fed coin in the United States or, you know, some sort of Europe coin in Europe. But at the end of the day, they're going to need some sort of global mechanism like a Facebook to compete with the Chinese model. So this is kind of like the geopolitical backdrop
To what you're going to see happen over the next couple of years, just going back across a lot of things you just said Libra to that that's an interesting point that there isn't anything like this that the American government has touted. So my natural thinking would be that, you know, they would have to look to something that would be more readily available that also, you know, has a global user base. I mean, I don't know why they wouldn't try to co OPT Libra as a tool of American like dollar hegemony. I don't know why they wouldn't do they kill it, they could but you know, nationalist populist politicians may prevent Lieber from launching. So it's ironic that people who are like who consider themselves like super pro America or super pro blue collar worker or whatever, who may end up being the obstacle for like the US and the dollar for having like a competitive answer to the digital you want but we'll have to see what happens at the end of the day, I feel comfortable, you know, supporting Bitcoin as like the best alternative of all of these as as the one that I think will fashion you know, a better society.
Yeah, it's interesting because actually, the advantage of using these new cryptocurrencies as like a new technology for money, they're all different, you know, and and I, you know, I think about Bitcoin, the whole idea there is is decentralization, that's that's really what gives it value. No one's controlling it. And because of that, I kind of wonder, you know, and maybe they don't need a reason. But But how does how does the Chinese government onboard their higher population to a cryptocurrency to a digital Yuan in a way that people would want? I'm thinking they're trying to present it as palatable in some way, but maybe I'm wrong in that thinking. They rolled out through their proxies. I mean, through Chinese companies, something like WeChat in a matter of years in a way that was staggering, going from thousands of users to millions of users to 10s of millions users to hundreds of millions of users. And then this thing happened really fast and when you have central control over society,
You can push stuff like this, and they already have the mechanisms for spreading the digital you want, they already have it, you know, we chat and an alipay in everybody's pocket, right, they already have the way to disseminate this. So what the central bank's going to try and do apparently, as it said, is mid this currency distributed to the banks and to the social media companies and really get it in the hands of users. And I think they popularize it the right way and educate people about it, um, they can really spread this as as as like the sort of the new standard and, you know, my my one kind of caveat would be that I think this might be long term strategic error for them because they're going to be like promoting blockchain all across China in order to try and warm people up to this new digital currency. But at the end of the day, I mean, look, you can keep people off the internet, you can keep people from learning forbidden information, like you know, learning about tenement square and then like telling their friends about it because like, at the end of the day, you know, you don't make more money or may have a better life necessarily by knowing about what happened at 10am and
But I think it's gonna be really hard for them to keep people off of Bitcoin because their digital asset that you want will be at best, like, you know, slightly inflationary, meaning its value, what will depreciate against other assets, like kind of slowly, that would be like the best case scenario, right? Worst case, it could, it could depreciate really fast. And meanwhile, you're going to be sitting there with Chinese citizens looking at this Bitcoin thing that they've heard about and watching orange number go up over time and watching bitcoins value rise, and there's no entry part of Bitcoin, you don't have to have a bank account, you don't have to have a WeChat account, you don't have to have a passport, you don't have to be a certain citizen or have a certain social credit score, all you need is internet access, and people will figure out a way to get it and they'll figure out a way to acquire it. And I think that at the end of the day would be that sort of one silver lining is that, you know, hopefully this whole strategy will backfire. But that would be like, you know, medium to long term. I think short term we have to like really challenge the Chinese government, you know, and their plans for this little
Learn about it, expose it and understand that it's probably going to be a disaster for human rights. Can you go into the last part of it more like yeah, I mean, this party is, you know, got a litany of human rights crimes they have committed cultural genocide in Tibet. They have are in the process of crushing democracy in Hong Kong. They are threatening to solve the Taiwan problem meaning annex and sort of decapitate the Taiwanese leadership and kind of take over Taiwan. They are presiding over the largest police state and the largest censorship experiment in human history. They are doing unprecedented social engineering. They are orchestrating organ harvesting on a mass scale. They and you know, most terrifically, they're locking up millions of Muslim minority leaders in northwestern China and the shin Jang province and technology has really undergirded a lot of this you know, mechanism of repression, right? So if they can like more effectively control the population through the through the digital you want and more effectively spy on people, then their human rights crimes can grow even larger. So that's why this would be like a disaster for human rights. It would much more
Sort of micro enable the Chinese government to target individuals turn off their money access, punish them for stepping out of line and being, you know, a dissenter or even just like cut off vast swathes of the population for being Muslim or you know, something like that adding a particular ethnic background, you know, in times of turmoil or whatever, so we just give them like vast new powers that are terrifying from human rights point of view. So that's what I mean about that. Yeah, yeah. side that Alex, you, you're pretty much my guy to go to for human rights and technology interfacing, just that entire area. Look, as we as we, as we either descend or ascend, depending on your point of view into a more digital world, like who's in charge of these networks matters, right. And these centralized networks, which are built on big data analysis, and machine learning and AI, you know, these are all authoritarian technologies, and they're going to benefit you know, dictators, basically in big governments and corporations.
But thankfully we have anti authoritarian technologies like encryption, encrypted communications, Bitcoin sovereign money, hopefully things that can help us with financial privacy that we can attach to Bitcoin will use Bitcoin in conjunction with different ways potentially to encrypt data with zero knowledge, cryptography, decentralized access to the internet with mesh networking and satellite options for folks so that they don't have just one way of getting on the internet. There's a lot of exciting experimental and functional anti authoritarian, pro freedom technology, and people need to be investing in it. You know, at the end of the day, like this situation is not going to solve itself. You got to be an active citizen here so you can you can sort of like whether it be working these fields work for these companies or industries, you can like impact invest with freedom and civil liberties and privacy in mind. This is this is a hugely important thing, the vision of the Chinese government is starting to crystallize. We're starting to see the pieces fall into place that were that were slightly, you know, hard to see a couple years ago, we can really start to see what they're doing now.
And look, you don't even have to I'm not saying that the American government a European governments won't won't do the same. I happen to think that they're morally different and that they are elected by their people in their democracies. But like all governments are going to try and get rid of financial privacy. So I think, you know, regardless of your political views, you should be concerned whether you're worried about Facebook or worried about the Chinese government are worried about the American government. You know, we're worried about WeChat and Tencent, it doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, you're going to want to preserve financial privacy. Democracy dies without financial privacy is my sort of working thesis if people can't like be free to associate with each other, consume information at their leisure and consume information on on their preferences. And if they aren't free to, like create companies and invest and put money where they want to put it, then we're in big trouble.
One thing I noticed when I read your iPad, it hadn't occurred to me really was was the friction reduction from an economic standpoint of using a Digital you won economically it could make the Chinese nation a lot more succinct than our own. Did I read that incorrectly? Or what are your thoughts there?
Yeah And again this This goes for any government but like when any government wants to get information about users today you know financially speaking they have to go through a bank or a social media company or multiple layers of these things with regard to like processors like Ben Miller PayPal and then you know, banks things like that. So this is like annoying at a minimum right even for the Chinese government which which technically through the National and you know, security law etc, you know, can go get this stuff it's still they have to go through hoops they it's like go to Tencent and try to find Dave and then try to get David information. At a minimum. It's like kind of annoying, they don't want to deal with that. They don't want even deal with that. They just want to have a real time omniscient surveillance of all your transactions and a real time ability to freeze stuff they don't like maybe to put a flag on accounts that are behaving you know, unpatriotically.
etc. Part of what I'm hearing about what they're trying to do at a exponential rate is what I sort of envision blockchain analysis companies doing in western countries. I'm curious, do you think there's a metaphor at play between a blockchain analysis company and what the Chinese government are doing? Or is it two different things? Look, at the end of the day, people working on KYC ml compliance chain analysis, I mean, that they're working for the wrong team. I mean, there's really no other way to put it, you know, people are going to need financial privacy full stop. If you're working for a chain analysis company. I hope you're doing it as a mole. Basically, I hope you're doing it so that you can feed to the human rights community, like how people get tracked, right, I was at an event the other day where I listened to someone from a block chain analysis company talk about how they do their stuff, and someone from the audience was like, Well, you know, how would you surveil lightning you
And the guy was like, we have no idea. And that was great to hear great. So we should work on lightning, right? So they can play a role. But like at the end of the day, like they're going to be hired in a mercantilist way by the highest bidder, they're going to work for governments and companies to try and control individuals and take their freedom away. You know, I would highly encourage developers, people in the space entrepreneurs, creatives, etc, you know, don't don't go work for like chain analysis companies don't go work for what I would call surveillance stable coin projects. Don't go work for KYC AML compliance, you know, work to continue to just chip away at the separation of money and state and work for financial privacy. We're going to we're going to need all hands on deck here. All right, thinking about just in the US market, like a blockchain analysis company like chain analysis. They're clearly a company that is doing well in the cryptocurrency sector and there's an argument to be made for why they could lead to
More adoption by financial institutions. Well, what is your thought there? I mean, I just look any financial arrangement where there's a backdoor, which allows more surveillance and control over users, which has full KYC Mr. Compliance is not like a friendly human rights freedom thing. It's not going to move the needle forward. In fact, it's going to move the needle back. This is all ultimately like the deal and Okay, maybe in like, in the same way that like the Chinese government with its blockchain initiatives is going to popularize Bitcoin. I mean, who knows? Maybe they're going to do that, but that's not their intention, and they shouldn't be credited for that. Cool. Thanks for coming on the show man. Appreciate ya. Always a pleasure. Keep me posted when you post
will do will do.
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