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The Government Could Steal Your Crypto

Posted June 07, 2022

Jeffrey Tucker

In 1938, novelist Ayn Rand wrote a small book called Anthem, a kind of prequel to what would become her gigantic books many years later. It was a dystopian story, a mercifully quick read, about an impoverished totalitarian society in which individual creativity is abolished. 

Essentially, it’s socialist but then comes her fantastic insight. In those days, people believed that socialism was capable of vast productivity and progress because it marshaled resources in a warlike way to achieve great things. Rand said otherwise: without individualism, the trajectory will be toward desperate poverty even to the point that the lights would go out. 

And sure enough, this is a society without electric lights. A couple stumbles upon an old bulb and is utterly amazed. The community elders are mortified and suppress the information. They valued their power over the possibility of progress. Rand’s insight here is brilliant: she discerns that every socialist/statist society is profoundly conservative. Change is not encouraged, even allowed. 

Crypto as Light 

That lightbulb is a metaphor for every innovation, greatest among which is crypto in our time. This much I knew in 2013: the technology behind Bitcoin would eventually become a competitive payment system and the first token deployed on top of it, namely Bitcoin itself, would gain a network advantage in a new innovation: a fully private monetary system. It was moments like this for which the phrase “mind blowing” was invented. 

For decades prior, economists had dreamed of such a tool but it had always flopped. Why? Because such a thing was impossible? Nope. Previous attempts had failed because the ledgers were privately managed but publicly marketed and thus hyper-vulnerable to hacking, given the tech at the time. They relied on what the industry calls “trust,” which is how credit cards and bank transfers are managed, and that always carries counterparty risk. 

Bitcoin combined the best features in one little magic token: double-key cryptography, distributed networks, internet access, a stable and protocol-run rate of increase in tokens, incentives for verifying transactions, and pseudonymity that underscores its uncensorable access. It was that mix that created the magic. 

In 2010, I received an email from an MIT graduate student in computer science who said that I should get serious about this new technology. He explained it to me multiple times but there were too many features of it back then that did not connect with my knowledge base. I needed to think it through. Two years later, I had that eureka moment and finally went public with my confidence in 2013. 

I recall speaking at a major investor event in Vancouver 2013, urging people to take it seriously. A crowd of skeptics sat there staring at me like I was a lunatic. Such were the times. 

Never did I believe that this would be the last iteration. As I look now at payment systems in this realm, I’m seeing hundreds of tokens, most fungibile with each other, and each experimenting in a different way. No one will win this great race (yes I have differences with the “Bitcoin Maximalist” crowd) and that’s exactly as it should be. 

Here’s the trouble. It’s one thing to imagine a future much better than the present. Get the right technology deployed and you can be pretty certain that if it is useful and economically viable it will eventually win out. 

The Horseshoe Example 

The idea of nailing iron to the horse’s hoof was a 12th-century innovation. No one knows for sure who came up with it, but the realization that the horse’s hoof was weaker than the animal’s physical power has ancient origins. 

People had been strapping hides and other materials on hoofs for many centuries, even in the ancient world. By the time it became viable to nail iron into the hoof, it was very late in the day, and the result was a thousand fold increase in productivity. One can make an argument that this single innovation helped feed the whole of Europe at the birth of the modern world. By the 19th century, the technology was fully democratized. 

Do this mental experiment. What if at some point, some despot decided to get rid of the horseshoe on some grounds. Let’s say he was marketing horses and believed that the horseshoe was diminishing demand for new animals. What would he have done? Arrested the makers, censored the people who talked about it, crushed the pro-horseshoe factions, and abolished them in his kingdom. 

Would this have prevented the technology from coming to fruition? Of course not. That’s because, as George Gilder has pointed out throughout his work, technology is not physical; it is intellectual. It is an idea. Once an idea is out there, no compulsion on the green earth can stop it from being deployed over the long term. 

It’s the same with crypto, which is an innovation vastly more significant than the horseshoe. It’s value is in knowledge. The idea that government can stop it over the long run by intimidating its owners, squeezing its custodians, intimidating its innovators, muscling its users, is utterly ridiculous. All they can do is create pointless carnage on the way toward its eventual mass adoption. 

Canada and Crypto 

When I first began to push the idea of Bitcoin as privatized currency, people yelled at me that the central bankers and government would never allow it to happen. They would figure out a way to use this technology as a way of controlling the population, same as they do with normal banks. 

There is truth in that, we now know. The on-ramps and off-ramps to crypto require regulated exchanges, and here is where the point of control is. Many exchange-held wallets of Canadian truckers have been subjected to investigation and freezing, same as the government has done to regular bank accounts. This is all anathema to the exchanges, of course, which have management structures as pro-freedom as you or I, but they still must comply. 

The CEO of Kraken put a fine point on it with a tweet: “100% yes it has/will happen and 100% yes, we will be forced to comply. If you’re worried about it, don’t keep your funds with any centralized/regulated custodian. We cannot protect you. Get your coins/cash out and only trade p2p.”

What he means by this is only use wallets that you control. Or put your holdings in cold storage. Or print them out and keep them in a safe location. This is ultimately the only sure way to keep your crypto wealth safe in the long run: safe from government, safe from interrogatories from courts in the event of disputes, and safe from political manipulators seeking to intimidate the population. 

Regardless, nothing is going to stop the technological revolution. What they are doing is enormously scary but it cannot succeed in the long run. 

Let’s Go to War! 

Final note: every government for hundreds of years has known that there is a final recourse for manipulating public opinion in the event of a collapse of confidence. That recourse is of course war. It’s impossible to understand the border disputes in Russian/Ukraine and the US’s involvement without realizing that. It’s not that it is fake. It’s that a classic and long-lasting border dispute is being used as a pretext to divert your attention from the loss of liberty and property right now here at home.

The good news is that we are more aware of it than ever. 

Regards,

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

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