Who should read this book: Anybody who wants to learn about blockchain, bitcoin, and the decentralized future.
Andreas has been living off of bitcoin for the past several years (only accepting payment in bitcoin and only spending bitcoin!) and has real “skin in the game.” He has a great way of simplifying complicated ideas and this ebook is an edited version of several of his most popular Youtube talks.
There are lots of pundits, activists, libertarians and over-the-top gurus in the blockchain space who proselytise their project claiming it as the best. To some extent this is necessary, but often times it becomes a one-sided conversation. More importantly, having a non-inclusive attitude (X project is better than Y project) defeats the purpose of blockchain altogether! The whole point is to create an ecosystem that cuts out middlemen and opens up banking to the underserved and unbanked, not quibble amongst each other about who’s best.
Fortunately, Andreas is a cool voice amongst these heated conversations. He’s realistic about the limitations of progress and also takes his time to explain his reasoning in a level-headed way rather than resorting to name-calling or hiding behind complicated concepts in an ivory tower. I’ll go back to this book every now and then when I want to clarify a blockchain related concept and it’s also a book I gift frequently to those who are interested in the space.
Bitcoin is not trying to become a national currency. Oh no, it’s doing something far more dangerous. It’s encouraging people to put their savings outside the system.
Big ideas from the book:
The power of decentralization
The whole point of a decentralized blockchain is that you don’t keep the information secure; you spread it out so thin there’s no place to attack it directly. That’s what makes it secure.
Blockchain is one of the four foundational technologies (Blockchain, Proof-of-Work, P2P Network, and Cryptography) behind bitcoin.
Problems with our current financial system:
The current system of recourse doesn’t protect consumers; it’s not even a factor for most consumers. When Wells Fargo debits your account $35 to open a credit card that you never asked for, it takes 10 years and a Congressional inquiry and maybe you’ll get your $35 back. Maybe they’ll fix your credit score. But no one will go to jail.
Really, the question you should ask yourself is: what kind of government and what kind of organization is threatened by the idea of people having independent financial control and empowerment over their own money? A government that is threatened by that is threatened by the fundamental concepts of the Renaissance, of the Enlightenment, freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of commerce. A government that is offended by freedom is not a government I want to support.
Imaging a world with cryptocurrencies
This technology allows us to re-envision the social order, creating systems that—instead of authority—use autonomy to deliver order. But it’s better than that, because this form of order is unprecedented. Imagine that every individual has the ability, when they create a transaction, to specify exactly the conditions under which that transaction will be executed and then be absolutely guaranteed that those conditions will be met. What is the value of that to individuals? What kind of world does that create? It certainly creates a world in which the people who are clinging to authority are both terrified and, more importantly, irrelevant.
Economic mobility and freedom
How many people here have money in the bank? None of you has money in the bank. You have all extended a mostly unsecured loan for a pathetic level of interest, to a bank that is holding that money as their own and using it to earn very high interest from other people. Maybe, if you walk up to an ATM or bank teller, you can get some of that back. Unless you’re Greek, Argentinian, Cyprian, Venezuelan, Ukrainian, Brazilian… The list goes on and on through the decades, because those promises are soft.
Databases vs. blockchain
Decentralization, open protocols, open source, collaborative development, living in the wild—these aren’t just features of bitcoin; they are the whole point. If you take a permissioned ledger and say, “That’s all nice, we like the database part of it. Can we have it without the open, decentralized, peer-to-peer, open-source, noncontrolled, distributed nature of it?” Well, you just threw out the baby with the bath water. You’re never going to build a bubble strong enough to secure financial information.
What happens when we start streaming money? If we can do payments that are on a millisecond frequency, that are as low as a satoshi, why not get your salary paid every minute? This has some really important implications. If you think about it purely from the perspective of salary, now you’re working in real time. Money becomes a real-time thing and its nature fundamentally changes.
When I say “streaming money,” it’s going to take 15 years for us to really understand what that means: what that does to human payments, what that does to corporate payments, what that does to cross-border payments, what that does to the nation-state. I don’t know what that will be yet, but I do know one thing: it’s going to be big. That’s what streaming money is.
Other bitcoin resources:
Digital Gold – a great primer on the history of cypherpunks and the early days of bitcoin.
The Blockchain Man – an interesting read about the new information age and how blockchain plays a part.
Why Bitcoin Matters – a classic piece discussing the implications of bitcoin written by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.
Banking on Bitcoin Netflix Documentary – a light and fun documentary for those new to bitcoin.