This post is the first in a new series aimed at shining light on some of the P2P worlds most interesting organizations.
In this article, I talk to Michael Goldstein, the curator of the Satoshi Nakamoto Insitute, an organization focused on extolling the virtues and the promise of Bitcoin. He explains how he came into the Bitcoin world and the interesting path that led to the creation of the Institute. Enjoy!
[N-] How did you hear about Bitcoin and what did you think at the time?
[MG] I first heard about Bitcoin from Daniel Krawisz in June 2011, but I didn't think much of it. I had it running on my computer for a little while before getting bored and deleting it. I had fun watching the mania and crash going on at the time. Later on I heard about the Silk Road, which I found exciting and intriguing.
[N-] Yeah that seems to follow most peoples experiences. What was the a-ha moment for you?
[MG] My a-ha moment was in late 2012 after hearing a talk at the University of Texas by Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed about the politics of revolution and technology's role in massive social changes. By the end of the hour, any remaining vestiges of an activist mindset, one that plagues many libertarians and political idealists, was destroyed. He introduced me to crypto-anarchy, and Bitcoin as a political force started to make sense. As we dissected Bitcoin economics at my Austrian economics reading group at UT, the Mises Circle (http://themisescircle.org), we came to realize now only was Bitcoin a thing, but its economics were completely sound. There was no better tool for liberty than Bitcoin and entrepreneurship.
[N-] What were your goals in starting the Institute?
[MG] In early 2013, I watched a talk by Mike Hearn about Bitcoin smart contracts, which fascinated me and deepened my understanding of Bitcoin's value proposition. This led me to essays by a brilliant thinker named Nick Szabo, whose essays inspired and influenced my thinking about cryptography and society even more. I had also become familiar with the writings of other Cypherpunks such as Timothy May, Wei Dai, and Hal Finney as well as older cryptographers such as Whitfield Diffie and David Chaum, and many others. All of these people had very lucid understandings of society and the role of technology in securing freedom, all well before the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto showed up. Despite this, many people seemed to believe that Bitcoin's history began with the whitepaper.
So in November 2013, Daniel Krawisz, Pierre Rochard, and myself (all from the UT Mises Circle), started the Satoshi Nakamoto Institute as a way to keep the spirit of the Cypherpunks and crypto-anarchists alive. We did this by showcasing the original ideas that directly influenced Bitcoin and other projects, such as Tor, BitTorrent, PGP, and free software in general, that have found ways to carve out more freedom in this world.
There is also a lot of bad economics in the Bitcoin world, whether people are fearing deflation, hoarding, price volatility, etc. Because of this we also wanted to bring sound economic analysis to Bitcoin in order to look forward. Now that Bitcoin exists, what is the best way to think about it, so that we can devote our energy in the most productive way possible? The Austrian economic tradition has helped guide us on this front, and I think our ideas have been rather influential, if not controversial.
Finally, Eric Hughes wrote in A Cypherpunk's Manifesto the classic maxim, Cypherpunks write code. Ultimately it is actual entrepreneurship, coding, and building, that makes Bitcoin (and anything else good in the world) happen. So we also want to encourage software development, rather than merely talking. Pierre , our treasurer, has been the most impressive on this front. He is currently building Pacioli, a full-featured Bitcoin accounting application.
[N-] What are your thoughts on the current push from many sides to regulate Bitcoin?
[MG] I am not worried.
For one, there are a lot of scammers in Bitcoin (see my article “Everyone's a Scammer”), and it's no surprise government agencies want to look out for consumer protection. A lot of these efforts, such as Ben Lawsky and the NYDFS's BitLicense, actually end up discouraging the use of trusted third parties and criminalize fractional reserve banking. Considering these are the reasons I like Bitcoin, I don't see a reason to be upset, though I prefer market-based regulation, not government regulation.
Second, if legislation could end Bitcoin, I would not have reason to be excited about Bitcoin. Bitcoin policy is non-neutral, in that not every jurisdiction will have the same rules. This will mean pressure on capital to make its way to the friendlier jurisdictions, and pressure to not use Bitcoin to get around capital controls only makes it a more attractive option for getting around capital controls.
Third, Bitcoin is a great option for everyone, no matter their sex, race, age or bureaucratic foothold. In order to attack Bitcoin, a government agent needs to be able to gauge its future potential. Once he has done this, he will probably be interested in earning a profit from a Bitcoin investment himself, so personal stake in the system discourages actually attacking it. Daniel has a very thought-provoking article on this: http://nakamotoinstitute.org/mempool/bitcoins-shroud-of-subtlety-and-allure/
[N-] What are the biggest innovations you're seeing in Bitcoin/decentralized tech right now? What's exciting you?
[MG] Bitcoin is the most exciting and innovative thing in Bitcoin. After a century of central banking, I think people underestimate the power of sound money to create peace and prosperity in an economy. Bitcoin solves truly incredible problems in computer science and network consensus allow us to finally have a network that can support actual, honest-to-god sound money. It will surely be interesting to see what developments come later as Bitcoin absorbs the global economy, but even if smart contracts were not a concept, Bitcoin would still be amazing.
[N-] What are your future plans with the Nakamoto Institute?
[MG] The crypto rabbit hole is a deep one, so there is plenty more worthwhile literature and history to be shared with the world. There are also countless economic fallacies worth tackling to help people make better entrepreneurial choices. And the list of programs to be coded grows exponentially every day.
[N-] Awesome, thanks for taking the time and letting everyone know about the work you do. You can find out more about the Nakamoto Institute by visiting their website, http://nakamotoinstitute.org