We think we know but then, it turns out, we don’t know.
That’s the main lesson I’ve gained from watching the extraordinary rise of Bitcoin, from an obscure protocol released on an Internet forum five years ago, to today’s global currency and payment system that actually seems like a contender in the struggle for the future of the global monetary system.
I thought I knew all about money, where it came from, how it worked, how it must be reformed. But I never could have predicted Bitcoin. It’s just too implausible. So about 14 months ago, I dug in and learned. I was amazed, then enthused, and then in awe. The world can change. Reform can come from below and change the world. It’s not just about Bitcoin; it’s about how technology can change the world and even free the world.
But, to understand requires some humility. We think we know but then we don’t know.
This is why I was thrilled to be invited to be on the Glenn Beck show, along with my colleagues Elizabeth Ploshay and Kristov Atlas (I wrote the foreword to his new book). Beck had us on to discuss Bitcoin. To prepare him and his producers, I wrote this article, which he did read.
It was not a debate. It was not contentious. It was about learning. He asked questions and together we worked through some of the biggest issues in the cryptocurrency space.
Would that others in his position would have such attitudes. He asked completely reasonable questions. He let us answer them, and he asked followup questions. We speculated about the next step and what Bitcoin could mean for the future of liberty and prosperity, not just for “us” but for the entire world.
I’m not a careful follower of his thinking in general but I detect that he has come to some realizations in the last couple of years. He senses that we are on the verge of something big in history, something that will end in a terrible authoritarianism or in a new manner of freedom. If we are going to get that freedom, it will not likely come from top-down reform.
Politics is broken and unresponsive. It is pointlessly divisive. What we need instead is creativity and innovation. Technology represents the biggest chance we have to free the world, end the divisions that politics have created, grant more opportunities to more people than ever before, and generally remake the world in a way that serves people and not just connected elites. Toward that end, Beck recently took a trip to Silicon Valley. From his own report, it seems to have changed his outlook on not only his personal task but the future of humanity.
Bitcoin, he thinks, could be part of this glorious upheaval. We ended up talking a very long time, and in the course of the conversation he actually went further than I might have gone. He said that people ought to be holding a substantial amount of the portfolio in cryptocurrency. I was really taken aback by that, simply because, right now, the exchange rate fluctuations can be wild, user interfaces can be confusing, there is so much to learn, and the risks of user error are high. But what his suggestion told me is that he is more enthusiastic about Bitcoin than I would have imagined.
On the appearance itself, it was wonderful to be at the Blaze headquarters. They are much larger and more elaborate than I could have imagined. The place was just teeming with talented young people working in every aspect of production. The facilities are large, modern, eccentric, super techy.
For this show, we stayed out of the studio and instead went to his office. It was very relaxed. I hardly noticed the cameras at all, and we all felt very much like we were among friends. For his part, Beck was just great at eliciting good information.
I would like to add something about Glenn too. I’ve known many people in his position who are not nearly as appealing in person as they are on camera. They are more like actors than real people. Just as television news is mostly fake news, most of the “intellectuals” on television are also fake. They consider themselves to be players in a kind of public theater.
I did not get this impression from Beck at all. His humility is obvious off camera. He could not have been more humble, self effacing, and down-to-earth. This is not an intimidating personality in any way. Maybe this doesn’t strike you as odd, but it really is very unusual for a person in his position. He runs an amazing media empire at this point. And yet he has maintained his personal authenticity and intellectual curiosity. That is very much to his credit, and I say that with full awareness of many disagreements we might otherwise have on many issues. I just can’t help but admire someone like this.
In some important ways, Beck has furthered the discussion of Bitcoin. He opened his mind to the topic and went exploring. This is what we all should do, not just on this topic but all a huge range of topics that are confronting us in this digital age. There are many things we do not understand but can, provided we have a teachable spirit. This is an age of surprise, an age in which our sense of certainty of knowledge is being challenged. New innovations are appearing every day that would have seemed impossible. We need to acculturate ourselves to an economic culture of surprise. It’s a thrilling and innovative world in which we live today, and there is reason to be so grateful for it.
In any case, I would just like to congratulate Glenn Beck for his humility, openness, and willingness to learn. I felt like I’ve learned so much just from being there.