Saw this talk by Jimmy Song (and Jimmy Song speak live) for the first time when in LA for Russell Okung's Bitcoin is_ conference. So many concepts and ideas that I hadn't thought about before were introduced - and so provocative. I found the talk, had it transcribed, and am sharing it with you, because it really is so good. A couple of my favorite points that really got me thinking:
Watch the video below from Bitcoin Is_ 's Jimmy Song's talk. So good.
Bitcoin is the Ultimate Social Justice by Jimmy Song
Conference: "Bitcoin is ___"
Speaker: Jimmy Song
Title: Bitcoin is the Ultimate Social Justice
TRANSCRIPTION of above video below here.
Alright, how's everyone doing? I know it's like late afternoon right now. Maybe you're feeling a little bit sleepy, maybe you need to get a little coffee. I won't be offended if you fall asleep or something. I'm okay with that just you know I won't judge you too much. Alright, so my talk is called Bitcoin the ultimate social justice and I deliberately titled it that way as a way to provoke maybe a little bit of a reaction because we have a conception of social justice that I think is very flawed and we're going to talk about exactly in which… actually can you change that to the actual slide. Yeah thank you. Otherwise I'm going to get lost… as the ultimate social justice and this is something that I'm very passionate about and this is the way in which Bitcoin will impact society is absolutely huge. So, what I'm going to do is go through an argument essentially arguing that Bitcoin is going to be better for the cause of social justice than pretty much anything else and we're going to look at the current situation - what things are like right now, how fiat money changes a lot of the incentives, and exactly what incentives people have under a fiat money system. Then we're going to talk about Bitcoin now that changes you know the incentive system and how people behave under a Bitcoin system and then talk about the future and how things will change there.
So let's look at the cause of what's going on and let's sort of try to define at least what social justice is all about. Alright so we have a lot of problems in the world right? We have a lot of people that are poor, some that are rich, and so on. And we also have you know some people that have more opportunities than others we also have other people that have power over you some people that they can abuse and so on. There's a lot of different problems in the world today and the general way in which social justice sort of defines this or sort of attempts to remedy this is by treating essentially the symptom. And the symptom is kind of like the tip of the iceberg, alright? Like there's a lot more that goes into it than just some somebody is suffering. Generally, if you look at any charity or NGO or government program, they're looking to treat the symptom. This means making sure that the people that are going hungry have food or that the people that don't have housing have a place to stay and so on. But that's treating the symptom. The actual problem is underneath and that's what I want to talk about.
So this is the general way in which a lot of NGOs and you know charities and so on, this is how they generally approach the idea of helping people. And you know if you can't read it, it's give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime, create a good tutorial and you can teach himself how to fish. This is sort of the way in which a lot of people that are in these spaces of charity and social justice, that's how they think about it. But I would submit to you that this is not the problem. It's not a problem of information. It is not a problem of information at all. It's not about somebody not knowing how to fish.
Fact the real problem is oppression - it is oppression. People have power over other people and that is the real problem here. And when you have oppression well you can do certain things. It's not that the person that's being oppressed doesn't know how to fish, it’s that he has to apply for a fishing license or has to you know get in with government crony in order to fish at scale. It's that they got taxed on the fish that they catch because that's the current law that happens to exist and that's the real problem. It's not that they don't know. Lots of people know. That is not the problem at all.
So what happens when there are enough people that are oppressed continually and there are more regulations and things like that that happen is that eventually you end up with revolution. This is the most recent thing that happened that's like that is the Arab Spring. I mean Muslim countries where you had Arab Spring, a lot of them were very oppressive. They had so many rules and it gets worse and worse and worse until basically the people explode. It’s gradually then suddenly and all of a sudden something happens. And so you might be wondering, "okay are we always doomed to this kind of cycle where you know you have a revolution and then you have more and more regulation and more and more oppression and then people get sick of it and then they revolt again"? Yes, but things have changed. Bitcoin is something that's new and different and we just heard from Alex who's talking about government surveillance and technology that's used to make people more and more oppressive, but there's also a technology that's taking the power of money printing away from the state. Financial oppression, believe it or not, is the biggest source of oppression that you can have. In many ways, that's what we're going to be talking about going forward.
Alright, so we talked about the current problems and my argument in this section is that the real oppression is easy fiat money - is easy fiat money. Alright, so I don't know how many of you know what this is but these are glass beads and this was used in sub-Saharan Africa for money for a very long time. And in fact it makes sense to be money if you heard Saifedean Ammous's talk - it's about hard money versus easy money. Glass just isn't very abundant in some in Africa so it made sense to use this as money. European settlers came in and they recognized that oh they're using glass for money. We know how to make glass we have glass blowers and we have a plentiful supply. So what did they do? They went, made a whole ton of glass beads, and bought up everything. They bought up everything. They were able to print money essentially as a way to take the wealth of everybody that was depending on that as money. And this has an economic name and it's called the Cantillon effect. And the Cantillon effect is essentially this - the first printers are the money, the people that get to spend the money first, they get all of the benefits of the printing of the money.
And it's something that Richard Cantillon noticed in the 1700s. He used to work as a banker and then you wrote you know some economic treatises, but that's essentially what happens. The thing about the Cantillon effect that's so seductive is that the population doesn't really notice right away. It's very slow. When you're inflating money, when you're adding new money to the population, you don't notice oh this is going to be worthless later. You know it's a very gradual thing and then very sudden. And this has some really pernicious effects including long term uncertainty. And among other things that it does is it increases consumption and rent-seeking. By consumption I mean just like sort of buying things for now alright? Like YOLO or FOMO or whatever. And rent-seeking in the sense that - and the way I define rent-seeking is taxing some transaction without any adding any value and there are plenty of people that do that.
Here's a chart of the health care system in America today and you can notice that the number of physicians has not gone up very much, but the number of administrators has exploded. What is going on? Well there's a lot of money going into the healthcare system and as a result there's a lot more rent seekers - a lot of people that are taxing transactions that aren't really adding anything. Now I could show you a similar chart for education and government and many other organizations, but this is just what happens when you have a lot of money printing. There's no real… there's a lot of people that end up sitting in the middle of transactions making money essentially for doing nothing.
And this has some consequences among others this is the question that gets asked. How do I get a job? And if you know anyone that's unemployed or in college right now, this is the question that they ask - how do I get a job? And if you think about it, this is the wrong question because in a sense it's asking where can I fit right; what rent seeking opportunity can I get? It's not about adding value at all. It's about finding a place in the world where you can survive right? It has a very static view of the world where there's only so much to go around and you need to get your piece - and that is the wrong attitude.
And this has some serious consequences and real social ills that come out of it. Here's a cartoon. I don't know if you can read it but it's sort of from a perspective of a millennial. I don't want much in life, just sick clothes, a bunch of money, convenient restaurant options, free shipping is always nice, and like a sense of purpose I guess. I love this cartoon because it does sort of like capture that mentality, but think about it. If you are a rent seeker in in this economy, what are you going to be thinking about? You're not thinking about changing the world or providing value for the world. You're thinking about all this other stuff and why is that? Well it's because deep down inside you know you are a leech; that you are really stealing from everybody else. And I'm serious about this. There's a lot of people that are going through having to deal with the fact that they are not contributing at all to society. We have epidemic levels of depression. Where do you think that comes from? If deep down inside you know that you are not contributing anything to society well how should you feel? And think about it. There's a lot of other people that when they have that voice inside that's telling them okay you're not really doing anything useful, well they go around and drown that. We have epidemic levels of all kinds of addictions too – alcoholism, drugs, even like TV or getting obsessed with the latest Netflix series, or you know eating or whatever. There's a lot of different addictions that everyone can get into. That causes real social ills. And eventually you get to a situation where you have a lot of run seeking and eventually you collapse.
These are the ruins of Rome right? The Roman civilization famously devalued their money. Diocletian went from 70% silver in a denarii down to like 5% and that caused a lot more rent-seeking that caused a lot more people that weren't doing anything and eventually the whole edifice just sort of crumbled under the weight of all the rent seekers that were out there. So Fiat leads to decay. It's a fundamental part of it.
Alright so why is that? Why does Fiat cause all this? Well there are two ways essentially to make money in any system. The first is to create more of the monetary medium - more of the monetary medium. So with gold or something like that you have to do the hard work of actually mining it. With central bank, they can just print the money and this is actually more expensive than what they do which is update a database that says I have 200 million more dollars. So there's creating more of the monetary medium.
In the second case the other way to make money is to provide goods and services and this is what actually builds civilization. If you're successful with creating a good or service, then you're going to be adding something beneficial to everybody else. It's what they want.
The key thing to realize is that the former does not add anything to society. If you're creating more of the medium of monetary exchange you are not contributing anything. You're not making anything. You're essentially stealing from everyone else through inflation. The latter definitely adds to society because by definition you're doing something better than what's out in the market already. You're doing something faster, more conveniently, more you know securely, or something - you're doing something better than what other people in the market are doing because there's a market for your services. And as a result you're adding to the pie. You're growing the pie. You're making something better. And the key thing to realize is when there's easy money people go towards the former. When there's hard money people go towards the latter.
So when you have easy money for example you want to go into the money production business because the cost of producing that money is very cheap relative to the value that you're going to get out, but when there's hard money only the specialists go in. So if you're… not many of you are probably gold mining right now and that's because you have to be an expert in gold mining in order to be a gold miner and this is actually one of the biggest mistakes that people make when they come into Bitcoin is they think oh I can go print my own money buying miners or something, but in fact it turns out that only the real specialists can make money off of mining. And this is really terrible because think about where people have been going… where the best, smartest, and most talented individuals have been going into for the last 50 years? They've been going into investment banking, right? And they go into it not because they happen to be talented in investment banking, they go into it because that's where the margins are. That's where they can make the most profit. It's much easier to be an investment banker and make 300 million dollars a year than to create a three-billion-dollar company and keep three hundred million dollars for yourself. That's the reality that we are living in is that because of easy money everyone is motivated to go towards that direction and that's a real tragedy. That's how civilization gets built and hopefully this picture comes up.
Alright, so I was born in Seoul, Korea and I found this nice picture of the contrast between then and now. See, 1900 it was kind of a backwater Asian place and after you know a 120 years later you have this thriving city that you have now. That happens because you have a lot of entrepreneurs, because you have people building things, that are creating things for the benefit of others. In a way, they're creating goods and making the world better and they get to profit - that's the beauty of capitalism.
So let's talk about the new system right? Because we're are under a fiat money system well how is that going to change? The revolution is Bitcoin and the revolution comes in from the fact that we have property rights. We have control over our own money right now. If you have money in a bank account the government can confiscate it from you. They can accuse you of being a drug dealer or using it for terrorism or something like that. Even if you have money under your mattress, they can just inflate it away. They can print another eight hundred billion dollars to different investment banks or something like that. We don't have property rights over our money, but with Bitcoin we do. We can take the power of money printing away from the state and as a result we have a lot more long-term certainty because we can save for the future. A lot of people think that capitalism is like materialism or something like that. It's this idea you know I got the sickest car or something like that. That is not it at all. Capitalism is about capital accumulation. It is about creating more so you can you can make even more money and continue to benefit society. In fact, production and entrepreneurship are exactly what happens in a in a hard money civilization because most people aren't going towards investment banking or the money production business. They start using their talents towards something else. They start giving people what they want. And this increases production, increases value for everybody. There's a really good illustration in Saifedean's book which I'll repeat here, but at one point in time people used to catch fish with their hands and it would take… maybe you can catch only like one or two fish a day by trying to catch with your hands. At some point somebody decided okay you know what I'll catch an extra fish and sort of half star for a day and I will make a fishing pole and using a fishing pole - that's capital accumulation - they can maybe catch four fish a day and then doing that for about a week, you can save up, take another week to make a boat. Now maybe you hire somebody to drive the boat while you go fish. You get better and better productivity out of people as you have more creativity and entrepreneurship to the point where we are today where we have a, you know, a fishing vessel takes like five years to build cost millions of dollars but you have eight people on that ship and they can catch hundreds of thousands of fish in a week. That's real productivity; that's real entrepreneurship; that's real value that the rest of civilization gets to have.
Anyway the pertinent question that people ask in this case is not how do I get a job; it's what do people want. And this is the right question it isn't about finding your place in a rent-seeking society. It is about what value can I bring to other people and this is absolutely critical for entrepreneurship. I'm speaking to you right now as a speaker, as an author and stuff like that, but for the first years of my life I was a coder. I was a programmer. Think anyone ever paid me to go speak in front of people or to write a book? Not a chance. Those are things that I had inside of me that I didn't realize I could use for that sort of stuff but being an entrepreneur, being a producer, I was able to see ok well that's something that I can do. In a Fiat money society, what you end up with are very specific roles right if a company hires you to be an accountant that's all you can really be. They don't hire you to also be a publicist or something like that not unless you're in a start-up. But it's much more fulfilling to be an entrepreneur in part because you get to use all of who you are instead of this narrow slice that's defined by the company. And that's something that hard money allows and Bitcoin is the path to get there because that takes the power of money printing from the state and that makes it very difficult to go into the money production business eliminating a lot of rent-seeking.
Anyway, let's examine what that actually means and what that actually looks like. So one of the things that's really scary about Bitcoin is that you know ownership is pretty scary. This is a cartoon you can probably look at it later. It's about somebody that newly bought a house and you know doesn't think that he's ready for a home ownership. Fact of the matter is were not used to the personal responsibility that Bitcoin requires. There's a lot of people that you know… like even Bitcoin core developers, if they have to move their Bitcoins, they get really nervous. Why? Because it's scary having to handle a lot of money right, where it might be permanently lost. Everything is centralized in a sense to take away that fear of having to move or be responsible for a lot of money and that's convenient right because you don't want to lose money to a bank robber or something like that where if you had like a gold bar in your house and it gets taken away from you all your savings disappear. That's kind of scary, but at the same time, we've lost something we've lost something as a civilization as a result of all that centralizing of responsibility and it's this idea of personal responsibility. See when you have personal responsibility, it helps because you start caring about the thing that you're responsible for you. You want to make it grow. And you know those of you that are parents, you kind of understand what that means. A lot of it is helping the thing that you're in charge of. And when you do that it leads to a lot of good things because when you have long term certainty, when you're when you're thinking about ownership and you you're used to the responsibility, now you can set goals and have a purpose, and that in turn leads to a lot of building. And instead of the sort of the rent seeking job that you might have where your soul is telling you, you are not doing anything good, when you are producing something for the rest of civilization that is beneficial, it's much easier to get up in the morning. It's much easier to live and know that you are contributing something. You don't have to drown yourself in alcohol or drugs or sugar or whatever it is that you might be addicted to. It becomes something different. And that is the future that we want to have with Bitcoin.
And really the key here is that we have a path to a peaceful revolution. It used to be that history was you know just a regime that would get more and more authoritarian until there was a revolution. That's like one view, kind of cynical view of history, but now with Bitcoin we have the ability to decentralize the power. See a lot of the social justice advocates, what they think about is okay if only my guy were in charge, things would be different. If only my guy were there, then everything would be okay. That's the wrong problem. It's still centralized power. With Bitcoin, we can start taking some of that power back and give it to ourselves. And as a result, all of the rent seekers that are propped up, we walk off the platform that goes away naturally and that's a very good thing. We don't want waste in our society. I love this picture because it has the Statue of Liberty which stands for freedom in the foreground and you have all these buildings that are built by big banks in the background.
The prosperity that the U.S. experienced in the 19th century versus the 20th century are profoundly different. 19th century we were under a hard money standard and a lot of stuff was built during that era. The 20th century, it was mostly because of the dollar hegemony. It was the result of the dollar being the world standard and being able to use that to gain a lot of wealth from other countries. And thinking about the 19th century, there is a really cool phrase that's part of why I wear the cowboy hat.
The phrase is, “Go west young man. Go west young man.” Now they were saying this not just to people that wanted to you know pan for gold or something like that. They were saying this to nearly everybody because say you are like 22 years old, maybe you're a new baker or a barrister or you know cobbler, whatever. The thing is, if you stayed on the East Coast, you would have to compete against everybody else that was a cobbler or a baker or a barrister and it would be very difficult because they had like 20 - 30 years’ experience on you. How are you going to compete against those people? They already had the clientele and everything. Well if you went out West, what happened? There weren't that many bakers or cobblers or barristers and you could make a lot more of yourself very quickly that way. Bitcoin gives us a new frontier. Bitcoin gives us a new frontier and it makes all of this happen a lot faster. And ultimately, this is why I think that a lot of social justice people have the wrong conception of human value. It isn't that we're not feeding them or housing them or clothing them - that's not the tragedy. Yeah it is a tragedy that's people are starving or don't have homes or don't have clothes or don't have you know freedoms and so on. That isn't the real tragedy. The real tragedy is that these people aren't contributing to civilization. The real tragedy of the starving African child isn't that the child is starving - I mean that's a tragedy too - the real tragedy is that that child has no chance to express their creativity, entrepreneurship, and inventiveness by contributing to civilization and creating something that none of us have thought before by creating businesses, by making something better - that's the real tragedy of centralized power is that it oppresses so many people so that we don't get to benefit from the tremendous human capital that already exists out in the world. By bringing sound money back through Bitcoin, that is the ultimate social justice.