Politics is Downstream from Bitcoin
Thoughts on this year's Bitcoin conference in Miami, Florida
Since last year’s Bitcoin conference in Miami, the price is down nearly 30 percent; there was a massive crypto scandal involving FTX and its aptly acronymed charlatan leader, SBF; and Miami, which once boasted of its position on the frontlines of crypto innovation, has become more demure in its regard for the fledgling technology. Nonetheless, the Bitcoin protocol continues steadily along. “Tick. Tock. Next Block,” as the conference’s tagline went—a reminder that despite the negative press, the core value proposition and underlying technology of Bitcoin have not changed.
I didn’t notice any dour faces or discouraged countenances during my time down in Miami, but I did notice significantly fewer people. Last year, the conference doubled its attendance from the previous year, bringing the total number of attendees to ~24,000. This year, they halved it back to 12,000—a more manageable number which led to a tighter, more orderly conference, but I’m not running the balance sheet.
Whereas last year, headline speakers included Peter Thiel, Jordan Peterson, Serena Williams, and Aaron Rodgers, this year, the headline guests were presidential candidates past and present: Tulsi Gabbard, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Vivek Ramaswamy.
With the bull market behind them, the Bitcoin community spent most of the conference addressing the stark reality of political threats to the technology’s thriving. Kathy Hochul’s initiative to tax Bitcoin miners, the Biden administration’s Operation Choke Point 2.0, and a variety of environmental attacks were just a few of the stumbling blocks mentioned. Those unwilling or unable to engage politically in the US seem to have turned their gaze south. If the US will not provide an environment to thrive, advocates assume, the Global South surely will, El Salvador being the prime example of its success abroad.
Strike founder Jack Maller—whose keynotes carry about them a kind of religious reverence for the technology—announced the expansion of the payment services app, which utilizes Bitcoin, into 300+ countries around the globe. Serving the underserved, as it were.
When speakers weren’t talking about the promise that Bitcoin showed in the Global South, they tended to emphasize the challenges of getting US legislators and bureaucrats onboard.
Ramaswamy claimed that Thomas Jefferson would’ve been mining for Bitcoin in his day. RFK compared Bitcoin adherents to the founding stock Americans who authored the Bill of Rights, noting that they are the “current manifestation of that impulse.” And Tulsi Gabbard characterized the currency as a bulwark against an elitist cabal set on restricting civil liberties. Elevating it beyond its properties as a mere financial technology, all three grounded their support for Bitcoin in a basic respect for human dignity and freedom.
Harry Sudock echoed this sentiment in a follow-up panel, noting that “everything downstream of the Bitcoin issue is going to thrive and flourish.” By “everything”, Sudock meant the cluster of issues expressed indirectly through Bitcoin by nature of its function as an alternative means of transacting: medical freedom, freedom of speech, freedom from tyranny.
There were scattered mentions of a “third party” emerging to challenge the present consensus, which reminded me of the Greenback Party that emerged following the Civil War. The Greenbacks advocated for a departure from the gold standard—which both Republicans and Democrats of the time supported—and the adoption of fiat currency. The Party was primarily made up of politically active farmers who noticed that inflationary conditions would make it easier for them to pay down their debts. The idea didn’t take hold, obviously, and the party dissolved before the 20th century kicked off, but the Greenbacks’ ideas were soon adopted by Woodrow Wilson and his cronies when he took office in 1912.
If a Sound Money Party arises and incorporates Bitcoin as a part of its platform, it will bring with it a whole panoply of issues that, at present, are mostly popular with Libertarians and the constituents of the Republican Party. Ramaswamy, for instance, pointed out that if the government hopes to levy a 30 percent excise tax on Bitcoin mining operations, it would require a hefty surveillance apparatus to ensure proper reporting. This is a five-alarm fire for anyone who has opposed warrantless surveillance for decades. If a government opposes and attempts to shut down Bitcoin, it will, by proof of this example, take with it a whole host of other rights. It’s easy to see why Kennedy, Gabbard, and Ramaswamy, as disparate as their political affiliations may be, clustered in Miami for last weekend’s conference.
Though a Sound Money Party sounds intriguing, we’ve yet to see the political fangs of Bitcoin supporters come out.
On the last day of the conference, former congressional representatives David McIntosh and Tim Ryan gave a talk on their plans to promote Bitcoin at the political level. As McIntosh noted near the end of their talk, “You would prefer it if we didn’t have to get involved in politics. . . But unfortunately I’m here to bring the bad news that politics has found you. And your opponents will use politics to mug you.”
In the face of yet another debt ceiling extension and the prospect of high-interest rate treasury bonds sucking capital out of risk assets and causing a recession, it’s reasonable to expect that some people may want to return to a more sane financial arrangement, one that doesn’t involve the kind of social engineering in which the Federal Reserve has lately engaged. Bitcoin has offered the Ron Paul fanatics who’ve been chanting “End the Fed” for decades a potent tool they can wield against it. A sound money platform predicated on reigning in the Fed and granting citizens the right to transact as they see fit seems inevitable.
There is much to say here. Too much for a glorified column, but if you take one thing from this, it’s that as Bitcoin matures and distinguishes itself from the rest of the cryptocurrencies, we will witness a political coalition build behind it. As the US dollar teeters on the brink of destruction and inflation continues to erode Americans’ wealth, this is to be expected.
By the way, next year’s BTC conference will be in Nashville. We’ll be throwing a party alongside it. Stay tuned.