The SFOX team was honored to interview Roger Ver, the first Bitcoin investor and current CEO of Bitcoin.com.
An outspoken advocate for personal freedoms and Bitcoin Cash, Ver has spent the last eight years investing in cryptocurrency-related ventures and articulating a vision for a future in which people will enjoy a kind of economic freedom that wasn’t possible before the advent of crypto. We picked Ver’s brain on everything from the early days of Bitcoin development and investment, to the roles of debate and censorship in crypto, to the mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto, to what we can expect from BCH in 2019.
If you’d prefer to watch the video recording of this interview, you can find it here:
SFOX: Welcome, everyone, to SFOX’s interview with Roger Ver. Roger, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. We really appreciate having you here.
Roger Ver: Thank you.
SFOX: Roger, as the first investor in Bitcoin, you really have been a part of the Bitcoin and crypto ecosystem pretty much since the beginning, and eight years have elapsed since you first started investing in it. How has your perspective on the space has changed — both in terms of the technology, and in terms of the overall crypto community?
Roger Ver: It’s changed a lot. Back eight years ago, I wasn’t just the first investor: I was basically the only investor, and there wasn’t much of an ecosystem at all.
One example of just how far the whole ecosystem has come is that, way back then — I think was 2012, at this point — I reached out to a website called Blockchain.info, which now is probably known by more people as Blockchain.com. I reached out to them and I said, “Hey, I’m interested in this Bitcoin thing. Do you need any money to expand what you’re doing? I like what you’re up to.” They had maybe 10, maybe 30, thousand users or something at that point, whereas now, they’re over 30 million users.
The guy replied to me and said, “Oh, yeah, currently we’re running the entire website on a Mac Mini at home from in my bedroom, you know, living in my mom’s house. I think we should probably buy a real server, so we need some money for that.” I said, “Sure, no problem,” and we worked out a deal — I gave him money to buy the first server and, you know, extend it from there. Now, Blockchain.com is one of the premier businesses in the entire ecosystem, whereas, back when I made my investment, they were literally running on a Mac Mini in this guy’s bedroom at home, living with his parents. So, what a world of difference it’s been in just eight years.
I guess one other really, really big difference is the philosophy within the ecosystem. In the earliest days, everybody involved in Bitcoin — like, 99% of people who were involved — was involved because they wanted to see a separation of money and state. They wanted to see people have choice as to what sort of money they get to use and have control over money; they wanted to see competition in the marketplace of money. Just like you see better-quality products between car manufacturers competing with each other, and hamburger manufacturers, and drink manufacturers: all the competition always leads to a better-quality product at a lower price.
Well, the same is true of currencies. There’s been some competition between like the dollar and the euro and the yen and this and that — but only certain people are allowed to compete against those guys. Whereas suddenly now, with the invention of cryptocurrency, anybody can go head-to-head and compete with the dollar for market share in the use case of money because these cryptocurrencies can’t be shut down or turned off or stopped, short of turning off the entire internet and the entire world. So we’re seeing very, very quickly now the options that people have in terms of what sort of money to use. They’re blossoming: you have all sorts of choices now for things that work much, much better than methods that we’ve had available to us previously.
Basically, in the earliest days of Bitcoin, it was all just a whole bunch of libertarians who were super, super excited about this separation of money and state; whereas now — you know, there’s still a lot of libertarians involved, of course — but now, there’s a lot of people who just kind of see the space and say, “Hey, I can make money really, really quickly without having to do much work, and anybody who stands in my way, I’m going to attack them.” And that’s kind of disappointing for me because, if you study economics, you realize that the more economic freedom the world has, the faster the rate of economic growth the entire world has, and economic growth is what makes everybody have this higher standard of living, so we should be doing everything we possibly can to increase the rate of economic growth around the world. And I think permissionless, peer-to-peer cash is an absolutely amazing tool to bring more economic growth to the world.
But I think in the earliest days. everybody was on board with that vision, and everybody was like, “Yeah, let’s do this: let’s bring peer-to-peer cash for the world that anybody can use, and do whatever they want with, and, literally, we’re gonna liberate the entire world’s economy this way.” And today, you don’t hear nearly as much of that from the people who are new to Bitcoin. And even hear some people actually grumbling about that — like, “Oh my god, these people are trying to do things without permission from other people.” If you go back to the early Bitcoin community, that was the entire point of Bitcoin.
Bitcoin used to be the only cryptocurrency; now, there are thousands of cryptocurrencies. A lot of people accuse me of attacking Bitcoin, but I have no problem with Bitcoin whatsoever. I’m a fan of absolutely anything that works. The BTC version of Bitcoin stopped working at the end of 2017: it was over 50 dollars in transaction fees for an average transaction — and I myself, running a business in the space, was paying thousands of dollars in fees per one single transaction over and over and over again. At that point, I knew it was absolutely broken, and the part that really made me lose faith in it was when there was a bunch of people cheering, saying, “This is fantastic, the fees are so high — hooray, hooray, hooray.”
Myself, I started using things other than the BTC version of Bitcoin and, being the owner of Bitcoin.com, our options are kind of limited. BTC or BCH were the main two options, so BCH it was. So we’re busy promoting Bitcoin Cash at Bitcoin.com right now because it actually works for cash reliably — month after month, year after year. But I’m a fan of anything that works: if it works permissionlessly for people to send or receive money anywhere in the world, I like it.
SFOX: As you’ve seen more money flow into the space and more investors join the ranks following your first investments, what’s your take on whether that additional capital that’s now available to people in this space is a net positive thing or a net negative thing? What are the nuances of that, now that there’s so much more money to be had in the offing?
Roger Ver: I think it’s definitely a net positive thing: there’s so much more attention and developers and stuff happening in the ecosystem as a whole. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which cryptocurrency winds up being the dominant one, so long as it’s a cryptocurrency that actually puts people in charge of their own money and their own destiny. If it’s some cryptocurrency where transactions are monitored and controlled and spied upon by the NSA and whoever else, that’s a horrible thing for the world. But, if it’s a cryptocurrency in which individuals have control of their own money and privacy over their own money, that’s a fantastic thing.
I’m working towards the version in which people have control and privacy over their own money, not the shady state spycoin. We’ll see which one wins out in the end.
SFOX: Based on your tweets and speaking with you here, that it almost seems that it’s impossible for you to speak about Bitcoin and the crypto space without going into the philosophical side of it — especially political philosophy, and your views on voluntaryism. As more people and stakeholders have joined the space right, do you think there are legitimate reasons to be interested in the space that don’t have to do with that any kind of political philosophy, or do you think that once you’re down the Bitcoin rabbit hole, you’re going to, at some point, arrive at questions of politics and philosophy?
Roger Ver: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being involved in something for reasons that aren’t political or philosophical. Nothing wrong with that at all. But, for me, that’s what has me so excited about cryptocurrency: the ability to empower the individual to have more control over their own lives. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been interested in it at all; I wouldn’t have gotten involved at all.
It was really, really interesting: In the early days — you know, in 2011, 2012, 2013 — pretty much everybody was a voluntaryist. And for those who are reading and don’t know what voluntaryism is, it’s very simple. It’s the idea that all human interactions should be either on a voluntary basis or not at all. And that’s pretty much how everybody lives all their day-to-day lives every day: Starbucks asks people to buy their coffee; they never force people to buy their coffee. You asked me to do an interview with you; you didn’t threaten me into doing this interview with you. Everybody deals with everybody on a voluntary basis all the time, with the only exceptions being robbers, rapists, murderers, and governments. And we should stop and think for ourselves, “Well, if it’s wrong for a robber to use coercion against somebody to engage in a non-voluntary interaction with him, and it’s wrong for murderers, and it’s wrong for rapists, why does government get to do something that’s wrong for anybody else to do, in any other situation, anywhere?” And the answer for voluntaryists is, “Well, it’s not okay when they do it, either.”
In the early days, pretty much all the people who were involved in Bitcoin were of that philosophical mindset, and we got involved in Bitcoin because we already had that philosophical mindset. But now, pretty much daily, I get contacted by saying that they’d never heard of voluntaryism or any of these ideas before they found Bitcoin, and because they found Bitcoin, they were then exposed to the ideas of voluntaryism, and now they’re like, “I see the world so differently now and so much more clearly now,” and it just makes me smile from ear to ear when I hear about people finding out about the ideas of voluntaryism and the benefits of free markets because they found Bitcoin — whereas I found Bitcoin because I was already interested in free markets and voluntaryism. So, I guess it goes both ways.
SFOX: Especially in the last year and a half or so, there have been a lot of discussions about things like what constitutes “the true Bitcoin,” and what names we ought to call which communities and which blockchains, and things like this. What do you think is the best way to go about those debates, given that (1) it seems like there’s something that people feel is worthwhile discussing there, but (2) those discussions can also devolve pretty quickly into shouting matches? What do you think constitutes like “the true Bitcoin,” if that’s even a meaningful question to be asking?
Roger Ver: I would assume that the first principle — if this can be considered a first principle, here — is to allow people to actually have discussions and have free and open dialogue and debate about what makes something Bitcoin and how you define Bitcoin. Sadly, that dialogue and debate have been absolutely shut down on the main discussion platforms for cryptocurrency and Bitcoin. So it wasn’t allowed to take place, and, from my point of view, if you’re busy censoring one side of the debate, you’ve already lost the debate.
“What’s the true Bitcoin?” You know, there’s BCH, and BTC, and now BSV, a couple of other ones… I guess I kind of see it like ice cream: They’re all ice cream, and then you have different flavors of ice cream. Is chocolate ice cream “ice cream”? Of course. Is vanilla ice cream “ice cream”? Of course. So I guess you could make a claim that BTC is “Bitcoin,” BCH is “Bitcoin,” and even BSV is “Bitcoin,” and they’re all just different flavors of Bitcoin. But at the end of the day, Vitalik made this argument — you know, Vitalik is a genius who was absolutely right on this, and I think I’ve been a little too focused and not paying attention to the big picture — at the end of the day, what makes Bitcoin valuable isn’t that it’s “Bitcoin.” It’s the inherent characteristics that make Bitcoin useful as money and useful in commerce that make it valuable. And so whatever cryptocurrency has those characteristics intrinsically — and I don’t even know if “intrinsically” is the right way to describe it — but you have to have certain characteristics: fast, cheap, reliable, easy to store, easy to recognize, not counterfeitable, fungible. It has to have these characteristics that naturally make it useful as money. And if something has those characteristics, it will start to be used as money.
The main thing that the BTC version, or the BTC flavor of Bitcoin ice cream, has going for it is that it has this giant network effect still, even though the transactions are slow and expensive to use. This giant network effect makes it incredibly useful still. And the other flavors of Bitcoin still have to catch up in terms of that network effect. But Bitcoin Cash transactions are super fast, cheap, and reliable, and will continue to be so. In the long term, I think that’s a much, much stronger value proposition than the BTC flavor of Bitcoin, in which they openly say that transactions should be slow, expensive, and unreliable — and that you shouldn’t even use it as money, you should just use credit cards instead. Long term, I don’t think that that’s the right strategy to wind up becoming a peer-to-peer cash for the world. I think Bitcoin Cash, on the other hand, has that fully within its target there.
SFOX: Going along with this ice-cream analogy that you’ve established, do you think there’s some value in asking what the “original creator of ice cream” intended — or rather, do you feel that the functionality comes first and that, even if the “flavor” of Bitcoin needs to diverge from the letter of what was said in “the ice-cream whitepaper,” it doesn’t matter as long as it’s functional?
Roger Ver: Well, I think the reason the fighting is so bitter over the Bitcoin name is because the branding is incredibly important. If I walked to people on the street and said, “Hey, do you want to buy some ice cream?”, I’d probably have some success selling ice cream because everybody knows that ice cream is — whereas, if I walked up to people on the street and said, “Hey, you want to buy some frozen cream sugary sweetened water?”, they’d kind of look at me and say, “Ahhhh… I’m not so sure about that.”
It’s the same with Bitcoin at this point: a large percentage of the world’s population has heard of Bitcoin, and they think they know what it is. And if you tell me, “Hey, you want to try using Bitcoin?” Yeah, maybe I’ll give that try, I’ve heard about that. Whereas, if you say, “Hey, you want to try using Zcash?” I would be like, “I don’t know it’s Zcash is… Nah, I don’t need any.” I think it’s kind of similar — even though, if you look at Zcash, I think it has characteristics that make it really, really awesome money. The thing that it’s lacking — and falling behind on, compared to all the flavors of Bitcoin at this point — is the name recognition and the network effect. It doesn’t have as many exchanges, or merchants, or wallets, and it doesn’t have the name recognition with the Joe on the street. Just like if you asked them, “Hey, you want some ice cream?” “Sure, I’ll have some ice cream.” “Hey, you want some sugary frozen creamy water I froze in my freezer?” “No, I’m good, bro,” I think that’s what they’d say.
We’re seeing the exact same thing in the cryptocurrency space: the name and recognition are so important, and so that’s why what the question, I think is somewhat important: What did the original creator of Bitcoin have in mind?
What he had in mind, I think, was pretty clear: He had in mind a peer-to-peer electronic cash system — it’s right there in the very title of the whitepaper he released. And the fact that the BTC version of Bitcoin today isn’t even trying to be a peer-to-peer electronic cash version, and they mock people who want to use it as cash — I think that’s a pretty good indication that BTC is not Bitcoin, or it certainly isn’t the Bitcoin described in the whitepaper, even though so many people around the world are still busy referring to it as “Bitcoin” today, which is a bit frustrating for people like me or anybody who was involved in the space early on, because BTC doesn’t have the characteristics that made Bitcoin popular to begin with. It doesn’t have the characteristics that were described in the original Bitcoin whitepaper, yet everybody still busy calling it “Bitcoin” and busy attacking people who call something that actually is similar to what was outlined in the whitepaper “Bitcoin.” I guess that brings us to where we are today.
SFOX: As you alluded to earlier, you are an avid reader of economics: if you go to your personal site, you have book recommendations for people. You’re also active on Twitter, where you command a really large following and tweet on basically a daily basis. Given that you clearly appreciate the value of long-form content like books, what do you see as the struggles with communicating in really short-form social media content, especially when the matters at hand are as complicated as something like cryptocurrency? How do you approach using those more mainstream methods of communication in advocating for Bitcoin?
Roger Ver: Yeah, pretty clearly Twitter is not the right platform for a long-form communication! But I think that the even bigger problem there, at this point, is it’s really, really hard to know who’s real on the Internet, or who’s even a human on the Internet, or who’s actually saying their real opinion versus who’s just trying to cause FUD on the Internet. Most people who’ve been around at this point are aware that there are lots of bots on Twitter promoting different crypto coins, and ICOs, and this and that, and you have to be careful which ones are real and which ones are not — but there are lots of other ones that are doing all sorts of stuff, and it’s hard to figure out who’s real and who’s just trying to be manipulative.
This isn’t something that’s new to the crypto-coin space. I remember in June of 2011 — right, so this is ancient, ancient history in Bitcoin land, back when there weren’t any altcoins, only Bitcoin. In June of 2011, the price of Bitcoin, in the course of just a couple of weeks, ran up from two or three dollars per bitcoin to 30 dollars per bitcoin — so it went up 10x in about two weeks, right? And there were these wonderful, wonderful forums at the time over at Bitcointalk.org, and everybody was busy discussing Bitcoin there every day. When the market was calm and there wasn’t a lot happening, there were really long-form, in-depth, wonderful conversations where you could learn from really smart people and exchange ideas with all sorts of really smart people all over the Internet. And the forum wasn’t so busy: it wasn’t just an avalanche of stuff; you could actually read all the posts each day and keep up with what was going on.
Suddenly, during this very first time ever in the history of Bitcoin that it started to get worldwide media attention with lots of people were looking into it, some switch flipped on the forum: the forum was absolutely overrun with bots that were just posting nonsense and made the forum completely unusable. They were saying, “Buy! Sell! Buy low, sell high!” It was just absolute nonsense, non-human replies — just a bunch of bots. They flooded the entire forum and they succeeded in shutting down any sort of in-depth, long-form discussion from being able to take place, because they just flooded the forum with thousands of posts and made it unusable.
So “the powers that be,” or whoever it was who was behind that, since June of 2011, were keeping a really close eye on Bitcoin, and the instant people really needed that to be able to have some in-depth, long-form conversations, they shut it down. That happened way back in June of 2011. And the same thing happened on r/bitcoin on Reddit, the most popular discussion platform for the entire world. I was just looking at a link where you can see all the things that are deleted from there last night as I was going to bed, and it was somewhere in the ballpark of 50% of all the posts are getting deleted from there today, and that’s been going on for, like… three years now, four years now?
I invite anybody to Google “Bitcoin censorship,” and there is a fantastic article called “Bitcoin censorship” by John Blocke, which is, you know, a hat-tip to the American historical figure of John Locke. John Blocke wrote this amazing article. You can read about the censorship going on in the Bitcoin community and your jaw will just drop: you’ll just be amazed that this sort of thing is going on and being allowed to continue to go on to this very day. And it’s really, really frustrating as a proponent of the free and open exchange of ideas and free speech who thinks that, if people are saying things that you think are wrong on the Internet, the solution to that is more people being allowed to correct those wrong ideas and say the truth — instead, we’ve had the exact opposite happen within the Bitcoin community, and it’s heartbreaking for me just to see that happen.
Anybody who studies psychology knows that “monkey see, monkey do” is a real thing. And that’s exactly what they tried to do within the cryptocurrency community: they’ve tried to have only one narrative be what everybody else is allowed to say, and anybody who says anything different has their post deleted. So, all the people who have come to cryptocurrency over the last couple of years has only been allowed to hear one single narrative and then, you know, “monkey see, monkey do”: they hear everybody saying one thing, they say it too, and then there’s just one more voice to the choir of misinformation at this point, is the fact of the matter.
I’ve done everything I possibly can to try to spread the truth and talk about what happened. But there’s a lot of “monkey-see-monkey-doers” out there who are attacking me for saying the absolute truth. It’s frustrating and sad, but I invite anybody out there: don’t be a “monkey-see-monkey-doer.” Go look at the actual evidence for yourself and look at what’s happened. Google “Bitcoin censorship” so you can see what’s happened out there and think for yourself — and I guess that’s good advice in any area of life, think for yourself. Use the mind that you have. That’s what you have it for: to critically think and evaluate the evidence before you.
SFOX: You’ve you’ve done a lot of work trying to advocate for Bitcoin throughout basically any place on the Internet where it’s being discussed — which is interesting in the sense that you’ve become a public figure in a community that values things like decentralization and anonymity. How do you adjudicate that very public role you have in the space, both in your professional and your personal lives?
Roger Ver: Before Bitcoin, I was doing everything I could to keep a very private life and not be a public figure in any way whatsoever. I was still funding some libertarian things, but when I would fund them, I told them, “Don’t give my name. Don’t don’t give me any credit. Here’s some money, and start spreading these ideas of voluntaryism — you can do it with my money, but I don’t want any attention from that” — because governments love to attack people who spread the truth. Look at what’s happened to Julian Assange; look at what’s happened to Edward Snowden. Don’t be surprised if governments come and attack me for spreading the message of, “Hey you don’t need a bunch of politicians to rule your life: you should rule your own life. Be your own president; you don’t need another president out there.”
Bitcoin was just such a powerful tool to bring more economic freedom to the world that it’s useful for it to have a spokesperson, to have a public figure who’s not some shadowy figure. And it kind of wound up turning out to be me. So, for better or worse… Privacy in life is really, really wonderful to have, and I don’t have so much of that anymore. But at the end of the day, if I wind up bringing more economic freedom to the world — which I already have to a large extent, but there’s a whole lot more work to be done and a whole lot more economic freedom to be brought — then, I guess, the fact that I lost my privacy will be worth it because other people will have theirs.
Maybe I’ll get my privacy back someday. Maybe I can just drift back and be a Wikipedia page about some historical figure, but not active in public life anymore.
SFOX: Your suggestion of maybe sliding out of the public eye invites the topic of Satoshi and, namely, his decision — well, his, or her, or their decision — to ultimately leave the project. Do you think that it was a good thing that they left? Do you think that it was a bad thing? How do you think it impacted the community?
Roger Ver: What an amazing, fairy-tale story. It’s a mystery. Everybody loves a mystery: Who is Satoshi? Where did he go?
I remember in the early days of the Bitcointalk.org forum, people were talking about how, finally, when humans manage to make contact with aliens, we won’t have to be embarrassed about the type of money we’re using anymore because of the invention of Bitcoin! That’s pretty true because, you know, we’ve been using little round pieces of metal for thousands of years — that’s pretty low-tech stuff! So we should be kind of embarrassed about that if we ever did make contact with space aliens; whereas now, with Bitcoin, no, we don’t have to be embarrassed about the type of money we use anymore, which I thought was great.
Some people were speculating, “Well, maybe Satoshi was a space alien: maybe this is their way of contacting us.” And I don’t think that’s the case, but it was really fun seeing people speculate about Satoshi, like, “Who the heck is this? Was ‘he’ an AI?” And there was another fantastic thread out there that was talking about, like, “Is Bitcoin the world’s very first artificial life form?” And if you think about Bitcoin: It’s consuming resources; it’s harnessing all of us humans to go around and set up more machinery to help support this Bitcoin lifeform; it’s consuming all this electricity; it’s growing; it’s expanding; it’s getting all these people to help it do its thing. And if you look at it as if it’s a life form, a really strong argument can be made: it’s reproducing, and it’s going on and on, and it’s spreading. “Bitcoin’s the world’s first synthetic life form” was this other really interesting discussion platform out there. Satoshi created the world’s first synthetic life form? Wow, what an interesting, exciting way of looking at it! And a strong argument could be made that that’s the case.
To answer your question, I think it was really, really helpful to have Satoshi be this mysterious figure because everybody loves a mystery: they start talking about it, and they start pondering it, and they tell their friends about it. So it was a really, really fantastic way for Bitcoin to spread because it had this mysterious creator there, and then it was also super useful that they had spokespeople to go out there and help spread it as well. In the earliest days, it was maybe a bunch of libertarians, but now, you know, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, was on Joe Rogan’s podcast promoting Bitcoin a couple of days ago — what a powerful platform was to spread this to more people! So it’s great to have public faces, but it’s also fun to have these mysterious, shadowy figures.
I think the Dread Pirate Roberts was a huge part of that, too. People wondered, “What type of person is running this website?” In the early days for anybody who was around, the Silk Road was this amazing, amazing platform: It was the first platform that showed that Bitcoin could be useable as money beyond the purview of the state’s control. It was because of the Silk Road that I heard about Bitcoin for the first time. I wasn’t interested in drugs myself, but I thought, “Well, what the heck money are they using on this website?! This must be amazing money.” It was because of the Silk Road that I googled “Bitcoin” and start looking into Bitcoin.
SFOX: One of the things that you’ve said in the past is that there shouldn’t be a block-size limit on Bitcoin because miners wouldn’t create a block that’s too large to validate since it would be against their interests to do so. Is that something you still believe or not?
Roger Ver: I’m pretty sympathetic to that argument. I think that the argument that I would make today is that we don’t know what the correct block size is. Nobody knows what the correct block size is. And so the market participants as a whole should be what determines that block-size limit. Just like we don’t know what the price of a cup of coffee “should be”: Nobody knows, and the price of a cup of coffee is different in different places, right? So the size of a block that can be produced in North America, maybe, is different than the size of a block that can be produced in mainland China, behind the Great Firewall of China. We don’t know: The people producing the blocks need to be the ones who decide that; the market as a whole should be what decides that.
And we’ve seen that happen, right? There was a limit imposed on the amount of block space that could be made on the Bitcoin blockchain. Well, the market found a way to solve that, and now there are thousands of other blockchains with block space in them and people deciding which blockchain they want to buy block space in. That’s kind of a tongue twister, but I think it got the point across!
SFOX: You absolutely did! In a similar vein, and maybe also tying into your views on the rights of the individual, do you feel that individuals — an ordinary person, like me — should always be able to personally validate a blockchain for themselves all the way from its genesis block, or do you not think that’s an important feature of a blockchain like Bitcoin?
Roger Ver: No, I don’t think that that’s an important feature. I think the important feature is that individuals have access to uncensorable, peer-to-peer cash, and the technological means to achieve that are not as important as the actual product that the user gets to use. And even if you read the original Bitcoin whitepaper, the plan from Satoshi for Day One was that the only people who would be running full nodes would be miners and big, giant data centers — that wouldn’t be your home user at all. And so the fact that there’s this mentality now that anybody should be able to run a full node on a Raspberry Pi, that’s in direct contradiction to the original roadmap for Bitcoin.
If you want to use a blockchain where you can validate the entire thing on your Raspberry Pi at home, that’s fine, more power to you — but you shouldn’t have crippled the original Bitcoin that was on the path to becoming money for the entire world, that had a roadmap saying, “Hey, the mining’s going to be run in big data centers and anybody would be able to use it using SPV wallets and light clients.” They turned that roadmap upside-down on its head yet still want to call it “Bitcoin,” and they get mad at anybody who wanted to go down the original path for Bitcoin. It seems kind of strange that that would be the case, but that’s where we’re at.
SFOX: So, if we reach the point where an individual can’t easily operate a full node at all, would Bitcoin somehow become less peer-to-peer in that case — or do you think it would still be just as peer-to-peer as it is today?
Roger Ver: I think it’s just as peer-to peer-today. I’m using Bitcoin Cash now every day, all day; I have wallets on my phone; I have wallets on my computer. I rarely, rarely, rarely use a full-node wallet: I’m busy using SPV wallets. All the wallets I use, I control the private keys myself.
I think that’s the important part: If the user has the private keys, that’s what counts. You can publish your transaction to the blockchain a million different ways as long as you have your private keys that you can sign the transactions with, and being able to control private keys doesn’t require extensive hardware at all.
And at the end of the day, running fully validating node — so what? You validated the transactions, but you don’t have the ability to put any new transactions in the blockchain, it’s only of the miners that are able to do that. So I think the mining nodes are the ones that actually count.
SFOX: Do you think that Bitcoin gets stronger from the attacks that happen on it all the time, or do those attacks endanger its integrity?
Roger Ver: I’m not sure, to be honest. One thing is really frustrating for me. My goal from eight years ago, when I first got involved in Bitcoin, was to spread Bitcoin adoption as money as fast as we possibly could, so that so many people would be using it for every purchase everywhere in their daily lives all the time, and it would be too late for the politicians to figure out what had happened: that they had lost control of the ability to issue money that people actually wanted to use. It would have been too late for them to pass a bunch of laws to control it, because governments move slowly and the market can move faster. Unfortunately, though, we lost years and years and years of adoption because of this stupid scaling debate, and now all the politicians are really busy passing laws and trying to figure out how to control cryptocurrency and to control the market. It’s really frustrating and disappointing to have seen that happen. But that’s where we’re at today.
SFOX: According to Whois.com, Bitcoin.com was actually registered on January 4th, 2008, which was ten months before the Bitcoin whitepaper was published and eight months before Bitcoin.org was registered. Do you have an explanation of how that came to be?
Roger Ver: I wish I did, but no, unfortunately, I don’t. I know who I bought it from. There’s an NDA there, so I can’t really go into too many details, but I’m sure the person I bought it from was not Satoshi. That person is just a really, really astute investor and a good guy — and another really, really early Bitcoin adopter, of course.
But one interesting thing I do have relates to that: I also bought Blockchain.com. I bought that domain name in, I don’t know, 2011, or 2012, or something like that — it’s been a long time now. I have no idea whom I bought that domain name from, and it was one of the strangest transactions I’ve ever made, ever. It was absolutely, totally bizarre. I offered to pay for the entire thing in advance in bitcoin, and the seller insisted on still using an escrow, even though if I’m paying in advance, in bitcoin, they have no risk. But anyhow, the whole thing was really, really, really bizarre. And if anything, that one’s much more closely related to the mystery of Satoshi, because I don’t know who I even bought it from! It was, I think, probably the strangest transaction of my entire life. It took months for something that should have taken an afternoon. It was really, really bizarre.
SFOX: So we’ve uncovered a whole other area of mystery in the crypto ecosystem: the mystery of domain-name registration!
Roger Ver: And “Blockchain.com” seems like a domain name that maybe Satoshi would have had as well, I don’t know.
SFOX: One issue that has been on the top of people’s minds for the last year and a half — certainly since Bitcoin Cash came into existence — is this issue of hard forks that split one blockchain into two. And it seems that such forks could be either a positive or a negative thing for communities, in the sense of (1) empowering people who maybe have a different view of how the blockchain ought to be to go off and enact that vision, but also (2) running the risk of fragmenting communities, which might be dangerous to the ecosystem — especially when it is still so young.
Given that you were pretty involved in the first Bitcoin Cash fork from BTC and, more recently, the split between BCH and BSV, do you think that hard forks are a net good thing or a net bad thing? What lessons, if any, should we take from the ones that have happened in recent time?
Roger Ver: I think they’re definitely a net good thing, but they can be bad things, too. It just depends on the situation.
I think not ever, ever being willing to hard fork, ever, is a disaster, as we’ve seen with BTC. They claim that we can’t hard-fork because it’ll split the community, and we have to do this SegWit thing, and this and that. They argued that they couldn’t split the community by having a hard fork, so they were only going to have soft forks, and look at what the result was: They shattered the Bitcoin community into two thousand and one different altcoins at this point because they refused to hard-fork. So, yeah, in the most recent BCH hard fork, where it split into the BSV and BCH, the splitting of community was definitely an issue, right — but, as we saw with BTC, not hard-forking ever was an issue, too. That’s what made all these altcoins start to get traction.
So I think it depends on the time or the place; you know, Zcash, and Monero, and a bunch of these other coins have had dozens of hard forks and no problem at all, and Bitcoin Cash also had a couple of hard forks previously that weren’t any problem whatsoever. And I think there’ll be more hard forks on Bitcoin Cash that will end up not being a problem whatsoever. It just kind of depends, just like a car: a car can be a wonderful tool for transportation and do all sorts of great things to bring you and products to places around the world, but a car can also be used to mow down a bunch of people on bridges in London, right? That’s a giant problem, too. So, hard forks can be good and bad, depending on the situation and how they’re used.
SFOX: So, to push that a little further, it sounds like you’re saying that there are no hard-and-fast rules or guidelines for when it might be a good idea versus a bad idea to hard-fork: you have to take it purely based on the specific individual situation you face. Is that your view?
Roger Ver: I think the libertarian in me says that people should be free to fork off any time they want, and the nice part about that is that everybody gets the version of that cryptocurrency they want after the fork. More choices generally are a better thing than fewer choices.
SFOX: Digging more into the history of BCH specifically, is there any code change of any kind that stands out to you in the past that you really disagreed with, or that you argued against, which ultimately ended up making its way into the blockchain’s code?
Roger Ver: No, I’ve never really argued much about code changes at all since I’m not a software developer, but I’ve made really, really, really strong arguments against changes to the economic code of it — mainly when it was the BTC version of Bitcoin, even one that happened a long time ago. They added this thing called “replace-by-fee” that made it so that you couldn’t safely make certain transactions instantly on Bitcoin. So Bitcoin transactions went from being instantly acceptable to no longer instantly acceptable in a safe way. And so I made really, really strong arguments against that. And then, of course, I made arguments against the block-size production quota that was imposed.
Those weren’t software-engineering arguments: Those were economic arguments. If something is working — and working really, really well — don’t change it. And that’s exactly what happened to BTC: it was working incredibly well and getting adoption all over the world, and they took that economic code that was working incredibly well and they completely turned it upside-down. And now we’ve seen BTC adoption is literally reversed: You have businesses that used to accept bitcoin stop accepting bitcoin. That’s the first time that’s ever happened in the entire history of Bitcoin. And we saw, also, from the time the blocks became full, the first time ever in the entire history of Bitcoin that the number of daily transactions and the amount of commerce happening on Bitcoin declined: that had never, ever, ever happened before, ever. That was as a direct result of them changing the economic code that had made Bitcoin a success.
If you change the economic code of something that was working and working well, don’t be surprised when it stops working. That’s exactly what happened on the BTC version of Bitcoin.
SFOX: Roger, I want to talk for just a moment about Bitcoin Cash versus Litecoin. While they’re certainly very different blockchains that take different approaches in many regards, they do aim at the same goal of frictionless, peer-to-peer cash. And I think a lot of people, even if they weren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the coins beforehand, are thinking about them comparatively ever since the debate you had with Charlie Lee last October.
Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin had very different origin stories: Litecoin was essentially a clone of Bitcoin with a few minor tweaks, but it was not launched from the Bitcoin blockchain itself, whereas Bitcoin Cash was forked from the actual Bitcoin blockchain. Do you think Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin’s different origin stories have influenced the ways that they’ve developed and the differences that we now see in their communities?
Roger Ver: There’s definitely a huge difference in the communities there. And your question is, do these different origins reflect the current communities? Yeah, probably. I think on the Bitcoin Cash chain, you have the Bitcoin adopters: the people who wanted peer-to-peer cash for the world. And I’m not deep in the Litecoin community at all, but as an outsider looking in on it, I kind of don’t know what their goal is so much.
But credit to Charlie, the creator of Litecoin, for being a really, really effective marketer by saying, “Hey, we need to limit the Bitcoin block size, but if the blocks ever become full on Litecoin, we’ll just increase the block size on Litecoin.” Basically, Charlie told the Bitcoin community that they should change their working economic formula and Litecoin should keep the same working economic formula that made Bitcoin successful to begin with. And sure enough, here we are today: Litecoin’s, I don’t know, the top-10 crypto coin in the world, and BTC no longer has its winning economic formula. From a marketing perspective for Charlie, or a strategy for getting Litecoin adoption, great job; on the other hand, for somebody who works so hard to make Bitcoin peer-to-peer cash for the world, to see it undermined in such a sneaky way — it’s incredibly frustrating for me.
I think a lot of Bitcoin Cash people feel still that way towards Charlie and his, basically, advocating sabotage: you’re advocating suicide for the economic code of Bitcoin that was successful, while at the exact same time advocating that that exact same economic code be applied to Litecoin. So he said that Litecoin should use Bitcoin’s original winning economic code and Bitcoin should change its winning economic code to something that hadn’t been tried before; people like me were saying it was going to be a disaster, and it turned out to be a disaster. It was pretty frustrating to watch all that happen.
SFOX: Do you worry at all that the very kind of freedom and and decentralized aspects of blockchain technology that are so appealing to so many people also lead to, potentially, a lack of accountability for the de facto leaders of the community when they say things or do certain things that — for example, as you feel towards Charlie Lee in that instance — were, arguably, morally underhanded?
Roger Ver: I don’t know, the internet seems to be a pretty good tool for holding people accountable for different things! Mobs can appear pretty quickly on the Internet to hold people accountable — but then there are other things, like… I mean hopefully it’s online somewhere, because Charlie, on this cruise last year some time, gave, I don’t know, a half-an-hour presentation onstage. I don’t know if it’s been put online, but it needs to be because he literally spent half an hour advocating Karl Marx’s labor theory of value, which, for anybody who studied any economics at all, you realize is just absolutely laughable. Basically, the same argument would be that if you spend an hour making mud pies and spent an hour making apple pies, the apple pies and mud pies are worth the same because an hour worth of labor went into the both.
Charlie spent half an hour onstage making that argument in regard to Bitcoin: that Bitcoin’s valuable because it takes a bunch of labor to make them, and it just shows Charlie has absolutely no understanding of the economic reasons that Bitcoin became successful to begin with. I felt embarrassed for him to be up there onstage, droning on and on about something that he had absolutely no understanding of. It’s okay not to have an understanding of something, but you shouldn’t be giving speeches about something you have no clue about: You should go and spend some time reading some books so that you can educate yourself about it. So the fact that Charlie, in the year 2018 at that point, was busy still advocating for Karl Marx’s labor theory of value shows that, you know, the economic code of Bitcoin isn’t where Charlie’s understanding lies. So we shouldn’t be taking advice from him on that front, yet that’s exactly what he’s been advocating on the Bitcoin chain. I think I’ve probably veered off track from whatever your original question was there, but that’s where my thought process led me.
SFOX: As you look ahead to what’s left of this new year — since, unbelievably, it’s already February — what do you see as the greatest challenges for crypto generally, but also, specifically, Bitcoin Cash? And then, on the other side of it, what are you most excited about in the coming year?
Roger Ver: What am I most excited about? I think I’m more excited about adoption coming to people to be able to use cryptocurrencies in commerce without having to get permission from anybody. To me, that’s a really, really exciting tool to bring more economic freedom to the world. More economic freedom means more economic growth, and more economic growth means, you know, the faster we’ll have spaceships going to Mars and doing all sorts of who-knows-what amazing stuff. And so that’s exciting for me.
And, man, the years tick by fast — as you said, it’s already February of 2019. Eight years of my life are gone that I’ve spent devoted to promoting cryptocurrencies. I had zero grey hairs when I started doing cryptocurrency; now. my hair’s short, but I definitely have a few gray hairs coming in on the sides here. So, what’s next? I hope more adoption for the world and more economic freedom for the world. And that’s what I’ll keep working towards.
SFOX: And what about the challenges: What do you think the biggest challenges will face are in 2019 for Bitcoin?
Roger Ver: I think the biggest challenges are getting the politicians and regulators to get the heck out of the way of the entrepreneurs who are going to make the world a better place. So the biggest challenges are dealing with politicians, sadly, but I hope to build the tools to make it so that the politicians no longer have control over people, and people will have control over their own lives.
Thanks to Roger Ver for taking the time to share his views on the history, philosophy, and future of cryptocurrency with us.
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