Video Transcript: Why are Hillary and Trump United in Warning of Bitcoin's Dangers? Interview with Alex Gladstein
Regardless of one's views, Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are coming and will have significant impact on multiple sectors. They have the potential to undermine institutional power. Read our interview.
People across the political spectrum are recognizing multiple, growing threats: escalating Big Tech censorship of our political speech, the costs and corruption of Endless War, the spying of the US security state on American citizens, the dominance of neoliberal globalist institutions. Some believe that Bitcoin, by undermining the power of fiat money and enabling greater anonymity, can erode if not solve many of these problems. At the same time, guardians of establishment power — led by Hillary Clinton — have begun warning about the threats posed by Bitcoin to U.S. militarism and the hegemony of western institutions; notably, former President Donald Trump recently echoed those warnings based on his concerns about Bitcoin's ability to undermine the dollar as the world's supreme reserve currency.
Whatever one's views are on all of this, the debates raised by Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are fascinating. Few people offer alternatives to the growing threats of corporate/state policing of our political discourse or the seemingly infinite power of the U.S. security state. Any movement that purports to provide at least some instruments for disruption and subversion of this centralized authoritarian power deserves an airing.
In that spirit, I spoke on Thursday — for the most recent episode System Update video program on Rumble — to one of the leading Bitcoin advocates, Alex Gladstein of the Human Rights Foundation, about the challenges and critiques of Bitcoin. The video can be seen below, and a transcript for those who prefer to read it follows.
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Glenn Greenwald: Hi everyone, it's Glenn Greenwald, welcome back to a new episode of System Update here on our home on Rumble, and I'm excited to be joined by a guest as part of our burgeoning series to try and explore what, whether you like it or not, is going to be a a very consequential debate surrounding bitcoin and cryptocurrency, a debate that involves not just questions of economics, but politics and culture, issues of free speech and how people communicate and organize. And I'm joined today by Alex Gladstein, who is the chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation, as well as the Oslo Freedom Forum. Alex, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Alex Gladstein: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
Glenn Greenwald: Yeah, I'm delighted to. I think you've become, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say, somewhat of a guru for a lot of people on questions of bitcoin, which I think highlights a dynamic that I want to begin with, which I think has become a little bit of a problem in terms of trying to draw more people into this discussion, which is people hear bitcoin and cryptocurrency and the like, and they kind of repel at something, it seems like it's a huge learning curve to participate in, to start to understand.
So there's this kind of tiny group of people who are very knowledgeable about everything involving crypto and bitcoin. And then there's the huge rest of us who have struggled, I think, to try and understand what the basics are that we need to know to participate in the discussion and also why we should care enough to try. So for people who haven't yet made that effort or for people who have made that effort and haven't yet gotten a grasp enough of of to convince themselves that they should continue to go further, just take a few minutes to explain from your perspective what people ought to know about bitcoin in terms of what they need in order to understand it as an entrance way and why they should care enough to try.
Alex Gladstein: Sure. So I think to start, it's important to understand that money is broken for billions of people around the world. It doesn't work as well as it might if you live in the United States or in Europe and kind of in two ways. First of all, a lot of people live in countries that have really poor currencies. I mean, a lot of people are looking at what's happening in Turkey right now. But the fact is that about 1.6 billion people live under currency regimes which have double or triple or even quadruple digit inflation.
And it's hard for them to access dollars or euros or yen or currencies that are considered reserve currencies, right, that other central banks would actually want to save. There's also the issue of hundreds of millions of people lacking banking services, living behind sanctions and being unable to actually easily or cheaply send and receive money either to clients or family abroad. So the idea that like you're an American, you can save in the stock market, you can buy real estate, you can use Venmo: this is a very privileged existence only. Essentially, about 13 percent of the world's population lives in a country that has both a reserve currency. Again, we're talking the dollar, the euro, the yen, Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the British pound, etc. and property rights and sort of liberal democracy.
So the other 87 percent, you know, live under either a poor currency or a more kind of authoritarian regime. And for those people, they are turning to bitcoin as kind of an alternative. It has performed extremely well over the last decade, and it gives them an ability to connect more recently with something that we might get into briefly called the Lightning Network, an ability to connect very, very cheaply and instantly in terms of transactions with anyone around the world. So, that's the driving force behind global adoption; it's just a better alternative to what a lot of people have.
Glenn Greenwald: You know, it's interesting to me that point you just made about why bitcoin is appealing, why people look at it in a positive light and see it as promising is and I hate to use these crude political labels, but it seems pretty clear to me that it sounds like something that would appeal more to somebody who sees the world through a left-wing prism than a white right wing prism. And yet it is an odd dynamic, at least to me, that when you raise the possibility of bitcoin or crypto as a political cause, or even as just a currency issue to rally around, the hostility that's provoked is found much more on the left than on the right.
There's almost like this reflexive hostility toward it, and I want to get to that in a minute. But for people who don't see the world through this kind of traditional left wing perspective, but who actually just look at the world as kind of a citizen of the West and say, OK, I hope the people who live in those other places that you're talking about experiencing crippling inflation or who are living under authoritarianism, find a way out of that. But here in the United States, we actually have enough problems of our own. I have enough problems of my own. I'm struggling to support my family. And even though I might be privileged relative to other people, I want my political leaders to focus on my welfare, not theirs, and I want to focus on my political interest and not theirs. And in fact, some people who think that way might actually say, You know, I like the fact that the United States has a privileged position and that Americans have a privileged position vis-a-vis the rest of the world. I want that to continue.
What do you tell people like that who I think probably represent, it sounds like a very nationalist way of thinking. I think there's at least a bulk of the citizenry in added states and Western countries that think that way, if not the majority. What do you tell them about why they ought to view bitcoin as a promising technology rather than as a menacing one?
Alex Gladstein: Sure. And look, I'm a beneficiary of the kind of dollar hegemonic system, for sure. I'm someone who benefited from the fact that the dollar is the reserve currency. Not all Americans did. You had to be kind of on the coastal elite. And I was in a sense, if you were kind of in the manufacturing sector, in blue collar industries, the dollar being the reserve currency was was not great for you over the last several decades. But as far as why it would matter for anybody, here's a couple of reasons.
So even if you're in Germany or in New York or California, there are a couple things happening in terms of the digitalization of money that are very concerning. I think we want to just focus on three things quickly. Surveillance, central bank, digital currencies and de-platforming. So these three things are should be of chief concern to anybody, regardless of whether you live in China or the United States. When the United States started to formulate its laws around financial privacy in the 1970s, we didn't have electronic money in the same way we have today. But even still, if you look at the the court cases back then when the Supreme Court was basically formulating or allowing what is now sort of the Bank Secrecy Act, the dissenting judges were very clear-eyed about what could happen and that in terms of, you know, third party financial companies being obliged to give information about their customers to the government.