In January 2011, according to his linkedin, Andreas Antonopoulos became the owner at himself. It was around this time he realised that Bitcoin was going to the most important thing in his life and in the world around him. Once he read the whitepaper he was hooked. He subsequently spent the next four months obsessively reading everything he could get his hands on that covered blockchain and bitcoin. In that moment he took the first steps to becoming Mr. Bitcoin.
I ask him when we speak on the second day of January 2020 when did he have the same aha moment with financial systems and banks. When did economics make sense to him?
Andreas replies that he has no formal degree in economics except for a couple of elective undergraduate college courses that sparked his interest. However, from a very young age he had been interested in politics and economics as related to politics and so he started reading. He remembers when he was 14 or so he read some seminal books including classics by Adam Smith and Karl Marx. By the time he had reached college he was reading books on economics, micro and macro economies.
“In addition, I have always been self-employed – out of the 30 or so years that I have worked less than twelve months was spent working for someone else. The rest of the time I’ve started and ran companies which is basically trial by fire. If you don’t understand economics, your business is more likely to fail.”
I probe further. I feel that Andreas has an understanding of finance which is much more intuitive than many others. For example, he does not strike me as someone who is frightened by bankers.
Andreas agrees. This understanding of banking came from working in the City of London in the early 90s as an IT Consultant. Even when Andreas talks about the City he explains it very cleverly and simply.
“The City of London is a small enclave inside London and is the financial centre. Think of it as a self-managing entity like the Vatican of Finance but in London.”
He worked for several small hedge funds, small investment groups that did mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts and ran various managed funds. He set up the computers in their companies, their Bloomberg and Reuter terminals and installed firewalls and emails. He was exposed to not only the way money flows and deals are made, but also listened to conversations behind the scenes. He got to know some of the people who were fabulously rich and making money at a rate that seemed extraordinary if not ridiculous.
“And I quickly learned a couple of things. From the outside, you might assume these fantastically successful people are among the smartest people on the planet. And that is certainly not the case. You might also assume they are the hardest working people but that is also not that case at all.
“My image of an industry that involves applying grit, determination and smarts was totally blown away. In fact, I witnessed huge privilege, a lot of insider information, shenanigans and taking advantage of loopholes in the system to accumulate fabulous wealth. I saw the sausage being made and it’s ugly, very ugly.”
Andreas worked in the City between 1991 and 2001. He continued to be shocked at the nepotism, corruption and fraud. He acknowledges there are also decent people working in the system but contends they are just gears in a giant monster system that perpetuates evil deeds on a massive scale
“That experience taught me the other side of economics which is not how it works in theory but how it works in practice and there is a pretty big gap.”
I next ask Andreas, as he believes Bitcoin is the antidote to the evils of traditional financial systems, how can we push for mass adoption.
His answer is laconic. “We have to wait and be patient.”
I push some more – there must be a way we can convince people of the innate corruption of current financial systems and to consider migrating to Bitcoin.
Again, Andreas is laconic and almost resigned. “There is a common expression you might know. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. Similarly, you can give people all the answers and education and that still won’t make them act. And this doesn’t just apply to people who are not yet persuaded about Bitcoin. It’s applies just as much to people who already know about Bitcoin and then use it the wrong way or not at all.”
In the same way Andreas is perplexed at the way people leave their money on exchanges. He is exasperated as people hear about hacks the whole time, yet they leave their money on the exchange. I suggest that perhaps they think it won’t happen to them or that they live in a nice safe democracy.
Andreas practically harrumphs at this idea. “Right, yeah, maybe they think their democracy will not be taken over by corporate interests. Bad news for you people, it already has in a way that’s too soft for you to notice but produces results that baffle you. Election after election after election.”
Now we move to political interference. Andreas points out that if people are merely curious and cannot connect cause and effect, they won’t see the how the little things that are happening in their personal life are changing. He says we have become blind and as result the very institutions of a modern civilized democracy are being destroyed.
He explains this by pointing to the use of money in modern societies. Every time some uses a credit card for convenience, they cannot see that their data is being sucked up by the four or five intermediaries involved in each transaction. The resulting surveillance data that is collected from their financial purchases is then used in any number of ways, including generating propaganda in the next elections.
“The problem is that since money has been part of the fabric of society for thousands of years it’s almost invisible and as a result it is very hard to change people’s minds. It’s a mythology of money where people think economies are stable because governments control them, and money has value because it in turn is controlled by governments.”
I return to the question of how can we talk outside the bubble and reach a great audience. Andreas is still stoic.
“We have to be patient and understand that for those who need it, they’re going to find it. And our job primarily is to make it easier to use, to make it easier to understand, and to make it available as an alternative choice. We have to maintain this as an available easy-to-use,” he pauses and reemphases, “easy-to-use securely and easy-to-understand choice so that when people eventually figure it out, they can come and recognize it.”
Right so now I just must be patient.