Bitcoin Entrepreneur: 'Something Happens to the Social Fabric When People Cannot Trust Something As Basic As Money'

The CEO of a Bitcoin wallet startup explained the social importance of a digital currency that isn’t controlled by the government on radio Tuesday.

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin has been rising in value but is still mysterious to most people. One of its distinguishing characteristics is that bitcoin is a currency that operates outside any government, country or other entity that could manipulate it.

Wences Casares, founder of Bitcoin wallet startup Xapo, shared a moving story from his childhood to illustrate why an independent currency could be the future.

Glenn Beck asked about Casares’ experience growing up in Argentina at the time when their currency collapsed.

“I’m imagining that that drives you quite a bit when it comes to Bitcoin,” Glenn noted.

Casares recalled the day that his mom interrupted the school day to pick up him and his two sisters for a trip to get groceries, something that was highly unusual. His mom carried two plastic bags of cash because she had been paid that day, and she gave each child a list of groceries to get. When they had gotten everything on the list and had money left, she told them to get more food, saying, “Tomorrow, [the money is] going to be worth less. We have to spend it all today.”

A currency that can’t be devalued overnight could not only help people to eat that day, but also hold society together. “Something happens to the social fabric when people cannot trust something as basic as money,” Casares said.

GLENN: Wences Casares, he is the CEO of Xapo.com. X-A-P-O.com. He's a technology entrepreneur, founder and CEO of this bitcoin wallet start-up. He says that bitcoin will end up being bigger that night internet itself and changing our lives more than the internet.

That is quite a claim, Wences.

WENCES: Yes. I also think that bitcoin is an experiment still. And as such, it has chances of failing and chances of failing that are nontrivial. So it's quite broad that it can also fail.

GLENN: Yes.

WENCES: But if it succeeds, it's likely to be more important than the internet itself, especially for many billions of people I could imagine in the future, preferring that you take away their internet, but not their bitcoin.

GLENN: Okay. So I want to get to that in a second. But I want to just explain what he said is so true. And it's why I've said to people, look, you have $500, you should put it into bitcoin. But don't put anything into bitcoin that you actually think, "Oh, man, I'd hate to lose that." Then don't put it in. Because it is really risky. You don't make the kind of money that is being made right now on something that isn't risky. This is really risky.

WENCES: This is incredibly risky. And what you're saying is very good advice. Which is: Nobody should own an amount of bitcoin they cannot afford to lose because they may very well lose it. So it's important to understand that any money you cannot afford to lose, you should not have in bitcoin. It should only be play money, that if you lose it, you're okay. It's a small amount.

GLENN: Right. And that kind of explains, I mean, there are -- what? Ninety percent of the people who own bitcoin, maybe more, own less than one bitcoin.

WENCES: Yeah.

GLENN: I mean, people are in it literally for 500 bucks or $100 or whatever.

WENCES: Yeah.

GLENN: Is there a minimum getting in?

WENCES: There is no minimum.

GLENN: So tell me how you believe people will say, "Don't take my bitcoin, but you can take my internet." What do you mean by that?

WENCES: Understanding bitcoin -- bitcoin is simpler than the internet at a technical level, if you will. And I think when people don't understand it, it's not their fault, but our fault. The people explaining it. We make it more complicated than it needs to be, because it makes us sound more intelligent, I guess, or something.

STU: We try that a lot too. It doesn't work for us.

(chuckling)

WENCES: You think about it, most people feel confident and comfortable about their understanding of the internet. Right? Without really understanding how --

GLENN: How it works.

WENCES: -- it really works, technically. It's not necessary to understand it. Or even a credit card. Right? Most people feel very confident with a credit card, understanding how it works.

But if you ask them, what happens when you swipe the card, where does that information go? Does it go to your bank or to the merchant's bank? At what point does it get approved? Who says it, right?

We don't really need to understand a lot of those details, to understand how credit cards work and what they can and cannot do for us. The same thing with internet and the same thing for bitcoin.

And the things that do matter and that we do need to understand of bitcoin are quite simple, really. And it's three, three things that make bitcoin unique, that we're not -- that did not exist before bitcoin existed, that bitcoin brought to the world.

Number one and most important: It's that it's not controlled by anyone. And it is not possible to control it. And it's a key feature. Without it, it would be irrelevant. It has a lot of very positive consequences. It has some potentially negative consequences. But it's what makes bitcoin bitcoin. Nobody can control it. Not me. Not any group of people. Not any company. Not any country. Not any army. Nobody can control it. That's number one.

Number two, is there will never be more than 21 million bitcoin. It's a finite number. And that cannot be changed.

And number three, whenever you have some bitcoin, you are free to send it to anyone you want, anywhere in the world, pretty much in real time, and pretty much for a very, very low cost. That last quality, it's quite revolutionary. And I call -- a lot of people call it the uncensorability of bitcoin.

No one can keep you from acquiring some bitcoin. It's impossible to do. No one can keep you from keeping those bitcoin, and no one can keep you from sending those bitcoin to whomever you want.

When you put those three qualities together, that's really all you need to understand about bitcoin. How that gets accomplished, it's complicated and technical, but not really needed to understand. Just like you don't need to understand how the internet manages to deliver all of this movies and stuff that it does.

GLENN: You grew up in Argentina --

WENCES: Yep.

GLENN: -- when the economy collapsed. When the money collapsed.

WENCES: Correct.

GLENN: And I am imagining that that drives you quite a bit when it comes to bitcoin.

WENCES: I think so, yes. I would imagine so.

GLENN: Tell me the story of what it's like when there's a currency collapse.

WENCES: My parents are sheep ranchers. And in my lifetime, in my childhood, I saw them lose everything three times. The first time that I have a memory of it, it's because of hyperinflation. And I have this -- everything -- that they lose everything, it was because something happened with a country, either hyperinflation or the government confiscated all bank deposits or a huge devaluation, right?

All kinds of crazy experiments that are hard to fathom from the perspective of someone who has lived in an economy where you've always been able to trust the dollar and the banks. And so did your parents and grandparents.

I have this memory of my mom coming to get my two sisters and I out of school. That never happened before, so something was going on in the middle of the school day.

And she was carrying two plastic bags full of cash. And she was a receptionist at the government bureau. And she had just been paid. And her salary, two plastic bags of cash, of bills.

GLENN: Wow.

WENCES: And she took us to the supermarket, and she gave us each a list and told us what to carry. We each had an aisle. Got all of those things, and we all met at the cashier.

And after everything had gone through the cashier, there was some money left over, and she sent us back to get more stuff.

And one of my sisters asked, "Why don't we save money for tomorrow?" And my mom explained, "No. Tomorrow, it's going to be worth less. We have to spend it all today."

And I'll never forget that. Partly because it's easy to understand the economic and financial consequences in a family, in a society of that. But it's harder to imagine what's really going on, which is much more beyond financial consequences. Something happens to the social fabric, when people cannot trust something as basic as money. And a lot of people go crazy and desperate. And something -- very quickly, some trust breaks down that takes years or generations to rebuild.

GLENN: Yeah. Talking to the CEO of Xapo.com. X-A-P-O.com. It is a bitcoin wallet startup.

So I buy my bitcoin. And it's now in a wallet. It's in your bank, if you will. If I'm not mistaken, your bank is buried in some mountain in Switzerland or something, right?

WENCES: Correct.

GLENN: But it's not a bank like we think of a bank.

WENCES: No. It is a bank in that you can use us to buy bitcoin, to store, to keep the bitcoin safely, to make it very easy to acquire the bitcoin, to store them safely, to send bitcoin.

It is not like a bank in a more technical manner, in which today the -- when you go to a normal bank, they own your money. And they owe it to you. So if you look at their balance sheet, they have an asset. That is the money you gave them and a liability, that is what they owe to you.

We are a purely custodian. So we do not own your bitcoins. Your bitcoins are only yours. And there are many reasons why we think that that's a lot safer. So we are the digital equivalent of a safety deposit box, right?

And the safety-deposit box is ours. But whatever is inside, it's yours. And if we were to disappear or go bankrupt, what can go away is the safety deposit box, but the contents have to go back to you.

GLENN: And what makes you think that -- well, before we get there, tell me what happened with this fork in the road. Because this caused some real panic with people because they didn't know -- they didn't really even understand the concept that bitcoin because it's -- it's becoming to be used more frequently. I believe Japan now has recognized it as an official currency. And if I'm not mistaken, isn't Japan becoming a bitcoin society?

WENCES: Yeah.

GLENN: And because the transactions are happening so rapidly, there was talk about, we have to have a faster way to process these.

This is my understanding.

WENCES: Yeah.

GLENN: And there became this fork in the road between bitcoin cash and bitcoin. I don't know the difference. What is the difference?

WENCES: Not really -- again, it's not really a big deal basically what happened. And bitcoin is an open source software. So we all can see every single line is public. And the five of us could do another fork, and if we wanted. Right? Just copy all the code, paste it, and run it ourselves, or run it with another group of people. And it's up to the market to decide if they want to use ours or the other one. So this was always a possibility. Finally, someone did it for the first time. I think this would be a feature, bitcoin going forward, we'll see forks here or there. And there will always be one version of bitcoin that is the most used, the one that has the longest history, and then there will be others that will be like cousins that were derived of bitcoin, but will turn out to be different. Right?

GLENN: Can you turn your bitcoin into cash?

WENCES: Of course. Into normal cash?

GLENN: Yeah. Yeah.

WENCES: Of course, yeah. It's like any currency.

GLENN: Yeah. Yeah. And what is the percentage now of things that you can buy -- I mean, there was a big push -- we spoke five years ago. You know, people need to start -- you know, companies need to start taking bitcoin as payment.

What are the big companies doing to accept it? Are you seeing any big movement?

WENCES: There's about 100,000 merchants online that accept bitcoin. It's my opinion that bitcoin has been around for -- for less than nine years. And it will take another decade or two for it to get established. I think that the age of bitcoin becoming a way to pay at a merchant is quite far away.

I think that the era we're looking at is about something very different. In fact, I think that things like what we're seeing -- we had to go this year through the fork, for everybody to stop worrying about and learn that it's not a big deal.

Forks are something we can live with. It doesn't really hurt anyone. And -- but until it happened, a lot of people were freaking out about it, right? And I can tell you so many things that people freaked out about, every three months, in bitcoin. And we have to see them happen. People say, "Oh, that's good. Oh, it's robust. It works." I think we have a lot more of that to come.

Right now, I think bitcoin is in this first stage establishing itself more as a -- as a -- not so much for payment. What you said you were doing, Glenn, which you're holding it as historic value, just in case, not unlike what some families did with -- they had somewhere in the house, a stash of some jewelry, just in case, right? Or gold. It's more like that.

And only if it succeeds at that first, with very massive adoption, and hundreds of millions of people, it will then make sense as a payment mechanism.

GLENN: Yeah.

WENCES: But right now, it's a bit too early. It can be used. And a lot of people do use it. But from my subjective point of view, the more important thing that is happening at this stage is it's standing at historic value.

GLENN: Wences Casares, he is the CEO of Xapo.com. X-A-P-O.com. You should check it out. And as I said earlier, don't -- don't put money into this that you can't -- you can't easily say, "Oh. I'm fine without it." At this point, it's one of those things that could make you a lot of money and you could lose every single dime. And -- and so you put just a little bit in there to -- to just, what the heck, let's give it a whirl, and see what happens.

Thank you, Wences. I appreciate it. God bless.

WENCES: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

(OUT AT 10:25AM)

GLENN: We -- we're going to have -- we're going to have --

STU: It's fascinating.

JEFFY: It sure is.

GLENN: The CEO of Xapo stay with us for a second. Because we were just talking in the break, there is a real downside, a risk to this. But the world completely changes if it works. And you were just saying that there's about a 20 percent chance that you use all the money, right?

WENCES: I would say at least a 20 percent chance that you use all the money.

JEFFY: At least.

GLENN: And you said that there was --

PAT: On the other side, there's an upside.

GLENN: You were saying that there's a 50 percent chance --

WENCES: Yes.

GLENN: -- that bitcoin, one single bitcoin, now worth $4,000. Was worth 200 when Trump took that long escalator ride down, two years ago. You're saying that in ten years, you believe that could hit a million dollars?

WENCES: I think there is a 50 percent chance that one bitcoin could be worth more than a million dollars and less than --

PAT: I mean, that's -- that's worth the 4,000-dollar investment. Right?

WENCES: What I would say is that it's very worthwhile -- just like I would say, the most irresponsible thing you could do would be to own an amount of bitcoin you cannot afford to lose, to have the kid's college fund there or your retirement or mortgage. That would be really -- the most irresponsible thing you can do.

GLENN: But if you put $500 in because you're like, "You know what, we're going to scrimp, and we're going to save. And I'm not touching our savings. I'm not touching anything. We're just going to stop going to movies. Going out to eat for a while. I'll put $500 in." $500 is worth a lot of money if this is right in ten years.

PAT: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

WENCES: Yeah. Yeah. That's my point, is that the second most irresponsible thing you could do is not to have any. Right? It's so asymmetrical, that you can have something that doesn't really -- is not material to you, but it can have a very material impact on your life.

So why not do it?

 

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