On Friday, June 4, at Bitcoin 2021 in Miami, I had the opportunity to interview Square and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on the global adoption of Bitcoin and the future of money and social media. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
Alex Gladstein: Hello Miami! And welcome Jack. We have 12,000 Bitcoiners here.
Jack Dorsey: [To the audience] You’re incredible.
A: And I think there’s 20,000 out there listening. We are happy to see this phenomenon grow. I wanted to start with the big question that most people are probably asking: Why are you on stage with a human rights activist? What does Bitcoin have anything to do with human rights? Isn’t it just about investment?
J: Not for me. For me Bitcoin changes absolutely everything. What I’m drawn to the most about it is the ethos, is what it represents, are the conditions that created it, which are so rare and so special and so precious. I don’t think there’s anything more important in my lifetime to work on and I don’t think there’s anything more enabling for people around the world.
A: We often hear in our community this mantra that Bitcoin is for everybody. That it’s non-discriminatory, that it’s open and opening for many people around the world who are walled off from transactions, saving, connecting with the world. What is your perspective on this idea that Bitcoin is for everybody?
J: That’s what I’m focused on making sure that I help with. Whatever I can do, whatever my companies can do to make Bitcoin accessible to everyone is how I’m going to spend the rest of my life. If I were not at Square or Twitter, I’d be working on Bitcoin. If it needed more help than Square and Twitter, I would leave them for Bitcoin. But I believe both companies have a role to play and I think anything we can do as companies to help find the right intersection between a corporate narrative and a community open narrative is for the best.
A: The theme for today is banking the unbanked. As you all probably know, there are billions of people around the world who are completely unbanked, or they are underbanked. Yet, the mobile phone is growing at a remarkable pace. Even in countries like Ethiopia and Sudan, you now have 20 or 25% of the population with a mobile phone, and in the next five years that’s going to pass 50%. So we are now in a position where the increase of technology is going to allow more people to come online and with Bitcoin it doesn’t matter what passport you have, or what nationality you are, or what ethnicity you are, or what you believe in, you can connect to this network. So when we think about banking the unbanked, what’s your vision for what is most important for helping onboard people into this new system?
J: Well, we don’t need the banks anymore. There’s so much work to do around accessibility, there’s so much work to do around education so that people can own the idea themselves. And I want to thank you by the way — I appreciate you so much for all the work you do to take away a bunch of the myths that people have in their head and give a strong case for why Bitcoin can be used by everyone — but we don’t need the financial institutions that we have today. We have one that is thriving, that is sound, that is owned by the community, that is driven by the community, and that has this incredible and amazing consensus that always manages to do the right thing over time. It’s noble. And it’s so rare and so unique. So anything we can do to build it and protect it, we’re down to do.
A: You recently personally launched a new fund with Jay-Z, where you guys dedicated 500 BTC to help the Bitcoin ecosystem in Africa and India. Can you talk a little bit more about the vision for that fund and what you all hope to do over the coming years?
J: I spent November of 2019 roaming around the continent of Africa, I went to Nigeria, I went to Ethiopia, I went to Ghana. And I saw that the number one problem that entrepreneurs were working on there — and I only met the entrepreneurs, I didn’t meet anyone in the government or the media — they are all working on payments and the most interesting of them were working on Bitcoin. And when I saw the reports of Nigeria considering banning Bitcoin, when I saw the reports of India considering banning Bitcoin, it was a reminder that we could use a lot more help developing around the world. Finding developers on the continent on Africa, enabling them to do their work without having to think about taking another job, is important. So, I talked to Jay about it. Jay loves Bitcoin, he goes very deep in what he loves, he believes in it, and he also believes in this idea of making sure that if we’re going to create a money for the world, it has to be developed around the world. And anywhere there are gaps, we should try to fill. So, right now we’re trying to find the right board for it. It’s going to be a completely separate entity. I have no control or say or direction over it. Once we find that board, we’ll hire a lead, and they’ll start making grants denominated in bitcoin.
A: So Jay might have 99 problems but being his own bank won’t be one.
J: [Laughs] He’s more than a bank.
A: Let’s speak a little more about that. Nigeria is a country of more than 200 million people. They have a 15% inflation rate. They are in many ways closed off from the outside world in terms of fintech and payments. How has traveling the world and going to different countries like this opened your eyes to the global impact of Bitcoin that maybe people in Wall Street or in Silicon Valley or in London may not be seeing? What are people missing when they say there is no social value to Bitcoin?
J: I mean they are missing everything. They’re not getting out of New York. Go to Nigeria for one day and see the struggle that people have to put up with, with their government and with their money. And go to Ghana that has a bunch of transplants from all over the continent and you witness the same thing every single day. Go to India and you see the same.
A: My advice is that they should try living on the Sudanese pound for six months and then come back and tell us that Bitcoin is not useful. And I think they’ll get a little reality check there. Today we’ve got maybe — and estimates vary — anywhere from 150 million to 200 million people have used Bitcoin in some way. So we’re at maybe 2% or 2.5% of the world population. I believe we’re going to a billion people by 2025, certainly by the end of the decade. When you have so many more people on-ramping into this system, we’re probably going to have a situation where fees on the main chain are going to get pretty high in fiat terms. So can you talk about — for people who like in Nigeria or Sudan who are going to need micropayments, who are going to want to send $5 or $10, can you talk a little bit about your commitment at Square to Lightning, how you understood how Bitcoin will scale in layers perhaps instead of on the main chain, and why you are so committed to Lighting in a time where we are going to get a lot more users?
J: That’s why I’m committed to Lightning, because this is going to be used by more and more people. My belief in bitcoin is that it’s an amazing asset, but my belief is that the internet needs a native currency, and we need to be able to transact with this every single day. And everyone around the world needs to transact with it every single day. So the only reason Square got into Bitcoin is to that end. It’s not just to be an exchange. And that’s why we don’t deal with any other “currencies” or “coins” because we’re so focused on making bitcoin the native currency for the internet.
Author’s note: at this point, political activist Laura Loomer came to the front of the stage and asked Dorsey how he could say this when Twitter is censoring users like her. She said “How can you say that bitcoin is a currency for everyone in the world, when you are the king of censorship? Bitcoin is about decentralization, and you have no right to be here today… censorship is a human rights violation.”
Dorsey responded by saying, “We’re working on that.” After a minute, Loomer was removed from the front stage area, and we continued the interview.
A: Why don’t we just go right to that issue? We hear a lot about censorship. Can social media be more like Bitcoin? Bitcoin is censorship resistant. Nobody controls it. What’s your thought on this? It’s a thorny problem.
J: Yes, I do believe it can. I know that there’s a lot of you out there who disagree with a lot of actions that Twitter has taken. I know there’s a lot of you out there who disagree with our policies and the way we have evolved them. I appreciate that and recognize it. I also recognize the fact that there is an incentive and a corporate incentive and a business incentive that is different than what might be needed for global communication and for a public conversation. And my goal in my life in this moment is to remove as much as I can the corporateness of our companies and find better intersections with the open-source community. Certainly, Bitcoin has taught me that with Square, and we’re doing everything in our power to do that. And we’re trying to do the same thing with Twitter, by creating a new platform, a new open-source standard called Blue Sky, we’re just starting it. And it will have none of the restrictions that you see on Twitter. Inspired entirely by Bitcoin. We want to do the same thing for social media. And again, I know you aren’t going to believe me. I know you’re saying “liar.” I’m going to prove it to you. And then we can have another conversation later.
A: When you look at something like Lightning, it’s not just a payments network, it can also be a censorship-resistant social media platform. There’s folks out there building stuff like Sphinx.
J: Sphinx is amazing.
A: Sphinx is really cool, basically what you can do is you can follow your favorite creators. Maybe your favorite podcast. Maybe you’re following what Marty and Matt are doing, and you can go into a “tribe” on Sphinx and you can stream them censorship-resistant private money on Lightning and nobody can stop you. And that’s happening. It’s inevitable. It’s coming. This vision to stream money to people that you care about, in a way that the government cannot stop, I know that’s what Laura wants, and that’s what you all want where you are upset with Twitter. Well guess what, it’s coming, and nobody can stop it. Maybe that’s a good segue to get back to the idea of Lightning and why you at Square and especially Square Crypto have focused so heavily on it as opposed to any number of other things. Why the focus on Lightning?
J: Again it goes back to the currency. Square Crypto and Steve and team and Matt have been focused on making sure that any wallet can easily turn on Lightning and to make this accessible to everyone. The more people we have considering using Bitcoin for payments, for tips, for streaming money, the stronger this ecosystem is and the more we achieve our goal.
A: We’re really building out a parallel economy here that is not controlled by governments or corporations. And I just wanted to show you how this works and then Jack and I can reflect on it. Our friend Jack Mallers has created a company called Strike, with a lot of help from a lot of other people — an amazing Bitcoin company — and he started a campaign recently to help Bitcoin development. So I’m on the Strike page right here. And I’m going to go ahead and donate $2 of bitcoin to Strike. I’m going to copy that Lightning invoice, I’m going to go to my Muun wallet — created by an awesome team in Argentina — and I’m going to send that Bitcoin right now and it’s going to go and it’s gone. That’s a bearer asset that has just moved instantly around the world. And I didn’t ask permission from anybody. So again we get back to this conflict about how are we going to build social media and communicate with each other without censorship and surveillance? It’s through Bitcoin. I just want to underline why I think Jack is so persistent in this. Because it must be such a struggle to watch the entire world criticize everything you do and I think that’s fair. We should do that and hold you to a higher standard.
J: You should definitely do that.
A: But this is not some magic fairy dust. This is real. Lightning is real. And I just sent a bearer asset around the world and nobody could stop me. I didn’t have to ask any permission, I didn’t have to prove my identification. This is an actual revolution. So when we talk about Bitcoin and Lightning, if we’re going to build it the right way, it has to be non-custodial. Now, minutes before you walked on stage, you announced something pretty big that you are going to do at Square. Do you want to talk about your vision for non-custodial Bitcoin use?
J: Yeah we’re considering building a non-custodial hardware wallet. The thing we want to do is make it completely in the open. From all of our software to all of our hardware design will be open source and will be on Github. We want to build it in collaboration with the community. So we started a thread today asking some questions about our design principles. We don’t want to compete with the hardware wallets out there. We just want to take it to the next level and take it to 100 million more people who have non-custodial solutions. And we’re likely to do it sometime very soon. But we wanted to make sure that we’re thinking about this in the correct way and that we’re reaching out to the right folks in the community to build it.
A: I think that non-custodial use of Bitcoin is so important. And Satoshi, the creator of Bitcoin, knew this. Satoshi chose his or her birthday as April 5. This was the day that the U.S. government basically banned private ownership of gold in 1933. So when Satoshi was designing Bitcoin he or she was thinking about how the U.S. government centralized and confiscated gold away from the people and how they could make a system that could prevent that. They chose the year for their birthday of 1973 which is when gold was made available for the American people again. So non-custodial use of Bitcoin is built into Satoshi’s vision for the project. So it’s really exciting to see Square support this. I think a lot of the custodians in the space won’t be very happy, but as you said earlier in your thread, as inspired by Isaiah, not your keys, not your cheese.
J: As a custodial exchange we need to push more companies like us to make sure that more people have non-custodial solutions. And we’re going to show up.
A: Earlier you brought up a point that you are Bitcoin only. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. There’s a lot of discussion about proof of stake and other coins. What are your thoughts on Bitcoin and its proof of work and full nodes model versus other models?
J: Again, the conditions that created Bitcoin — everything that went into it from the proof-of-work model to the development model — no single points of failure — everything about it is why we’re into it. There’s nothing else that compares to it. And we have no interest other than making sure that we are building a native currency for the internet and helping in every way that we can. So all the other coins to me don’t factor in at all.
A: Bitcoin is about user control. Users control the monetary policy. You control it, you control it, I control it. There’s not a small group of people controlling the monetary policy. And that’s really what we are here for. We’re here to create an alternative to the fiat system where a small group of people can basically determine the rules. I was in a meeting yesterday with an amazing guy named Fodé Diop from Senegal, and he’s telling me this story from the late 1990s. Where he is living in a country that uses the CFA. It’s a French colonial currency so the French in Paris control these people and they make decisions on behalf of them. His father had saved up all this money for him to go to college and the French just decided to devalue the currency overnight. And he could no longer pursue his dreams. That’s why when he saw Bitcoin later he was so open to it and excited and he said, this is my ticket out of here. At the end of the day the difference between Bitcoin and all the other coins is that with Bitcoin, we control the monetary policy, it’s not going to change, and with every single other coin, it’s up to some small group of people who are going to, best case, do their best.
J: Until they don’t. Until they get corrupted in some other way.
A: The track record for this globally is not so great. There’s always this temptation to print more to fix the problems. Well, you can’t do that with Bitcoin.
Now, when we talk about other digital currencies, there is a digital currency phenomenon that I did want to talk to you about and that’s central bank digital currencies. So it appears that around the world there’s this drive to move beyond paper cash and bring us to a system where citizens actually may have a liability of the central bank on their phone, as opposed to using paper money. This obviously presents a lot of civil liberties concerns. Even Christine Lagarde has said that the digital euro won’t really have full privacy. Obviously the Chinese government is pursuing an aggressive CBDC. These things are likely to lead to forced spending, negative interest rates, confiscation, blacklists. This is all happening, there’s this war on cash. What are your thoughts on this idea of financial freedom and privacy in a world that is moving beyond paper money?
J: I think all of the things that you mentioned in terms of what central banks are trying to do are just bumps in the road and they are bullshit. We have a much better alternative in Bitcoin. We have designs for that privacy and that freedom within it. The more that we — and especially our governments — can realize that and get in the boat sooner, the better we all are.
A: A lot of people say Bitcoin is just for bad people. It’s just for bad actors. What’s your response to that — that it’s just for criminals, the same sort of stuff that they said in the early ’90s about encryption. Right, they said it’s going to be for bad people, we don’t want Americans to have privacy. Well thankfully the cypherpunks make it possible for us to have tools like Signal. What is your response when you talk to regulators or government officials and when they say this is just too risky or it’s going to hurt people?
J: It feels like it’s a cover for something else going on. I don’t actually hear that a lot from regulators. Square was one of the first companies that was public that talked to the SEC [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission] about Bitcoin and that never came up. So it feels like there’s probably something a little bit deeper when you’re hearing any of these excuses and it’s just about trying to understand what that really is. I think it’s just about losing power, effectively.
A: One of the interesting things about Bitcoin is how the incentives align. Recently there was a little bit of a controversy with some of the companies that are doing Bitcoin mining, and a software upgrade that’s going to bring new privacy to Bitcoin called Taproot, which is in the process of activating right now, which is very exciting, but one of these companies, they weren’t signaling for Taproot. And then there was this huge community backlash and the company was actually forced to come out with a video message and say ‘sorry, we’re definitely going to signal.’ They basically bent the knee to the community. Have you seen that unique phenomenon before?
J: It was awesome.
A: Where a corporation is virtue signaling for censorship-resistance and privacy? What do you see when you look at stuff like that?
J: It was awesome the community could change the path and the mindset. I think it’s incredible. I don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner but it’s just another lesson for any company trying to get into the space.
A: There’s a lot of people who say Wall Street’s just going to control Bitcoin. They are just going to make it a tool for themselves. This is a nice example of how that’s probably not the case.
J: It can’t and it never will, it never will. And the more companies, small, big, that try to demonstrate that and try to offset their corporateness by doing things that are more supportive of the community such as creating a Square Crypto-like thing, such as creating a [Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance] COPA-like thing to give up Bitcoin patents to protect the community, it becomes more and more resilient every single day.
A: I often think about how the world is focused on the micro-movements of the bitcoin exchange rate versus the dollar. And meanwhile this incredible foundational upgrade has essentially been transformed into reality by the users and nobody is paying attention to this. It’s kind of interesting, right, it’s almost like running interference for the real revolution.
J: It’s working, it’s incredible.
A: I wanted to hit another topic. We hear a lot about Bitcoin’s energy use. And you all at Square just put out a paper with Ark that described how actually, Bitcoin mining might incentivize the adoption of renewable energy and it may actually help unlock renewable sources that are stranded or otherwise unused around the world. Can you talk to us a little bit about why you have this belief or philosophy that Bitcoin mining is actually helpful for our species and our planet?
J: You just look at the economics of it and ultimately miners have to make a profit. And getting cheap renewable energy maximizes their potential for profit. It’s really that simple. And I thought I had an agreement with some notable figures out there, and that seemed to change in a matter of weeks and now it’s in a weird kind of place. But I believe fully that Bitcoin over time and today does incentivize more renewable energy. And I think it does incentivize more awareness around how we’re getting that power and gives people more freedom to convert unused, wasted power into something that provides value for billions of people around the world.
A: Just a couple facts I’d throw out to the audience. The U.S. government this year is decommissioning for political reasons more nuclear power than is necessary to essentially power the entire Bitcoin network. We need to think carefully about energy and waste and the environment but there’s more than meets the eye here and I’d encourage all of you to dig in and learn more about Bitcoin mining.
I also wanted to share briefly this example of how it could benefit people in emerging markets. So a lot of philanthropists and outside investors have been trying to help Virunga National Park in the DRC, in the Congo. And they’ve been building some hydro facilities there, they have this mighty river, and incredible natural resources, but the problem is when they build the dam it takes time to connect the transmission lines to the dam, so the project remains fairly inert for awhile, and it’s not that exciting of a development project for that reason. But about a year and half ago, the people who run the park — which, by the way, is an incredible park that supports an area of five million people and some of the most amazing wildlife on the planet — they decided to start Bitcoin mining. And it gave them a source of revenue that can allow them to bootstrap the rest of their operations. And more of this is coming online across the country. This is going to happen in so many countries that can start unlocking solar, wind, renewable, you name it. They are going to start realizing that this can help bootstrap them into some energy independence. I think that’s important for you to consider when you are reading these headlines about how Bitcoin is boiling the oceans, you need to think deeper.
J: 100%. Well said.
A: We’re going to wrap up. I have one more thing to say. 32 years ago today, these incredibly brave students in Tiananmen Square stood up for freedom. The Chinese people are still fighting that fight today, especially the Uyghur people, especially the Tibetan people, especially people in Hong Kong. We often hear that Bitcoin is a threat to America and is a threat to our values. But is it really? Isn’t Bitcoin’s free speech and property rights and sovereignty, don’t you think that vibes better with us than a closed, Communist police state? Don’t you think that we’re going to benefit a little more than some other countries? Could you even say that Bitcoin is patriotic?
J: 100%. But I think Bitcoin benefits the entire world. That’s what makes it incredible. Is that every single person in the world will benefit and get value from utilizing this. And the more accessible we can make it — just that realization that we finally have a currency that can be traded to any single point on the planet — is pretty incredible and what that enables going forward is mind-blowing. And I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that happens.
A: This concept that Bitcoin is for everyone is I think what I want you to go home with. Bitcoin is non-discriminatory, it cannot choose who uses it, and none of you can block our access or her access, or his access, it is something that is open for all of us, and it’s open source, and as a human rights activist I am grateful that companies like Square are supporting the open-source side of Bitcoin, are supporting non-custodial use, are supporting Lightning — these are things that I don’t think may have been possible before Bitcoin’s incentive structure. So I really wanted to thank you Jack for coming out and sharing your thoughts. It’s obviously a tricky political situation out there but I think we agree that Bitcoin is the way forward.
J: 100%. It’s the only way out.
This is a guest post by Alex Gladstein. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.