It is my pleasure to introduce a new ongoing feature of Real Virtual Currency: The Bitcoin Luminary Series, in which I reach out to the individuals who are making a splash in the digital currency pond. The purpose of the interview is to ask roughly 50% Bitcoin questions and 50% personal questions, and as such, the tagline of the Bitcoin Luminary Series is: "More interesting than Bitcoin itself, are the people it attracts."
Today, we speak with Jeff Berwick, Canadian entrepreneur, economics, finance, and investment writer, and libertarian activist. Currently, Jeff has been making waves with the Bitcoin ATM: coming soon to a financially distressed country near you. Many will recognize him from his recent appearances on international news sources, and we thank him for joining us.
1) How would you describe your childhood?
Cold and horrible. I grew up in a place called Edmonton, Canada. It is literally below freezing almost the entire year… and well below. Often -40c/-40f for weeks at a time (-40 is where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet… only someone from Edmonton would know that). I hated the child prison camps, schools, from grade 7 on but luckily I discovered personal computers (an Apple II+) around 1980 and then just found ways to not go to school (which helped me tremendously with my development) and just discover things about computers.
2) What inspired you to start StockHouse Media Corporation?
As explained above, I was what is described as a “computer nerd” but by 1992 I had grown a bit bored of it. I kept asking, “why can’t they get all these computers linked up together?”. So, I moved on in life and worked at a bank and was interested in the stock market. I almost had become a stock broker when I heard the internet finally existed and so I thought to myself, “This is going to change the world…. What should I do on it?”. The most obvious answer was to start a financial website covering the Canadian stock market. Within months it was the biggest financial site in Canada and still is to this day… comparable to Marketwatch.com in the US. We initially expanded to 8 countries and had over 200 staff but I didn’t realize that much of it was fueled by Alan Greenspan blowing his Y2K bubble. After that it collapsed and I found myself wondering what happened. Luckily, that led me down a new path towards freedom, Austrian economics and understanding how these bubbles get blown.
3) How did your lack of prior business experience help you or hurt you as an entrepreneur?
I don’t think anyone is really born without understanding business. I want something so I have to trade that for something that someone else wants and get something in exchange for it. There, I just saved some people four years of “business school”. Entrepreneurism, or at least, true capitalism, is fairly natural in everyone. What differentiates your average person from an entrepreneur is the ability to deal with unbelievable volatility and risk. Most people cling to a paycheck for security. An entrepreneur is willing to take a chance and fail.
4) At what point did you realize that you were going to be successful at a very young age?
I’ve never “realized” I’d be successful. That’s the thing about being an entrepreneur, there is no guarantees. However, I do have to say that when I was younger I realized how many people around me had no idea what is going on and I saw opportunity in that. I remember thinking when I was 14, “I will be a millionaire before I am 30”. Of course, at that point, I didn’t realize that the central banks would make a millionaire fairly boring… but I do remember celebrating my birthday at 30 and being worth more than $100 million. However, that was in 2001. A year later I was worth almost nothing, monetarily. But, thanks to public schooling, I’ve always known I am way ahead of the pack as most people have no idea how to start a business, take risks and think critically and logically.
5) Do you have any siblings?
Yes, one. He hates me. Long story.
6) How would you define the term "happiness?"
Wow… talking about something important now! I look at that term as a deeply individual question. Happiness is subjective. Stalin was probably happy as he genocided millions. As for me, that is a very tough question. I guess I start with the happiness I get from always trying to do the right thing. At least if I know that in my subjective opinion I am always trying to do the right thing it gives me some happiness. Of course, when you sit out on your porch and ask yourself if you are happy that question morphs. Happiness is not only subjective but changes by the moment as your needs and wants change. That’s why I just try to not hurt anyone and try to help people as much as possible – which I see as creating wealth and opportunity – as being a good base. From there, ask me every five minutes if I am happy and I’ll give you a slightly different answer… depending on whether the right food, drink or people surround me.
7) You've said in interviews that you don't consider yourself much of a planner, more of an analyzer who adapts to the environment in which he finds himself. Nevertheless, what are some of your personal objectives for the next 10 years?
That’s true. I never think that far ahead. As per your last question I'm just taking one step in front of the other and keep trying to make the right decisions for what I think is correct and go from there. We are all somehow alive on a space rock flying through the universe, as far as we know, at something like 30,000 km/s, so this idea of stability seems a bit insane to me.
8) I've heard that you are quite the sailor. Tell me a bit about your seafaring adventures.
Well, if you mean by “quite the sailor” that I sunk my sailing catamaran off the coast of El Salvador in 2005… then yes. I will say this about being all alone in the middle of the ocean, however: It is a unique and important experience to know yourself and to understand that you are not in control of anything.
9) When was your first "aha" moment with regards to Bitcoin?
I have to shyly admit it was just recently. Maybe I am getting old. I was told about it and liked the idea almost two years ago to the day. It was around $3-6 at the time and had just got its first mainstream media exposure. Backed by that influx of demand it rose to $30 and then quickly regressed to $3. I still hadn’t realized its importance to individual liberty though but always had it in my head as something interesting. It’s only been in the last year as countless young people have come up to me, wide-eyed and full of adventure, that I realized this may change the world. After the Cyprus bank robbery I think many people woke up to its true value, including myself, and as a good entrepreneur I have focused much of my effort in the last few months on investing as much time as possible into this liberating, anarcho-currency. I’ve known central banks are evil for quite a while but I didn’t know Bitcoin was one of the best answers until recently. I’ve also known the monetary system as we know it will collapse for a number of years… since about 2004… I’ve since invested most of my life into educating myself on everything to do with the current monetary and political systems and came to the conclusion that it will all collapse…. And soon! So I started The Dollar Vigilante in 2010 and it has led me down this path. The one question everyone would ask me about the impending monetary system collapse is “But what will come after it”. My response was always, “Private enterprise will come up with answers”. But it wasn’t until Bitcoin that I realized it already had. It’s beautiful.
10) If you were to pick your top 3 favorite Bitcoin properties, what would they be?
Number one, by far, is it is decentralized. If you understand the reason the Soviet Union was horrible is because it was a top down, centrally controlled economy, then you will understand that. Second, at the moment, and this is subject to change, is that it is unstoppable. It is so decentralized… it is in fact, a true money of the people, that this is “true” democracy. Democracy, in political terms, is antifreedom. If there are five of us in a democracy and three people say I can’t do something that hurts no-one, that is anti-freedom. But in Bitcoin terms, only if people agree to accept it in its current form it is a true democracy of money. It is completely open-source and transparent. Sort of like Barack O’Bomber said he’d be transparent.. but this does not depend on one individual. And, finally, this revolutionizes money and banking. It can be instantaneous and fee-free. Ask your local bank if they have an account like that. Bitcoin actually makes each individual their own bank. This is the revolution. Self ownership.
11) Among all of the potential business ventures, why did you pick the Bitcoin ATM as a target?
It just happened organically. I was working with a number of young entrepreneurs and they came up with the idea. Again, with some embarrassment, I didn’t understand the value of what they had come up with. A few weeks later, however, with every bank and ATM in Cyprus closed, my eyes opened and I realized the massive potential of what they were talking about.
12) By your assessment, what are the greatest threats to the long-term viability of Bitcoin?
There are plenty of threats. Heck, our survival as a species on this space rock rampaging through space is nowhere near a certainty. But, number one has to be the internet. The last vestiges of evil, collectivism and government, have a lot of power right now. The biggest terrorist agency on Earth, the US government, can blow up the entire planet 100 times over. And they can use that evil power to try to shut down the internet. I think, however, individuals around the world already have already awoken. They see the power of the internet, which I see as an evolution, or revolution, in communications. And if those people who wish to control others try to stop it now they will finally get those fat 20-somethings off their couch and into the street. They missed the boat. We’ve won. Humanity has won over its oppressors… they just don’t know it yet.
13) Complete the following sentence. For 1,000 BTC I would ________ .
I’d do almost anything at the right time and right place. The only thing I would never do is hurt others.
14) What advice would you give to people who don't have a lot of financial resources, but want to protect themselves in the event of future economic and social crises?
This is what I write about constantly at The Dollar Vigilante. If you have nothing, you are lucky, you have nothing to lose. Now get out there and create wealth that improves the world. If you have something, get it into hard assets. And, by that, I mean, anything Ben Bernanke can’t counterfeit at the push of a button.
15) Tell us something about Jeff Berwick that most people don't know, but may find interesting.
I’m actually very quiet and private in my normal life. I’d love nothing more than a perfect world where I can just relax and have some small amounts of fun with friends and family.
AL: Thank you for your time!
Absolutely, my pleasure.