Reason Podcast

How Bitcoin Is Freeing People in China, Venezuela, Iran, and…America

Cryptocurrency is a human rights issue, explains Alex Gladstein of the Human Rights Foundation.


Since launching a decade ago, the decentralized, peer-to-peer cryptocurrency bitcoin has been lauded (and denounced) for its potential to route around traditional state-based monetary systems and allow individuals to trade directly with one another.

Much of the discussion has understandably focused on how it is transforming economic exchange. But Alex Gladstein, the chief strategy officer of the Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes and protects civil liberties in closed societies, is interested in how it empowers people in autocratic countries to escape government control. Only about 8 percent of global transactions use cash and the switch to digital payments means that authorities can track what individuals are up to with greater ease than they used to. 

Bitcoin, its underlying blockchain technology, and the emerging Lightning payment network are allowing people to escape surveillance, says Gladstein, who has co-authored a brand new book on the subject, The Little Bitcoin Book: Why Bitcoin Matters for Your Freedom, Finances, and Future.

In today's Reason Podcast, he tells Nick Gillespie how bitcoin is changing the way people live and transact in places such as China, India, Iran, and Venezuela. He also explains how in an increasingly cashless America, cryptocurrency is helping us to escape what's been called "surveillance capitalism," why Human Rights Foundation's annual Oslo Freedom Forum is more important than the World Economic Forum in Davos, and how bitcoin and associated technologies will "really bankrupt the ability of authoritarian regimes to do what they do and basically force their hand to reform."

Audio production by Ian Keyser.