Few figures in the bitcoin community are as controversial and visionary as Erik Voorhees, founder and CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange ShapeShift.
Back when cryptocurrency was in its infancy and its conferences included lectures delivered to empty rooms, Voorhees was helping to popularize bitcoin's unique attributes with an unregulated online casino called SatoshiDice.
After he sold SatoshiDice, Voorhees was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and was fined $50,000, observing that the investigators didn't seem to understand bitcoin. "As much as I hated government before," he recalled, "then I was like, 'man, this is what these people do, go around ruining innocent people's lives.'"
The son of libertarian businessman and writer Jacques Voorhees, he discovered bitcoin in 2011 while living in New Hampshire as a member of the Free State Project. Voorhees was employee number three at BitInstant, an early exchange backed by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and whose founder, Charlie Shrem, ultimately went to prison on charges of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.
Unlike bitcoin maximalists, who insist that bitcoin is the only cryptocurrency with any viable future, Voorhees maintains that other coins do serve a purpose.
In 2017, as fees on the network were climbing, he controversially backed an unsuccessful attempt to scale up bitcoin's ability to process transactions, which critics said would have weakened the network's security and decentralized structure.
At the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami, Voorhees talked to Reason about the immense growth not just in the market caps of cryptocurrencies but in their economic and cultural legitimacy, the ways they challenge central banks and political power, why he believes in multiple coins, and continuing innovation in digital currency.
Photos: Dennis Brack/Danita Delimont Photography, Newscom; Photos of Erik Voorhees Courtesy of Charlie Shrem; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin With Sheet of $1 Bills, Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press
Music: "On the Way" by Ian Post, Artlist
Shot by Noor Greene; additional graphics by Meredith Bragg and Paul Detrick; intro edited by Noor Greene; interview edited by Ian Keyser; hosted and narrated by Nick Gillespie