Erik Voorhees: Governments Can't Stop Bitcoin 'Despite All Their Guns and Weapons'

The ShapeShift founder and early pioneer in the space talks about why bitcoin poses an existential threat to fiat money.


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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

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  1. The supreme irony is that the government is making no attempt to “stop” bitcoin. It’s become mainstream and is a hugely important speculative asset class for the moneyed interests that keep our government running. It is allowed to operate with virtually no regulation or oversight.

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    1. the company violated securities laws by selling LBC tokens in order to fund its work, without registering those tokens with the SEC as a security.

      With so much drama in the LBC, it’s kinda hard bein’ Snoop D-O-double-G.

    2. Yep. Once the rich got in, I knew government would never try to ban it.

  2. Be careful you don’t go down the “capitalism will destroy itself” road, because we know how that ended up for Marxism.

  3. Erik Voorhees: Governments Can’t Stop Bitcoin ‘Despite All Their Guns and Weapons’

    Can’t stop bitcoin from what? Consuming electricity? Fair enough, but by the same token, bitcoin is not an existential threat to fiat anything because bitcoin can’t stop them from using their guns and weapons.

    1. Yeah, I’m not sure what it is we’re trying to stop bitcoin from doing.

      1. bitcoin is a threat to the ‘goverment’ and eventually they will attempt to regulate or highly tax it IMO because it allows an escape and protection from their money printing. Its the same reason they banned gold ownership.

        Not only does it allow people an escape and protection it signals what the fed is doing and makes them look very irresponsible and bad, and for this reason I think eventually they will come down hard on it unless they are overruled by other wealthy people which is why i assume the guy in the video does not mind seeing big money get involved in BTC, which seems smart.

        1. The power to control the money supply is one of the prime powers of government. They’ll never give it up.
          Bitcoin will be allowed to exist as long as it is profitable to the ruling class but doesn’t fundamentally threaten their power. Like organized crime.
          See China for details. Bitcoin miners are all running from China as the CCP decided to shut them down.

        2. I fail to find the new boogeyman in the scenario where the people who have all the money and who run the governments will also have all the crypto. Okay. “Not fair.” Sun rises.

        3. Digital currency is such a threat. Bitcoin isn’t, because bitcoin isn’t a viable digital currency. Transaction costs are too high, and there are other things as well that make it impractical to transact in, such as clearance times.

          It was a proof of concept experiment, that became the focus of a market bubble, that’s all. As such it’s not only not a threat, its eventual collapse could usefully discredit the general concept.

          1. Bitcoin is no a threat as a currency, but as a store of value and a signal of reckless federal reserve policy. Nobody will really use
            Bitcoin as a currency in the same way they don’t use gold as a currency, but gold is still valuable.

        4. bitcoin is a threat to the ‘goverment’ and eventually they will attempt to regulate or highly tax it IMO because it allows an escape and protection from their money printing. Its the same reason they banned gold ownership.

          A) Bitcoin is already taxed. B) Gold ownership isn’t banned and I’m far from the only one with the bars to prove it.

          Any cryptocurrency that is a threat to any culture or social order is a threat to all cultures and social orders. The crypto that can overthrow and replace Maduro is the crypto that can overthrow and replace Biden or Trump or any other duly elected representative at any and all levels from township on up to federal. To assume the specific implementers of any given crypto are inherently more virtuous than all of the above is to assume that Janet Yellen would make a better President than Trump, Biden, or Obama; or that Silicon Valley would, despite the evidence, be better on free speech and free association than any/all of the above.

          1. its taxed, but if they wanted to damage bitcoin there is no reason they could not tax it at 80% or something. Gold ownership was banned, its not now, you obviously know this and knew what I meant. I own gold too.

            Its not really about ‘overthrowing’ really is it? If it happens okay, its about having a way to protect oneself from inflationary money printing which you have zero ability to stop in our so called ‘democracy’.

    2. They don’t have guns and weapons without the ability to borrow or print dollars. Good luck on getting a loan from bitcoiners to buy your death machines, and good luck on printing up some bitcoin.

      1. Are there special ‘non-anonymous’ bitcoin wallets so that the bitcoin network knows not to allow them to buy guns or will gun manufacturers be barred from transacting in bitcoin? Who decides?

        You give the impression of someone who has trouble thinking two moves ahead in a game of tic-tac-toe.

  4. O/T – Better. Than. NASCAR.

    Check out the overhead shot, starting 18 seconds in.

    1. That is a huge pile of bicycles.

  5. 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.'”

    So, in order to give Voorhees the appropriate credibility one way or the other I’m going to need to know if he paid this $50K fine and how.

  6. I wonder if someone at koch bought a lot of bitcoin. Seems to be some serious pimping going on here.

    1. Probably some investors that jumped in at $63,000 and are now looking at their 50% losses.

    1. can you tl:dr?

      1. Regardless of your feelings about free speech and section 230, there are topics on Youtube which cannot be discussed. Such narrowing of allowed discussion diminishes reasoning among the viewership/general populace. Goliath, though a giant, was not to be long-lived and unless Goliath sees reason, the contest between David vs. Goliath is inevitable.

  7. Governments may not stop bitcoin but they will regulated bitcoin, which apparently will come to the surprise of Mr. Voorhees but not to people who are not anti-social, fringe-inhabiting malcontents.

  8. What about the clinging, Rev? What about the CLINGING???

  9. Yeah yeah yeah, governments obviously will not tend to engage in ritual suicide by giving up the concept of government-backed currency, and if you tell me there’s no law that can be written to effectively erase Bitcoin from the face of the earth, I have a bridge in Minecraft to sell you.

    The fun part, to me, is how not a single owner of cryptocurrency anywhere values that currency in its own units. Even if the government fell and the dollar with it, and somehow despite that there was a crypto market, people would still be valuing their stash in terms of dollars, out of sheer habit.

    When you daydream of the potential for cryptocurrency, those are still dollar signs in your eyes. You don’t even know how to measure value without dollars. Your house is not worth three BC, and you wouldn’t take BC for your house. Not unless you intended to convert it to dollars that afternoon.

    1. the idea that they ‘value the money in US dollars’ is a really stupid comment. People in Zimbabwe valued gold in Zim Dollars even as it cost 10 trillion Zim Dollars to buy a loaf of bread because it was legal tender, not because there was anything special about Zim Dollars.

  10. “the idea that they ‘value the money in US dollars’ is a really stupid comment”. Does Tony ever make any other kind of comment?

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