Our September “People of Bitcoin” features a liberty-minded, passionate and extremely dedicated cryptographer and yogi (also self-described polyglot, technologist and racing enthusiast).
It wouldn’t be far off to call him something of a millennial renaissance man – but his profession and personal life put particular focus on the crypto currency world. Let’s have a spirited chat with Steven Zeiler!
Hi Steven! As we’ve been interviewing people from across the Bitcoin universe, we’ve been struck lately by the variety of backgrounds and life experiences of key players in the BTC space. Can you share a bit of your personal backstory and how you came to/discovered Bitcoin?
Since I was a teenager I have been fascinated with monetary economics and alternative money systems. My great-grandmother used to collect old silver US-minted coins, and she and several other relatives left me a fair collection of old coins, which started me on a long journey to understand money and its history. In high school I discovered American libertarianism and subsequently became obsessed with the writings and speeches of Dr. Ron Paul, particularly his exposés of the history of government banking, bimetallism and the gold standard, and the fraudulent Federal Reserve system.
All of that set the stage for my introduction to Bitcoin while attending university, where I was exploring various hallucinogenic potions. I had heard about the dark web where totally free markets existed for illicit substances on a site called The Silk Road, and we dug around the Internet until figuring out how to access the site. At the time, one had to use a curious Internet money called Bitcoin, which I had no clue how to obtain.
Immediately however I was struck with the power of the borderless Internet currency. Before ever owning Bitcoin myself I began to promote it as a strategy for other libertarian friends to develop alternative sustainable markets outside the mainstream system in preparation for another future financial disaster. At the time I was leading the Austrian Economics Club at the University of Texas. Most of us had invested in silver and gold and were working on projects to promote the metals as proper money. Within six months of our introduction to Bitcoin, the group shifted focus and evolved to the Crypto Anarchy Club at UT, which still exists and thrives today.
Your Twitter profile describes you as a “Cryptographer, technologist, polyglot and passionate entrepreneur, always open to exciting new challenges,” which essentially brands yourself (whether you know it or not) as something of the “ideal” bitcoin enthusiast. Or phrased another way, if we were going to include a photo of the typical crypto currency buff next to the definition in the dictionary, your photo might well appear. What about crypto currencies push your buttons?
The key aspect of crypto currencies for me above all others is the fact that they are creatures of the free market, not created by any government body or government bank. From studying economics it is obvious that according to the mechanisms described by Keynes, centrally issued monopolistic currency grants the issuer incredible power to alter or abolish markets on a grand scale. Let us accept nothing less than free competition in the production of money.
That said I am also particularly fond of the peer-to-peer nature of most crypto currencies, as well as the relative censorship-resistant properties of Bitcoin achieved through the mining protocol. Billions of people live in oppressive regimes across the earth and I love that crypto currency empowers individuals to escape restrictive financial controls, potentially even carrying a billion dollars worth of crypto assets inside one’s head. Amazing!
I know you work with Ripple Labs and what I imagine you believe is next-gen in crypto currency. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the protocol and what you see as improvements/innovations coming down the pipeline?
To go into the Ripple Consensus Protocol a bit, consensus allows a software system to be run on multiple servers by multiple companies or entities, potentially competitors or rivals. The various entities that run the software lay out a set of rules for what types of operations can be performed by the software, or in the case of the XRP consensus ledger modifications can be made to its blockchain-like ledger. In that way consensus prevents any one organization from controlling the software, which can have the benefit of protecting integrity and ensuring relative transparency at a lower cost than industrial-scale mining.
The Ripple Ledger itself is a database that allows anyone to create any type of financial asset, which anyone else can offer to exchange for other assets issued in the ledger. The whole system has no gatekeepers, meaning anyone is free to use the ledger and make modifications as long as they have enough XRP to make a transaction. XRP is the fuel that enables public access to the database and imposes a cost mechanism to prevent abuse of the public ledger. Think of XRP as analogous to Ether within Etherium.
In the crypto currency world, while there is seemingly great competition between crypto currencies, there also seems to be quite a bit of investing into multiple crypto currencies – less loyalty towards one only. Since I know you have traveled on bitcoin but work for a company that is promoting another protocol, I figure you are a good person to ask – what’s up with this?
Regarding competition and cross-pollination between crypto currencies, I am first and foremost a proponent of market-based money and free competition in money. That said my favorite digital asset is Bitcoin by far, and I promote it daily to nearly everyone I encounter. At Ripple Labs we perceive that the best currency is often that which has the greatest liquidity, and we are developing cutting edge tools that increase liquidity for Bitcoin as well as XRP and more traditional financial assets.
What challenges do you see ahead for Bitcoin specifically or crypto currency in general? Do you believe it will become a revolutionary force across the world, or are your ambitions more modest?
My goal for crypto currencies is the complete replacement of central bank monopoly currency with market competition in money itself. Bitcoin is already a revolutionary force across the world and I see patterns emerging that will engulf nearly all economic interaction, and impact every human in the same way as the Internet has connected billions.
Obviously governments and corporations that stand to lose power over the general population will fight back hard against progress, and they will continue attempts to imprison members of the market money economy and attempt to restrict our freedom. Ultimately history is littered with dead paper currencies from centuries past and indeed every government currency in history always eventually regresses to its true value of zero. The greatest barrier to adoption of crypto currency I see is cultural rejection of individual liberty and innovation, and the manifestation thereof in the society’s various systems, though I am extremely optimistic that humanity globally will in time embrace freedom and reject slavery in all its forms.
Have you used CheapAir to book any personal or business travel and were you able to also travel on bitcoin on these trips?
Yes I have used CheapAir to book both personal and business air travel, it is my favorite service on the Internet! I bought my plane ticket to Berlin with bitcoin and CheapAir, and I have travelled across America using CheapAir with bitcoin to great satisfaction. My goal is to never buy traditional currency if I don’t have to and your company enables me to spend crypto for relatively large travel expenses. All my gratitude to the executives, managers, engineers and artists who made Bitcoin on CheapAir possible, thank you!
I did recently travel on BTC from SF to Berlin, Prague, and Zurich, where in each city I also patronized as many bitcoin-accepting establishments as possible, primarily coffee shops, restaurants and teller machines, and I paid for airfare using bitcoin. My wonderful friend Adam also paid all expenses using credit cards and I reimbursed him in Bitcoin!
Next time I fly I plan to use Dogecoin on CheapAir just for fun, though honestly I would prefer to spend XRP. Would CheapAir be willing to discuss accepting XRP for flights? I humbly offer my personal Ripple integration services since spending XRP to travel the world would be a dream come true.
Aside from Bitcoin and crypto currency, what are some of your personal passions? What do you do to unplug, relax, etc.?
Every day I read books, on computer programming, economics, philosophy and I love to engage with liberty-oriented groups to affect peace, freedom and prosperity in today’s society. To unwind I practice yoga around San Francisco, run up and down our magnificent hills, and most of all I love dancing, both in traditional ballroom settings as well as casual pop-techo type clubs. Shooting big guns, driving fast cars and visiting my grandmother in Texas all give me great thrills. The past few months I have been training for a sailing certification on the Bay and hope to begin private flight training this next year so I can fly myself around North and South America. Tune in to Free Talk SF, my podcast at freetalksf.com dedicated to liberty, empathy, and independence for all people of San Francisco, and visit me at stevenzeiler.com.