“The incentives are such that it keeps going: the Ponzi keeps growing, the debt trap keeps growing, and countries keep falling into deeper and deeper subservience to the Western powers or to China… The only way you break this is with changing the monetary paradigm. I really do think as Bitcoin grows over the next few decades… a lot of this becomes unsustainable and ends.”
— Alex Gladstein
Alex Gladstein is Chief Strategy Officer at the Human Rights Foundation & Natalie Smolenski is an Executive Director of the Texas Bitcoin Foundation. In this interview, we discuss Alex’s new book: ‘Hidden Repression: How the IMF and World Bank Sell Exploitation as Development’. We talk about debt traps, western support for dictators, US and UK culpability, and what freedom means.
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The IMF and World Bank were originally created to stabilize exchange rates and fund infrastructure in war-torn countries. Alex Gladstein’s work found that there was a pivot in this mission in the late 1960s. The new mission was to target and exploit poor countries for the benefit of the West, neocolonialism replacing colonialism, debt replacing the sword.
These institutions have been incredibly harmful to poor countries, but also incredibly beneficial for the West through interest payments, extraction of resources and labour, and control of markets. This has been done with only a limited need for military intervention and subjugation through physical means. The wheels of this process have been oiled by the co-option of dictactors in on the steal.
Bitcoin is a way out and may bring some justice. However, there must also be a reckoning with the damage done to poor countries by these exploitative policies. The IMF and World Bank have repeatedly prevented free markets from working normally in such countries forcing them deeper into debt. And when the country has inevitably defaulted, damaging structural adjustments have been imposed limiting government expenditure and hurting the most vulnerable.
As Alex Gladstein asserts, changing the monetary paradigm, with the growth of Bitcoin, could break the current system and give hope for a more sustainable future. But in that process, we have to be clear about what we need to repair. As Natalie Smolenski states, without a programme of debt cancellation then we could enter a period of significant geopolitical stress.
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Fiat currency experiments started centuries ago often resulting in catastrophic failure; since fiat has been ubiquitously assimilated into national economies. Whilst Bitcoiners are well versed in the inherent weaknesses of fiat currencies, there is a general ignorance of the long-lasting consequences for economies and citizens of maintaining an unbending faith in fiat money. Reducing this ignorance is perhaps the best way to grow Bitcoin’s adoption.
The obvious problem with fiat currency is the tendency for governments to print money to tackle economic exigencies. The impact of this money printing is often inflation, in which prices rise faster than wages and the purchasing power of money is reduced. Eventually, the currency can be debased, causing individuals to lose money without even realising it.
There is cruelty at the heart of this process: the complex nature of the fiat economic system means individuals can easily lose money without even knowing it. Many investors make decisions that are far too complicated for them to understand, and so it is easy to get caught up in financial schemes that value money to the detriment of the individual.
But, it is the second-order effect of this inflationary impact that is most pernicious. Businesses and investors are seeking to add value, and the inflation rate is the baseline for any return. When inflation increases, this puts pressure on those seeking investments to match or exceed it. The result is investments made in increasingly more speculative projects. This is the misallocation of capital, which starves more productive uses of capital.
The obvious topic of conversation following this is how Bitcoin mitigates these problems. This is a question to be debated with Allen Farrington for a future episode. However, understanding what Allen calls “fiat fuckery” is a sound basis for building the why of Bitcoin.
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This episode’s sponsors:
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WBD674 - Show Notes
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