Author and ex-fighter pilot Lars Emmerich explains why he’s so excited about the future of Bitcoin. And you’ll hear how he responds to the criticism that Bitcoin mining wastes a lot of energy. Lars also tells show host Gene Tunny about his experience as an author operating in a disrupted book industry. Lars explains how the internet can give authors a better deal than traditional book royalties, and he tells us about the importance of Facebook Ads for acquiring new readers.
a) This episode was recorded on Tuesday 13 September 2022, two days before the Ethereum Merge with Lars and Gene discuss in this episode.
b) This episode contains general information only and nothing in this episode should be taken as financial or investment advice. Please see a professional financial adviser regarding investment decision making specific to your needs.
About this episode’s guest: Lars Emmerich
Lars Emmerich is a retired fighter pilot, entrepreneur, investor, and musician. He writes about good guys with a bad streak and bad guys with a few redeeming qualities.
He is the author of the million-selling Sam Jameson series. He lives in Colorado with his family and his neuroses. He’s either hard at work on the next novel in the series, or he’s procrastinating. Usually the latter.
Stop by Lars Emmerich Books to pick up a free digital copy of The Incident: Inferno Rising, the first installment in the Sam Jameson series.
Check out Lars’s author page on Amazon
Links relevant to the conversation
The controversy over Tim Ferriss’s deal with Amazon Publishing for the 4-Hour Chef: Timothy Ferriss’ ‘The 4-Hour Chef’ stirs up trouble
Financial Times article – The Merge: a blockchain revolution or just more hype? (pay-walled)
Book on Bitcoin recommended by Lars: The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking
Transcript: Bitcoin & books w/ author & ex-fighter pilot Lars Emmerich – EP157
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:00
Coming up on economics explored.
Lars Emmerich 00:01
The bull case for Bitcoin is that at some moment in the future, we will have given the world the last dollar the world cares to have, cares the hold…
Gene Tunny 00:18
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist based in Brisbane, Australia and I’m a former Australian Treasury official. This is episode 157 on books and Bitcoin. My guest is Lars Emmerich, a popular author and investor in Bitcoin. His bio on his Amazon page reads, Lars Emmerich is a retired fighter pilot, entrepreneur, investor, and musician. He writes about good guys with a bad streak, and bad guys with a few redeeming qualities. Is the author of the million selling Sam Jamison series. He lives in Colorado with his family and his neuroses. In this episode, you’ll hear from Lars and why he’s such a supporter of Bitcoin. You’ll hear how he responds to the criticism that Bitcoin mining wastes a lot of energy. Lars provides some great information and makes some thought provoking points. Nothing in this episode should be interpreted as financial or investment advice specific to you. Obviously, you’d want to think about whether it makes sense for you to invest in something so risky and so difficult to value. Do you believe the story that Bitcoin enthusiasts tell about it potentially becoming a global reserve currency? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch, either by email or voice message. You’ll find my contact details in the show notes along with relevant info and links. Right oh, now for my conversation with Lars Emmerich. About online book publishing in Bitcoin. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Lars Emmerich, welcome to the programme.
Lars Emmerich 02:04
Thank you, Gene. Pleasure to be here.
Gene Tunny 02:06
Yes, good to be chatting with you, Lars, I’m keen to speak about a couple of things, at least that your you’ve been involved in. So you’re successful author, so I’m keen to chat with you about your experience in the book industry, because that’s an industry that’s been disrupted substantially over the last few decades because of the internet. So I’m interested in how you thrive in that industry. And also, I’m keen to get your thoughts on crypto and Bitcoin and, and other cryptos to the extent that you’ve been involved in them, because that’s, that’s a sector in which a lot is happening. And there’s been a lot of big news lately. So be keen to keen to chat with you about those things. So, to begin with, could you tell us a bit about your experience as an author, please Lars.
Lars Emmerich 02:56
I think I formed the idea of becoming an author when I read my first Tom Clancy novel, back when I was probably 20 Years Old. I was just fascinated by the way these seemingly mundane and separate storylines, wove themselves together into this amazing, multifaceted story. And fortunately, I had nothing to say at 20 or 23. So I was off doing other things, flying fighters for 20 years and, and learning about life. And I came back to it at a time when I was spending most of my days in airports and hotel rooms. And so I wanted something productive to do with my, quote unquote, free time. And I just started writing, I had writing professionally. Not as a novelist, but for business purposes. And I, I think I was writing a piece on a particular bit of sewage processing equipment. And I had one of those, what in the world am I doing with my life moments, and I decided if I was going to write words, I was going to write my own stories. And I dove in and really enjoyed it. And I quickly discovered that the publishing landscape was definitely in the process of being disrupted by at the time, nearly Amazon but Barnes and Noble and a couple of other retailers had a significant online presence as well. And I never, I never had it in my mind to pursue a traditional publishing deal, because it just didn’t seem like a good deal. The royalty percentage, the effort was the same. You were very much beholden to the degree of interest your publisher took in your work or didn’t take in your work. And generally speaking, if your author career is to go anyplace, you’re going to be the one pushing, you’re going to be the one doing the work. And so if that’s the case, I would much rather be on the 94% and of the revenue stream than on the 6% end of revenue stream, as it were,
Gene Tunny 05:08
Sorry, what do you mean exactly by that exactly Lars. Sorry just so I understand that you’d rather be on the 94%, than the 6%, oh, you get 94% of it rather than just 6%.
Lars Emmerich 05:19
That’s an a normal publishing deal like a traditional publishing deal, author royalties, and this changes per deal, for sure. But at the time I was making this decision, the number in my head that I had researched was about 7% of the book, royalties would find their way in your pocket, at some, some moment, well beyond when the books were sold, and the tallies were conducted. And all of the rights subtractions were, taken from your royalties. And the way that I had approached it originally was just to publish directly via the online retailers. I realised quickly that this was just a slight adjustment to the existing agreement, they paid you a bit more, but you’re still pretty much at their whim. And it was still up to you. And so I believe in 2018, I decided to sell directly to readers. And so while my books remain available on Amazon, they’re also mainly sold directly to readers, readers just buy directly from my website. That’s where the 94% revenue comes in. There are some there, there are some realities associated with credit card processing, and a few other services that are mandatory, that take it take their cut, but by and large, the, the gross revenues are yours. Now against that is the advertising costs, that’s required to make any business enterprise go. And that becomes that can become, it’s extremely time consuming. And it also consumes a huge portion of the revenue. So the margins in business are no better than they really ever have been. For most authors. But the landscape as you as you’ve alluded to, has definitely changed.
Gene Tunny 07:17
Yeah. Look, there are a few things I want to follow up on. And this is, it’s so fascinating stuff with advertising. What’s the best channel for you? Or for authors? In generally, I’ll just say anything about that? Is it Facebook? Is it is it is a Google ads, do you have any thoughts on that?
Lars Emmerich 07:38
I do, absolutely. I’ve tested, if there’s a place you can advertise and sell books are most likely tested. And far and away the most profitable, has been historically Facebook ads. And this is changing now. Because the way that Facebook worked, relied on very granular user preference data, Facebook was able to see a good bit of what you bought as a consumer. And so it could, it could understand Facebook could with a good bit of detail which authors a person liked to read. And you could and we’re talking about the big luminaries in each genre, the big names, the biggest names in the genres. And if your books were similar to those other authors’ books, you could reach fans of the big names in your genre, via the data that Facebook had on the number of people and who they were who really enjoyed these authors. Now, last year, at some point, Apple said, Facebook, you’re very welcome for all the data you’ve been getting for free and building this billion dollar business on top of, however, we’re building our own advertising platform, and we’re, we’re cutting you off. We’re producing data that you’re that you’re able to use and profit from. And when this happened, we’ve lost a lot of the detail that we used to have about we can tell generally who likes to read, it’s much more difficult to tell what those people like to read. And so that has, that’s the first thing that has changed the profitability of Facebook, it’s still profitable, not not as much as it used to be. The second thing is that it is an auction market for advertising. And all of the excess profit margin in any industry accrues to the advertising, the advertising platform, because I’m always competing with the next person who’s trying to get attention to sell books, and I compete all the way up until I have just squeezed the last bit of margin out of my business and I either quit, or I took another take another channel and all of that excess profit, all of that excess margin accrues to Facebook and to Google. And there was some interesting report where 40% of all venture capital investment went to Facebook ads.
Gene Tunny 10:21
I’ll have to look that up. Yeah, I believe it. Yeah.
Lars Emmerich 10:24
You know, don’t take that number to the bank. It’s an interesting, you know, it’s an interesting, it’s an interesting concept. And, and certainly, having been deeply involved in Facebook advertising and Google ads and other mechanisms, I can see that it does not sound false to me.
Gene Tunny 10:42
Yeah, it’s that point about, the, the the auction mechanism, that’s one that Seth Godin has made, and how that means a lot of the money ends up with Google or Facebook. So I think that’s a very good point. Just on. So you mentioned Tom Clancy. So this is the Jack Ryan series of novels, is it? Is it clear and present danger and Patriot Games and Hunt for Red? October is that’s what’s inspired you, is it? And then how did, what is your series of books about you write thrillers in that? Well, I mean, I’m not necessarily saying you’re trying to emulate Tom Clancy, but you write thrillers you’re trying to write in that sort of genre, so to speak.
Lars Emmerich 11:25
Yeah. Alright. So I spent a long time in the national security business. And I don’t write directly about those for various reasons. But I write peripherally about them. And they, I basically write edgy spy novels. And so Clancy was this intersection of espionage and statecraft and whatnot. It’s interesting that it’s interesting thinking about Tom Clancy now, because several years ago, I went back and I started rereading one of the novels, the cardinal of the Kremlin, and I got about 60 pages in. And it struck me that it was going so slowly. The pace of the narration was so slow, I couldn’t finish it, I stopped, I put it down. And I think our standards for what makes the story interesting have definitely changed, there needs to be much more movement, and much more. It needs to be much twister and turnier then some of those old masters. Another one along those lines is another one along those lines is the Bourne series. Yeah, they’re amazing movies, the books not so much. But they’re classics. And at the time, they were revolutionary, but our taste for story has changed, the pace at which we consume concepts has changed, we’re smarter. Generally, we have access to so much more information. So there’s less description required for any particular scenario, that’s another interesting phenomenon that my inspiration was now so slow as to be unreadable for me. But interesting, how that’s changed your I suppose what’s now been 30 years.
Gene Tunny 13:21
Yeah, but could you tell me, could you tell me about the series that you’ve developed? You’ve got a central character, haven’t you? You’ve got a central, you’ve got someone in sort of an arc or whatever you call it. Can you tell us about that process?
Lars Emmerich 13:35
Yeah, the Sam Jameson series. And by the way, these are the best deal I have at any given time available at Lars.buzz, if this is of interest to anybody, large.buzz is a great spot to go get the best, the best deal currently. But the SamJameson series is centred around a female protagonist, Samantha Jameson. And her, her stint in the series begins as she’s a counter espionage agent for Homeland, some made up office in a, in a real bureaucracy. And I did that to avoid the inevitable letters about oh, no such and such reports directly to so and so in the real world wanted to avoid all of that by creating a fake office inside of the Department of Homeland Security. And I have a lot of fun exploring all sorts of different kinds of themes that relate to the relationship of the individual to the state, the big macro kind of way and that leads us directly into the cryptocurrency discussion that I think is around the corner. The other thing that is really interesting is how do you discover what’s true in a business where everybody is lying. Yeah, everybody is deceiving somebody in some way. Many people are deceiving everybody in some way. How do you find what is true? Not I don’t mean like metaphysically true. I mean fact, how do you discover what’s factual and act on it? And that’s a really interesting set of really, interesting set of situations.
Gene Tunny 15:27
Yeah, well, I mean, in real life, there was the concern in the 60s and 70s that there was a high level mole in think it was in British intelligence or even in US intelligence and the counter counter espionage people I think was a James Jesus Hangleton in the US and yes, yeah, but he was just obsessed with finding that mole whether or not they existed and, and John, the John le Carre, in Smiley’s People and tinker Tailor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I think it was I mean, he’s very good at just explain, just telling that story about how difficult it is to figure out what’s going on. And you don’t know who you can trust. I love those. Those novels. Right. Okay, so yeah, I’ll put links to your, to your books to the Sam Jameson series. So, so yeah, that sounds that sounds great. Just on the book publishing can ask you’ve, you’re selling direct. And you’re also selling via Kindle. Is that right? On the Amazon store?
Lars Emmerich 16:29
I am. Yep. So I’m always testing, testing, right? What’s the, what’s the best way to get books to readers that have a value that they are pricing in a way that meets their value expectations, but also allows allows us to run a profitable business? That’s a constant evolution as big landscape changes, and it changes quite quickly.
Gene Tunny 16:54
Yeah, and the best deal for you is obviously if they buy on your website, because is it the case that Amazon takes a substantial cut on Kindle,
Lars Emmerich 17:04
Your royalties are either 70% or 65%, depending on the way it is set up. 70% is a terrific royalty rate, it represented a 10x improvement in the deal that authors generally otherwise got. And, and so they, they disrupted the industry in a way that, that really allowed a lot of very talented folks to find an audience who otherwise would not have done. But there’s a level of bureaucracy that comes with having to curate a library, that’s, I don’t know, 20 million volumes old and are large. And they’re not always well behaved, about how they do that. So within, you know, within the Amazon community, there’s a lot of unrest on the part of authors regarding the way that we’re treated. And, you know, we’re, there’s always some dissatisfaction about how royalties you calculated, or discoverability on the platform, or the way that your rankings are calculated, which influences your discoverability on the platform. And these things are always in flux. And you occasionally come to realise that Amazon, they’re actually serving their shareholders, which is the way that American businesses constructed, but you’re not a shareholder, you’re a supplier. And they’re overtly and aggressively looking to replace and vertically integrate suppliers. So the price pressure, and a bunch of other aspects of the way the book business has developed under Amazon’s auspices, it’s not appreciably better for many authors than it was under the old system, in spite of a better route.
Gene Tunny 18:55
By the vertical integration, what do you mean, exactly? Do you mean they’re trying to get them have people as dedicated Amazon authors, I’m just trying to understand what your what you mean by that,
Lars Emmerich 19:08
Their business model as as they in order by being the marketplace, you have a terrific understanding of what where margin exists in the marketplace. And when you find that, you can just either use your own manufacturing techniques and technologies to replace the merchants so that you don’t have to pay them. You don’t have to pay them a cut you. You are the merchant as Amazon, and they’re doing this in a lot of other industries. And they’re, they’re definitely looking at looking into it in, in the book business as well. And there are some interesting projects underway related to artificial intelligence, writing stories and and whatnot. We’re not there yet. Wow. But as a position as a position. They’re interested in paying suppliers less and less and less and having fewer and fewer and fewer suppliers to have to pay. There are reading that writing on the wall, you have to make your own way. You can’t, you can’t rely on it for your, you know, for your meals.
Gene Tunny 20:08
Okay. Yeah, I’ll have to look more into that. I remember, I think it was Tim Ferriss got into trouble. Well, he had an issue, maybe 10 years ago or so with his Four Hour Chef book that he was developing. I think he developed it for Amazon. And it was going to be sold through Amazon and then some of the traditional booksellers, I think Barnes and Noble, were unhappy with him about that. I have to look up the details and put it in the show notes. Fascinating developments. It looks like yeah, this is the, this is the wider guide and the extent that you can do it yourself. And the technology’s there, and why not? And I know that there was a lady who wrote 50 Shades of Grey, who think she started off as a self published and just selling it, using the platforms that are available to sell it rather than having a traditional book and is able to say whether that you’ve you’ve been, have you been approached by anyone in the film industry? Has your work been optioned at all?
Lars Emmerich 21:08
No, not at the moment. We’re not under option for anything. You hear rumblings and such.
Gene Tunny 21:15
Oh, yeah, I was just gonna say it sounds like you’ve got a good concept and, and, you know, people that people are looking for new content to develop and that I think that Jack Ryan series on Amazon Prime was popular. I think that’s, that’s a good example of how everything’s sped up, right? Because the new Jack Ryan is much more he’s much younger, he’s much more, there’s much more action than in the traditional Harrison Ford films. Okay. So I might ask you about crypto now, Lars, you were talking about how one of the themes you explore is the relationship of the individual to the state. Now, it’d be good to unpack that exactly what you, you mean by that? And how then that influences your views on? Well say traditional money, fiat money? And, and crypto like how, why did? Why does that lead you to be a supporter of crypto? Could you tell us a bit about that, please?
Lars Emmerich 22:13
Sure, I noticed that the money that I was saving was worth less and less over time, I became aware at some moment that there was an inflation target. Not more than but also not less than. And I think when you print more and more of anything, the sum the total, individual dollars that you print each become less valuable over time. So it struck me as weird that you couldn’t just hold your money, because it would lose its value by virtue of just being held. And that was, I mean, it’s part of the it’s part of culture, it’s part of just the socio economic background, the water that we’re swimming in, we all take it as a given, you must invest your money, otherwise it would disappear. And I started wondering, gosh, who does it really serve? process. And it turns out, I think that a fiat system, it has a lot to recommend. There’s a there, there’s a lot in terms of being able to organise and focus, human effort and energy in a particular direction, you can do that very, very quickly. With a loan. Those dollars don’t generally exist before you go take out a business loan to open a gas station or whatever. It’s a very quick way, at the point of need to deploy capital. I think it exists mainly to ensure that the authority that issues that remains the authority remains viable remains in charge. And they, the agreement is, hey, we’re the state we have the monopoly on violence. And we decree that all transactions will occur in our currency will control the supply of that currency. And that’s for your own benefit. You know, when times are tough, we’ll be there to help. When it gets a little too crazy. We’ll be there to ease back, right. Inherent in that is that we have both the wisdom and the judgement to do that effectively. And I think that’s the great weakness of the fiat currency system is that the temptation is, is overwhelming to irresponsibly print. And, and I think, where you get into trouble and when it seems to happen, it seems to happen with a very large percentage of fiat currencies. Something will happen where the state feels the need to have it really amounts to an abuse of this agreement, like the estate says, Here’s the money, your job is to pretend it’s valuable. And we’ll control the supplies such that we don’t flaunt your trust. It’ll, you know, we won’t just flood the world with so many of these things that you’re pretending it has value, these little green pieces of paper are these numbers in a spreadsheet, you’re, you’re pretending that they’re valuable. It’s sort of relies on the state’s good behaviour. But something inevitably comes up, somebody wants to start a war, how do you get it? How do you start a war? Well, you don’t save a trillion dollars, and then go buy a war, you start a war, and print your way to the hardware and payroll that you need to execute this war. So that’s one way that it’s, it’s sort of abused. In other ways, when you’re looking to be reelected, or you’re looking to quell any kind of an uprising, you can very easily pander and purchase the loyalty that you need, with printed money that occurs at like an accelerating pace over time, either to the point where people recognise that whatever was supposed to have been backing the currency, for example, gold, there’s no longer any real relationship between some quantity of currency and a different quantity of gold. That’s supposedly back into currency. That’s the first way that people lose confidence in a currency. And I think a second way is when the rate of inflation is visibly painful. It’s personally painful. It’s causing hardship in a way that it wasn’t before. It’s just under the radar until it is until you’re thinking my gosh, I’m having trouble affording my food and my energy costs. And that’s the second major way I think that people on mass, lose confidence in occurrence. Yeah, ultimately, that’s what it is. It’s an agreement, we’re all going to agree to pretend this is valuable, until pretending it is so far farcical that we have to start doing it. And then the currency collapses.
Gene Tunny 27:16
Yeah. So I think what you’re describing when you’re talking about, oh, well, we want a war or we want to, you know, we’ve got a reelection election coming up, then we’ll just spend up big and we’ll just turn on the printing press to fund that. I think that’s something that’s been, you know, that’s occurred in some Latin American countries or some kleptocratic African states in the past. And you’ve seen the results of that. We mean, I was just looking the other day, at the inflation rate in Peru in the early 90s. That got up to I think it was 10,000% over the year, or something like that, just absolutely insane. And, and you’ve seen that in some other Latin American countries in the past, I guess, in the US and Australia and Britain, we, we haven’t had inflation that bad, thankfully. And we’ve we’ve managed, we haven’t we typically haven’t financed, or we’ve been careful with how we have finance budget deficits, where we can we do try to borrow from the bond market, so that it’s not as if we are turning on the printing press to to fund that. But one of the big changes in the last well, since the financial crisis, and this is something that economists are still debating and something that, you know, I personally, I used to work in the treasury here in Australia. And you know, it’s something that has started to concern me is just this now that quantitative easing, or this large scale purchase of assets with newly created money by the Central Bank, that’s something that, I don’t know, 20 or 30 years ago, we thought we would never do that. I mean, that’s sort of, yeah, that’s really, that that unconventional monetary policy is that’s, that’s a bit out there. We wouldn’t go there. But now it seems to be part of the standard, macro economic playbook. And I think we’ll be debating that for the wisdom of that for decades to come. So yeah, I think I think you do make some some good points there. Lars. And so is this what has led you into being a crypto investor? Could you tell us a bit about that, please?
Lars Emmerich 29:28
Yeah, I like the idea. I think it’s important here to make a distinction. Cryptocurrency is has become a fairly broad term. I view it this way. There’s, there’s Bitcoin and there’s everything else. And the distinction there is the degree of decentralisation which makes Fiat type printing extremely difficult to do with Bitcoin. And exceptionally easy to do with the other projects, which amount to very centralised. They’re basically unregulated unregistered securities. They’re, they’re a project run by founders, in the best cases, the feathers of CEO and a CEO and a board of directors not vetted to the same extent that you would find on a stock exchange, for example. In the best cases, you’re, you’re investing in a legitimate business. And the worst case is you’re investing in vaporware. And you have a rogue pool in your, in your future, where and how Bitcoin differs is that the supply is algorithmically controlled, which means nothing if one person can change the algorithm, but spread around the globe are something on the order, somewhere between depending on whose numbers you believe 15,000 and 100,000, individual verifiers if you will have every transaction. So if you suddenly want to change the rules, you can do so if and when you convince 51% of everybody globally, involved in the project, that it’s a good idea to devalue the currency. So from a practical standpoint, it’s it’s not likely to happen. And what this ensures is scarce. And so it’s it’s very, it’s unlikely that there will be runaway inflation, or even inflation of any sort that’s beyond the programme to mount that. That exists in Bitcoin as the minting and mining that the total number of planned coins, which is 21 million. So that’s the part one, it’s scarce, nobody can abuse, no individual, no small group of people, no even large group of people are likely to be able to abuse your trust in the currency. On the first hand, on a second hand, there’s no third party risk. Meaning when I put my money in a bank, that’s a building full of people doing things. And they’re in between every transaction that occurs, I give them money that I have, they dole it out to whoever I say, I want them to pay it to, they’re the trusted third party that makes the whole thing go. And trust like that can and is abused. And it’s most obvious and most prevalent in the cases where nations undertake capital controls where suddenly the money that was in your account is not. The state took it, okay, it’s part of living here, sorry, times are rough, we’re taking your money, or we’re going to ensure that you can’t, you can exchange your money and take it out of country. Bitcoin allows you to move millions of dollars all across the globe, inside of 10 to 15 minutes for fees under 10 bucks. So the degree of participation available now, economic participation is much higher than it was before when there was a third party gate gatekeeper standing between you and whoever you were trying to pay or receive money from. So this, is this has just dissolved economic borders. And it has a huge impact for things like remittances. But it also has a huge impact. For things like personal sovereignty. We’re less beholden to the good behaviour of the state in order to earn a livelihood in order to provide for your family. If things become politically untenable, where you live, you have the you have a real option by memorising your private key to carry all of your wealth with you out the door with nothing in your pockets. So the degree of personal sovereignty and individual liberty that comes from having this a construct like that. It’s quite important in many, many parts of the world. And I think those two things scarcity and this global transaction capability, they’re going to prove to be quite transformational.
Gene Tunny 34:39
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
Female speaker 34:44
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Gene Tunny 35:13
Now back to the show. With that private key this is your password to your, your wallet, is it? Is that what you’re talking about? And is that just that’s a string of characters? Is it? Is it something that you can memorise it, because I know that some people have lost that in the past, and then they’ve lost their, their access to Bitcoin that would be worth, you know, large amounts of money. So you got to make sure you keep hold of that.
Lars Emmerich 35:40
Yeah, there ain’t no free lunch. So if you are responsible, if you think of it as you are your own banker, so you have to learn how to take take care of your private keys. Now you can leave them on an exchange, but now it’s just like leaving it in the bank, you’re trusting the third party? So yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a way to get your foot in the door in to the space, but the best practice is to, is to be the custodian of your own private keys, which are like your password to spend the money that is yours.
Gene Tunny 36:13
Gotcha. And can I ask you about the volatility? So you were talking about look, the problem with fiat money is that inflation will erode the value of it. And you’re concerned about our monetary and fiscal authorities and their policies and what that means for, for inflation. I mean, I think we’ve seen that in the time of the pandemic, and then we had the big monetary expansion and then followed by the inflation that probably should have been predicted back then, when they were undertaking those policies. That if we look at what’s happened with Bitcoin, I mean, it’s fallen in value by almost 50%, or something this year, or over the last year. So
Lars Emmerich 36:54
More than that, I would imagine.
Gene Tunny 36:56
Yeah, I mean, crypto is, crypto is quite, it’s volatile, because we’re still trying to figure out what the true value of it is. So how do you how do you deal with that? Is that something you just accept that just comes with, with crypto assets?
Lars Emmerich 37:14
Well, in in the case of in the case of Bitcoin, that relates to sentiment, news cycle, whatever’s in the news, I think it also relates to the fact that the supply is really quite, quite inelastic. So you get wild price swings as sentiment changes, I think the other thing at play is the available availability of investable cash. So I think it has become known at the moment as an inflation hedge and an asset to invest your dollars in, in the hope that you can exchange them for more dollars in the future. I think the bull case for Bitcoin is that at some moment, in the future, we will have given the world the last dollar the world cares to have cares the whole. And I think we because the SWIFT system settles in USD, because for years, we’ve been forced militarily, the petro-dollar concept where whoever buys oil anywhere from anybody pays in US dollars, that has given us carte blanche to print in a way that, you know, small countries, there’s only so many of the units of currency you can print before they spill over. And this spilling over is what we can think of as this as the crisis causing loss of confidence. But that the entire globe is now the reservoir of dollars, everyone is kind of infected with dollars everyone is whether they know it or not. They’re deeply exposed to the US dollar. So what that means is we can print a lot more dollars for a lot longer before the crisis occurs. But when the crisis occurs, because I think these things tend to have this kind of cycle, there’s likely to be some moment where we’ve, we’ve just pushed it too far. And people have finally said, it can’t be worth all this if you’re just printing it at this pace, right? If and when that happens, what I think will be a very strong candidate for the global, global reserve currency is something like Bitcoin is relatively free of politicisation. I mean, all of all the miners were kicked out of China, get out, beat it. And Bitcoin didn’t skip a beat. The network ran, transactions settled. This was an entire block, a huge block of mining entire operations just overnight, decimate and and yet, functionally, and practically. Yes, there were price fluctuation associated Bitcoin to dollar exchange rate that fluctuated, of course, but the way the network function, completely oblivious to this loss of hashing power and this giant political upheaval, I think that will make it very attractive as a reserve currency. So, in the moment, we’re comparing, how many dollars is a Bitcoin worth? And we hope it’s worth more in X number of months or years. I think the long case is this is this has some likelihood of being the reserve currency. So you’re, you’re purchasing today, what will be the money going forward? And so from that standpoint, if your horizon is that length of time, whether it’s a decade or two, or three, who knows? If that’s your horizon, you’re far less concerned about the volatility than if you’re trying to put in a good result, result this quarter. Yeah, my argument is if you want to invest in this space, take the longest view possible. And make your decision based on the longest you don’t, don’t, don’t expect that you’re going to be able to, A predict the right project and B predict the right timeframe, an entry and exit points to get in and out to make a bunch of dollars off of your crypto investment. But that’s, you know, people will make a lot of money, but a lot more people will lose a lot more money.
Gene Tunny 41:20
Yeah. So you talked about a loss of hashing power. So I’ll put a link in the show notes about hashing power. I think I know what you mean. But this relates to the process of, is this the process of solving the puzzles of proving whether a transaction is legitimate or not, broadly speaking?
Lars Emmerich 41:40
Yeah, this is, so it’s the marriage of how Bitcoin is created. And the pace at which it’s created, the way it’s set up is that every 10 minutes or so a new block. And a block is nothing but a list of all the transactions that have occurred in the last 10 minutes, plus the hash. So the cryptic cryptographic code that summarises every prior transaction. And this does two things. The way this hash is determined, you, you can’t calculate it in advance, but it’s trivial to verify it in reverse. The way the math works, it’s, you couldn’t with massive amounts of computing power, you couldn’t trick the system and guess faster than everyone else. So the way mining works, is that these processors, they’re guessing millions of times a second, the hash, and the world is literally guessing what string of characters will solve this hash of the summary of the last 10 minutes worth of transactions plus the hash that represents cryptographically, every other transaction that’s ever happened. And so because it’s trivial to verify, its takes no, almost no computation power whatsoever to verify that the right hash has been found. But it’s very, very difficult to guess it, you have to roll a 36 sided dice correctly, 100 times in a row, that’s what mining is. Now, that’s when your computer or your mining pool guesses correctly, you get rewarded with some number of Bitcoins. That’s the incentive for mining. But what mining represents, is when you, you take the list of transactions and package them together and create a hash function out of them. What you’re saying is if anybody tries to go back and change any one of these transactions, no words, if anyone tries to commit fraud, the entire world knows about the entire world rejects the fraudulent transaction, because the entire world can tell cryptic, cryptographic, if one thing has been changed at any point along the line. And so this is the real value of mining operation, is that it it prevents fraud. It prevents theft, it prevents double spending in a way that takes entire police apparatus and, you know, buildings full of banks and all sorts. It’s a beautiful solution to a really intractable, intractable problem prior to this, prior to this innovation that reason. It’s remarkably immune to political and criminal intervention. Right.
Gene Tunny 44:52
It sounds like they’re using a brute force approach as you were describing it. So there’s no algorithm that allows you to quickly get to the right solution to solve this, this hash or figure out what it is. And that’s why you need all of this computing power. Now, there’s, if I’m interpreting this all correctly, and there was an article in the Financial Times that I didn’t get a chance to send it to you before, because I just, I just read it this, this morning, my time in Australia, and they’re talking about how the amount of energy that’s consumed by Bitcoin mining or the, you know, all the Bitcoin operations around the world is equivalent to the energy use, or the electricity used by the country of Belgium, I think it was, and this was in an article.
Lars Emmerich 45:44
Its about 1 half of 1%, I think of current global energy supply. So there’s a lot in that figure that we can, we can pull apart, the first thing I think we would say about that is given that every transaction is visible and verified by the entire globe. That removes what you’re, what you’re buying by expending that energy, is the security of the global financial network and the integrity of the global financial network. And what you don’t have to buy is the military intervention for 30 years in the Middle East to ensure that all petroleum transactions settle in US dollars, you don’t have to pay the energy for all of the buildings and humans it takes to run the global banking system, which is just a series of of parochial, third party, you know, intermediaries, and you don’t pay the cost of a fraud and theft. And you also don’t pay the enormous cost of inflation. When you’re, even if inflation is 3% per year, you’re you’re, you’re spending 3% more energy every single year, just to keep your nose above water to keep your productivity to keep your standard of living. So that’s what you’re, that’s what’s on the other side of this energy equation. I don’t know how much energy that amounts to. I know that, by many estimates, we, we’ve spent between six and a half and $10 trillion, since 2001 prosecuting the global war on terror, which has been conducted largely in the oil producing countries on the planet. And you know, someone somewhere on the order of, of a million lives, you have to think that those kinds of things are less necessary, when the currency has its own integrity. The other thing that is difficult to quantify is and we’ll get to the actual breakdown of that, that number one half of a percent, in just a second, there’s more there than, than their first appears. The other thing is that when a currency is scarce, and you can’t just print it up, when you’re ready to go fight a war there’s likely to be fewer wars, there’s likely to be less military action, when when it’s an it’s always always destructive, you know, that the real cost of military action is just astronomical. And it’s far less feasible when you can’t just print up a war like you, like you can now. So I think those are costs that are that are on the other side of the ledger that that people don’t necessarily appreciate. That’s what scarce and sound and and forcibly scarce and and forcibly sound money buys for you. The second thing is it’s an exceptionally competitive industry mining Bitcoin, super competitive, the salient variable, are two. Chip production and these are application specific integrated circuits, their their purpose in life is to mined Bitcoin period. When you produce a new semiconductor, that’s an expensive process. The second and this ends up being the dominant cost in Bitcoin mining is the price of energy. So what this means is that the Bitcoin mining operation automatically flows to those places where energy production is cheap. And so you can think of it like the aluminium industry where it takes a massive amount of electricity to smelt aluminium. And so, aluminium, put production migrated to those places where geothermal energy is cheap or other sources of energy. So Iceland, a couple of places that have a high geothermal energy output? Well beyond what people, what people can use in those areas, and there are places in China where seasonally, and places all over the Earth where seasonally, the hydroelectric power that’s available in the rainy season is astronomically more than the population consumes. And more than current battery technology lets you hold. So the hashing power goes to these places where excess electricity is produced largely sustainably. And so a good portion of the energy that secures the Bitcoin network is pretty green. Another area is that as petroleum is processed in the world runs on petroleum, that’s not going to change overnight. It’s not going to change in several decades, because it’s it’s so deeply entrenched in everything that we that we do. It’s just a fact of life. But the process of it, you have to burn certain amount of, of gas, that’s a byproduct. So these are refineries all over the earth, you see these bright orange flames, just shooting energy into the ether, because there’s nothing else that they’re doing with that gas. Well, what Bitcoin and Bitcoin and energy production, they’re, they’re coming together, because Bitcoin helps stabilise the production profile for power plants, number one, number two, it gives a bit the burn, that refineries do just burning off this waste gas, that thermal energy can produce electricity on site that can be used for Bitcoin mining, and there are several places where those agreements are, are being implemented now. So that’s, that’s energy that is just currently being absolutely full of waste, that will no no longer be wasted it will be put to put to use. So it’s not clear. It’s not this clear case where we’re irresponsibly securing the Bitcoin network, which in and of itself, I think is a mean, what else you’re going to spend energy, if not to secure the financial infrastructure of potentially all sorts of nations on Earth, and maybe even at some point, what may become a global reserve currency in the way that the US dollar has become a global reserve currency. You know, it’s not quite the soundbite that the reality of the situation is not quite the soundbite that you hear, Oh, gosh, it’s terrible. It’s kind of warm the earth up to whatever and it’s evil? Not so much, you know, not so fast. Yeah, there’s, there’s been a bit a bit of thought put into it.
Gene Tunny 52:56
Yeah, I’ll have to look more into those, those opportunities you were talking about to to use energy that would otherwise be wasted for for crypto. So I’ll have to look at that. That’s interesting. You’ve got an interesting hypothesis there about how crypto could mean less military intervention worldwide. So again, yeah, I think I have to get my head around around that. And but I think yep, you know, if that’s, if that’s, that, that’s, that’s a hypothesis. So I’m happy to accept that as a as a hypothesis. Can I ask about a theory? Um, if you’ve been following what’s been happening with a theory? Are you mainly in Bitcoin laws
Lars Emmerich 53:42
with a great deal of interest? Yeah. I want to circle back Yeah. It’s not nearly crypto. That is, like, not all crypto is good in the way that I have described bitcoins virtues, okay. Because if, if it is just down again, to a central authority to govern the supply, whether or not it’s cryptographically secured, once you’ve issued the new supply, doesn’t really matter. If I can print more of these tokens whenever I desire, then I lose the scarcity. I’m just an all I am is an updated digital fiat currency and the central bank, digital currencies that that are. I think, in autocrats, you know, dream. They’re, they’re really, they’re really just digital forms of the existing system. There’s not there’s not any advance not any revolution, not any evolution there. And in the case of Aetherium this is a really interesting case because Aetherium is a project that you know that eath has some some value. eath is also used to power it’s a substrate a commodity used to To power computation in Aetherium, related applications, or business. In other words, it, you can think of it almost like a programming language that requires fuel. And eath is the fuel. And they are currently on a proof of work system. And that’s what Bitcoin is proof of work. They’re talking about moving to a proof of stake, meaning who makes the rules, the people who have the most eath make the rules, they have the greatest stake in the game, and therefore they have the greatest authority over the governance. And this is, this is basically fiat currency. It’s, it’s basically the same thing as the fiat currency, you know, the, the, the Board of Governors or or whoever’s whatever small collection of people is in charge at Etherium. They will ultimately decide how many tokens or print Yeah, and, and the proof of stake just you’ve automatically instituted an oligarchy. As you go proof, you the only people are the people who have the most say, over the way our money is handled, if that comes money, or the people already have all the money, or most of the money. That doesn’t seem like an improvement. To me, that seems like more of the very same. And the bumper sticker is oh, we’re going green. Yeah, we’re not gonna do this evil energy thing. Instead, we’re just gonna hand the keys to the kingdom to the people already, who already own the kingdom.
Gene Tunny 56:40
Yeah, yeah, that was. That was. I think that was the sentiment from some of the critics of this, that were quoted in the Financial Times. I’ll put a link in the show notes. Yep. So they’re saying that look, this is going away from what crypto is all about? So yeah, it’s it’s not the right direction, according to them. Okay. Lars has been great. Pick your brain for the last nearly an hour or so. Is there anything? Before we wrap up any anything we’ve missed? Or any any important points you think would be good to? To get out there to my audience? Before we wrap up, please?
Lars Emmerich 57:21
Sure. I think there’s been a, we’ve talked a lot, a lot of it is technical. And there are some technical details to digest. For sure. I think the most important thing to say on this particular topic is there’s there’s a lot out there that you can, that you can educate yourself on, you won’t fully understand it unless and until you bite the bullet. And just get into some of the more technical discussions. Until you do that. You’re completely at the mercy of the interpretation of whoever’s writing the news article, and whatever slant has been taken on it. So if you want to make a real decision, I would say look at how the technology actually works. Whether you’re thinking of a project that’s that’s not Bitcoin, that’s more of a security or a stock, or a new investment, or a new startup that you’re thinking of investing in that’s issuing a token? Or if you like, what you’ve heard about Bitcoin, go look at how it functions, and then make up your mind from there and stress tested, think about edge cases, think about who can manipulate it, and how what would it take to manipulate this particular venture. And I think that’ll go a long way toward also, think about your time horizon. If you’re looking to get in and get out with a quick book, join the club, everybody wants to do that. And there’s enough lottery ticket winners to just keep us off frothing at the mouth, but you’re gonna lose your shirt, most likely. Think really long term, and think about all the edge cases and arrive at a sober you know, well considered position on
Gene Tunny 59:07
rod and were there any good resources from your perspective that I could link to in the show notes? If there are if you do have any I can. I can link to them in the show notes for people.
Lars Emmerich 59:17
Yeah, there’s there’s a, I recommend this with reservation safety and almost the Bitcoin standard. There’s a few digressions in there that are that are worrisome, and that detract from the central argument that he makes, he goes on a few tangents that are not helpful, but he does a really good job of describing the fundamentals of how the network works and how how the Bitcoin, the Bitcoin network works. So if you can ignore the rant on modern art. I mean, just completely skip the chapter. And if you can, you know, just focus on the way he describes the functioning of network that’s really quite useful.
Gene Tunny 1:00:02
Good stuff. Okay, last anyway, thanks so much for the conversation. I really enjoyed it. And yeah, it’s made me think think a bit more laterally about these issues. So that’s great and yeah all the best for your, your publishing career. I think it’s terrific. You’re, you’re doing well in that area. So that’s great. And yeah, Lars, really appreciate it. So thanks so much for your time.
Lars Emmerich 1:00:28
Thank you, James. My pleasure.
Gene Tunny 1:00:31
Okay, that’s the end of this episode of economics explored. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please tell your family and friends and leave a comment or give us a rating on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact at economics explore.com And we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Till next week, goodbye.
Thanks to Josh Crotts for mixing the episode and to the show’s sponsor, Gene’s consultancy business www.adepteconomics.com.au.
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