Balaji Srinivasan on The Future of Bitcoin and Ethereum, How to Become Noncancelable, the Path to Personal Freedom and Wealth in a New World, the Changing Landscape of Warfare, and More (#506)

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“If code scripts machines, media scripts human beings.”

— Balaji Srinivasan

Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) is an angel investor and entrepreneur. Formerly the CTO of Coinbase and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, he was also the co-founder of Earn.com (acquired by Coinbase), Counsyl (acquired by Myriad), Teleport (acquired by Topia), and Coin Center.

He was named to the MIT Technology Review’s “Innovators Under 35,” won a Wall Street Journal Innovation Award, and holds a BS/MS/PhD in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Chemical Engineering, all from Stanford University. Balaji also teaches the occasional class at Stanford, including an online MOOC in 2013, which reached 250,000+ students worldwide.

To learn more about Balaji’s most recent project, sign up at 1729.com, a newsletter that pays you. They’re giving out $1,000 in BTC each day for completing tasks and tutorials. Subscribers also receive chapters from Balaji’s new (free) book, The Network State.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#506: The Episode of Everything: Balaji on Bitcoin and Ethereum, Media Self-Defense, Drone Warfare, Crypto Oracles, India as Dark Horse, The Pseudonymous Economy, Beautiful Trouble, Ramanujan, Life Extension, and More
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

If this nearly four-hour episode isn’t enough for you, perhaps you’d like to hear my three-and-a-half-hour conversation with Basecamp’s David Heinemeier Hansson (aka DHH)? In it, we discussed the power of being outspoken, running a profitable business without venture capital, Stoic philosophy, parallels across disciplines, and much more.

#195: David "DHH" Heinemeier Hansson: The Power of Being Outspoken
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SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Balaji Srinivasan:

Website | Twitter

SHOW NOTES

  • What is the significance of 1729, and what is Balaji’s mission in launching a website named after this “not boring” number? [06:02]
  • What was the subject matter and the intent behind the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) Balaji taught prior to joining Andreessen Horowitz? [10:21]
  • Balaji’s thoughts on the state of media (particularly podcasts), how product is merit and distribution is connections, and why I trust my dog to tell me if a journalist is trying to set me up for a “gotcha.” [16:57]
  • Just as the Founding Fathers advised against the establishment of a standing army in the United States, Balaji wonders if we should be cautious of relying on a standing media to deliver us the news of the day — or if there are better, decentralized options. [29:57]
  • What can we do to protect ourselves as we wait for the future to be evenly distributed? We dive deep into everything from achieving financial independence to auditing our social ties to securing our privacy with a pseudonymous economy that could diminish the effects of cancellation and discrimination. [40:27]
  • Roam Research co-founder Conor White-Sullivan once said: “‘Balaji was right’ might be the most terrifying phrase in the English language.” Eerily accurate early speculation about the COVID-19 pandemic aside, how would Balaji strategize a sizeable investment made today? (A reminding disclaimer: we’re not registered investment advisors, so do not take this or anything else here as legitimate financial advice.) [1:07:29]
  • What participating in 1729 — “the first newsletter that pays you” — would ideally look like. [1:10:55]
  • How Balaji envisions 1729 as a skyhook to rescue the world’s brightest minds from places that usually get overlooked — like developing countries and war zones — or allow them to operate on home ground pseudonymously. [1:14:01]
  • A digital native solution to education that qualifies students to work as they go instead of waiting years until a full degree is earned. [1:17:37]
  • How do you pseudonymously show proof of skill? Enter the crypto credential. [1:21:33]
  • Don’t underestimate the power of microincentives. [1:25:27]
  • How does Balaji rationalize a “half in Bitcoin, half in Ethereum” investment, and how does it tie into shifting establishment dynamics? [1:27:51]
  • Why does Balaji believe that “not many institutions that predated the internet will survive the internet” — including nation states and fiat currencies? [1:35:44]
  • Addressing downside risk, what circumstances might make Bitcoin or Ethereum bad investments? [1:45:06]
  • How can we expect crypto regulation to play out in the United States? How are cities, states, and countries with an eye on the future currently signaling their friendliness toward innovation? [1:51:57]
  • Why Balaji believes “win and help win” is neither progressive, nor conservative, nor libertarian, but a concept that beats them all. [2:02:22]
  • How Bitcoin regulation thus far hasn’t followed the course that popular opinion predicted, and why you should hold your keys locally. [2:05:07]
  • How do Ethereum risks differ from those faced by Bitcoin? [2:09:44]
  • Want to get an understanding of how unrecognizable the near future will be? Consider how much the world has changed between the year 2000 and now — and how little it changed, comparatively, between then and 1970. [2:12:36]
  • Does Balaji believe the changes we’re about to experience en masse will be mostly positive or mostly negative? [2:22:16]
  • Thinkers, scientists, or resources Balaji would recommend for people who want to further explore life-extension and transhumanism. [2:32:16]
  • Who was Lee Kuan Yew, and why he is interesting? [2:35:04]
  • What countries are on Balaji’s shortlist to watch as examples of what the future holds? [2:39:56]
  • Woke capital vs. communist capital vs. crypto capital, the Maginot Line revisited, and why China is so underestimated while the US is overestimated when it comes to facing the challenges of present and future. [2:45:28]
  • If there were a conflict with China over Taiwan and the US lost, what would be the consequences? [2:56:44]
  • Does Balaji see any obvious fixes the US could implement to mitigate against the risks of a cold war with China turning hot? Is there any way we can select our leaders for legitimacy and competence over popularity and inheritance? [3:01:38]
  • Balaji explains how a 51 percent democracy is like a Fosbury Flop, and the types of votes that really make a difference in such a system. [3:05:18]
  • What a convince-oriented “crypto” government versus a coercion-focused fiat government might look like. [3:12:41]
  • India: the dark horse, what is currently at stake as it considers banning crypto, and what Balaji sees as its way forward — by embracing crypto, learning from China’s ascendancy in the global value chain, and claiming its rightful place in the media hierarchy. [3:17:42]
  • Parting thoughts. [3:40:00]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

DISCLAIMER FROM TIM FERRISS: I am not an investment adviser. There are risks involved in placing any investment in securities or in Bitcoin or in cryptocurrencies or in anything. None of the information presented herein is intended to form the basis of any offer or recommendation or have any regard to the investment objectives, financial situation, or needs of any specific person, and that includes you, my dear listener or reader. Everything in this episode is for informational entertainment purposes only.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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42 Replies to “Balaji Srinivasan on The Future of Bitcoin and Ethereum, How to Become Noncancelable, the Path to Personal Freedom and Wealth in a New World, the Changing Landscape of Warfare, and More (#506)”

  1. Just a quick comment on inclusion versus exclusion. I listen to your podcasts and love the learning aspects. However, what I have noticed is that often, you and your guest speak too rapidly which can develop a sense of exclusion and can be felt as elitist. When your speech is rapid, what happens is that you are excluding many listeners from the amazing learning aspect that you offer. Rapid speech excludes individuals who are neophytes on the topic, elderly who process slower, people whose English is a second language, and so on.
    If you are interested in learning more contact me through [Moderator: link to clevelandemotionalhealth dot com removed.].
    Gratefully, Catherine Cleveland 🙂

  2. I agreed with many of Balaji’s criticisms of the media but I don’t think his solutions make much sense. I can’t see how blocking all NYT reporters is helpful, when so much valuable information is first reported there. Nor do I think that in a society where trust has completely broken down that a complicated computer algorithm that 99% of people will never fully understand will reestablish trust.

    I have just as much concern about what’s happening in the newsrooms of the NY Times and other publications as just amount anyone but I can’t see a world where all news is open source as a better one, especially when there is so much disinformation coming from decentralized news sources already.

    I cringe when I say this, because I think the last thing anyone want’s after 4 years of Trump is more MSM self aggrandizing but I would love to hear a long form podcast with someone who would defend legacy journalism.

  3. Balaji Srinivasan brought up some of the most alarming future changes to the world in which we live. What was most fascinating was the acknowledgement that decentralized global relationships leveraged through technology have disrupted the gatekeepers of society. Whether they be central banks, federal governments, or Fortune 500 companies, the new form of global-local citizen has removed the middlemen that have taken a cut off the top for the last 200 years and enabled individuals to create value that is distributed with minimal transaction costs.

    1. I agree with Jason. Balaji’s predictions for the future are in many cases unexpected and extremely thought provoking. His observations of current events, public policy and the governments in charge have a ring of truth that resonated with me the first time I listened to this podcast.

      With these possible futures in mind, how does one prepare? We are living in a country with a “failed monetary system” and a central government incapable of successfully rolling out a website. We adhere to an unproven belief that if we lead by “playing by the rules” and “leading by example” (at great and possibly unaffordable cost) we will motivate other nation states to do the same. Show me an example where that has occurred in the last 20 years. Is this anything like the end of the Roman Empire when they outsourced the defense of their northern borders to the very people who would eventually overrun and sack Rome?

  4. Wow. Incredibly insightful talk.
    Was kinda hard catching the many terms & ideas.
    Wish i could have a sort of a mind map sorting it out.

  5. This blog and crypto wallet solution are very relevant to the censorship risks discussed in this episode. I am working to help Podcasters implement this redundant system to move their audiences to and would love to do this for Tim as we learn by doing together. This sort of thing is just what I’ve been preparing for over the last few years, and I’m preparing to launch a Podcaster’s Challenge where I lead as many as possible through this process at once.

    [Moderator: link removed.]

    1. Great dense episode, and the only one I can remember where I alternated between “brilliant!” And “oh gof***kyaself ya pompous ass!”

  6. Wow! I have listened to this episode twice and will probably go for a third. I too had some difficulty hearing it because of the fast paced interview while trying to digest the concepts. But the content along with the host and guest kept me hanging on most every word. Tim is such a skilled interviewer and asks all the right questions. I have learned a great deal and one of the best podcast episodes I have had the pleasure and fortune to have listened to. I am truly grateful!

  7. That’s absolutely fascinating conversation. Balaji’s framing of many complex topics is extremely practical and reminds me of “megapolitical” factors described in “Sovereign Individual” book. I highly agree that the best strategy to prepare for the future disruptions is to be location independent and digital native. Exactly the values we now associate with the digital nomads.

  8. Great episode. Balaji’s assertion that we have to relearn to create community organizations is kinda out of touch. Lots of grassroots community groups exist all over the country, and meet people’s material and community needs, especially in areas where local government is incompetentant or just disinteresested. His idea of how to build a non coersive government from the grassroots that can eventually take political power through the traditional mechanisms is just a weird hierarchical tech version of something that already exists and has successfully gained political power around the world. Google ‘libertarian municipalism’. Lots of great examples and in my opinion is our best bet to transform society in the most peaceful way possible. Decades of libertarian municipalist organizing is what maintained order in northern syria when the asad regime retreated from ISIS. They were able to maintain public services, democracy, while organize defence malitias. Cooperation Jackson is one of the best examples of libertarian municipalist organizing in the US, but there are lots of projects.

  9. One of the best episodes past few years.
    Did you took MDMA before the interview? (I’m serious, I’ve listen 80% of your podcast, on this one you sound strange 🙂

  10. Geez, Tim… Of all the podcast episodes you’ve offered, this is the densest one to date. The amount of information and opinion to chew on will keep me busy for a long time to come. While obvious to some, the use of pseudonyms in strategically had not been on my radar screen.

    There’s much more here, of course. I’ve recommended this specific episode to several of my deep-thinking friends.

  11. I was completely blown away by the volume and depth of this interview. The breadth of Balaji’s knowledge and well developed thoughts is overwhelming.

  12. Just listened to this … whew, fast, long and dense! SO much information. I wish Balaji had a better mic … I had a hard time understanding a lot of what he was saying (sounded muddled).

    BUT … what I COULD understand felt game-changing. His thoughts about the rise of crypto-communities is fascinating. And it makes sense … it feels like the next iteration of tribalism.

  13. Wowsa, you want one quote. That’s an impossible task. My head is spinning but in an excited, wonderful, thoughtful way. Balaji Srinivasan is amazing. Brillant. So read read, clearly a visionary. It’s a long show but incredibly worth it. I can’t really beleive what I’m about to say but I didn’t want the intereview to end. Tim does a great job with the interview. Pay attention to what’s said, you’ll learn so much.

  14. Very well done. Really. Thanks….. One comment from the cheap seat re busting the 120 max lifespan. ….Any “treatment” technology comes up with is kicking 4B years of biological evolution on the planet in the head and “she” will kick back with unintended consequences especially with cancer which is programmed into evolution of aging.
    Mark Elliott MD
    Dept of Anesthesiology
    Providence Healthcare
    Vancouver, BC

  15. I can’t believe it’s taken so long for the penny to drop – we can’t know how to exactly carry out a task or solve a problem/situation as they aren’t set in stone but we can continually train and learn how to approach them. He really explains things so well, what a great interview.

  16. This was a fascinating man to listen to. He has a very deep understanding of so many aspects of life. He seems to be able to lift patterns out of events that occur in society, and then make useful decisions and axioms based on those observations. I replayed a lot of it over to really digest some of the issues and ideas that he brought up that buzzed over my head during the first listening. This ranks for me as one of the all time most gripping interviews I have heard anywhere. Thank you for providing a window into such dynamic people on your podcast, Tim. These interviews create situations of which I would never have the chance to be a fly on the wall for such conversations!

  17. I cannot possibly choose one moment, topic or quote that stands out as all of it stands out.

    The decentralization of education and the rapid development in this area really interests me and so being part of 1729 is really attractive. Having young children in the current education system I see that they are not being prepared for the future with the old slow system, which takes generations to slightly change.

    I would love to listen to a conversation with Balaji and Yanis Varoufakis about the future, I think their minds together would be incredible.

    Will certainly be coming back to this episode many times for the multiple nuggets of wisdom it holds.

  18. Brain hurts… this was amazing. It is uncommon for someone to run circles around Ferris (who hung in there better than almost anyone could). This was wide in breadth and deep. Absolutely spectacular. Everyone should listen to this. Several times. No way to absorb much of it in one pass.

  19. Tim mentioned doing an interview with (I believe) Daniel Weinand of Shopify, but I don’t see it mentioned in the notes. Is there a publicly available link please? It sounded like an interesting conversation.

  20. Holy crap Tim! Every time I think you’ve hit the top of your guest list there comes a guy like this! Loved hearing what Balaji had to say. This guy can talk. I can just imagine watching your during this pod. Very much enjoyed it…get him back on soon!

  21. That was like being in an intellectual wind tunnel test. Turns out I’ve a high drag coefficient.

    But Dubai? Really?

  22. Great Episode!!

    The Mooc “Startup Engineering” Balij created sounds extraordinary. I wonder if there is a link to his Mooc that could be added?

    I also realise it may be out of date or unavailable, since it was offered in 2013… Perhaps there is an updated alternative Balaji could recommend?

    Thanks!

  23. Hey Tim,

    I found the episode amazing and will attempt to get through his mooc course and some 1729 tasks. I found solice in finding the audio on youtube so I could isten to this at 75% speed. Just because it goes so fast… and I’m a native English speaker! 🙂

    So for those in the same boat I thought to share the youtube link, or just make a suggestion to include it in the shownotes or somewhere else that makes sense. Hope that doesn’t sound critial regarding Balaji’s speed, but it’s really a compliment that we’d want to catch more of what he’s saying. 🙂

    https://youtu.be/eim8REOYLzA

  24. Great interview with really valuable information. Wish I could share this (and all your content) with the hispanic community in Latin America. If you ever want to start translating you podcast transcripts I would love to help!

  25. Not understanding how Balaji’s proposal is anything more than a mash-up of Fiverr and LinkedIn badges. All it will do is create another venue where international workers can race to the bottom fighting for wages that aren’t even livable in their own nation. The people ‘proof of skill’ will enrich are those selling their services to achieve tech badges for others, unless Balaji will be proctoring every test? This outcome is so transparently obvious it seems quite clear that Balaji is well aware of it, meaning that his only goal here is basically a global sweatshop.

  26. Hey Tim!

    This episode was jam packed with goodies.

    If Balaji comes back on for a second interview, please ask him to expand on cryptocurrency wallet security and how individuals should go about securing their cryptocurrency if they decide to take that route instead of putting their cryptocurrencies on an online exchange.

  27. Hi there! I am new to most of the concepts put forth here. I do not have much knowledge of cryptocurrencies as well. But somehow the entire episode made me stick to hearing it. Since being from India, I could relate many of the happenings here in a newer global context. Yes 4G network coverage and Unified Payment Interface has revolutionised many things in India internally. And in fact there were news about Indian government considering its own electronic currency which were not received well with a large section of bankers and investors but I think this conversion to electronic currency seems next logical step and would be well accepted by the masses here. Thanks Tim for this extra long, mind-boggling podcast.