Bitcoin investor and evangelist Roger Ver -- "Bitcoin Jesus," some call him -- used bitcoins to buy his plane ticket from Tokyo, where he lives, to San Jose for Bitcoin 2013.
He asked the parking lot attendant at the San Jose Convention Center if he could pay for his parking with bitcoins too (no dice). In fact, Ver pays for as much as he possibly can with the currency. He's invested more than a million dollars in it and holds his savings in it. And if all that is not enough, the man listens to the sounds of bitcoin transactions as background music as he goes about his day.
Ver can truly be considered the Bitcoin movement's most fervent proponent. He sat down with CoinDesk for an impassioned discussion about why he's sunk his life savings into Bitcoin (Ver amassed his wealth by starting Memory Dealers, which he still operates) and how he believes the cryptocurrency will make the world a better place.
Ver has lived in Tokyo for the past seven years. He moved there, he says, because he no longer felt safe in the United States after serving a federal prison sentence for selling fireworks that he believed to be legal. He believes he was unfairly targeted because of comments he'd made while running for California State Assembly as a Libertarian candidate.
Nowadays, Ver considers himself a voluntarist. But he still embraces the view that, despite good intentions, most government actions have bad results in the end. That's part of why he believes in Bitcoin -- because he believes people should have the ability to make transactions outside the government's sphere of control.
CoinDesk: Did your prosecution inspire your interest in Bitcoin?
Ver: My political views before my run-in with the law were more abstract and philosophical ... It became much more real. The thing that has me most excited about Bitcoin is all the ways it will strip government control away.
CoinDesk: It seems that you are involved with everything in the Bitcoin world. What are all the Bitcoin companies you've invested in?
Ver: Bitcoinstore.com (which Ver owns), Bitinstant.com, Bitpay.com, Blockchain.info, Coinlab.com, Coinsetter.com, Payward.com, Ripple.com and a few that didn't make it. (Ver also provided the seed money to set up The Bitcoin Foundation, and is involved in the Web site LoveBitcoins.com.) I'm an early adopter of bitcoin, we'll leave it at that.
(Ver's investments were worth more than $1 million when he made them, but since some were made in bitcoins, they represent an even greater value at today's exchange rate. He also holds his savings primarily in bitcoins, although he declines to say how much he holds. Ver says he reports his bitcoin holdings to the IRS, because he does not ever want to go to prison again. But he doesn't necessarily advise that everyone does so: "I think everyone should follow their heart and do what they think is best," he says.)
CoinDesk: Do you have a number in your head of what a bitcoin will eventually be worth?
Ver: If Bitcoin becomes really popular, each bitccoin will have to be worth at least tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands ... I think (that could happen in) less than a decade. Look at how quickly PayPal put us online. There wasn't any giant company behind Bitcoin, and we have people who flew in from all over the world at this conference.
CoinDesk: What percentage of transactions will happen in bitcoins?
Ver: I think we'll see a higher and higher percentage of transactions online happen in bitcoin. Offline will happen later, if ever. ... I don't know any supermarkets or gas stations that accept PayPal.
CoinDesk: Did you invest so much in Bitcoin because you know it will pay off, or for philosophical reasons?
Ver: It's for philosophical reasons. I could have been retired and had a nice life already at that point. I could have chosen not to rock the boat and had a wonderful time in Japan. I found Bitcoin (two-and-a-half years ago) and it was like I found my calling in life ... It's this incredibly powerful tool that's not going to (just) free Americans, it's going to free every country on the planet ... I've been shouting from the rooftops.
If I lose every penny that I put into bitcoin -- let's say Bitcoin 2.0 comes along and I lose everything that I put in, but the world has more freedom and people finally have control of their own money, I'm happy. If all that happens, and I make a lot of money along the way, I'm happier.
CoinDesk: The Bitcoin Foundation advises against putting your life savings in bitcoins, but you have done just that. Why do you feel safe doing that?
Ver: Because at this point it has a four-and-a-half-year track record without a catastrophic problem with the Bitcoin protocol itself that wasn't quickly resolved. At this point, I don't think there are going to be any more in the future. In the next couple months we may hear (Bitcoin Foundation chief scientist) Gavin (Andreson) change his tune.
CoinDesk: Have any of your investments in Bitcoin companies paid off so far?
Ver: On paper.
CoinDesk: What is the affinity between people like libertarians and voluntarists, and Bitcoin?
Ver: Bitcoin is a financial system that can't be affected, altered or changed at the point of a gun. Because I'm opposed to violence, I'm in favor of Bitcoin ... The US military is busy killing people all over the world. I'm not interested in killing anybody. The vast majority of that war machine isn't paid for by taxation, it's paid for by inflation. (By transacting in bitcoins, Ver reasons, people can take away the government's power to print more money with which to make war.)
CoinDesk: How did you feel about the US government action against Mutum Sigillum?
Ver: I wish more people would pay attention because the US government claims to protect consumers and that's why they claim to do this kind of thing. They came in and stole Mt. Gox's Dwolla account with several million of their customers' money in it. If the government claims to protect consumers, why are they stealing this money? ... The money that was taken was Mt. Gox's customers' money.
CoinDesk: Did it surprise you?
Ver: I couldn't have predicted the exact day. The fact that it happened right before the conference was interesting ... There's no direct proof that they were trying to put out some negative press right before the biggest Bitcoin conference that's ever happened, but the timing is interesting.
CoinDesk: Was it a blow to Bitcoin?
Ver: No. The price didn't move at all, and people are more excited about Bitcoin than ever. The more governments try to attack and control Bitcoin, the more attention it will get. If governments start attacking, more people are going to hear about it and realize it's in their best interest to use it.
CoinDesk: Is there any role at all for government when it comes to regulating Bitcoin?
Ver: I'm in favor of regulation. I'm not in favor of regulation at the point of a gun. That's a really important difference. When the regulators from Washington, DC, make a law they're not asking you to do that. They're telling you to do that. The difference between asking someone and telling someone to do something is fundamental. It's the same as the difference between making love and being raped. (Every law comes with the implicit threat that it will be enforced at gunpoint if necessary, Ver believes.)
There could be all sorts of private industry groups that could make recommendations, and these businesses can choose whether they want to participate, and nobody's going to be threatening anyone with violence.
CoinDesk: What will it take before Bitcoin can become truly mainstream?
Ver: All these really smart software programmers (like the ones who were at this conference) need to build the software that makes it really easy for your Grandma to use Bitcoin safely. (That's a year or two out, Ver says.) We need it to be incredibly easy for people to get traditional currencies in and out of bitcoin, so the exchange markets need to develop a lot more as well. More than 1,000 people here are really hard at work on that. Lots of really smart people are working on this.