In July 2019, Donald Trump tweeted against cryptocurrency, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin blasted bitcoin, U.S. Congress lambasted Libra, and the I.R.S. threatened more than 10,000 Coinbase users with audits.
The cryptosphere threw them a collective middle finger. Some examples:
In other words, a lot of hate and anger with some solid observations and valid points sprinkled in.
Last week, the price of gold skyrocketed and we got more vitriol from crypto Twitter. “Drop gold, buy bitcoin!” and “you can’t buy groceries with gold, dumbass.” Or, some variation of “gold sucks, bitcoin rules” to help Peter Schiff stay relevant.
This week, rumors swirled about an imminent global currency crisis. More conflict, curses, and crowing from the cryptosphere.
Please stop arguing.
While we should all fight for cryptocurrency, let’s also give people a reason to listen to what we have to say.
Tell a different story
Because of my book, Consensusland, I get to talk about cryptocurrency with lots of people who don’t know about it.
Many have heard of bitcoin, but few really understand what it is. They don’t use words like fiat, inflation, privacy, self-custody, exchange of value, and other terms that we use in the cryptosphere. Most of them don’t even know what those words mean.
When Anthony Pompliano uses the phrase “short the bankers, long bitcoin,” you and I hear this:
“We will empower individuals and entrepreneurs to create financial networks that everybody can participate in, instead of today’s closed, crony-ish banking system that forces you to trust a self-serving stranger with your money while perpetuating a monetary system that offers no choice and no escape from bad governance.”
Everybody else hears this:
“Bitcoin will destroy the banks that finance my lifestyle. Instead, I will have to use fake internet money that changes price all the time and that terrorists and criminals use to do bad things.”
I know because that’s what they tell me. I hear that story all the time.
(After they read my book, some people change their perspective. But not many people have read my book.)
Open people’s minds
When I worked in Congress, I heard pundits and politicos twist well-meaning statements into political fodder. I saw nuanced, reasonable policy discussions reduced to inane sound bites.
At the time, I thought that was just part of the game. It’s just “what you do” in politics—it’s the way you get votes, money, and support for the things you’re trying to accomplish. Stir people up, raise conflict, and turn people’s opinions to your favor.
I’m no longer a fan of this approach, but the fact is, it works.
From the past few decade’s worth of research into psychology and leadership, we know facts rarely change a person’s mind. Facts get messy and confusing. To really understand their significance, you need knowledge and perspective—things you usually don’t have.
A good argument rarely wins over your close friends, much less a group of strangers.
What does win people over?
A good story.
All forms of persuasion use this approach. In politics, it’s called a narrative. In law, it’s called a case theory. In kindergarden, it’s called a fairy tale. In Hollywood, it’s called a plot. In sports, it’s called a pep talk.
It’s how you make people believe things.
Politicians use stories to manipulate you. I don’t want that.
Instead, let’s use stories to open other people’s minds to new potentials. Let’s help other people see the future that we see.
Unfortunately, the story of cryptocurrency right now is:
Some anonymous guy created fake internet money that people bought pizzas with. Then, people used it to buy drugs, dodge taxes, and fund terrorists. Then its price went up and some people got rich. Then its price went down and everybody lost their money. Now people think they can use it for other things—but nobody’s actually using it for anything. Oh, also, it will kill banks, help criminals, and destroy governments. And its price changes all the time. And it’s hard to use. And it can get hacked.Today’s story of cryptocurrency, based on what I hear from non-crypto people I talk to.
It doesn’t matter whether that story is true or false. It’s what many people believe.
Let’s tell a different story about cryptocurrency. What about this:
Blockchain offers an amazing opportunity to improve government, give poor people access to financial networks, simplify business transactions, and create new, valuable industries. Using cryptocurrencies to unlock the incredible value of blockchain technology, we can solve huge problems that affect all parts of human life—how we distribute electricity, wealth, education, property, government services, and everything else we exchange with each other.My story of cryptocurrency.
How do we get people to believe that story?
Give examples of how cryptocurrency serves a public purpose
As a whole, the blockchain industry has come a long way in the past few years. Some countries even have crypto-specific regulatory regimes, and others have development funds set aside for blockchain projects.
In the U.S., we haven’t gotten that far, but we now have several lobbying firms and many businesses pushing Congress to change its wary stance on cryptocurrency. On top of that, Wall Street has quietly created the infrastructure and regulatory support to give your average person safe, simple ways to access cryptocurrency markets. Not to mention new payment services like BitGo, Omise, and whatever Square comes up with, as well as other businesses embedding cryptocurrency into their products and services.
These entrepreneurs and advocates will lead the efforts to make cryptocurrency seem normal and useful.
To help them make their case, we can start telling stories about legitimate uses of cryptocurrency.
For example, Factom has a contract with U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect government sensors and cameras from data hacks and spoofs. Tell that story. Tweet about how tiny exchanges of cryptocurrency among devices can secure your country from cyber attacks.
Or talk about Microsoft’s ION platform, which will give you a decentralized, digital identity you own and control. When ION rolls out, you will not need to give anybody your private, personal information—meaning, you will never have to worry about a hacker stealing your data from a company you do business with (because that company will not have your data).
Did you know ION will run on bitcoin’s blockchain? Tell that story. Post a video about how creative use of bitcoin’s blockchain will protect your family and finances from online theft and cyber-criminals.
J.P. Morgan will use its in-house cryptocurrency to give international businesses access to all of their money on-demand. As a result, they will not have to suffer changes in exchange rates nor wait days for payments to go from one part of the world to another.
You may scoff at J.P. Morgan’s effort, but it’s a story: stablecoins can cut business costs and improve efficiency. Tell that story. Talk about how cryptocurrency can boost profits, create better services, and simplify financial operations.
Maybe you hate Factom, Microsoft, and J.P. Morgan? You can find other examples—VeChain’s enterprise platform, Ripple’s xRapid service, Brave browser, D.Tube’s no-ad, censor-free video service, or any of the hundreds of other real-life innovations built with cryptocurrency.
With so much legitimate, real-world activity going on within the blockchain industry, you won’t have to look far.
Give people something to aspire to
Those stories matter, but we also need to give people something speculative and bold, something that stirs their imagination.
In the early 1990’s, people didn’t get excited about the internet because they wanted to type words to their friends instead of calling them on the phone. They got excited because politicians and entrepreneurs told them about vast data superhighways, new innovations, stronger militaries, better businesses, more job opportunities, and access to the rest of the world.
Use your imagination.
For example, think about the U.S. campaign finance system. We know politicians, wealthy people, and powerful interests abuse this system. We know corporations fund huge, sprawling influence networks through bundlers, PACs, and private networks.
What if somebody created a cryptocurrency with smart contracts that enforce campaign finance rules? Couldn’t we ask government to require all campaigns raise money using that token? Force all campaigns to use this token for official campaign expenses? Build privacy features so the campaigns won’t worry about making too many of their activities public?
If we did that, we would have cleaner campaigns with more insight into where the money’s coming from and where it’s going. Nobody could pull the shell-game shenanigans donors and treasurers use to dance around the edges of the law.
What’s the story?
Cryptocurrency eliminates campaign fraud, sheds light into shady dealings, and simplifies campaign accounting, compliance, and oversight.Campaign finance on the blockchain
Or think about real estate.
In the U.S., buying a home is very expensive. Taxes, fees, and financing can cost thousands of dollars for the least expensive properties, much more for larger purchases.
On top of that, banks require buyers offer a cash payment worth 20 percent of the sale price, otherwise they charge extra fees on top of the normal mortgage. Federal assistance programs can get complicated, often creating bad incentives and enticing people into loans they can’t afford or don’t understand.
What if somebody created a security token for each parcel of property? This token could run on a blockchain that captures survey data, transaction history, improvements and additions, and other important information. When you buy a house, you use this token to settle the deal. All the terms stay with the token. If you need money, you can sell some or all of the token instead of taking out debt.
Instead of a 30-year mortgage, you take out a one-month loan to buy the token. Then, sell as much as you need to repay the loan, use cash to settle the difference, and enjoy your new house. You can buy back equity as you go and your token holders will get their share of your property’s appreciation when you sell. If you need to tap into your home’s equity, you sell a little more of your token on the open market instead of refinancing, taking out a new line of credit, or getting a reverse mortgage.
What’s the story?
Cryptocurrency creates new ways to finance a home purchase. It also offers unbanked people a path to homeownership and unlocks billions of dollars in untapped home equity. It may even make predatory home lenders obsolete.Real estate on the blockchain
How do I know stories work?
Because I’ve seen it for myself.
My stepfather-in-law doesn’t care about consensus algorithms, but when you tell him his business can take electronic payments without losing 4 percent in fees, he gets it, he wants to learn more about bitcoin’s lightning network.
My uncle doesn’t know anything about blockchain, but when you tell him he can use it to buy and sell electrical power without having to go through distributors, he understands why that’s so significant because he worked in the energy sector.
My friend doesn’t understand proof-of-work, but when you tell him cryptocurrency will destroy his payment processing business, he perks up.
Of all the things people have said to me, the most lasting came from a city administrator who said: “call me when bitcoin can help me with parking meters.”
He doesn’t care about banks and inflation and inverted yield curves. Collecting parking fees and enforcing parking tickets is an administrative nightmare for city governments. That’s a real problem he deals with every day.
For you, this may seem boring and trivial. But your imagination has already envisioned the possibilities of this transformational technology. You already understand the technology. You already see the potential.
Most people never think about cryptocurrency at all—and they’re never going to read The Bitcoin Standard.
For them, keep it real and simple. Skip the explanation of money. Don’t talk about the failures of banks and central banks. Avoid arguing about fiat vs. hard money.
Tell them stories about real companies with real projects that use actual cryptocurrency to contribute something valuable to the world. Listen to their problems and find ways cryptocurrency could (maybe) solve their problems.
Make people want cryptocurrency to flourish
Everybody wants a better life in the future. Growing businesses, safe financial systems, low-cost government services, clean elections, personal security—who would argue against those things?
Give people a reason to think cryptocurrency can give them these things. It can’t just be “buy bitcoin and you’ll get rich, trust me.” People need more than that.
Am I suggesting that everybody will rush to open a Gemini account the moment you open your mouth?
No, of course not. We’re playing for inches, not yards. We just need that little change of perspective. Open people’s minds and let cryptocurrency do the heavy lifting. If it’s truly as good as we think it is, people will come around. It takes time.
For now, we only need to give people a reason to think cryptocurrency can make their lives better.
If we do that, I assure you that your government will give you more sensible laws. Your friends and family will show a little more curiosity and willingness to hear what you have to say. Businesses will be a little more receptive when you ask you pay with bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency.
It all starts with a story, not an argument.
Tell that story.
Mark Helfman is editor of Crypto is Easy and a top writer on Medium for bitcoin and investing topics. His book, Consensusland, explores the social, cultural, and business challenges of a fictional country that runs on cryptocurrency. In a past life, he worked for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.