Table of Contents
SPEECH TITLE: Escaping the Golden Handcuffs
SPEAKER: Jimmy Song
CONFERENCE: BITBLOCKBOOM 2023
My talk is called ‘Escaping the Golden Handcuffs,’ and it’s unshackling from the fiat system. This video is a book trailer made by JD about the book I just wrote, ‘Fiat Ruins Everything.’ In that book, I make the case that fiat money ruins all sorts of things in society today. Everything that we hold dear, everything that we think of as good, gets ruined by fiat money. I want to focus this talk on what to do about it because you know that a lot of stuff is broken, you know that so many things are messed up, and in a sense, the incentives are just so horribly aligned. So what do you do?
Unfortunately, the system is set up so that you’re trapped, and this is what I call the golden handcuffs.
This is a bunch of pictures of me over the past year. I traveled the world with my family, took my kids out of school, and we traveled all over the world for 277 days, visited 34 countries, saw a lot of different things, as you can see in these pictures.
This is something that I got to do as a result of saving and planning. The question that I got the most about this, especially from non-bitcoiners, was, ‘How the heck did you do this? Who takes out their kids for a whole year and just goes somewhere like that, and how are you able to do that?’ That’s what I want to talk about, this isn’t even in people’s minds as something that they can do. It’s maybe a fantasy that they might have, but most people don’t have the path to doing something like that.
Really, the reason is because we are all chained by golden handcuffs. What do I mean by golden handcuffs? I mean the thing that anchors you to a place that prevents you from going. If it were just normal handcuffs, it’d be something like slavery, but golden handcuffs are slightly different because they seem very attractive.
The ‘Hotel California’ of monetary systems
If you’re familiar with the song ‘Hotel California’ from the Eagles from the ’70s, it’s about the California lifestyle. You can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave. You go there and then you just stay, and you can’t really ever leave because you’re stuck. The fiat monetary system is very much like that, and in that sense, this song talks about that feeling that you have that you’re kind of stuck.
The reason why the fiat system works the way it does is because, in many ways, it’s attractive. You have a steady job, you have things that you can consume, and you get a lot of good stuff right away. In many ways, it’s voluntary. You don’t have to take out a loan for a mortgage on your house or something like that, but it’s there and it’s available. But inevitably, it leads to some form of debasement. The job itself that you might have or the communities that you’re a part of or the systems that you’re a part of, they degrade over time, and that ultimately leads to a lot of sunk cost. You might have invested a lot into a career that you might not really like. You feel a little bit trapped; you feel stuck. Really, that’s what that song is all about. It’s ‘Hotel California.’ You can’t check out; you become a zombie. But you can’t really ever feel like you can leave the system. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how the system is almost designed.
Mechanisms of golden handcuffs
What can we do about it? Well, before we get to that, let’s talk about what it is that kind of traps you. Here’s one: it’s like having a house. This is a part of the American dream.
Access to debt
Unfortunately, to get a house, you have to get a mortgage and do 5x leverage on your money to get one of these things. You’re in debt for something like 30 years. There are also university degrees. That’s another one that entraps you because you have to take out loans to go to these things. It’s now upwards of $50,000-$60,000 a year. So over a course of four years, you’ve got almost a quarter million dollars in debt. There are, of course, other things like credit cards and personal loans and things like that, which let you bring consumption forward. Essentially, all of these things are bringing consumption forward. What happens when you bring consumption forward is that you have to pay all of that off over time, and ultimately you end up working crazy to pay off all of this consumption that you already did. This is Hotel California. This is how you get trapped. These are the golden handcuffs. You get stuff early, and then you have to keep paying it off. The debt itself is a major mechanism in trapping you in the fiat system, and that access to debt is how you’re stuck. That’s not the only one.
There’s other stuff like health care and retirement. These are future promises of things or things that they make it seem like a necessity to live. You need health care; you need retirement; you need all of these things.
Even stuff like career and status, there’s a lot of status attached to a lot of these jobs and careers, and things like that which get you stuck. If you’re halfway up the partner track and then you suddenly quit, you’ve just wasted a whole bunch of time. The status that you get from some of these jobs, particularly certain rent-seeking jobs, it tends to be very addicting because people give you a lot of respect. People say good things about you, and you feel like part of society.
If you do something else, there’s social ostracization involved. Many of you may know this just by being in Bitcoin. A lot of people look at you weird when you tell them that you’re involved in Bitcoin. These are the mechanisms.
North Korea’s power play
This is Thae Yong-ho. I had the privilege of talking to him for a few hours at the Oslo Freedom Forum back in 2019. He is the highest-ranking North Korean defector, and I learned a lot from this guy. What he said during that conversation really struck me because he was explaining what happened in North Korea in the ’50s and ’60s when he was consolidating power. The Soviets had essentially installed Kim Il Sung as the leader of North Korea. But he still needed to win the people over and consolidate power to become the authoritarian state that they are today. How did he do it? Thae Yong-ho told me exactly what happened. He started giving stuff away for free. He said, ‘At first, it was healthcare, we’re going to give you that for free. Housing, we’re going to give you that for free. A job, everyone’s going to have a job.’ And people ate it up. They were like, ‘Oh yeah, I want healthcare. I want a house. I want free stuff.’ But there were strings attached with all of that stuff…
Cost of free stuff
It’s always a cost to these things. What he essentially said was that there is something beautiful about a market process and something very corrupting about getting stuff for free. Because when people claim that something is for free, it’s not really free. You’re just paying with something other than money. There’s a sacredness to a market transaction where you’re paying for something, and both people are obligated to provide for the other person. That means that you’re kind of connected in a way. But if you’re getting something for free, then you’re paying in other ways that you’re not entirely aware of.
Compliance as payment
These costs include stuff like compliance. I remember during the pandemic, I saw a tweet from somebody on the left that said something like, ‘Hey, if you don’t get a vaccine, then you should be denied emergency room services.’ This is where free stuff goes. You always pay with some level of compliance.
And when you pay with compliance, ultimately this affects your values and beliefs because you’re going to have to comply in a certain way. Your actions end up changing what you value, what you believe.
That’s where it leads to authoritarian rule. Because, in a sense, if you’re getting something for free and you’re dependent on them giving you something for free, then you end up submitting to whatever it is that they want you to do.
Ultimately, this leads to a weird Stockholm syndrome where you end up loving something not because you believe that it’s good, but because you were propagandized into it. You comply so often that you end up thinking that this is good just because that’s the way it’s been. Unfortunately, most of society today is in this weird Stockholm syndrome with respect to fiat money and government intervention. That’s the cost. That’s how the fiat system entraps you.
Escaping the fiat system (Golden handcuffs)
How do we break free? How do we get out of the fiat system? Well, I have some thoughts on that. Escaping from the fiat system and breaking free from our chains requires a few things.
Save/get out of debt
First, save and get out of debt because debt is bringing consumption forward. Debt is slavery. Getting out of debt and saving is the way to freedom. You’re going to need to save because this is the way in which you get out of the dependence of the fiat system. It used to be that if you did try to save, it was going to be very difficult. It was going to be a full-time job because you had to manage your investments. You had to manage whatever savings vehicle that you happened to choose. But now, a better form of saving is here. We have Bitcoin. You can put money in Bitcoin. You don’t have to think so much about it. You don’t have to work a job to keep your money. Instead, you can just keep it in Bitcoin. That’s a major tool.
Pay for value
Second, pay for value. Be suspicious of everything that is given to you for free because in some way, they are going to corrupt you. Paying for value is a critical part of this market transaction because both people are obligated once you pay. When you’re paying somebody for some good or service, they have some obligation to you to make sure that you get something good. That’s critical because if you’re getting something for free, they don’t care about you. Do you think Facebook cares about you? Do you think X or Twitter cares about you? Or TikTok or Instagram or any of these things that you supposedly get for free? They don’t care. They can cancel you whenever they feel like it or whenever it’s inconvenient or whenever you’re unprofitable because, of course, you’re the product.
So, pay for the things. This is what’s beautiful about decentralized protocols. You’re going to have to run your own server somewhere. You’re going to have to custody your own key somewhere. This is where paying for value is very useful. That means taking personal responsibility. When you get a lot of stuff for free, there’s a deep dependence on the provider of that free thing. But when it’s decentralized, you get used to taking responsibility over your own stuff. You need to grow in that to escape from the fiat system because there are all sorts of dependencies that they put on you.
Do you think Americans would be so fat if they didn’t have this crazy health care system that protects them and is a safety net for all kinds of stuff? I would guess not. They’d probably care a lot more about their health if they didn’t have the safety net. But once you take personal responsibility over your own health, you’re going to be a lot more careful.
Look for opportunities
Of course, you need to be looking for opportunities if you want to escape from the golden handcuffs, the fiat system, particularly your job. Most people have a job with a large corporation. Getting out of that is going to be a major step in escaping from the fiat system because that’s the major vector by which they induce dependency. Most people just have a single job, a single customer, essentially. And if they cut you off, you’re dead. As a result, you end up adopting the values of the company that you happen to work for, and that was the case for me when I left my last fiat job. I was working for a company in 2017, and before going off on my own, I did a lot of thinking. It was really scary, thinking about going and starting my own company and doing my own thing and trying to provide value to this community because I had always been sort of dependent on a company to provide a lot of things for me. But I also knew that there were a lot of costs in that dependency. I had certain beliefs that I didn’t realize came from being in a company. You always end up defending the company that you work for, even if they’re not necessarily doing things that are in alignment with your beliefs. In fact, your beliefs tend to change towards whatever it is that you’re dependent on. We see this phenomenon all the time in altcoins. People that are dependent or that are holding their bags tend to defend it. That scariness of going off on your own and doing your own thing, that’s there because you’ve never really been free before, and it takes a lot of courage to do that. In fact, it took me an entire month of contemplating whether to do it. It took me a month to get up the gumption to go out and try to start my own business. But that’s the thing that’s required to escape. You need to have the will to escape.
What I’m encouraging you here is to go and do your own thing, be an entrepreneur, provide a good or service to other people because this is ultimately how you escape from the fiat system. Provide value to other people directly instead of indirectly through possibly doing something that a company might make some good or service that might be good for somebody. Honestly, there are so many layers of rent-seeking that you end up not feeling like you’re contributing very much. Here are some practical tips.
Find something you’re good at
First, find something that you’re good at. For me, the easiest way to tell whether or not you have something of value to other people is people keep asking you to do something. Hey, can you organize X, or can you help me do Y? Whatever that is, start seeing if that could be turned into a business.
Get in a community
Second, get in a community, and I’m preaching to the choir here because obviously you guys are already in a community and here to make connections and so on, but get in a community because you need other people to make those connections and network so that you have not just customers but also support in what you’re doing.
Then charge money and hopefully almost an unreasonable amount. I can tell you as an entrepreneur that the people that pay the most give you the least problems. The people that pay the least, the cheapskates, they cause the most and the people nodding right now probably know this because they’ve given a discount to somebody, and it’s a little bit counterintuitive but it makes sense after you think about it. The people that are willing to pay the most, they get the value of whatever it is you’re providing very clearly. The people that have to be convinced by dropping the price, they don’t get the value, and they have to be convinced that what you’re providing them is worthwhile. So, of course, they’re going to cause the most problems.
Charge money and don’t be apologizing about it.
Don’t take on debt
Finally, don’t take on debt. This unfortunately is prevalent in the fiat monetary system where a lot of people just want to grow fast, so they take on debt to do it. But that’s just making you beholden to the people that hold the debt, and I count VC investment as, in many ways, very similar to debt.
I want to finish the speech “Escaping the Golden Handcuffs” with a tale of two cities. The one on the left is Paris, the one on the right is Brasilia, and there’s a big difference between these two cities. Paris is a very organic city; it’s a city that grew over a long period of time and wasn’t designed by anybody. It was just built up slowly, and it’s obviously one of the biggest tourist destinations around the world. One on the right, Brasilia, was completely a planned city. It’s the capital of Brazil, and they decided it’s going to be right there, and they designed everything from the top down.
I want to ask you, which city would you rather live in? Would you rather live in Paris or Brasilia? Which one looks more like a prison? This is what happens when you have top-down control, and the fact of the matter is any fiat system tends towards socialism, tends towards central control, tends towards top-down design, which is honestly not very human. It just doesn’t look like a place where you want to live. Unfortunately, with the large companies, the golden handcuffs and everything else that’s going on in the world today, we are going way more towards the city on the right than the city on the left. By being entrepreneurs, by creating value, you are creating more Paris than Brasilia, and that’s where I want you guys to go because ultimately that’s what builds civilization rather than crushes it.
Anyway, my new book is called ‘Fiat Ruins Everything.’ You can go to fiatruinseverything.com to join the crowdfund, and thank you very much.
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