Brockwell, Bitcoin — an economic odyssey

The following is a featured article in Business News:

The following is a featured article in Business News:

Perth–raised Naomi Brockwell has carved out a most unusual career in the US, combining her twin passions for the arts and free-market economics.

Ten years ago, Naomi Brockwell was in a similar position to many other 19 year olds.

She’d spent two years at university, was not enthused by her economics studies, and decided to take a year off backpacking in Europe.

For Ms. Brockwell, however, there was a deeper unease about the Keynesian economics she was being taught.

“It didn’t make sense to me,” she said.

“I didn’t believe in the economics I was taught, I thought it was just false.”

After returning to Perth, the energetic Ms. Brockwell pursued her interest in the arts, studying acting at Curtin University and classical music at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

“It changed my life, the quality of teaching there is fantastic, and I fell madly in love with opera,” Ms. Brockwell told Business News.

She went to New York to pursue opera singing, expecting to stay for a few months, but is still bases there, making her debut with the New York Lyric Opera in 2013.

She has also pursued her lifelong interest in film making, setting up a production company in New York and, among many other things, working as an executive producer, casting director and actress on the 2014 thriller Subconscious.

From New York to London

New York has held the title of “Financial Capital of the World” for a long time, but perhaps all of that is about to change. UK Finance Minister George Osborne seems to think so, declaring that “with the right backing from government” they can make London the “fintech capital of the world.”

This announcement came in a speech at London’s Canary Wharf in the east of London, where Osborne said that the government had begun exploring the potential of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

This is a very positive turn of events, especially in light of the proposed “bitlicense” that has come out of the New York Department of Financial Services. The license has been described by an overwhelming majority in the bitcoin tech sphere as too heavy-handed, creating the risk that bitcoin startups will be driven out of New York State. Many say that the license will not help secure people from fraud as it claims to do, but will instead only place unworkable obstruction in front of the innovators trying to develop this technology.

Yesterday in an open letter to the NYDFS (August 5th), the Bitcoin Foundation has argued for an extended comment period on the proposed legislation. They have stated that there needs to be greater cooperation with the bitcoin community and more transparency for the process as a whole.

However, if the proposed license does indeed go through as it stands, perhaps Osborne is right and NYC’s day in the sun has indeed passed.

Bitcoin: The difference in Attitude is Education

The media tends to focus on doom-and-gloom stories, because sensationalist headlines attract larger audiences. However, when journalists go so far as to misrepresent facts and sway the public in one direction or another, these stories can be dangerous. This is especially true when talking about a new technology that has the potential to change lives for the better. Public opinion can mean the difference between this potential being realised, or crushed completely.

That is the situation with Bitcoin.

The media frequently talks about Bitcoin now, but often misrepresents the facts. Coverage tends to focus on the negatives. Stories about money laundering, drug trading, exploded exchanges, and price crashes predominate. The coverage rarely mentions the role of the positive, entrepreneurial Bitcoin community in launching a technological revolution that is at the forefront of dramatically improving lives. Venture capitalists are pouring resources into this technology that they say combines the power of gold with the convenience of the Internet. Bitcoin forums are buzzing with excitement about an impending financial revolution.

So why are some people so positive, and others so negative?

Criticism of Bitcoin overwhelmingly comes from the uninformed, while support often comes from the technologically competent. Paul Graham, a prominent venture capitalist, refers to Bitcoin as a paradigm shift that is unfortunately “derided as a toy, just like microcomputers.” Accomplished venture capitalist and entrepreneur Marc Andreessen has written that the potential of bitcoin today is analogous to personal computers in 1975 and the Internet in 1993. Today, it is the preoccupation of “nerds.” Tomorrow, it can change the life of everyone.

Andreessen has done more than just speak Bitcoin’s praises; he has invested just under $50 million in Bitcoin-related startups.

The difference in attitude is education.

Bitcoin is beginning to transition away from its volatile beginnings and theoretical potential into a mainstream phenomenon, with real results for the layman just over the horizon.

Critics commonly mention Bitcoin’s role in money laundering and corruption, epitomized by the infamous online market Silk Road. What is less well publicized is that Bitcoin can also serve the public good. Venture capitalist Tim Draper recently bought $19 million worth of Bitcoins confiscated from Silk Road, and plans to use them to provide liquidity in Third World countries as a means of combating rampant inflation and corrupt government policy. Draper’s initiative is an exemplar of Bitcoin’s coming of age.

There are 2.5 billion unbanked people in the world, and now by just giving them access to a cell phone we have potentially added 2.5 billion people to the global economy. Furthermore, with bitcoin you can send microtransactions directly to people anywhere in the world, without crippling fees from middlemen or fear of government extortion.

On top of this, basically anything you can buy for US dollars, you can now also buy with bitcoin. Seemingly every week a new brand name retailer is added to the list of merchants who accept bitcoin, which now includes the likes of Overstock, Expedia, and OkCupid. The price of Bitcoin is on the Bloomberg terminal [XBT] as well as Google Finance [CURRENCY:BTC].

Despite all the endorsements and exciting developments, a recent Reason-Rupe poll shows that only 8 percent of people say that they really understand Bitcoin, while 56 percent want to ban it.

In response to the fearmongering and lack of credible information about Bitcoin, I started my “Bitcoin Girl” project as an accessible and fun way to present videos that demonstrate the human impact of this technology. Bitcoin Girl is part of a larger initiative by the nonprofit Moving Picture Institute. Called the Bitcoin Project, it uses entertainment to highlight how crypotcurrencies such as Bitcoin have the potential to create incredible positive economic and social change.

If we want to avoid uninformed legislation crippling Bitcoin in its infancy, we need to educate the people who understand humans better than computers.

On “Bitlicense”

On Thursday the New York Department of Financial Services issued the first draft of what they call a “bitlicense”. People have been restless to find out how the New York State government plans to regulate cryptocurrency, and what was unveiled is possibly a worst-case-scenario come true for bitcoiners. Most people in the Bitcoin community see the proposed regulations as being completely outdated. The “bitlicense” treats cryptocurrency like paper money, hauling it back into an old-fashioned financial system, when it is in fact a revolutionary technology that should be recognized as unique. This license will not help secure people from fraud, it will only place so much obstruction in front of the innovators trying to develop this technology that it will simply drive these people out of New York State. Many have already remarked that the bitlicense is unworkable for startups already devoting all of their resources to inventing entirely new businesses.

If digital currency is the future, which makes sense in a digital age, then the current financial capital of the world won’t hold that title for much longer. The New York Department of Financial Services is currently taking feedback from the community about the proposed regulations, and this is certainly a step in the right direction. Now is the time for the Bitcoin community to mobilize and really educate people. New York will provide a precedent for other states regarding regulation, so let’s hope that the people who understand this technology the best can lead the regulators in the right direction. This is our chance to get it right, and education is the key.

Bitcoin: Education can make a difference

Every so often, a transformative new technology emerges that has the potential to affect everyone on the planet. But whether the technology’s potential is realized or or not depends heavily on public opinion. Positive coverage can encourage people to embrace innovation, while negative stories can make them avoid something new — or even encourage governments to legislate against it.

We’ve seen such controversies around issues like stem cell research or genetically modified foods. Some people praise their potential for curing diseases or feeding billions of people. Other people warn that these allegedly unsafe and untested technologies could be hugely damaging.

A similarly polarized dynamic has now arisen around Bitcoin, a new technology that has the potential to become a global money for a global economy. Bitcoin combines the advantages of instant online payment (like PayPal) with being a store of value (like gold). At its core is a powerful cryptographic technology called the “blockchain,” which Jeff Garzik, one of the Bitcoin protocol’s core developers, describes as an elegant and unexpected solution to distributed systems: how computers talk to each other, and how to keep them coordinated.

Many people believe that Bitcoin can make our financial system cheaper, faster, and safer. Yet, coverage rarely focuses on these benefits. Instead, stories about money laundering, drug trading, exploded exchanges, and price crashes predominate the news cycle, to the point where many people are inclined to see Bitcoin as an undesirable phenomenon. A recent Reason-Rupe poll shows that although only a small minority (8 percent) of people say that they really understand Bitcoin, the majority (56 percent) want the government to ban it.

So why are some people so positive, and others so negative?

Support for Bitcoin often comes from tech visionaries. Paul Graham, a prominent venture capitalist, refers to Bitcoin as a paradigm shift that is unfortunately “derided as a toy, just like microcomputers.” Entrepreneur Marc Andreessen has written that the potential of Bitcoin today is analogous to personal computers in 1975 and the Internet in 1993. Today, it’s the preoccupation of “nerds,” but tomorrow it can change the life of everyone. Indeed, Bitcoin is already starting to become a mainstream phenomenon, with tangible benefits for ordinary people.

Bitcoin’s critics commonly mention its role in money laundering and corruption, epitomized by the infamous underground online market Silk Road. But they often fail to mention that any currency can be used for socially undesirable purposes. In theory, Bitcoin is easier to track and regulate than paper cash, so we have legitimate reason to believe that Bitcoin’s wide adoption would lead to less criminal activity, not more.

Consider, too, that there are 2.5 billion unbanked people in the world, equivalent to eight times the population of the United States. Just by giving them access to a cell phone and Bitcoin, we have potentially added 2.5 billion people to the global economy. Furthermore, with Bitcoin, people can send money anywhere in the world, without crippling bank fees or fear of government extortion. When we consider that the World Bank expects migrants to send $436 billion in remittances to their home countries this year, the advantages could be enormous.

On top of this, you can now use Bitcoin at an increasing number of retailers. Seemingly every week, a new brand-name retailer is added to the list of merchants who accept Bitcoin, which now includes the likes of Overstock, Expedia, and OkCupid. This makes Bitcoin a credible and desirable currency in the developed world, as well.

In response to the fearmongering and lack of credible information about Bitcoin, I started an educational platform called “Bitcoin Girl” — but that’s really just the start of what we should be doing. If we want to prevent negative public opinion and uninformed legislation from crippling Bitcoin in its infancy, we need to educate the people who understand humans better than computers.

Red Scare: An Interview with Naomi Brockwell

Naomi Brockwell, also known as Bitcoin Girl, is an actor, producer, journalist, and program officer at the MPI. She’s one among a number of rising personalities in the liberty community who are breaking the mold and setting a new tone. Brockwell is also an opera singer, a Reason.TV correspondent, a policy associate at the NYC Bitcoin Center, and on the advisory council for the Mannkal Foundation for economic education.

We don’t have the space to list her many other talents and accomplishments.But we can say she is FEE seminar faculty at Freedom Fest this year for the second year in a rowWe got to sit down with Brockwell for a brief spell among her thousand projects.

The Freeman:Why does changing the world require artists?

Brockwell:If you want to change the world you have to change the underlying philosophy of a culture. You can try to educate people with facts and figures, but unless you understand how to connect to people, and unless you can reach out and speak to what’s important to them, all the data in the world won’t do you any good. People connect through storytelling. The emotionally compelling story of one individual can be more important for social change than all of the white papers stacked on top of each other. People don’t relate to facts, they relate to individuals and their stories, and it’s the role of the artist to tell these stories.

Artists throughout history have not only reflected what’s important in a culture, but they have helped define it. Art changes the way people think, so if you want to change the world, then help artists redefine popular culture. Help artists expose people to new ideas, help them captivate the world with the issues that you believe are important. The fact is, films and stories will reach far more people than a white paper ever could, and this is why artists are so important. They have this immense power at their fingertips, and we need them to help us fight for positive change.

The Freeman: Who is Bitcoin Girl and what does she care about?

Brockwell: Bitcoin Girl is an educational platform that explores the cryptocurrency world and provides an alternative to the current trend in journalism of only printing doom-and-gloom as a way of getting a larger audience. There is massive demonization of cryptocurrency in the media, and it’s no wonder when you consider the vested interests that banks and governments have in destroying cryptocurrency. As a result, the only positive arguments that are honest about the benefits of cryptocurrency tend to be hidden away in esoteric subreddit threads, and are largely inaccessible to the average, unacquainted person. For this reason, the vast majority of people lap up what the mainstream media tells them, which is mainly negative and poorly informed.

Instead of being skeptical about this new protocol, people should be overwhelmingly excited about it and all of its possibilities we haven’t even begun to unlock. Bitcoin technology has the power to bring about incredible social change. It can lift people out of poverty. It can give people back freedom of speech. It can bring community together in a new peer-to-peer world—the full potential of which we’ve only seen a glimpse.

That is what Bitcoin Girl is: a more accessible way for people to learn about bitcoin, so that they are not forced to depend on a biased media for their information. It shows bitcoin in a refreshing way: as an exciting, powerful tool with the potential to create incredible positive change.

The Freeman:Self-awareness is vital to what you’re doing. What does it mean to cultivate one’s own brand?

Brockwell: I think the energy behind bitcoin is incredibly uplifting. I adore going to bitcoin conferences, because the atmosphere is one of creation and positivity. It is fun and inspiring: You’re surrounded by some of the smartest people in the world, and as Jeffrey Tucker astutely observes, they are all living 10 to 20 years in the future. And it’s like they’re in a giant playground. I hope that the Bitcoin Girl brand can harness the same sense of fun and lightheartedness. The one idea that I really want to reflect in this brand is that technology is not to be feared: It is value-neutral. It’s really important that people don’t let fear of the unknown paralyze their willingness to explore something that has tremendous potential to benefit all mankind.

The Freeman: What would you say to rising personalities about the importance of projecting yourself in interesting ways?

Brockwell: Of course it’s always good to stand out, but I don’t believe that people will connect with what you’re saying simply because you stand out. Authenticity is supremely important, and you have to be completely passionate about what you are saying. That’s what will make you interesting. It’s not so much the image that you’re projecting that is important, but the principles you live by and the extent to which you are willing to fight for a cause that you believe in. If you want to be a respected personality, or just a respected person, then command respect.

The Freeman: In terms of movement-building, what do you think about the idea of tapping into different subcultures—like bitcoiners?

Brockwell: Bitcoiners value technological innovation, and they recognize innovation as the way of solving the world’s problems. They are also skeptical of the government’s role in this process, and see government interference in their developments and experimental startups as a hindrance rather than a help. They are also skeptical of the need for centralized banks, and are increasingly seeing the value in decentralized, peer-to-peer exchanges where the regulation is built into the technology rather than given to a third party. I think there are a lot of people in the freedom movement who would be really sympathetic to what these bitcoiners are doing if they only understood it better, and I hope to provide a bridge between these two groups.

The Freeman: Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Brockwell:I’m an incredible optimist. I like the idea of technological determinism, that society organizes itself around its technology, that technology drives social structure and cultural values. If this is the case, then what we seem to be headed toward is a more peer-to-peer society. This is because of all of the peer-to-peer technologies that exist now as part of the Internet: 3-D printers, bitcoin, provably solvent transparencies in companies and banks, digital music sharing, digital movie distribution. This move away from top-down, centralized control and back to the individuals makes me very excited about the future.

The Freeman: In this editor’s opinion, most video that freedom-types put out is mediocre at best. There is a dearth of talent. Resources flow mostly to think tanks and established practices. Production values suffer. In many ways this is a chicken-egg problem, because funders don’t want to divert resources from familiar things until they see some evidence of good media. And yet we won’t see great media until we see more resources put into it. What are your thoughts on this dilemma?

Brockwell: I agree with half of what you say. There is certainly a lack of funding directed toward freedom-oriented films, and I believe that this is because people underestimate the importance of film in shaping our culture. Think tanks do a tremendous amount of good, but when we see think tanks, economists, and research analysts teaming up with filmmakers, that’s when you really start to see magic happen: reaching out to more people and moving public opinion. Take the Moving Picture Institute’s film The Cartel, for example: Chris Christie cited this incredible film by director Bob Bowden as being the number one reason why he decided to make education reform his top priority in New Jersey. Or another of the MPI’s films, Battle For Brooklyn, an immensely powerful documentary about eminent domain, which was short-listed for an Oscar. Even Hollywood has been producing some great films for the freedom movement lately: Dallas Buyers Club andThe Lego Movie are two of my favorites. There are certainly very high qualityfilms being put out there, and this makes it even more necessary to support organizations like the Moving Picture Institute so they can continue to support filmmakers and get the important messages of those films out there to even more people.

The Freeman:How did a young woman from Western Australia end up as a Reason.TV correspondent?

Brockwell: When you’re a freedom evangelist, passionate about journalism, with a degree in acting, and a long history of film production, it doesn’t take long before you discover and fall in love with institutions such as Reason. I’m honored to be a part of what they’re doing, and thrilled that they enjoy working with me, because Reason is just fantastic. In fact, working with Reason.TV on top of working full time for the Moving Picture Institute, and at the same time making feature films with Hilton Media Management, is pretty much a dream for me. I’m super excited that my first feature film with amazing director Georgia Hilton is coming out this year! It’s been a joy from start to finish working with her and the entire team, so keep an eye out forSubconscious, which will be released all over the world soon!

The Freeman: Who is your favorite economist—living or dead?

Brockwell: My favorite economist who is no longer living would be Murray Rothbard, who first ignited my passionate for economics and monetary policy. My favorite living economist would be Gene Epstein, who first introduced me to the ideas of Murray Rothbard!

Of course I adore Say, Bastiat, and Mises, too, and am always recommending their works to people. And as a communicator, Friedman did incredible work for the freedom movement, and I believe that a lot of people could learn a tremendous deal from him about how to debate ideas.

The Freeman: Thank you, Naomi Brockwell.

Who Is Bitcoin Girl?: A Conversation with Naomi Brockwell

Bitcoin is more than a currency and more than a protocol. It’s an idea. In order to spread, ideas need a communicator. They need a representative. In short, they need a face.

Bitcoin has found that face in Bitcoin Girl, the always-effervescent Naomi Brockwell. Born and raised in Australia, Brockwell leverages her intrigue and charm to craft educational, informative videos about all things crypto-currency. Degrees in acting, classical music, and musical theatre, combined with a lifelong passion for economics, have prepared her to take on the role as an unofficial spokesperson for a revolutionary technology.

In addition to Bitcoin Girl, Brockwell is a policy associate at the New York Bitcoin Center, a member of the advisory council of the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, a program officer at the Moving Picture Institute, and CEO & founder of Rainsworth Productions. Her feature filmSubconscious is currently in post-production.

Naomi and I recently had a delightful conversation about bitcoin, art, and freedom.

 

Joseph S. Diedrich: When and why did you come to the United States?

Naomi Brockwell: I came to the United States about 3½ years ago to study opera just for a couple of months. But as soon as I realized what there was for me in New York, it became very clear that I couldn’t go back without making the most of all the opportunities. Since then, my focus has shifted to film, simply because of the opportunities that have presented themselves.

JSD: How would you compare Australians’ perspective on bitcoin with that of Americans?

NB: I go back to Australia twice a year. As far as I can see, bitcoin nodes are a good reflection of how well bitcoin is or isn’t integrated into society. In the entirety of western Australia, there’s one node. That’s in stark contrast to New York. I can basically live within the bitcoin world here. I can buy my groceries with bitcoin. I can buy dresses with bitcoin. I can pay my lawyer with bitcoin.

I definitely see a big future for bitcoin in Australia. Australians have a very individualistic mindset. We’re always looking for avenues that are outside of the government sphere and outside of corporate interests. I think the difference in adoption right now is an educational issue.

JSD: Do you recall how you first became aware of bitcoin?

NB: Yes. I was at an economics conference about two years ago. A friend of mine had a Casascius coin, which is a physical bitcoin. I had heard the buzzword before simply because of the circles I was involved in, but I had never had taken the time to really understand it. My friend explained to me what bitcoin was in detail.

It was and is exciting for me to see this new potential open up before my eyes. We’ve had a government monopoly on currency for a really long time. Suddenly, we have a competitive currency. We have a digital currency that’s keeping up with the digital age and a global currency that’s keeping up with our global economy. Our currency finally seems to be in line with where we’re at technologically.

It worries me that there are attempts to integrate bitcoin into the existing financial system. If it were up to me, I’d say we should allow bitcoin to reinvent the framework. I’d like to see what blossoms if we were to just let it be.

JSD: What do you think the most important event in the history of bitcoin has been so far?

NB: The bitcoin world moves so incredibly fast. I just got back from the Toronto Bitcoin Conference. One of the founders ofethereum was talking about some aspects that they weren’t unrolling for a really long time…you know, six months. To them, that’s a really long time. This technology evolves so quickly. It’s exciting to think about what the bitcoin landscape, the economic landscape, will look like in ten or twenty years from now.

JSD: Over those next ten or twenty years, what do think the biggest challenge facing bitcoin is?

NB: Like with anything new, you’re going to have a lot of people trying to guard the past. New things are scary to people, and when you don’t understand something, that’s especially frightening. I think the biggest challenge is going to be overcoming the demonization of bitcoin, which the mainstream media and government have been perpetuating. We need to teach people what bitcoin actually is. It could be a vehicle for peace. It could be a vehicle for elevating people out of poverty. It could address many social problems. If people realize this, then we’re going to see widespread adoption.

JSD: How can bitcoin empower artists?

NB: Bitcoin can change an artist’s process of monetizing what they do. Microtransactions play a huge part in that. iTunes recognized a market and said let’s allow people to download music and pay per song. People want to buy in smaller quantities, so let’s enable them with a really secure method. That’s when you saw music piracy really go down. At the moment, you also have digital subscriptions to newspapers. You might only read the newspaper once a week, but you’re still paying for the entire subscription. I think what we’re going to start seeing more and more of is the ability to pay per article, especially in bitcoin. We’ll also see donations for free content as a way of showing appreciation for the work of writers, authors, musicians, and filmmakers. We’re going to see more of that now because we finally have an affordable method of transferring value.

The Moving Picture Institute is very interested in bitcoin. They see its potential for lifting people out of poverty and as being a tool for freedom of speech. They’re also interested in the technology and its ability to regulate itself. Working for MPI combines two of my loves—film and monetary policy.

JSD: How long have monetary policy and economics been on your mind?

NB: I’ve always been very interested in individual rights and freedom, and I actually started out studying economics. The passion was really sparked, however, when I moved to New York—the financial capital of the world. I became surrounded by brilliant minds who opened my eyes. Economics is the foundation of society and the fabric of civilization.

JSD: What made you decide to become Bitcoin Girl?

NB: I was heavily involved in bitcoin. I became Policy Associate at the Bitcoin Center when it first opened. I had been trading in the futures market for a while. There were huge changes happening. They were really starting to look into the holes in the Mt. Gox system. There were a lot of things going on that people weren’t talking about except on written forums.

I recognized that educating people about bitcoin is so important, but the avenues that were used to discuss bitcoin were all very esoteric. Reddit isn’t accessible to a lot of people. We needed a voice for bitcoin that was accessible to more people. Using video for educating people was and is necessary to combat the vilification and demonization of crypto-currency. Bitcoin needs physical voices and faces. That’s why I’m so excited about some of the bitcoin-related projects I’m working on with the Moving Picture Institute. They really recognise the power of film in educating people about important issues (thempi.org).

JSD: What do you hope to accomplish as Bitcoin Girl?

NB: Film is an incredible medium for communicating with people. I can use it to help people understand something I think is really important. That’s what I hope to achieve.

JSD: One last question. What can the average person do in their everyday life to further the cause of liberty and freedom?

NB: I think that having strong principles, a lot of integrity, and fighting for what you believe in is the most important thing that you can do. Stand by your convictions. Be open-minded enough to hear other people’s side of things. Don’t be a fence-sitter. Become educated about things. Realize that if you don’t fight for people who don’t have a voice, then it’s the same as persecuting them yourself.