Interview with Jesse Berger, Author of Magic Internet Money: A Book About Bitcoin.
Posted On February 10, 2021
Jesse Berger spent over 10 years working with large financial institutions in Canada, including roles in retail banking, investment advisory, management consulting, and market research. He graduated from McGill University in 2006 having studied economics and philosophy, and he received his MBA from Ryerson University in 2015. There, he led the winning team of The Economist’s MBA investment case competition, topping more than 25 schools from around the world. In 2018 he became a certified blockchain professional, and he is currently an independent consultant based in Toronto.
I reached out to Jesse on twitter. After exchanging a couple of DMs, we were able to do a phone interview on February 9, 2021 (Tuesday @1400). The duration of this interview was 21 minutes and 46 seconds.
Bitcoin Has Won (BHW): Hi Jesse, thanks so much for doing this man.
Jesse Berger (JB): Yeah, my pleasure.
BHW: Why don’t you let my readers know a little about yourself? Which school did you go to? When was the first time you heard about Bitcoin?
JB: I studied economics and philosophy at McGill University, graduating in 2006, and later went on to get my MBA from Ryerson University in Toronto in 2015. I first heard about Bitcoin in 2011 but I never actually owned any back then. I understood at the time that it was a new type of money that had a completely fixed supply of 21 million coins.
I also understood the premise that those 21 million coins would be issued on a predetermined schedule. Additionally, I understood that coins couldn’t be created for free. People joining the network had to contribute some form of computing power in order to earn coins. This contrasted with the fiat system that we live in, where our central banks can just decide to print money for free.
BHW: Got it. You mentioned Ryerson University. Last week, you did a Q&A at Ryerson University with 200 business undergrad students on cryptocurrencies, right?
JB: That’s right. My old business strategy professor was doing a course on global business affairs. One of the topics was money and economics, and he incorporated a segment on cryptocurrencies because it’s new and relevant to these young students. He knew I had written my book, so he asked that I come in and share my knowledge of that particular field with them.
BHW: That’s awesome. How did that go? And I have two questions. One, what are some of the common questions asked about Bitcoin by the undergrads and then two, what are some of the misconceptions they had about Bitcoin?
JB: First off, it went very well. The students were very interested and had lots of questions, but they all came at it from different backgrounds and with very different perspectives. I can tell you that after the class was over, the professor told me that he really appreciated me sharing some valuable and unique insights with the students, and I’ve subsequently had a few of them follow up with me via email to ask more questions.
We only had about an hour of Q and A, and we really only got to have three or four questions answered because there’s discussion that goes along with every question. One student asked how, in a Bitcoin world, the government would respond to economic turmoil if they can’t print money? And I had to explain that, well, ideally governments should not print money. I explained how if governments don’t have money, then the markets fix themselves. This is how it should be because markets are much more efficient at allocating resources to where they are needed than governments are. In fact, governments happened to have a history of preventing the markets from correcting inefficiencies.
That was one of the really interesting questions because I was able to turn some of the theory that they were being taught on its head. That was probably my favourite question to answer.
I also had questions about different cryptocurrencies as well, but my mindset is that Bitcoin is the only innovation here that really matters. It’s the only thing that is really the world changing technology. The rest of the cryptocurrency industry is sort of standing on Bitcoin’s shoulders, hoping to ride the wave along with it, but they don’t offer anything truly unique and revolutionary in the same way that Bitcoin does.
BHW: Hey man, they say the market is the ultimate referee, right?
JB: Yeah, exactly. It’s just that the market right now is very distorted because of central bank money printing. And so those distortions ripple through our social systems, our educational systems and so we don’t think as clearly as we should, because value is distorted. Now, luckily, Bitcoin is in the process of sorting that out, but it’s a very long term process.
JB: I feel like most people would agree that Bitcoin is a complex subject and one that is very difficult to understand. It’s a difficult idea to wrap your head around. So, I wanted to create something that really just made the idea, the message, the technology – that made everything that Bitcoin is – more friendly and approachable and understandable.
The purpose of the book is not to explain absolutely every nuance of Bitcoin because that’s impossible. The purpose of the book is to introduce readers to as many ideas and arguments as possible in a manner that is friendly and enjoyable, so that it’s like sitting on grandpa’s lap while he tells you a story kind of feel. I have a whimsical and fun take on it, containing 1) the story of Bitcoin, and 2) the ideas of Bitcoin, which are all very profound and meaningful. There’s no fluff, there’s no fiction. It’s straight to the point, but with some showmanship. I wanted to just tell the story in such a way that I could teach people, and that they would find it helpful and almost like a new framework for helping them understand how and why Bitcoin.
BHW: Got it. When did you write this book? And, are you a national bestseller yet?
JB: It came out in October of 2020, and yes, I’ve been a bestseller in Canada. The day I launched, I was the best seller in monetary policy, and subsequently I have been a best seller in business reference and shopping guides as well.
BHW: That’s awesome. Congrats.
JB: Thank you.
BHW: This is very selfish of me but as a writer myself, I am curious how long did it take you to write this book? And what was your writing practice like? Did you write in the morning? Did you write during nighttime or evening? How did that go?
JB: This book was my obsession for an entire year. I thought of very little else for an entire year and the book is only 127 pages. It’s not a particularly long book but I was very, very, very meticulous about each and every word that I used because I did not want to waste the reader’s time by dancing around the edges. I wanted to get straight to the point because I believe curious people just want to get to the point.
As I said earlier though, I wanted it to be an enjoyable reading experience, but I also think of it as much more than that. I challenged myself to craft a book that was not only enjoyable, but that you could go back to as a reference again and again and again – that was very important to me because I wanted this to be a timeless book. It’s not meant to be a book just for the year 2020, it’s meant to be a book that will age well, that will endure, so I had to craft it in just such a way that I believe it will stand the test of time. That’s the part that took me a year and that I had obsessed over to get it right.
JB: I think countries that ban Bitcoin are shooting themselves in the foot. If you are actively distancing yourself from Bitcoin, you are doing yourself a disservice. At this point in time, there is zero reason to own zero Bitcoin. It is increasingly de-risked from the Michael Saylors and now Elon Musks of the world.
These guys are spending a lot of cash. You don’t move that kind of cash into an asset like Bitcoin unless you have a very high degree of confidence in what you are doing. They evaluated the risks and rewards and clearly feel comfortable even at $30,000 or $40,000 per Bitcoin that it is worth holding over fiat cash.
Think of it this way – to them, it was worth not having a billion dollars of cash in their accounts. I think more and more people are going to come around to that idea of not wanting cash because Bitcoin, at this point, is de-risked. The network is robust and battle-tested through years and years of derision, whether it’s from countries or corporations or large investors like Warren buffet, calling it rat poison. It should be clear by now that Bitcoin doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Attack it any which way you want, and people have tried, and nothing has stopped Bitcoin.
We have seen recently how Wall Street isn’t necessarily on your side. They, to a certain degree, have rigged the game against the average retail, personal investor and so people are looking for an escape hatch.
They are looking for a more level playing field and that’s what Bitcoin offers. It doesn’t offer anything other than being a perfectly level playing field. And that’s what the world is desperately in need of right now. Bitcoin doesn’t have to be absolutely everything to everyone, but not participating to at least a small degree, I think is a mistake.
In relation to risk to Bitcoin, there’s a quote in my book that says “people often represent the weakest link in the security chain and are chronically responsible for the failure of security systems.” That’s a message I take to heart and that I think people should seriously consider.
As mentioned earlier, I think Bitcoin, as a network and asset, has been heavily de-risked at this point. However, when it comes to individual security, that’s a different story. It’s difficult for individuals to get up to speed on best practices, and as a result they can be their own worst enemy when interacting with Bitcoin. So I would caution those that are new to the space to move slowly, to test wallets and devices with small amounts before using them for larger amounts, and to carefully think through their security. Websites like bitcoin.page and bitcoin-only.com can be helpful resources to help you think through this.
BHW: Agreed. Where do you buy your Bitcoin?
JB: Here, there and everywhere. I mean if they are looking to buy Bitcoin in Canada, there are services like Shakepay, Bitbuy, and SatStreet. You can also use peer to peer networks like Bisq Network or Hodl Hodl.
You can also earn Bitcoin. You can work for Bitcoin. The thing is you are going to have to offer a valuable service. You can’t coast. No one’s going to pay you to coast in Bitcoin. You have to actually be competitive and provide real value. So, there are multiple ways to get access to Bitcoin. And on top of that, you have to be willing to take responsibility for yourself to hold it because no one else can do that for you. That is one of the lessons that Bitcoin imparts on the world, that we must take personal responsibility for ourself and our wealth.
BHW: I use Shakepay to buy Bitcoin and I transfer it to my Trezor wallet. So, my follow up question would be both of us know, not your keys, not your coins. What kind of hardware wallets do you use to store your Bitcoin? Ledger, Trezor? How has your experience been using hardware wallets?
JB: I have never used a Ledger and that’s not meant to be anything against Ledger. That’s just how it worked out for me. I had a Trezor around 2017 when I first sort of started dipping my toes into Bitcoin. You can also use a cold card. It’s made here in Toronto, purely Canadian. So, if you are looking at a hardware wallet to store your Bitcoin, a cold card is probably the best way to go to this point.
BHW: Awesome. Where should I send everyone? Where can people find you on the internet and find out more about your book?