Stephan Livera on Living the Future

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An Interview with Stephan Livera

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Stephan Livera needs no introduction due to his well known, self-titled Stephan Livera Podcast, focusing on Bitcoin and Austrian Economics. But next to that he’s also co-founder of Ministry of Nodes and partner with Bitcoiner Ventures.

Stephan explains how he’s onboarding people onto Bitcoin and how he’s using it himself as a savings technology and for day-to-day payments. Further we look ahead when a true Bitcoin Circular Economy might be a reality.

Poly: Hi Stephan, welcome to Polylunar – great to have you!
The focus of this interview series is to find out how it is to live in the Bitcoin Circular Economy today and what we can do to make it an even more feasible way of living in the future. I’m very much looking forward to hearing your experiences and insights on the topic.

So Stephan, although most readers will be familiar with you, tell us a bit about yourself and what got you into Bitcoin.

Stephan: I’m most known for my Bitcoin podcast, which is one of the leading shows for Bitcoiners. I’ve been a long time Austrian Economics enthusiast, and so I first came to Bitcoin because I’m opposed to fiat money and central banking. Once I had Bitcoin explained to me the right way, I was hooked because of the incredible potential of a hard capped, totally free market money and the world it would enable. 

Poly: Nice, thanks for that. Now, I know you’re not all-in on Bitcoin as some of my other interviewees but are holding a significant portion of your net worth in it. While I understand diversification of investments, what are the main reasons to still hold AUD over BTC?

Stephan: Mainly because I keep a fiat cash buffer to avoid spending down bitcoin during bear markets, should they occur, and also because my income and expenses are mostly in fiat. 

Poly: Very reasonable, I think most Bitcoiners follow that approach as of today. I’m trying to understand how the Bitcoin Circular Economy can be brought upon. Do you think it can be established if Bitcoiners continue to hold fiat or should we gradually rotate out of it?

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves as we’re still extremely early.”

Stephan: I see this as a gradual process and if anything, I’d say we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves as we’re still extremely early. So for many people, it simply won’t make sense for them to spend their bitcoin until enough other people also hold bitcoin. For many of these people, they will preferentially spend their fiat, or their fiat income rather than directly spending bitcoin.

Of course, for people who are all in bitcoin, or who only earn bitcoin, or those who need it for privacy or censorship resistance will have sufficient reason to spend bitcoin today. But we have to be realistic and understand that this is only a small proportion of bitcoin holders today. During the bull part of the cycle, all numbers go up and you will see more people willing to spend some sats then.
Gradually though, it will shift until we hit a point where there are far more bitcoin-native people. The ‘circular economy’ will be relatively small until then. This will require patience. 

Poly: I always wonder what the inflection point will be, the moment where “all of a sudden” everyone will want to earn in Bitcoin instead of fiat, but we’ll come to that later. How are you personally using Bitcoin? Mainly as a store of value or are you aiming to use it as a medium of exchange as well?

Stephan: I mostly use it as a store of value and ‘savings technology’ as my friend Pierre Rochard would say. I do occasionally spend small amounts for demonstration purposes, or while I’m at bitcoin focused events and conferences. 

Poly: Can you share any experiences where using Bitcoin was advantageous to using fiat?

Stephan: For me, I’ve treated it as a ‘savings technology’ or speculation, to be more objective. Though if you want to make a more private purchase that isn’t tied to your identity, then it also makes sense in these situations too, e.g. paying for VPN service.

Poly: Indeed, I think VPN and ProtonMail purchases are the main reasons over the years for people to spend their first Sats. So then, how do you encourage clients, friends or family to use Bitcoin to support merchants and producers accepting it?

Stephan: I first see what the newcoiner is interested in and determine based on that. If they’re more interested in the investment/speculation side of it, then I’ll usually teach them about hardware wallets. If they’re interested in convenient day to day spends and commerce, then lightning. If they’re interested in privacy, then I’ll show them coinjoin and Samourai Wallet etc. 

Poly: I know from your Podcast and company Ministry of Nodes that you’re familiar with all kinds of Bitcoin storage options. What setup (hot/cold storage, full node etc.) would you advise for someone who wants to be Living on Bitcoin? Meaning he/she invests in Bitcoin but also wants to use it regularly as a payment method and to receive income in.

Stephan: I’d typically be showing them how to use a hardware wallet with their own node. E.g. Coldcard with Electrum, connected to their own electrum rust server on a packaged node such as myNode or similar. Specter-Desktop is a promising option also. 

If the person has enough to justify it, then holding their bitcoins using multi-signature with a provider is a good idea. It’s also good to consider if the level of security would be enough if we were to hit another bull run. 

If they want to be fully living on Bitcoin and taking payment with it, then usually BTCPay Server is a good option here to be able to take payments or donations from customers. For day to day spends, I’d usually show them a lightning wallet. Perhaps Zeus for Android paired with their BTCPay Server lightning node, or perhaps Zap paired with their home node. If they’re just doing small amounts back and forth on their phone and they’re less savvy, then it’ll be Phoenix or Breez. 

Poly: Those are some great options depending on the amounts involved and technical capabilities of the user. Related, privacy is important to me and hopefully becomes default for more people in the future, what advice would you give regarding KYC, CoinJoins etc.?

“If you’re interested in Bitcoin for privacy reasons then try and acquire some coins without KYC.”

Stephan: I’d say if you’re interested in bitcoin for privacy reasons then try and acquire some coins without KYC. I think Samourai Wallet has the best overall suite of privacy tools, so I would suggest running your own Dojo (e.g. nodl, Ronin Dojo, myNode or vanilla Dojo) and pairing your phone app so it uses your own backing server.

If you want to be private in how you spend bitcoin, then use Samourai Whirlpool coinjoin, get a few remixes, and then once you want to spend, use the post-mix tools (e.g. STONEWALL or x2). It does take some work to learn though, so I would recommend listening to some of the Samourai Wallet and privacy podcasts I’ve done to give you ideas on what to learn or think about. 

Poly: I’ll link some of your pods at the end so readers can check them out. Would the Lightning Network then also be part of your setup or do you consider it still too experimental? Could it be the future payment rail of Bitcoin?

Stephan: Yes, I really like using Lightning Network for convenient day to day spend/receive if my counter party also has it. I think wallets like Phoenix or Breez are great for a beginner to get started with lightning, and they’re very slick in terms of ease of use and overall user experience. I think it’s pretty much ready and easy enough for the ‘tech savvy’ type of user, but not quite ready for the masses yet (as I write this in September 2020). 

In terms of being the future payment rail, I’m bullish overall on Lightning, however I think the main driver to spur lightning use will be high on-chain fees. So it may have to wait until the next bull run and high chain fees to properly spur companies and people to adopt Lightning. 

Poly: The real breakthroughs always come from needs not wants, indeed. Let’s assume the future of day-to-day payments will be settled on Layer 2, how about the other end of the spectrum? Assuming you have your liquid assets in Bitcoin and want to buy a car or a house, how would you go about financing that outside the legacy finance system?

Stephan: The ideal scenario would be if the counterparty is willing to take Bitcoin directly! I’ve heard of people buying houses and cars with Bitcoin so it is definitely possible. Also there is the possibility of using Bitcoin collateralised loans to ‘unlock’ the value of the HODLer’s bitcoin in a more tax efficient way – with some risk involved though, and the requirement of having income to repay the loan with. Otherwise, the HODLer can sell some bitcoin on an exchange for fiat to pay for the purchase. 

Longer term, it will get easier as bitcoin becomes more normalised into society.

Poly: I wonder, with all your experience in Bitcoin, do you consider it your unit of account or are you thinking in AUD?

“I consider my net worth in both Bitcoin and AUD terms. Obviously the longer term one is Bitcoin.”

Stephan: I consider my net worth in both Bitcoin and AUD terms. Obviously the longer term one I care more about is Bitcoin. 

Poly: And if you’re open to it, would you tell us whether you demand to be paid in Bitcoin by your clients?

Stephan: I ask for Bitcoin payment as first choice, but will take fiat payment if it’s not feasible. I don’t believe in ‘checkout activism’ and trying to force it on them. Let the switchover naturally occur.

Poly: Interesting, in my interview with Brian Harrington he took the other side of that argument, saying that we need more entrepreneurs demanding Bitcoin only as apps like Strike would still allow clients to spend their fiat.
I think for many aiming to build the Bitcoin Circular Economy getting paid in Bitcoin is the goal, do you have any tips on how to convince a client or employer to pay you in Bitcoin?

Stephan: Well the typical thing you can do is offer a discount if they pay you in bitcoin. But at the end of the day, it’s not feasible for everyone. 

Poly: I’ve seen that happen, yes. With your many years in the industry, what do we need to build to make life in the future Bitcoin economy easier than it is now? What have you discovered that’s not working well, that needs optimising? What services do you feel are missing?

Stephan: Maybe just making some of the current tools easier to use e.g. BTCPay Server, or running your own node and multi-sig. These all can be done now but they’re a bit harder in terms of technical ability required. Over time they’ll get easier and more accessible. 

Poly: Funny you mentioned BTCPay here as I talked to Nicolas Dorier and he was excited about working on Pull payments for Bitcoin and LN – interesting stuff.
Looking ahead, what’s your guess when we’ll be able to say we’ve established a successful Bitcoin Circular Economy and what metrics would constitute that for you?

“My guess is in the late 2020’s for it [Bitcoin Circular Economy] to be relatively common. Maybe in the next 4-5 years it becomes a ‘well known niche’ thing”

Stephan: My guess is in the late 2020’s for it to be relatively common. Maybe in the next 4-5 years it becomes a ‘well known niche’ thing. We’re still extremely early. 

I can’t think of any good metrics, but maybe if we see much higher levels of bitcoin acceptance for services, we could proxy off that. 

Poly: Late 2020’s would be great, maybe I should have my interviewees agree on some metrics and bet on a date that, would raise the stakes.
Ok, jokes aside, under what circumstances would you recommend others to fully embrace Bitcoin and start “Living the Future” now?

Stephan: It takes work and continual learning, but it’s also very rewarding. Dip your toe in the water and see if it works for you. Doing your first coinjoin spend or lightning payment feels magical. Let’s recapture some of that fun.

Poly: Oh yeah, the magic is real indeed. Stephan, this was great, tell us how readers can find you.

Stephan: Find the Stephan Livera Podcast in your podcatcher, find me at and follow me on Twitter @stephanlivera.

Poly: Nice, thanks again for your insights, Stephan! Appreciate it and who knows, maybe some readers will heed some of your advice and soon join us in the Bitcoin Circular Economy.

For further reading/listening, check out these two of Stephan’s podcast episodes with the Samourai team:


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To the Bitcoin class of 2020

To the Bitcoin class of 2020, on this important day, I salute you!

This week you graduated from one of the toughest learning experiences of your life – be proud of that.

When you joined Bitcoin in the summer of 2017 most of you were green. Some thought Bitcoin was magical internet money, some hoped it would make you rich, and some of you, a very few, had at least heard of a little coin with a Shiba Inu as a logo. The barriers of entry to Bitcoin were low, and remain so for good reason, everyone is welcome. Yet the learning curve is steep, and you’re living proof of that.

After three tedious years you’re graduating from Bitcoin school a different person than than the one that entered. You’ve suffered and struggled, and are now being let out into the world to enjoy the spoils you deserve. But before we look ahead, let us take a look back at what you have achieved.

This class started at the end of a bloody civil war that ended on this day in 2017. An important victory was won for the decentralization of Bitcoin against coordinated forces with big pockets. But most of you had no awareness of that and it was simply the beginning of the the hype phase for you – Bitcoin knew only one way: up! You thought that’s just how this is, a new, digital world, untied from the burdens of the physical realm, making you rich beyond your wildest dreams – it wasn’t, it didn’t.

Advice given by parents was not heeded, you didn’t need to understand to make a profit, you’d follow the whisperers on Twitter and they’d guide your way. Yet, life doesn’t work that way. The whisperers turned out to be no better than the pied-piper of Hamelin. They told you that Bitcoin was old and slow and had too high fees. They told you of newer, faster, better networks. Ethereum and Thor would allow scripting on the blockchain, whatever that meant. Ripple would build an international remittance system, also faster and better than today’s, and the banks would love it. Every day another coin made the headlines, ICO’s left, right and center and each again better than the other. Bitcoin was legacy, ERC-20 the future. Everything on the blockchain, everything on Ethereum, everyone would be rich.

On top of that there were remnants of war in Bitcoin but you still couldn’t make sense of it. Who’s on what side? What was it even about? Why did it even matter? It’s just legacy tech, kept around for sentimental reasons. Who cares whether it’s BTC or BCH or later BSV if it’s obsolete anyway.

But then, all of sudden, as fast as it began for you, it was all over. Everyone was getting rich one moment and then everyone was getting poor, including you. This is were it ended for a lot of your fellows, the parties were over, the money was gone, the yachts were taken back by Wall Street.

It was time to reassess where it all went wrong. Luckily, you had discovered the old writings from the Satoshi Nakamoto Institute and Michael Goldstein had told you in no unclear way that everyone’s a scammer. It was a lesson to be learnt, an expensive one, but necessary. You felt duped, dumb for falling for narrative instead of substance but you sensed a lifeline. Some of you sold your Tokens for Sats, some kept around a few bags because another rally might redeem them. Not everyone made it through to today, think of your fallen friends but don’t forget why you succeeded where they failed.

Yet, the bear market of 2018 was brutal, your studies so far came at a high cost. You had to go back to making a living, like your parents did. Some of you surely got closer to your parents than ever before, living in their basement and all that.

You spent long nights reading forum posts by people way older, way smarter than you, talking about technologies you couldn’t comprehend. Cypherpunks and gold bugs, it all didn’t make sense.

Why is the old world order suddenly at stake? Why do you need to rid yourselves from the shackles of the federal reserve? Why would the government not have your best interest at heart? But on your way to work, in your old Toyota Corolla, you found support. You’d listen to Marty and Matt, guys like you that rambled over Whiskey and told you Tales from the Crypt, your personal support group, they told it like it is.

Things started to fall into place and you felt the excitement come back. Maybe there is something to this old tech after all. And then, in a two punch like you’ve only ever seen Tyson deliver, it hit you. In March ’18 a guy you’d never heard of before, Vijay Boyapati, published an article that made it all click, “The Bullish Case for Bitcoin”.

Bitcoin is like Gold!
But on the internet!
It’s Digital Gold!

That was something you could understand, Gold is worth something because it is scarce. And Bitcoin has the same characteristics but is even better because it’s more difficult to confiscate – boom!

And then, in April, the second punch, stronger, without mercy, Saifedean Ammous dropped The Bitcoin Standard. It was over for you, there was no going back now, you felt converted, it was weird and beautiful at once. How can simple truths be so difficult to uncover, you wondered. But now you saw and you could not unsee.

Over the year there’d be more speakers expanding your horizon to different topics. You couldn’t watch enough of Andreas’ videos and discovered Austrian Economics and Libertarianism from Stephan Livera. You’d even read up on Mises and Rothbard but preferred Hayek, who’s a bit more accessible. On this one there’s no shame, you’ve already reached an understanding of economics far above most mainstream pundits, let alone a certain New York Times quacker.

And when you had studied enough, read enough, you started to tinker. Pierre Rochard helped you launch your first node while Rodolfo Novak made sure your few Sats were stored safely. The marvel that are OpenDimes still fascinates you to this day. But there was more to discover, it was time to meddle with a Raspberry Pi and for the first time sync the full Bitcoin blockchain. You were now able to validate your own transactions and a sense of freedom, of independence, overcame you – something changed and it felt good.

1.5 years into your journey had grown, your old friends and family didn’t recognize you anymore. They couldn’t follow your thinking and frankly, they became likely a bit worried too – people that step out of line scare others. You couldn’t understand this because you now knew something was wrong in the world and you had an idea how to fix it. You wished they’d understand but you knew they’d need to find out at their own time. Marty had taught you well, you planned to stay humble and stack Sats and help everyone who really wanted to know.

So what was next? Where could Bitcoin go from here? In March 2019 you learned what might lie ahead, when the then unknown Nym PlanB released his Bitcoin Stock-to-flow model. An eye-opener in terms of Bitcoin valuation models and a guideline as to how Bitcoin works in predictable regularity of four-year rhythms. How beautifully it mixed with what Saif taught you a year ago, was baffling, so much more to learn, ever deeper the rabbit hole goes. You loved the model, everyone loved it, but only time will prove it – or not. For the remainder of 2019 you dug in further, confident in having discovered basic truths but still in doubt whether this truth will ever come to be in a world pretty much ignorant of it.

You started to follow Bitcoin Core changes on GitHub, enjoyed seeing the constant hashrate updates on Clark Moody’s Bitcoin dashboard and marveled how a single person could’ve created a thing of beauty like the difficulty adjustment. Tuur Demeester provided further insights into the history of money and markets with “The Bitcoin Reformation” and Robert Breedlove deepened your understanding of money and time.

When 2020 rolled around you were ready, looking forward to your first halving. The halving, this incredible instrument reducing Bitcoin’s block subsidy by half every 210,000 blocks. But we all know how 2020 turned out to be and all and everyone got blindsided by the pandemic. You had to put your studies aside to care for loved ones but the halving happened nonetheless on 11th of May, 2020 – as much an event as it was a non-event, predictable yet exciting.

So now we’re here, in the midst of 2020, on the day of UASF, the day SegWit got activated and now you know what that meant. Three years after you began your studies, you are graduating and you deserve it, you made it.

It wasn’t easy and it isn’t supposed to be easy, your parents knew that, your grandparents knew that, you know that now. Don’t neglect that struggle, you have taken a long way, learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes but now you’re here and you understand what Bitcoin is. And as with Bitcoin itself, that is enough.

Take pride in what you went through and derive strength from it.

Because as much as I’d like to tell you what the future holds, and I know I promised to do so, I cannot, nor can anyone else. You know this now too, you know you shouldn’t listen to anyone blindly. You can hope to trust, but always verify. Find your own truth and walk with it. Have conviction in what you believe but be able to adapt, “strong opinions loosely held” can get you a good way. And if ever in doubt, think of the few simple truths you know for sure.

Bitcoin will be there, chugging along, tick tock, like clockwork, tick tock tick tock, block by block.
Bitcoin is open, it is for everyone to join and make of it as they wish.
And now, you, and the class of 2020, are part of Bitcoin and Bitcoin of you! You’ve earned it, revel in it – salute!

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