LIVING THE FUTURE
An Interview with Max Hillebrand
Max Hillebrand has been “all-in on Bitcoin” since September 2019 and is a prime example of Living the Future. He is a free software entrepreneur who’s building Bitcoin weapons at WasabiWallet.
Max and I talked about his motivations to leave the Fiat world behind, the practicalities of solely living on Bitcoin and how he’s spreading the word on using Bitcoin one merchant and producer at a time.
Poly: Hi Max, welcome and thanks for taking part in this series on Polylunar – great to have you.
I’m fascinated by people who’ve gone all in on Bitcoin and are now part of the Bitcoin Circular Economy. I hope the series will open up this lifestyle to more people and lead to fruitful discussions on what is already working well and which parts could be optimized to make the Bitcoin economy a reality for more people.
Max: Thanks for the invitation Poly – I’m looking forward to our conversation!
Poly: So Max, I still remember your tweet from Sep 2019 when you announced that you’re getting rid of your bank card and going all in on Bitcoin. Tell us a bit about what’s your background and what led to that decision.
Max: I have been an entrepreneur providing goods and services to my customers since early childhood. However, despite earning money and paying suppliers on a regular schedule, I did not have a bank account at all, my cashflow was managed mainly in fiat cash and precious metals.
My passion for accumulating knowledge and understanding how to increase my business productivity led me to educate myself in the realms of economics. At first the mainstream Keynesian approach, which was so confusing that I thought either I’m too stupid to understand it, or that it is pure nonsense in a model with broken assumptions. On a quest for finding the actual truth of economic reasoning, I discovered the great masters of Austrian Economics, Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe and co. In the exhaustive archive of knowledge at mises.org I found the important pieces needed to build a fundamental and holistic praxeological understanding.
With my exhaustive background in economics and especially monetary theory I swiftly understood the incredible scam that fiat shitcoins are – and the vitally important strategy to opt-out into a free alternative system. My prime goal is to defend my property rights and to allocate them efficiently – this is simply impossible under the fiat empire – but this is precisely what Bitcoin was created for.
“I ventured in the belly of the beast, with a know-thy-enemy mindset, and discovered awe inspiring levels of monetary warfare.”
In order to gain first-hand experience of the fiat regime, I decided to do my bachelor’s studies of economics in collaboration with Deutsche Bank, meaning that I would be part time in university, and part time in an internship at Europe’s largest bank. I ventured in the belly of the beast, with a know-thy-enemy mindset, and discovered awe inspiring levels of monetary warfare. During my three years study was the only point in time that I had a fiat bank account, used to receive my salary, and immediately withdraw in cash to buy bitcoin P2P. But right after graduation, in September 2019, I received my last ever fiat income, and I immediately closed my account. Ever since then, I have fully opted-out of fiat, and now live as a free man with my property out of the reach of the looters and thugs.
Poly: Thanks for the background, I didn’t know about your Deutsche Bank experience, destroying the enemy from within is a nice approach.
Would you say that there was a seminal event that led you to finally taking the plunge to go all in on Bitcoin?
Max: I don’t think I can pin-point a single event at which I committed to focus my full attention on building Bitcoin weapons to dismantle the fiat tyranny. However, there are three milestones worth mentioning: The moment when I saw the first glimpse of the power of Bitcoin, was watching Andreas Antonopolous ‘The bubble boy and the sewer rat’. The moment I understood the extent of the level of defense an individual can gain by running his full node, that was the double-punch of UASF and NO2X. And finally, the moment when for the last time I earned fiat, with a strong resolve to exclusively demand to be paid in bitcoin, right after my graduation and closing of the bank account.
Poly: Absolutely, I think the first two resonate well with any Bitcoiner, the third one is a step most still have ahead of them.
Once the decision was made, what were the next days like? Did you take immediate action or still let it simmer a little to decide on the exact steps to move forward?
“The entire process of discovering the first glimpse of Bitcoin until fully opting-out of fiat took about one halving.”
Max: The entire process of discovering the first glimpse of Bitcoin until fully opting-out of fiat took about one halving. The rabbit hole is deep, and I first wanted to truly understand a vast part of the ecosystem, before I was comfortable enough to rely on Bitcoin as my primary means of defense.
Your question is great, as you highlight the importance of taking action. Before I discovered Bitcoin, in a time where I already understood Praxeology and economics, I was absolutely devastated, as the fiat empire was so all encompassing, and there was seemingly no way for me to act on my individual preferences to dismantle the empire. I understood the root of the problem, as well as a fundamental solution to it, however, I did not have the means at my disposal to act and defend myself.
Bitcoin fixes this. Bitcoin is a powerful weapon that can be utilized freely by any individual who is courageous enough to stand up and defend his life, his property, and his loved ones. Bitcoin is fundamentally built on-top of sound Austrian monetary theory, yet is so much more than just another text-book on how money ought to function properly. Bitcoin is free software that *actually* manifests sound money into existence, and there is nobody and nothing that can stop a dedicated individual to use it right now. This is what makes Bitcoin so enticing for me, an enabler of action.
Poly: I love that, the “Bitcoin fixes this” meme is so true but it only works when individuals make it work. Bitcoin in itself doesn’t do anything, it just is but individuals using it, makes it impactful.
I wonder, how did and does it feel to live on Bitcoin? Excited? Anxious? I imagine a decision like this to have a real impact emotionally.
Max: I feel free. And this is the most exhilarating, courageous and wild state of being. When earning and holding bitcoin, I know precisely the quantity of resources that I own and am able to use for my purposes. There is only me, nobody else, who has the power to allocate my resources. Knowing the means at my disposal is vitally important to evaluate which end goals I ought to pursue. I enjoy a neutral unit of account to organize my individual preferences according to my highest satisfaction, and with this I can clearly make an entrepreneurial judgement which potential project is most profitable to focus my attention.
I do not know my future preferences, the desires I want to satisfy at some later point. Thus, I keep my capital in a censorship resistant and sound money – Bitcoin. Knowing that I have a reserve of wealth that I can use to exchange for whatever good and service is an incredible removal of uneasiness in my life. Holding sound money is a great hedge against a dark and uncertain future.
“I do not kneel down in front of the fiat empire. I removed the shackles of fiat banking and monetary tyranny.”
I do not kneel down in front of the fiat empire. I removed the shackles of fiat banking and monetary tyranny. I no longer justify myself for earning money. I no longer am susceptible to theft of my savings. I no longer ask for permission to make a payment. The fiat regime might continue for a long time. But I am no longer a part of it. This is how my freedom feels like.
Poly: Sounds very empowering, I can sympathize, it starts a little when taking ownership of your Bitcoin, then strengthens when you run your own node and validate your transactions. Continuing on the personal note, how did your friends and family react? I’m already being looked at strangely when just talking about Bitcoin. There must be some funny stories from going all in.
Max: My friends know me for my rational argumentation based on first principles. This is the core of a sound praxeological analysis, and thus is shaping my mindset and world view. Going all-in Bitcoin and rejecting fiat is true to my first principles. Knowing that my loved ones respect this consistency and strong moral compass as a part of myself is a powerful foundation to build upon.
Poly: I can see that, coming from sound economic and moral thinking helps. Mind sharing a little how you established that basis? You mentioned earlier that you were exposed to the Austrian School early on, was that actually taught in school or something you picked up on personally?
Max: Oh no, of course the Prussian outcome-based education system does not teach a rational logical approach of truth discovery that Austrian Economics is based on. I was very often discouraged from my professors to stop reading and articulating such materials. Such valuable knowledge is not found in state education institutions. I first read a book by Friedmann, where he referenced both Mises and Hayek in the footnotes. I found the mentioned books at mises.org, together with such an astonishing amount of fascinating books. The Austrian Economics rabbit hole is [almost] as intense as the Bitcoin one!
Poly: I still have to find anyone telling me that they learned Austrian Economics in school, to be honest. So we now know you got rid of your Fiat and your bank account. Any interesting interactions with your bank? Did they try to convince you otherwise?
Max: My former colleagues at Deutsche Bank very quickly figured out that I am a Bitcoiner, and that my general outlook on economics and ethics was not mainstream at all. There were a plethora of interesting conversations, where they provided arguments in favor of fiat banking, while I gave my reasoning for the benefits of freedom and Bitcoin. Though in general, the individuals working in the incumbent fiat industries have good intentions and a polite respectful attitude. It really was a very interesting time, I learned a lot, and am happy to have gathered the experience.
Poly: Must’ve been a few heated discussions there but now you’ve moved on, maybe tell us a little about how a normal day of Max living on Bitcoin looks like. How do you buy groceries? How do you pay for dinner and split the bill with friends?
Max: First and foremost, I am fully immersed in a sound monetary economy, and thus my time-preference manifests rather low. There are not many goods and services that are more valuable than holding bitcoin. Thus, instead of spending and decreasing my capital stock, I maintain a high savings rate, and strive to consume high quality, low quantity necessities.
“In my experience, family operated businesses and small entrepreneurs quickly understand the value proposition of Bitcoin.”
One of the goods that I regularly purchase is obviously food, and here I engage local farmers directly, offering to pay for their goods with bitcoin or gold. In my experience, family operated businesses and small entrepreneurs quickly understand the value proposition of Bitcoin.
I also pay contractors who provide services for me, both in cyberspace and meatspace. Here again I first look for individuals who are demanding to be paid in bitcoin, and I usually offer them a generous price, higher than fiat competitors. I want to reward these courageous business men who venture out into new opportunities. This is a virtuous character trade, and I’m happy to support pioneers in their future progress.
Poly: How do you find these merchants, is there a community where such information is exchanged? I do not recall coming across a forum or anything for that.
Max: One big benefit that I have is that I am often at Bitcoin tribe gatherings, and that I know plenty of Bitcoiners. Thus I know entrepreneurs who specialize in different areas, who are also interested in getting paid in bitcoin, though a DuckDuckGo search for finding local businesses is always worth a try.
Poly: Understand, so you’re aiming to pay in Bitcoin where possible but what if that option is not available? Maybe you’re in some small town travelling and they just don’t know how to accept Bitcoin.
Max: Often I would meet with the business owner directly and educate him about the benefits of Bitcoin. However, this is of course a large investment of my time, and in many cases, especially with larger corporations, it is a futile and not profitable effort.
In order to reduce my cost and allocate my time more efficiently, I still use fiat shitcoins in their cash paper form. This is the most censorship resistant and private option, and it is actual base money supply, not the leveraged and diluted shit they keep in bank accounts. I usually exchange some small amount of bitcoin for the local fiat shitcoin, and I consider this as spending my bitcoin on a gift card, or casino chips. I will exchange these fun coupons for goods and services that I cannot buy with bitcoin. But I would never consider these shitcoins to be money or part of my savings. My goal is to reduce the number of seconds that I hold fiat. Every additional second is an additional theft on my productivity, and I do not tolerate this.
Poly: Let’s hope one day there’ll be no need anymore to exchange into Fiat and Bitcoin is ubiquitous enough everywhere. On these travels, what’s the nicest experience you had paying with Bitcoin?
Max: I am absolutely in awe with the pseudonymity that Bitcoin enables. On a regular basis, I pay contractors whom I don’t care to know their government issued identity, their residency, or their academic degree. If they have provided me with a meaningful and useful service, then I want to reward them with precious bitcoin. No other information than their Bitcoin address is required.
Poly: Indeed, pseudonymity is a great advantage of Bitcoin that drew me in as well. Us Bitcoiners often talk about Bitcoin being primarily a store of value, I wonder whether Bitcoin has become a unit of account for you yet or do you still sometimes think in USD/EUR?
“Bitcoin is my unit of account […] I always keep in mind the percentage of the total money supply that I control.”
Max: Bitcoin is my unit of account. I strive to increase the quantity of bitcoin that I hold. I exclusively demand to be paid in bitcoin, and my prices are denominated in bitcoin. Whenever I desire to purchase something, I realize how much bitcoin this costs me, and I make a judgement whether it is a profitable trade. Whenever I travel into a new shitcoin territory, I buy some of the local cash for bitcoin, and then when seeing local prices, I convert back to the quantity of sats that it costs.
Further, I always keep in mind the percentage of the total money supply that I control. This helps me to see the relation of the goods that I’m purchasing now, compared to the total purchasing power of my bitcoin in relation to the total supply. This is how entrepreneurial calculation ought to function in a sound monetary economy, and I am in awe with the productivity and efficiency gain.
Poly: That is impressive, especially that you regularly consider the total supply, I’ll make a more active attempt of doing that too, thanks. Understanding you think in Bitcoin, do heavy retraces in price affect you at all?
Max: What price? The fiat shitcoin exchange rate? I rarely buy fiat, and hold only a tiny amount. I care more about the exchange rate of bitcoin for meat and diesel. Again, I want to own more bitcoin, I don’t care how much each one of them buys, more bitcoin buys more stuff.
Poly: But matter-of-factly the world is denominated in Fiat and a Bitcoin bear market will let you buy less for a Bitcoin than in the bull market. What do you say to people seeing it as financially irresponsible to go all in on an asset like Bitcoin?
Max: It’s a question of time preference. I am happy to hold a rather large quantity of bitcoin now, and not invest or consume today. This shows that I have a rather low time preference, I’m willing to accumulate capital, rather than depreciate it. If entrepreneurs charge more bitcoin for their services, then in general, I will purchase less of their goods, rather save my bitcoin.
Further, as my clients are willing to pay me more bitcoin for my services, I increase my prices and thus stack more sats. I love it when the exchange rate of bitcoin drops, because I will get more bitcoin! I don’t buy the dip. I earn the dip.
Poly: One last question on your lifestyle, has it changed in any way since you switched? I see some Bitcoiners become more nomadic, travelling a lot, while others try to stay put and huddle down to build their citadels. Where do you fit on that scale?
Max: Why not both? My travels have increased a lot, to the point where I am fully nomadic, waking up in new places, and rarely staying for longer than a couple days. However, I also build citadels, and in this I include any secure and defendable dwelling place. My goal is to travel from citadel to citadel, living a free life along the peers who do meaningful work.
Poly: That is a nice view, any places that you found to make good citadels already or are on their way to be soon?
Max: There are multiple Bitcoiners building secure dwelling places in every region. Though most are, for obvious reasons, choosing a private approach and not share much information about the nuances of their progress.
Poly: Maybe we switch gears a little. I know you’re working on Wasabi Wallet and assume they’re paying you in Bitcoin. Is that a full time gig for you or do you have other streams of income?
“I do the same thing as I did years ago as a voluntary contributor to free software, but now, I regularly earn Bitcoin.”
Max: I don’t really know what “full time” mean, for sure it’s not a 9-to-5 job in the office! I would say that I am “full time” Bitcoin, but this is more of a constant contemplation and expanding of my understanding. One of the projects that has earned my deepest respect and a vast majority of my focus and attention is Wasabi Wallet. I was one of the first users, back when it was still called Hidden Wallet, and have contributed where I can ever since.
Wasabi is free and open source software, and this tool obviously doesn’t pay me bitcoin directly. However, there is a company called zkSNACKs, which is dedicated to building privacy tools with zero-knowledge of its clients. zkSCNACKs was founded by the inventor of zero-link and Wasabi, Adam Ficsor, and by now it sponsors multiple developers, researchers, designers and reviewers who contribute to Wasabi. I am an independent contractor for the company, and enjoy an incredibly free collaboration model! Basically, I do the same thing as I did years ago as a voluntary contributor to free software, but now, I regularly earn bitcoin in exchange – beautiful!
Poly: That’s great and I think shows nicely how contributing to open source can lead to other opportunities further down the road, low time preference again.
Do you have any tips on how to convince a client or employer to pay you in Bitcoin? The price fluctuations are tricky and I know some negotiate a USD price/salary and pay at exchange rate on pay day. How do you handle it?
Max: For me it was a multi-step process. Initially, my prices were denominated in fiat, and I accepted both fiat and bitcoin at the equivalent rate. Soon I realized that there are numerous costs and risks involved in using the fiat infrastructure, and I demand a higher payment in exchange for doing the shitcoin disposal services. Thus, if my clients insisted on paying me in fiat, then they paid 50% more than if they would have paid me in bitcoin. Then I increased this extra fee to double, then triple of the bitcoin denominated price. When I closed my bank account, I also changed this approach, and now if a client insists to pay me in fiat, and he is not willing to pay me in bitcoin, then I am not at all going to work with him. This means that now all my clients pay me in bitcoin, and I have no fiat income at all. Again, I don’t care about the shitcoin exchange rate, so that volatility isn’t noteworthy for me.
Poly: Wow, that’s a clear incentive for clients to use Bitcoin, indeed. How about securing those hard-earned Bitcoin, I assume you have several levels of Bitcoin security, how do you handle the technicalities of that? What kind of setup can you recommend?
Max: This is a very broad question… In general, security parameters always depend on the threat model. The question is, who is trying to steal your bitcoin? When the attacker is known, then the security strategy and defenses can be aligned. In many cases, the biggest potential attacker is the user himself making uneducated mistakes. So be careful when generating private keys and making secure backups. This requires both a well defended meatspace and cyberspace.
Poly: True, it’s an individual decision depending on many factors, still any tools you’d recommend?
“Multi signatures are a beautiful private property contract that Bitcoin enables.”
Max: I love Wasabi Wallet, especially it’s workflow together with ColdCard, it’s a very powerful combination. Multi signatures are a beautiful private property contract that Bitcoin enables, and Electrum Wallet, Specter or Caravan are interesting tools for this. Though as always, do your own due diligence for each of these projects.
In general, it’s good to have backups of your secrets. These can be securely encrypted on a usb stick, written down on paper, or even stamped onto metal. Keep these backups in a secure meatspace location, preferably locked up in a hidden safe.
Poly: How about the Lightning Network, are you using it? Do you consider Layer 2 the future payment rail of Bitcoin?
Max: Lightning Network is a concept ACK, but implementation NACK for me. The idea of trading ownership of bitcoin without constantly using the time-stamping consensus of the first layer is genius. It really shows the power of Bitcoin as a tool to define, verify and enforce property rights contracts. I’ve been using LN since the early #reckless days, and the contributors to the projects have done a monumental work so far already. However, there is still so so so so much more work to do, specifically in the area of privacy, in order to have a secure, efficient and private option to send bitcoin.
Poly: Since privacy is important to you but any Bitcoiner really, do you have any best practices you’d like to share?
Max: In general, get educated about how Bitcoin actually works, specifically the transaction structure and graph relation among coins. With an intuitive understanding of inputs and outputs, many privacy best practices come natural. Privacy in Bitcoin is about keeping the many pseudonymous identities [the Bitcoin addresses] of one user separate. This makes it difficult to cluster all user transactions and find out how much money he has. Very important here is to never re-use the same address for multiple transactions, as this is an obvious clustering of all coins of the same user.
It’s a good habit to keep a record of who knows that an address is actually yours. Further, avoid consolidating many coins in one transaction, as this suggests common input ownership. CoinJoin is a powerful technique which breaks the link between your pseudonymous identities, when your identity is linked to a specific address, after doing a coinjoin, you receive bitcoin on an address that is no longer tied to this identity. Of course, don’t leak your extended public key to a third party server, as this clusters all your past, present and future transactions. Connect to Bitcoin related services only through the Tor network.
Although all of this might sound overwhelming, Wasabi Wallet is a beautiful tool that implements all of these privacy best practices intuitively.
Poly: Address reuse is definitely still an issue but I think the tools are getting better to avoid it and similarly to break the KYC/AML links from buying on exchanges etc.
I wonder, do you even have any contact with the traditional finance system any more? Did you manage to get out of any KYC/AML services?
Max: I no longer have any meaningful/relevant contact to the fiat empire. I do not owe any debt, everything that I use I have purchased with my own capital. This is another conscious choice to decrease my risk in the future, and reduce the number of entities who have a potential claim on my property, as creditors do.
Poly: Understand, I know we’ve covered quite some ground already but we want to move the space forward and it would be interesting to know which parts of the ecosystem need more work in your point of view to make your lifestyle easier for others to follow.
“For me, the core use-case of Bitcoin is for entrepreneurs to get paid by their clients.”
Max: For me, the core use-case of Bitcoin is for entrepreneurs to get paid by their clients. Thus any tool that improves this aspect is super useful, like for example BTCPay server. Of course earning bitcoin leads to holding bitcoin, and thus secure storage and management with good wallets is essential, I like the combination of the ColdCard hardware wallet and Wasabi wallet. Privacy is a great strategy to reduce the threat models of attackers, and thus privacy focused Bitcoin projects like JoinMarket and Wasabi are worthy of support! And of course, Bitcoin the protocol deserves a lot of care and attention, thus any contribution to the Core infrastructure is nice.
Poly: All these are great projects, I agree. Additionally, I find onramps important to get into the Bitcoin Circular Economy with minimal KYC/AML, hence I like to see more of the likes of Bisq, HodlHodl and P2P exchanges.
Now, last but not least, would you do it all again and would you recommend it to others?
Max: Those who are ready for living a free life are not waiting for my recommendation. I cannot say if I would do it again – the past is the past – but I am acting free in this very moment right now.
Poly: You really do, it’s inspiring! Max, this was great, how can readers find you if they want to know more about you and your lifestyle?
Max: My website is towardsliberty.com, and you shall find me under the name Max Hillebrand on social media like GitHub and Twitter. My PGP key is E900 5F66 A86B B816 BD7D 967E BEDC D95C 42AC 3C57
Poly: Awesome, thanks so much Max, it has been fun and insightful! I’m keen to see how many readers this inspires to follow you to go all-in on Bitcoin and leave the fiat world behind.
If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing to the weekly Polylunar Dispatch to never miss any new content on Polylunar. And consider donating to help me keep doing these kind of posts, it is very much appreciated.