Things Are Brewing In Prague
This is an opinion editorial by Joakim Book, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research and contributor to HumanProgress.org and the Mises Institute.
The first thing that met attendees when entering the venue at BTC Prague’s inaugural conference was the smell: a strong, new-rubber-type of scent that permeated most of the main stage area. The second was the light — or the absence thereof: it was dark, with massive screens at regular intervals and neon lights shining elegantly across the ceiling.
What likely remains etched into participants’ memories is the dim, purple haze and those comfy, white VIP sofas in the front (paying up for VIP tickets has its perks!). A large BTC logo and slowly bobbing lamps hanging above the panelists on the main stage brought a spooky, somewhat nauseous feel — like the whole stage was slowly twirling. As if I weren’t already lightheaded from my travels, endless conversations and lack of sleep that I wholeheartedly blame on the many pre-, side- and after-events going on in Prague’s thriving nightlife.
As I took it all in, I pulled out my notepad and scribbled, “The techno raves of my teenage years called and want their ambience back.”
For the first few sessions of all three days, it was empty in the main hall. Eerie, even. Where is everybody?
The expo hall seemed to be where most of the cool kids hung out; the rest perhaps basking in the morning sun along the river in downtown Prague.
Littered with hundreds of Bitcoin companies and thousands of participants, the expo hall was dominated by a two-story centerpiece booth occupied by SatoshiLabs, the conference’s organizer. It reached out, symbolically, into the four corners of the space with each section dedicated to its four business brands, one of which, Vexl Foundation’s KYC-free, peer-to-peer bitcoin app, launched during the conference. Around it, lining the edges of the football-field-sized hall were miners, hardware wallet makers, a dozen or so different backup-on-steel products, book publishers and plenty of merch and consumables. There were so many booths hidden behind something else, in fact, that after several walkthroughs I still found new companies or conference booths I hadn’t noticed before. I live and breathe the Bitcoin space and yet I didn’t know half of these companies or their products: Bitcoiners truly are prolific, new products and companies popping up like mushrooms after the rain (to anglicize a Czech saying).
The official language of the conference, by the way, was broken English of that comical and vaguely European kind; it was a nice change from the avalanche of Americanesque that otherwise dominates the Bitcoin space and Bitcoin conferences.
What was not different about this event was that the audience mostly consisted of pretty fit dudes in the primes of their lives. Some brought their wives and kids, too, giving the venue a somewhat family-friendly vibe. It’s palatable that self-responsibility in money also translates into self-responsibility in other domains. In the age of Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro, it’s not too surprising that this message resonates most powerfully with young(-ish) men.
Somewhere between the venue and the stop at the end of the red metro line went a clear transition from the fiat world to the Bitcoin world. As I traveled toward the conference each day, I started seeing colorful wristbands, Bitcoin-themed clothing and the kind of fit, confident and extravagant clientele that outs us as Bitcoiners. Upon entering the venue, I switched out my Google Pay for a Lightning wallet app since absolutely everyone accepted Lightning. Once in a while, a merchant politely asked if I wished to pay with card or Lightning, but most of the time, they just presented me with an invoice. Exchange of monetary energy can be precisely this simple; never does the difference between the Bitcoin world and the outside world feel more pronounced.
The coffee barista at the grand El Salvador booth diligently made the conference’s best coffee, all day, every day — for anyone with the patience to stand around and watch him carefully brew it, anyway. Then again, if you wanted to buy coffee from one of the food trucks outside, have fun staying in line for 20 minutes. But the food was great, as were the benches and beanbags for socializing and soaking in the Prague summer heat — until the humid summer cascades shoved the thousands of participants inside, crowding everything into festival-like proportions.
Among the many impromptu meetings and reunions, scheduled or happenstance, some stood out: the selfie with an idol, thanking a podcaster or author for their valuable work, connecting in real life with personas or nyms that before were nothing but words, voices or profile pics.
In the middle of the expo hall, I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a tall, slick, dark-haired man about my age. The face was familiar — very familiar — but from another time, another place. “Do you remember me?” My brain worked like an overclocked ASIC to find the solution to this cryptographic puzzle; in the five-second block time expected for this sort of interaction, I couldn’t quite do it. He reminded me that we studied economics together at university in what felt like a lifetime ago; we were on the same study abroad program to the same city but hadn’t kept in touch since. He returned there for a few years after we graduated but was now back in his native Prague. He told me that he finds the money broken, the runaway prices absurd. He’s a new arrival to Bitcoin, having won his ticket to the conference at his first Bitcoin event just a few months back.
“I’m learning so much,” he said.
Two meandering paths, united by Bitcoin: Everyone comes here eventually, in their own way, at their own time. It’s a beautiful thing.
The Rockstar Moment
For the oversized main stage to be filled up, we would have to wait for Michael Saylor’s two appearances. Saylor, who’s rapidly approaching rockstar status in the Bitcoin world, gave an absolutely mesmerizing keynote speech on the third day, but the hall had also been clogged up for a fireside chat he had with Eric Weiss the day before. The overflowing room that had echoed somewhat empty for many previous sessions was now so littered with spectators that the air conditioners running at max capacity couldn’t keep up. As his characteristic “Bitc-oing” echoed across the hall, Saylor’s talk literally took our breath away.
Bitcoin is an ethically good thing, it’s a moral imperative, he pointed out. Bitcoin and Bitcoiners carry a superior ideology that we “don’t have to apologize for.”
The tour de force that was the keynote lecture dealt with the U.S. dollar’s collapse against hard assets. That’s not a revolutionary notion in these circles, but the way Saylor packaged the message might be: By holding cash, you’re “on the wrong side of an economic war.”
“There’s an endless economic war raging worldwide and it’s been raging since the beginning of time and it’s going on right now. That war is over the redistribution of economic energy, and we call that wealth…
“No amount of hard work is going to solve the problem of being on the wrong side of that economic war.”
Technology is an order of magnitude more important than hard work; it doesn’t matter how hard you dig or how good you are with a shovel when the next guy shows up with an excavator. What Saylor added is that government policy is an order of magnitude more important than technology. On a decadal or centennial timeframe, the gains from technology — always in competition with the next thing that makes it obsolete — are siphoned away, drowning under the never-ending money expansion at the root of society’s many troubles.
The energy in the room was as fever-pitched as during the “Satoshi Rockamoto” concert the night before. The uncomfortable realization began to shine through: “Maybe your work doesn’t matter as much as government policy.” I can’t outwork the pernicious effects of a crumbling money inflating away my economic contributions.
The conclusion, blatantly obvious to most participants, is that you need to exit — physically as well as monetarily. Erik Dale, the Norwegian influencer and podcast host of “Bitcoin For Breakfast,” told us as much in his opening lecture the day before: The week of the conference, “might have been the first time we have seen net immigration of Bitcoiners to Europe,” he said. Usually, we Europeans just take our “FU money” and exit our crumbling museum of bureaucrats and overburdened, public Ponzi schemes.
But perhaps we overlooked the Bitcoin hub that is Prague — home to SatoshiLabs, to Braiins, to a company behind Bitcoin ATMs. Martin Kuchař, the co-founder of the conference, kept praising the Czech Bitcoin scene every chance he got: “I see BTC Prague as another Czech project that confirms the importance of the Czech Republic for Bitcoin,” he said in a pre-conference interview.
Things are indeed brewing in Prague. Perhaps not all is lost for Europe.
This is a guest post by Joakim Book. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.
27 June 2023 12:00