— Erik Voorhees on the dangers of living a permissioned life
Permissionless Day 1
Crypto’s defining trait is its permissionlessness.
To the dismay of its critics, this may mean that its paramount use case will always be to enable things that people can’t otherwise get permission to do.
But these don’t have to be nefarious things.
It can be someone in Argentina moving their savings from pesos to dollars without the permission of local banks.
Or an expatriate in the US sending money home to their family in a sanctioned country without permission from OFAC.
Or a dissident funding the political opposition in Russia without permission from the ruling party.
Or an entrepreneur raising capital by selling unregistered securities without permission from the SEC.
Permissionless has a second, perhaps under-appreciated meaning: crypto is permissionless to build.
A DeFi protocol with a 1/1 multisig and strict KYC requirements would still qualify as permissionless because it could only happen in crypto.
You need all sorts of permissions to start your own bank, exchange, or money transmitter in traditional finance.
In crypto, you just build it — oftentimes by copying someone else’s code, also without asking permission.
Not all of crypto will be permissionless, however.
Crypto will also have KYC’d exchanges, licensed money transmitters, and regulated banks.
This permissioned-version of crypto may turn out to be even bigger than permissionless crypto. Perhaps many times bigger.
But permissionlessness will still be the thing that makes crypto special.
It is, of course, why this week’s conference is called Permissionless — and also why the keynote speaker was Erik Voorhees.
Why are we here?
“I’m here for a rebellion,” Voorhees declared on the mainstage this morning.
“Peaceful, for sure, but no less revolutionary.”
That revolution may or may not be televised, but it will be permissionless. “If something is not permissionless we should consider it a stepping stone to something that is.”
Later speakers on the same stage would of course agree that permissionlessness is a virtue.
But they’d likely disagree that it’s crypto’s only virtue.
Voorhees, however, is a permissionless maxi.
“If you require permission to spend and trade,” he told us, “then you require permission to exist” — and if existing requires permission, “it is not freedom. It is subservience. It is serfdom.”
But there’s hope!
“What prevents man from tomorrow living in an even greater state of servitude? We do.”
“We are saying no to the perpetual [advance] of permissioned subservience.”
“Crypto is our rebellion Our rebellion against a system that is unworthy of our [compliance].”
He delivered these zingers peacefully, but their meaning was radical.
Only “the laws of physics, the laws of math, are worthy of respect,” he told the receptive audience.
“Laws of man were needed once, just as we once needed the post office to send mail.”
But no longer: Governments are “used to controlling things that they haven’t built, and now, finally, they can’t.”
Code is not yet law, of course. But, for better or worse, he thinks we will get there.
“Your work is important,” he told a crowd of at least 1,000 heads nodding in agreement.
“We’ve built the world's first and only objective and transparent financial system.”
“We will win.”
Can the devs do something?
The Voorhees stemwinder earned him a standing ovation — the first I’ve seen at a conference.
That made him a tough act to follow.
But the following act, if far less quotable, was at least equally important: A panel of two prominent researchers and one core developer sketched out the “sci-fi roadmap of Ethereum” for us.
The group of builders was short on hot takes but reassuringly knowledgeable about the smart contracts that Erik Voorhees hopes will one day be law.
The crowd seemed equally engaged by the technical talk, as host David Hoffman approvingly acknowledged: “This question is for the nerds out there, which is everyone.”
Not quite everyone, as much of the technical stuff was over my head, but one detail that got my attention was Dankrad Feist’s prediction that Ethereum would soon scale to 1.3 megabytes per second — but only because it sounded like Back to the Future to me: 1.2 gigawatts!!!
Truth be told, he might have said 13 megabytes. Or 30, I’m not sure.
But even to this non-technical observer, the panel made clear that crypto is going forward to the future — possibly even to the one Voorhees imagines.
What’s the point?
Another main stage panel excelled in both hot takes and technical talk.
Cosmos co-founder Ethan Buchman noted that “Solana and Optimism are two of my favorite Cosmos chains.”
That got a good laugh from his fellow panelists, who happened to be the co-founders of Solana and Optimism.
In between friendly digs (“Start on Solana and once you hit the limits of what you can do there, move on to Cosmos”), Buchman was somehow thinking even bigger than Voorhees: “The endgame of Cosmos is to find a way for humanity to survive.”
(Next time someone asks, “What’s the point of crypto?” remember to answer “the survival of humanity.”)
Ben Jones, co-founder of Optimism, was thinking more realistically, but still nearly as big: “Scalable blockchains are about taking back the internet.”
Solana co-founder Anatoly Yakovenko was more prosaic but equally quotable: “I had two coffees and a beer and had this eureka movement that there’s a way to track time permissionlessly,” he said of his original idea for a high-performant blockchain.
So, if you don’t think “survival of humanity” will convert your crypto-skeptic friend, try “to track time permissionlessly.”
In the final group of the morning, Representative Tom Emmer made crypto-conference history by wearing a jacket and tie on stage.
He looked a little out of place, but he brought the hot takes as well as any crypto native could hope to.
Asked to imagine Gary Gensler changing his mind on crypto, he replied that, if so, he’d “know that hell has frozen over and the Vikings are going to win the Superbowl.”
Being a lawmaker, I imagine he would have had some quibbles with Erik Voorhees’ take that “the laws of man are not worthy of respect.”
But he was no less complimentary of crypto’s mission: “This is important, what you’re doing here today,” he told the crowd.
In this, Representative Emmer sounded like perhaps the one politician Voorhees might ever consider voting for: “You guys get it. You will force the change…Do not give up the fight. Do not let them win.”
Commissioner Hester Pierce’s comments likely would have gotten mixed reviews from Voorhees.
He would agree with her take that “There’s a philosophical battle that needs to be waged…If two people [exchange money], why does there have to be a governmental role in that transaction?”
But he’d disagree with her take that “We don’t need crypto-friendly people. We need people committed to the rule of law.”
Voorhees would presumably counter that we need people not committed to the rule of law.
And yet, the crowd was at least as appreciative of Commissioner Pierce’s views as they were of Voorhees’ — so much so that she got the second standing ovation I’ve ever seen at a crypto conference.
Similarly, Kristin Smith of the Blockchain Association was equally as optimistic as Voorhees, but for the polar opposite reason: “The law is on our side. The Constitution is on our side. We’re going to make it.”
That seems a little optimistic to me, but the willingness of Representative Emmer and Commissioner Pierce to come all the way to Austin just to express their support suggests that she might be right.
Go big or go home
There was more big thinking in the afternoon.
Kevin Owocki, founder of Gitcoin.io, told us that crypto is “rewriting how society allocates capital to the things it needs.”
He expects smart contracts to replace the politicians who currently decide what public goods deserve funding.
“We’re building an emergent bottoms-up superstructure for public goods spending…We’re going to solve for all the public goods out there in the world.”
In case that sounded insufficiently degenerate, he reassured us that “There is trillions of dollars in this market.”
Other afternoon big thinkers included Shawn Douglass of Amberdata, who told us why securities will eventually all be tokenized: “Somebody else’s database? No one wants to trust that.”
And Matt Galligan, co-founder of XMTP, who predicted that his protocol’s mission to attach value to messaging will be what “brings a billion people into the [crypto] space.”
There was much more, of course, but this newsletter is already way too long (and I only caught about a third of the speakers and hardly any of the chatter in the hallways).
But the TLDR is that, despite the long bear market, crypto is still building, still big-thinking, and still entertaining.
I’ll see you tomorrow for another dose of all three.
Uniswap is hosting an NFT giveaway for Permissionless attendees. Visit the Main Stage on Wednesday September 13th for a chance to win an NFT from Invisible Friends, Pudgy Penguins or DeadFellas. Check out the postcard on your seat for more info.
Go direct to DeFi with the Uniswap mobile wallet. Buy crypto on any available chain with your debit card. Seamlessly swap on Mainnet and L2s. Explore tokens, wallets and NFTs. Safe, simple self-custody from the most trusted team in DeFi.
SEC’s Peirce: The US government needs to remember who it represents — Read
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Permissionless day 1: Prepping for institutional adoption — Read
MetaMask interoperable with Bitcoin for first time — Read
Fund giant Franklin Templeton plots spot bitcoin ETF — Read
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