Wences Casares: How Should We Regulate Bitcoin?

Xapo CEO Wences Casares calls Bitcoin "maybe the most important social experiment going on right now" that could one day replace the gold standard.

Wences Casares, founder and CEO of Bitcoin vault Xapo, returns to Big Think in today's featured video interview.  He calls Bitcoin "maybe the most important social experiment going on right now" and heralds the cryptocurrency as a potential replacement for the gold standard. Check out the clip below for his take on how Bitcoin should be regulated:


"Technologically it’s not an experiment, it is robust and it works. But because at the social level it’s an experiment there’s still a chance that it fails. And therefore it’s risky and nobody should invest in Bitcoin in an amount of money that they cannot afford to lose because of that risk. But there’s also a chance that it works out well and if it works out well it may be the first thing in 5,000 years that finally replaces the gold standard which has been the standard for quite a very long time. And it becomes a new meta currency that sits atop all currencies."

Casares explains that he doesn't believe any sort of cryptocurrency should ever supplant national and local currencies. People need to draw their salaries in dollars, euros, pounds, etc. National and regional monetary policies require state currencies. But the world's consumers should have a choice, particularly when buying on the internet or internationally. That's where Bitcoin comes in.

As far as regulation goes, Casares compares Bitcoin to gold. Gold is decentralized. Its supply is determined by nature, not by a government or corporation. Bitcoin can be the same way:

"I think that we need to regulate Bitcoin to have basic consumer protections, to prevent criminal activity on it, to prevent money laundering. But I think doing so is not hard and I think doing so is doable with the regulations that we already have in place to account for cash. Cash is very anonymous and we have regulations in place to manage the anonymity of cash."

At the same time, regulators shouldn't operate from a position of fear when they decide how to oversee cryptocurrencies:

"What we are seeing right now is because a lot of the regulators are still getting their arms around bitcoin, the first reaction is a scared reaction that tends to overregulating which that wouldn’t be good for the regulators, wouldn’t be good for the industry but I think we will get there and it’s not so complicated."

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Where do atoms come from? Billions of years of cosmic fireworks.

The periodic table was a lot simpler at the beginning of the universe.

Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

(MsMaria/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.