Ten years ago this month, pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto published the whitepaper for a new piece of technology that sought to upend the global financial system: “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.”
There’s perhaps no clearer sign of the degree to which the Nakamoto revolution has begun to take hold than that yesterday, on Oct. 1, a former U.S. president appeared at a cryptocurrency industry conference sponsored by the largest holder of — not bitcoin — but a cryptoasset just one-fifth its size, to casually discuss the promise and perils of blockchain technology.
That former president was Bill Clinton, that cryptoasset was XRP, and that conference was Swell by Ripple — held this week in San Francisco.
Tapped as the conference’s keynote speaker, Clinton participated in a question-and-answer session with Gene Sperling, his economic adviser from 1996 to 2001. Unlike other conference sessions, Clinton’s keynote was not recorded; however, a cell phone video recorded by an event attendee reveals a wide-ranging discussion that focused on Clinton’s two terms as president from 1993 to 2001, and, on occasion, circled back to blockchain.
Speaking on the subject toward the end of his remarks, Clinton — who served as the nation’s chief executive during the internet’s transition from the technological fringe to the commercial mainstream — said that distributed ledger technology (DLT) has “staggering” possibilities since it does not depend on national borders. However, he warned that divisive economic and social policies could “ruin” it.
“This whole blockchain deal has the potential it does only because it is applicable across national borders [and] income groups. The permutations and possibilities are staggeringly great,” he said. “We could ruin it all by negative identity politics and economic and social policy. You think about that.”
Clinton also suggested that the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry should not get ahead of itself, warning that moving too quickly could magnify the financial and social inequalities between people in developed and emerging markets.
“The more the benefits materialize, the more you have to be careful about it,” he said, according to a report in TheStreet, adding that early adopters must avoid getting “carried away with the immediate financial rewards” associated with this asset class.
“You don’t want consumer fraud, you don’t want to finance criminal enterprises, and you certainly don’t want to make it easier to pull off severe attacks by terrorists,” he continued. “That’s the challenge of each new technology.”