I caught up with Mick Mulvaney at the Collision Conference in Toronto this summer to talk about a variety of topics, from his role at Astra, cryptocurrency in general, to policy issues regarding Bitcoin. As the former Chief of Staff for the Trump Administration and the head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney has a role in shaping the federal budget during a critical time in geopolitics.
The interview notes have been rearranged chronologically and transcribed for style rather than substance. His thoughts follow here:
Do you think Operation Chokepoint 2.0 is possible when it comes to Bitcoin and cryptocurrency – where the US government applies backdoor pressure to shut down the industry, like the Obama Administration did with the gun industry?
So if you ask me if I think it happened, I have an opinion but it’s not necessarily an informed opinion. I know Operation Choke Point 1.0 happened – I’ve seen the data for that. Could there be an Operation Choke Point 2.0? Absolutely. Do I see some of the symptoms that may occur? Absolutely. But I don’t have the same inside data that a member of Congress or a member of the Administration would have, but I think the industry should be concerned about it because politicians in both parties are always tempted to use it. whatever tool they can use to affect the policy they want to implement.
And as long as the Choke Point is a viable, usable tool, there are politicians who will use it both ways. Believe me, there are Republican politicians right now who would do an Operation Choke Point 3.0 to prevent gender reassignment for children under 18. Just like the Democrats want to use operation Choke Point to prevent you and I’m buying assault rifles. So this is the nature of the animal. So I think the industry is right to be wary of it. The fact that the way they handle Signature I think is amazing. That they can offload regular assets but cannot offload digital assets. Even if people want to buy them. That’s just wrong. Whether this is evidence of a larger Operation Choke Point 2.0 – I don’t know.
What is your stance on central bank digital currencies (CBDCs)?
The United States may have to push for one. I think everyone will do it or at least many other major players around the world will do it, and if not, we will be behind the curve.
At the same time, I fully recognize the concerns of privacy and government control. I talked at length with Chris Giancarlo about his digital currency project – and I think Chris is probably in the sweet spot – how you can do this and have safeguards for privacy and individuality freedoms? So you get the benefits of a central bank digital currency, but don’t expose yourself to the many risks of a government overreaching individual liberties. We saw a bit of this in Canada I think during some of the protests.
And that scared me to death. I am a libertarian leaning Republican. But at the same time, I also consider myself fairly, you know, forward-looking when it comes to technology. There must be ways to marry these two concerns to solve these problems in order to have a digital currency but still protect individual freedom.
I think you’re on record as saying Gary Gensler is the worst choice (for regulation):
I don’t think I said that. But I’ll say something on the record – when people ask me and say who do you want to see as the primary regulator I say it should be the CFTC. And they were like why can you speak so easily? Gensler did one of the worst things you can do as a policymaker, which is to allow your personal opinion (to enter the picture)(…).
You want a regulator that doesn’t bring old ideas to your gaming industry. You want a regulator that calls the balls and strikes and shoots you in the middle and just enforces the law. They don’t want you to come in and say- I really don’t like what you’re doing and I’m going to use all the authority at my disposal to make sure you can’t do what you’re doing, even if it’s legal. I just don’t like it. I see that at the CFPB all the time with Richard Cordray on payday lending. It was legal, but he didn’t like it.
I think that’s the worst thing you can do as a regulator. So if I’m on record as saying that Gensler is the worst at anything, and maybe something along those lines, but I don’t think he likes (cryptocurrency). And I think he’s using his authority to stifle innovation and stifle industry and I think that’s wrong. That is the job of Congress. If you want to ban Bitcoin, you want to ban crypto, Congress has to pass a law. A member of the executive branch should have no de facto authority to do that.
Talk to me about the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, which you founded.
David Schweikert had to beg people to do it because nobody knew what it was. And David Schweikert, a good friend of mine, has an office next to mine in Congress heard about it. (I decided to join) because there should be two people with a caucus. (…)
I think Tom Emmer runs it now. Emmer came, I think, the next year and became very involved in the caucus. (…) Jared Polis is very interested in this, the governor of Colorado. He was an early man. Justin Amash is an early man. Thomas Massie may not participate in the caucus because I don’t think Thomas participates in many caucuses, but he is interested in it. So it’s a very small group of people. Not surprisingly, many overlap with the Liberty Caucus (…).
And what is the purpose of bringing the Caucus together?
Pure education. “What is this?”
Do you think the United States should treat bitcoin as a threat? How can the United States Government use bitcoin?
(…)So I don’t consider it a threat. I understand what other governments can do. I understand, for example, why Europeans might be more worried about Bitcoin than we might be. The probability that we will lose the dollar at any time is close to zero. The probability that they will lose the Euro at some point in the next 20 years, is a nonzero number. You know, for whatever reason, the Germans want to leave or the French want to leave. It is not yet a stable system like the dollar used to be. Since it is a currency without a bank union so I am not sure how you can have a currency.
So I understand that some governments might see this as a threat, but I don’t. And I think if some governments see it as a threat, it’s not because of the strength of Bitcoin but the weakness of their own currency. (…) If I were a policeman today, what would I do? Trying to figure out a way to incorporate the benefits of bitcoin and isolate the harms? And I don’t think there’s that much harm.
The Bitcoin Policy Institute, a non-for-profit organization that researches the social implications of Bitcoin and convenes meetings between the Bitcoin ecosystem and politicians was able to provide additional ideas on how the government in the United States can use Bitcoin. Matthew Pines, their National Security and Geoeconomics Fellow, noted that “Bitcoin and stablecoins can help counter the spread of digital authoritarianism in China, strengthen US sovereign debt markets, and promote individual autonomy in developing countries with extractive and oppressive regimes. The strategic benefits of a pro-Bitcoin policy stance to US national security and geopolitical advantage deserve serious analysis. In a more global, geopolitical context, David Zell, co-executive director said that “America will win when everyday citizens living under authoritarian governments have the ability to transact freely, remove their regimes, and access to the global financial system.”
I was one of the first writers in 2014 to write about the intersection of cryptocurrencies in remittance payments and drug policy with VentureBeat and TechCrunch. Since then, I have been a HODLer of Ethereum and Bitcoin, and I have built many mini-projects with them for fun. I want to learn as much as possible about our decentralized future while sharing that knowledge with you.