In a live interview with BlockTV on February 27, Max Keiser, host of his own financial commentary show Keiser Report, told viewers, “If you have any fiat money, just throw it in the garbage, start tearing it up. Here’s what you do with fiat money.” He then proceeded to tear up several $1 bills.
“It dramatizes the fact that paper money has no intrinsic value. It’s basically worthless,” Keiser tells us. “People should keep that in mind.”
Bitcoin, however, is “sound money” according to Keiser, because banks can’t print it and governments can’t control it. Keiser has been covering bitcoin on Keiser Report, which airs on the Russian state-run media network RT, since 2011. His first interview in the space was Jon Matonis, now the executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation, and he’s interviewed “just about every big name” from bitcoin’s “Wild West days,” including Jimmy Song, Simon Dixon, Jameson Lopp, and Roger Ver.
Now, Keiser believes the crypto space is entering its oligopoly phase, where major players like Coinbase, BitPay, Digital Currency Group, ConsenSys, and Kraken will dominate just as Facebook, Alphabet, Apple, and Amazon rule the web today. Kraken just bought crypto futures provider Crypto Facilities last month, and Keiser says we’ll see more of these types of mergers and acquisitions shortly. “The fragmentation of the industry will shrink,” he tells us.
Keiser’s interest in virtual currencies dates back well before 2011. In 1996, he got a “virtual specialist” patent that specified a centralized scarcity model for a digital currency, the platform on which his digital Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX) business operated. HSX lets people trade “stock” on various Hollywood films using virtual “Hollywood dollars” (which are not worth real money). Though Keiser sold the technology and the company, it gave him a basic appreciation for virtual currencies, securities, and market creation. “That’s why I immediately jumped on the bitcoin train,” he says. “It was very exciting.”
Besides his involvement in crypto and in the early dot-com days with HSX, Keiser also worked on Wall Street in the 1980s—”It was just this remarkable period until the crash of ’87,” he says—and has spent decades on and off in media. He’s covered multiple protest movements, including the Egyptian revolution in Cairo (and thinks such movements should be using cryptocurrency). He quit the BBC because his bosses wouldn’t let him talk about Israel. He’s challenged Donald Trump to the tune of $1 million to create a higher-rated business commentary show than Keiser Report, which he co-hosts with his wife, Stacy Herbert, an early bitcoin investor and CEO of StartCoin Holdings, a crypto crowdfunding platform. He’s promoted both gold and bitcoin as “strategic reserves” (he finds them interchangeable) and believes Russia has listened closely to his recommendations.
"I’ve probably torn up a lot of money over the years."
Keiser, who was born in New York’s Westchester County, has lived. And he’s prepared to live longer—besides proselytizing bitcoin, he’s also constantly on the move, ready to escape the latest major, climate change-influenced weather event. We caught up with Keiser last week, from an unspecified location, to talk about ripping up dollars and ripping off his shirt, how he’s influencing the Kremlin, and why bitcoin will outlive humans.
Did you get any particular reactions to the video where you ripped up dollar bills recently?
Not really. I’ve torn up paper money on TV before. Going back 15 years, I’ve done it maybe 25 or 30 times. I’ve probably torn up a lot of money over the years.
How much would you estimate in total?
[Laughs.] If it’s euros and pounds—because I was doing TV in Europe and the U.K. for a while—I don’t know. It’s hard to keep track.
You’ve not been a fan of fiat for a long time, huh?
That’s correct. Before getting into crypto, I was very much into gold and silver. That’s what led to getting into bitcoin in 2011. Even before then, I was tearing up paper money on various TV shows.
In the episode of the Keiser Report where Jimmy Song was the guest, you said bitcoin may reach $100,000 at some point but humans may not live to see it. Why don’t you think we’ll live to see it?
Well, there’s two parts to that. The first part is, since bitcoin is sound money, you have to compare it to the market for gold which is an $8 trillion market. Or you look at the foreign exchange market, which is a $5 trillion a day market. If bitcoin captures just even a couple of percentage points of those markets, then you get to $100,000 per bitcoin on a share valuation comparative basis.
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When would that happen by?
What drives adoption and price for bitcoin most are bank failures. Now that we’re heading into another cycle of bank failures, I think we’re talking the next five to 10 years.
People are going to be gone in five to 10 years?
The funny thing about bitcoin is that it is somewhat autonomous. The hashing algorithm can exist through the energy soaked up by solar panels, for example. You don’t need people around to run the blockchain. It pretty much runs by itself at this point.
If I look at another interesting set of data, it suggests to me that the biosphere that supports human life is crashing pretty rapidly at the moment. Five to ten years from now, there might not actually be a sustainable biosphere for humans. You might have an interesting situation where the price of bitcoin keeps going up, but there are no more humans around to witness it. I’m combining two things here.
Right, but I’m imagining if we get to that point with the biosphere, there will be some post-apocalyptic tribes of people wandering around. In that case, I imagine anything you can really barter with, like food, will be more useful than a digital currency.
Possibly, but it doesn’t mean the price won’t keep going up.
I guess that’s kind of a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it scenario?
It’s obviously a thought exercise. I’m extrapolating some trends and making some forward-looking statements. These are possibilities. I think that bitcoin is an inspiring piece of technology, and we need to think about it in those terms and not get caught up in the minutia of the flame wars on Twitter, or the altcoin wars. We need to take a step back and say this is truly a remarkable technology, and it has transformed the idea of money and economics.
You bring up altcoins. Are you interested in any particular cryptocurrency besides bitcoin?
Not to any great extent, no.
I follow them, but I don’t find them particularly interesting. I follow the technology and the community, but I don’t really have a lot of support for anything outside of bitcoin.
Related: The Unshakeable Faith of Jimmy Song
Since you follow the community, are you interested in what those groups of people are doing technologically? Any projects in particular that are interesting to you?
[pauses] Well, I would say in the privacy coin area, I think Monero is interesting. Other than that, not so much.
On a totally different note, you were living abroad and said you would return to the United States if Trump was elected president. Is that true?
Yeah. I’m one of those people who said that if the Clintons got elected, I would leave, which I did. And when I was living overseas—I had been living overseas for 20 years—I said if Trump becomes president, I’m going to move back. Which I did.
Are you glad you returned for the Trump presidency?
Yeah. It’s an exciting time in U.S. politics. Trump has opened the door to a whole new wave of politicians, like AOC and Tulsi Gabbard and Ilhan Omar. This is an exciting generation of politicians that were energized because Trump suddenly became president. Trump is a New Yorker, I’m a New Yorker. He came up through the 1980s, I came up through the 1980s. Trump is like a guy I know very well. He’s a New Yorker, developer, Wall Street guy.
Do you literally know him well, or just that type of guy?
That type of guy.
Are you happy with the job he’s doing as president?
Yeah, I think he’s doing a good job. No better or worse than any other president I’ve seen in the last almost 60 years.
I saw that back in December you said that you would give him $1 million if he could create a business commentary show that could beat yours in the ratings, like an American government-run show. Did anything ever come of that? Did he respond?
He said that the U.S. was going to come up and do some U.S.-funded, government type programming. I said, look, you’re never going to beat me, so I made that bet. So far, nothing’s come out of it.
"I argued that Putin likes to show his nipples, so I don’t know why I can’t show my nipples."
If he were to start some kind of American government-run network, would you go on it?
I would compete with it. I’ve got my show. I’ve got 30 million viewers. That’s estimated. It goes out to 100 countries, plays three times a week, and I’ve been on the air for 10 years. We’ve got huge, huge numbers of viewers. I’m very set where I am. If somebody wants to try to compete with that they can try, but I doubt they’re ever going to outdo us in the ratings.
Not even Trump? He’s like a ratings magnet.
Well, we’ll see. [To Trump:] Try it! Give it your best shot.
Back to your show—it’s on RT, a Russian state-run media station. How did you end up getting on there?
The Associated Press is the producer of my show, and we’ve made TV shows for different international outlets now for about 16 years. It’s sold our show to different international broadcasters, like Al Jazeera English, BBC, France 24, and RT. There’s a big global, English-speaking news market. The AP sells into that market. We never hear from RT. In ten years, I’ve maybe talked to them three times. And that’s mostly just to say “Merry Christmas.”
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Do you ever get any criticism for working at a Russian state-run media outlet?
Well, yeah, because people don’t like competition, right? The fact that RT gets so many viewers and is so popular, I think folks in the U.S. are like, wait a minute, we don’t want this competition. We’re very cozy in our little media fiefdom. I think there are six media companies in the U.S., and that’s it. They’re very sensitive about anyone trying to compete with them. But our show keeps growing, and they [U.S. media companies] keep running into problems.
Why do you think RT was able to get so popular?
Because they focus on giving the journalists the remit to just tell the news and be journalists. In the U.S., there are such heavy agendas. If you look at cable news, it’s not really news.
What kinds of agendas are you referring to?
Obviously, Fox News has an agenda, and MSNBC has an agenda. Fox News these days will say “we’re an opinion show, we’re not even a news show.” They’ve given up doing news. In the U.K., it’s even worse. When I was doing my show at the BBC, the government monitored every single word that came out of my mouth. They oversaw the editing of the show. They selected the guests on the show. It was all for the government. It’s the most draconian state-run media I’ve ever experienced. It’s really pathetic.
You couldn’t mention Israel in any context, period? You couldn’t even report on something that happened in Israel?
Not unless it gets through a government filter. The government is very heavily involved in the BBC.
That’s interesting because you would expect that a Russian state-run media outlet would be more censoring. Does RT censor you?
Nope. I would say the only thing they didn’t like was when I showed my nipple, and I grabbed my nipple. I ripped off my shirt and grabbed my nipple. They said they didn’t think that was appropriate.
What was the context for you grabbing your nipple?
This was a message to Sean Hannity who made some derogatory remark. I forget exactly what he said, but for some reason I ripped off my shirt and invited Sean Hannity to bite my nipple. I don’t remember the exact context, but it didn’t fly.
Because it was a nudity issue?
Yeah, well, I argued that Putin likes to show his nipples, so I don’t know why I can’t show my nipples.
Fair enough. Does Putin have much input into what’s on RT?
I don’t think so. I don’t know.
And they don’t have any particular feelings about you discussing cryptocurrencies, it seems?
No. What’s interesting is that I have been very good, I think, at propagandizing the Kremlin.
If you noticed, they started to aggressively buy gold on the back of my proselytizing gold on Keiser Report and explaining why it’s an important reserve asset. Soon thereafter they’re aggressively buying gold, which I’m happy about because I have gold.
Do you know for a fact that they did it based on your advice?
They don’t want to admit it because then I’d want a fee.
Is there anything else you feel like you’ve influenced at the Kremlin?
Is the Kremlin into crypto?
I think they’re starting to warm up to it more and more. They come out with communiques often. They liken bitcoin and crypto to the internet revolution and say they want to be leaders of this [crypto] revolution. Keiser Report was pushing this narrative, and the next thing you know, the Kremlin’s talking about it.
So you’re kind of whispering into Putin’s ear through your show?
Through my show, you know, of course. It’s viewed. It’s seen. It’s talked about. Next thing you know, things happen.
Do you know if Putin watches your show?
I’ll tell you an interesting story. I did a show where I made fun of David Cameron. David Cameron was at a very high-level dinner. During the dinner, his gut was sticking way out of his shirt, and his shirt was undone. On the Keiser Report, I did a thing where I ripped off my shirt, and I did an imitation of David Cameron. I guess because I wasn’t showing my nipples, it was okay. This was on the air.
Then a few years ago, at a function in Moscow when he [Putin] was talking about RT and some of the shows, they had a clip reel of the different shows, and I was in the clip reel doing this Cameron impression ripping my shirt off. Putin imitated me doing the David Cameron impression. He said something to the effect of, “Some of the journalists are very animated. I don’t know about the guy who rips his shirt off. Maybe that’s a little bit too animated.” I was in the audience, and I stood up and said, “Hey, you’re stealing my act, what are you doing?”
What did he say to that?
I was way in the back, so unfortunately, he didn’t go anywhere with that. But it did get picked up, and you can find it on the web somewhere.
"I think we’re all going to be on the run soon, from hurricanes and storms and flooding."
I’ll look for it. What do you think Russia’s future is in regard to cryptocurrency?
It’s tough because bitcoin by nature is decentralized. Whether it’s the Chinese government or the Russian government, they are not decentralized. Bitcoin is not a great fit. However, they are seeing the value in it as a substitute for the U.S. dollar. They’re starting to think: We need to create our own systems, we need to create our own Swift, we need to get out of this dollar hegemony. Then they see bitcoin, and they begin to understand the value of it.
People are saying there has to be some kind of reset in the fiat money system because there’s just too much debt in the system and prices are way out of line. It’s become quite chaotic in many ways. Gold, of course, is mentioned as a basis to rearchitect the currency grid, but now you have bitcoin in the mix. Bitcoin can substitute for gold in helping to realign global currencies.
Knowing that the Kremlin is maybe listening to your show, is there anything specific you’d say about bitcoin that you’d want them to hear?
Add it to your strategic reserves, just like with gold. The strategic reserves in gold—they’ve increased the gold by hundreds and hundreds of tons. You need to start adding bitcoin.
Where are you located right now, by the way?
You saw that story about Jameson Lopp that came out?
We’re not quite at that level, but we’re around.
You can’t tell me specifically where you are?
I’m in a beautiful country, the United States, traveling around. I’m in New York a lot. I would say I’m constantly on the move.
What would make you leave the United States again?
A major weather event, like this major weather bomb that’s hitting the center of America right now. I might be a climate migrant soon. Like so many other millions of people. I think we’re all going to be on the run soon, from hurricanes and storms and flooding. In another five, ten years, I think everyone’s going to be very, very agile to keep on the move. Because these storm systems, they don’t play around.
Is there any place that will be particularly safe from the storms?
You just go wherever; it’s unpredictable. It could be anywhere. But I’ve been all over the world. You’ve just got to be agile. I’m totally mobile. I could be in the airport in half an hour and gone quite easily because I think we’re going to see more and more of these cataclysmic weather events. I’m not interested in getting into a political debate about it, I’m just interested in surviving. These storms are getting worse, and my comment about not surviving to see bitcoin at $100,000—that’s becoming a factor.
Alright, I’m going to consider that.
[Laughs.] Fair enough.
I imagine Manhattan’s probably not the best place to be…
Well, you know, be agile. See what happens.