When Walter Isaacson argued that Bitcoin could pave the way for mobile payments in 2015, an anchor laughed.
The accomplished author and CEO of The Aspen Institute said on CNBC:
“I think it’s important to find disruptive technologies that will disrupt the financial, banking, credit card system so we have easier payment systems.”
The Squawk Alley panel was discussing Apple Pay, but Isaacson seemed less-than excited by the new mobile wallet. “That’s fine if you have a credit card and you’re not one of the unbanked,” he said.
Isaacson noted that at the beginning of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee tried to slip in a protocol for small payments and cyberpayments, foregoing the transactions costs and middle men. But the plan fell flat. “I’m disappointed a bit that Apple Pay didn’t do it with its own financial thing and decided to do it with people’s credit cards.”
He is excited about something else. “One catalyst will be Bitcoin,” Isaacson said when asked what, exactly, would spur mobile payments. An out-of-view anchor laughed in response. “Bitcoin really caught on.” He clarified that he didn’t mean as an asset to speculate in—Bitcoin’s bubble and volatile price is something the digital currency is still known for. But he argued that micropayments, like 50 cent digital payments, have huge potential.
“Now, Bitcoin is a bit controversial and some people, especially people on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange would consider it weird,” he said waving to the famous Wall Street exchange below them. But Bitcoin is catching on amongst younger people, he said. “There is a hunger for cybercurrency.” He also noted the potential for mileage and loyalty programs that exists online. Users could store all of these points in an online wallet.
Host Kayla Tausche argued that these features already exist in the traditional banks. Indeed, these features might not sound special. The Jamie Dimons of the world would say, “Apple, Google, if you guys want to apply to be a bank, be my guest - go right ahead. And they would argue that because some of these banks aren’t willing to be regulated, they have to stop at certain products,” she said.
“No, I think you have a banking system that deeply protects—just like the cab industry protects from Uber—from anything that could be disruptive,” Isaacson fired back. He noted that it’s hard to start a bank now, but Bitcoin could potentially make it easier.
Then he went back to the potential for micropayments or transactions that are less than a dollar, which can be used to purchase digital newspapers and other small digital goods that are otherwise not viable to purchase given the transaction costs. “You cannot do that very easily.” He rehashed many of the arguments he made in a recent Times article (which by the way just started accepting Bitcoin for subscriptions) that Bitcoin could be used to tip blog posts, art, songs, and a slew of creative endeavors online.
“You could have an economy where people could sell things digitally for small amounts of money and I think it would revive journalism and do many other things.”
See the full clip here:
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