At the beginning of this week, the Oslo Freedom Forum kicked off once again, back in the city where the internationally renowned conference started in 2009. Since then, it is very impressive what the Norwegian activist Thor Halvorsen has achieved.
Oslo Freedom Forum is a magnet for former heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, wealthy philanthropists and peace and human rights activists from around the world. The conference’s sponsors include Amazon, Google and Twitter, but also Norwegian actors such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo Municipality and Fritt ord.
These are very established and leading players, both state and private. So what’s the point of a conference like this devoting as many as ten events over three days to the controversial money phenomenon?
Mauricio di Bartolomeo from Venezuela told how he had managed to preserve the family’s money at a time when the local currency was losing its value at record speed, at the same time as the authorities confiscated dollars from the local banks .
Stories like this explain why bitcoin is used much more in poor countries than in rich countries like Norway. Inflation means that the population’s savings become less valuable because more money is produced. It primarily affects the poor. Those in power can quickly be tempted to print money to enrich themselves and theirs or cover up their own financial blunders in the past. This is more common in poor countries.
Norwegians and other citizens in affluent countries who do not see a need for bitcoin , must simply “check our financial privileges”, one hears on the Oslo freedom forum.
Globally, almost two billion people do not have access to banking and financial systems. However, many of these have a mobile phone, and can thus receive and send bitcoin , which in addition retains (so far) its value over time far better than the local currency, and even better than the dollar, the world’s most solid government currency.
However, it is not only the conference’s focus on liberating and helping people in poor countries and authoritarian regimes that motivates the great focus on bitcoin at the Oslo freedom forum.
It also reflects a change in the world’s balance of power, a new mindset in a specific part of the world elite that has gained more and more influence as the Internet progresses. That bitcoin is not controlled by a government player or a small group of individuals and that the technology is built to counter inflation (there will never be more than 21 million bitcoins ) is seen as attractive properties also among many in the West.
The way of thinking reflects a growing dissatisfaction with the established financial system. Also in the USA (and Norway) inflation is very high at the moment, after extensive money printing under the corona. And there are many who still have not forgotten the financial crisis in 2008, created by a banking elite that was later rescued by the authorities, while the rich became even richer while the most borrowed suffered large personal losses.
One of those who cultivates great dissatisfaction with the established financial elite in the United States is Peter Thiel. He is one of the largest donors to the Oslo Freedom Forum. The investor, serial entrepreneur and multi-billionaire is undoubtedly very powerful, not least through his many donations to American politicians – including Donald Trump. But he has little influence over the banking system – those who actually have the power to print dollars whenever they want and exclude troublesome players from the monetary system.
Bitcoin thus has a very wide range of followers, from farmers in Nigeria to Machiavellian billionaires. But whether, and possibly how quickly, the technology is adopted is also decided by politicians. So far, Norwegian politicians have shown little interest, other than proposals to ban so-called mining of bitcoin in Norway, which was recently voted down in the Storting. Mining does require a lot of electricity, but as long as the players pay for it, they can not be discriminated against, was the principled conclusion in the Storting.
Hopefully, the Oslo freedom forum can contribute to a more nuanced political debate about bitcoin in Norway as well. Many Norwegian politicians were present at the conference, and some of them also attended a course to learn more about the phenomenon.
In this connection, it is worth bringing a warning to the grave journalist Nelson Rauda promoted at the Oslo Freedom forum. He is from El Salvador, the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as a legal tender.