On the 16th of September, 1620, The Mayflower set sail due west with its 102 passengers and 30 crew. Branded “illegal radicals” by the Church of England, the Pilgrims sacrificed everything familiar at the altar of one uncompromising ideal: the freedom to live their lives and practice their faith as they see fit. Without this freedom to chart their own destinies, and to exercise their own moral conscience, the Pilgrims believed all else was meaningless.
At the time, the bravery of the Pilgrims went largely unnoticed. The Old World was much too preoccupied with the roiling political, legal, and military skirmishes which defined the era. While kings and bishops dominated and plundered ordinary folks by way of arbitrary decree, a quiet exodus was under way.
On the 18th of February, 2022, The Prime Minister of Canada invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act in response to the largest grassroots protest movement in Canadian history. The Act was penned in 1988 to equip Canada’s federal government with the tools to swiftly confront existential threats to the nation.
In this first and only instance, the existential threat to Canada was its own working class.
Its invocation conferred upon one man—Justin Trudeau—the power to order violent crackdowns, arbitrary detention, and, most shockingly, the confiscation and freezing of bank accounts, all of which was gleefully carried out by every financial institution in the land, and in cooperation with the RCMP, Canada’s federal police force.
These measures, the Prime Minister assured, would only be used against a “small, fringe minority” of people with “unacceptable views.” The CBC, Canada’s state-run broadcaster, intimated thereafter that such individuals had ties to the Kremlin, or belonged to a fascist undercurrent plaguing Canada’s brave march forward, thus assuaging the public’s concerns about these folks’ Charter rights.
Those concerns, while extant, were largely muted. A substantial proportion of Canada’s population quietly smirked while anti-mandate (as distinct from anti-vaccine) protesters were trampled under the hooves of federal horses. Those appalled by it were often too frightened to speak up for fear of becoming unemployed, alienated from their friends and family, or worse — under those hooves themselves. Canada, you see, has undergone not just a political change, but a much deeper and more insidious cultural change as well.
Less than 24 hours after the Act was invoked, this author woke up on another cold and drizzly Atlantic Canadian morning to discover that access to his family’s bank accounts had been blocked. Despite being 1500 km (930 miles) away from the protest zone, we found ourselves suddenly unbanked. We could not buy groceries, put fuel in our car, pay our phone bill, or indeed participate in Canadian society in any manner whatsoever. In effect, we had become exiles in our own homes. By one man’s arbitrary decree, a working class Canadian family had been shut out of society. We wondered: how long will the few supplies we still have in our possession last? What happens when they run out?
Precisely one year earlier, long before anyone but the most paranoid conspiracy theorists ever imagined such events unfolding in Canada, my then-fiancée initiated a discussion that would furnish an answer to that terrifying question. It began with just three words:
“What about Bitcoin?”
Neither she nor I knew it at the time, but this simple question would eventually heave us us aboard a 21st century version of the Mayflower, embedded in a community of modern-day pilgrims fed up with the excesses and abuses of their governments.
In that first discussion, we perceived Bitcoin as a means to protect our savings, which had become threatened by an inflationary surge that was brewing on the horizon. Toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when anxieties were at their peak and the long-term consequences of monetary policy were of little importance to anyone, the federal government had decreed that every Canadian individual barred from their jobs by a nationwide lockdown would receive direct payments to the tune of $2,000 per month.
The Bank of Canada, Canada’s ostensibly independent central bank, dutifully kicked its money printers into overdrive to fulfil the government’s order. During a time when Canada’s economic output was in free fall, the quantity of money in circulation would soar. Inflation was the inevitable consequence, and we sought refuge from it in Bitcoin.
“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. It is the result of a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in economic output. In the modern era, it is important to recognize that today, governments control the quantity of money.”
— Milton Friedman
Unlike national currencies, which are controlled by national governments, the supply of Bitcoin belongs to no jurisdiction. It cannot controlled by anyone, not even its mysterious inventor Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoin’s money supply is programatically determined and inexorably capped at 21 million. As the supply of dollars, euros, pounds, and yen expands all over the world, more and more units of national currency are chasing after a predictable number of Bitcoin, qualifying it as an ideal hedge against fast-approaching inflation despite the volatility of a market that is yet to define it, much less understand it.
In February 2021, we began converting two-thirds of our savings into Bitcoin. Our aim was to insulate ourselves against deranged monetary policy, but in February 2022 it would become the vessel that carried us from a deranged political and moral philosophy. Our chequing account had been blocked. Our savings account was out of reach. Our next paycheques were, in effect, cancelled. Indeed, we had been cancelled. Our Bitcoin, on the other hand, remained accessible with just a few clicks of a mouse.
National currencies are usable only with the permission of national governments. Despite the inherent insecurity this fact necessarily entails, it’s not until that permission is revoked that the intolerably precarious nature of ordinary economic life is truly felt. Bitcoin, in contrast, cannot be confiscated. It cannot be frozen, and its use cannot be censored. It is open to everyone, regardless of race, gender, net worth, religious belief or political persuasion. No one can deny you permission to send and receive Bitcoin. Bitcoin is permission-less.
What was once a strategic hedge against inflation had suddenly become our only economic instrument. But there was a problem. In Canada, you can’t buy your groceries with Bitcoin, nor can you fuel your car, or top up your phone plan. Bitcoin is not legal tender in Canada, and so it cannot be used to settle any debts. Without a means to convert our Bitcoin to Canadian dollars, merely owning it solved none of our problems.
There is one intrepid country in Central America where the opposite is true, however: El Salvador.
Just five months earlier, in a move that would send El Salvador in the opposite economic and social direction as Canada, a law proposed by President Nayib Bukele was passed by the country’s National Congress.
“The purpose of this law is to regulate Bitcoin as an unrestricted legal tender with liberating power, unlimited in any transaction, and to any title that public or private, natural or legal persons require carrying out.”
Text from the Bitcoin Law, passed September 7, 2021
This tiny country on the Central American isthmus, which neither me or my wife had committed any thought to before, had suddenly become our Plymouth Rock. In July of 2022, just one week after our wedding, we boarded a plane due south. We arrived on the spectacular shores of El Salvador bewildered and alone, having sacrificed everything familiar in pursuit of economic freedom and freedom of conscience — two precepts which are, in the end, one and the same. Is there a better way to start a marriage?
Apart from El Salvador’s stunning natural beauty, and the overwhelming kindness and generosity of its people, perhaps the biggest revelation of our first days in El Salvador was the sheer number of people who had already arrived driven by motivations identical to our own.
Individuals and families from America, Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Vietnam, Venezuela, and so many other places, were already here. What’s more is that within days of our own arrival, we found ourselves greeting even more ex-patriots coming in behind us. It quickly became clear that our own voyage to El Salvador was just a small part of a quiet exodus — a global exodus that is taking place while the rest of the world is preoccupied with the political, legal, cultural, and military skirmishes which have defined the early 21st century.
Five people from four countries meet in El Salvador, brought together by Bitcoin.
Far from being tired and poor, however, and far from being huddled masses, this group of pioneers has landed on the shores of El Salvador with a host of skills and innovative ideas which, after mixing with a local population recently liberated from the clutches of gang rule, have ignited a wildfire of economic and social development across the country. El Salvador, once among the poorest nations on earth, is one of the few economies in the world posting consecutive quarters of double-digit GDP growth.
The atmosphere here in El Salvador is electric. There is an optimism in the air, and the current generation sees prosperity and success for the next. El Salvador has found its identity.
This is in stark contrast to our home country of Canada, where even the idea of a national identity has become unfashionable, and where a recent Angus Reid poll found a heavy weight of pessimism pressing down on the optimism that was recently characteristic of the country.
Canadians are becoming increasingly pessimistic about their nation’s future.
Our daily life in El Salvador, still sustained by earning a living with a daily grind, has become characterized by building a future as opposed to struggling to maintain a mere subsistence. This simple, yet powerful change has precipitated improvements in our health. Stress-related illnesses that we had developed in Canada began to let go. Chronic aches and pains began to subside. No longer just alive, we are living.
If this piece is one you’ve chosen to read in its entirety, no doubt you are someone contemplating a change. Perhaps your country has branded you an “illegal radical”, or perhaps you’ve been jolted into the realization that your funds are not your own, and that your access to them is entrusted to untrustworthy people. If that’s you, you’re not alone, and so I implore you: come get acquainted with the bright, beautiful, and growing community of freedom-loving folks in El Salvador. Whether you’re here for an exploratory visit, or you make the blind leap as my wife and I did, your mere presence here creates so many opportunities for others, and opens up the same to you.
If we can do it, so can you.