This is my quest for a rebirth of the American Dream, a lost ideal which glimmers in the distance.
I have always been my mother’s daughter. My mother is a captivating storyteller, an avid reader and a fearless risk-taker who I endlessly admire. Those are the very reasons my dad once told me he fell in love with her and went along with her decision to lead our family across an ocean with few belongings aside from a very strong vision of the American Dream.
My mother’s wish since she was very young was to come to America. Both my parents grew up in Communist Poland, which suffered through the hostilities of war, oppressive government, job scarcity and constant invasion. My mom’s dad, who I never had the honor of meeting, would show her classic Hollywood movies when she was growing up and planted a seed. He told my mom that a better world existed in America, one where there was a sense of upward mobility, opportunity and freedom. One where you didn’t have to wait hours in line for basic necessities.
My mom and members of her family tried each year to come to the U.S., applying for a visa lottery, but it wasn’t until she was 38, and my dad was 41, that they finally got the chance to move here with their kids. My dad thought by that point it probably wasn’t a good idea, there was so much uncertainty and there was a sense of comfort in what they knew. But my mom dug in her heels, clutching to the hope of a better life and ultimately made the call.
My family’s dream never consisted of a mansion in Beverly Hills and a Lamborghini. She dreamed of a modest home in a safe suburb, for her kids to get an American education and perhaps a weeklong family vacation somewhere warm once a year. That was her American Dream.
I was just five when we flew from our hometown to Chicago, but I recall certain aspects of the move vividly. I remember moving into our first apartment outside the city. It had two small bedrooms and one bathroom, and in order to give my brother and I a sense of normality and privacy, she gave us, ages five and 16, the bedrooms, while my dad and her slept on a very uncomfortable sofa bed in the living room. I didn’t fully appreciate that selflessness until I was older.
At school, assimilation had its challenges. While I was young enough to pick up a new language very quickly and I loved learning, I hated feeling different. The kids around me spoke differently, dressed differently, brought different foods to lunch (I’ll spare you the trauma of my mother packing pasztet and cucumber sandwiches, which is essentially liver paste, while I sat across Lunchables boxes and looks of revulsion). I was called “weird,” an “alien,” and told my birth name, Natalia, is actually Natalie in America — so what did I do? I changed my name to fit in.
But aside from the social challenges, I managed to excel in school, channeling my energy into my studies and developing a bit of a people-pleasing and authority-pleasing personality to survive. By the second and third grade, I had a clear understanding that we were not well-off like many of the families around us, and the vehicle that would propel me in life would be education and hard work.
I saw my parents work morning until night, sometimes multiple jobs, saving everything they could for a down payment and for their kids’ college. They saved in cash, and like many immigrants, they were good savers. My dream, I decided, was not only to be successful so that I could provide for my own family some day, but to eventually make enough money that I can buy my parents a beautiful home so they could stop working and never worry about money. The only thing I ever witnessed my parents fight about was money. And they didn’t know how to invest. It was paychecks and a savings account. Stock market? “That’s for rich people,” my parents thought. And my very well-respected suburban public school did close to zero to expose me to financial literacy.
I probably should have gone into medicine or finance — those were the surefire industries to make a great salary. But as a young girl growing up with the news constantly on at home (Barbara Walters’ interviews were among my favorites), I began to see the world through a rectangular lens and I wanted to become an interviewer and anchor. I wanted to meet important people, learn from them and share their stories with the world.
While I was in high school, my parents had put enough money aside to buy a small townhouse in the area of my high school. This time they had their own bedroom, and I remember a vivid sense of calm seeing them feel secure for the first time in a place they could make their own. I have beautiful memories of my short time in that home and it was there I dreamed of my future in television. My parents felt like they were on their way to having the American Dream, one mortgage and car payment at a time.
I knew deep down it distressed my parents that I decided to go into the media industry, because so few people get to the top and not everything involved in being on camera is based on merit. But my mom (while always subtly encouraging me to become a doctor instead) would tell me, even if only one in a million people could “make it,” someone had to be that “one,” right? If I worked hard and was good to the people I met along the way, why not me, she’d tell me. What a great thing to instill in a child: work hard, be kind and anything is possible.
It’s important to pause and remember that during that time, the early 2000s, a local news person made a great salary and had the opportunity to impact their community. A reporter worked with a photographer, an editor, a producer — a nice little crew. There was no social media, citizen journalism, or reporting of viral tweets. So I set off on a path to take Barbara Walters or Oprah’s job and left home to go to college in California.
It was while I was away that everything came crashing down. Just before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, my parents had taken a second mortgage out on our townhouse in order to start a business my mom dreamed of opening since our immigration: a little Polish eatery and deli market. They had barely finished stocking the shelves, eager to welcome their first customers, when the world was upended as the housing bubble finally burst. My parents had no idea it was coming. The world around them told them borrowing is good. Borrow for a home. Borrow and don’t look at the bubble being formed.
My family lost everything in that crash. They had to give up the new business, we lost our beloved home and they filed for bankruptcy. You can imagine the kind of toll that takes on one’s health and on a marriage. My mom and dad, with their hearts of gold, tried to shield me from some of the fallout, but I knew how bad it was and I was powerless to help.
I also didn’t understand what really happened and why. Candidly, while I was well-read in other subjects, I didn’t know much about the economy and never gave any thought to what the Federal Reserve and big banks were doing all these years or to the concepts of money printing and inflation. All I knew was that, regardless of whether we had a Democrat or Republican in the White House, everything got more expensive each year and my parents worked tirelessly to provide, with no end in sight to that work. They had always played by the rules but realized, during the years surrounding the crisis, the game was actually rigged. They were left to start over, again, and they did, asking no one for pity. My parents have never acted like victims or asked for handouts. They just act, well, tired.
I wish I could teleport myself back to that time, speak to my younger self and hand her some books on economics and the history of government money. Ironically, it was the year I graduated from college in a global recession that both my family’s American Dream died and Bitcoin was born — but I, unfortunately, wouldn’t learn about it for many years to come.
I spent the next 10-plus years climbing the ranks in the TV news business. I was in the trenches, covering every issue you can imagine that plagued society: homelessness, crime, political corruption, civil unrest, you name it. The pay was terrible and reporters went from having a camera crew to being one-man bands running around doing the job of five in the same amount of time on a fifth of the income. But I was hungry.
For a long time in my career, I was responsible for turning one, sometimes two broadcast stories in a given day, so if you count up those interviews and all those experiences, they add up to a lot of firsthand accounts of society’s biggest problems. And I only mention that because I feel those stories have earned me some opinions on what this country is facing at its core. Those opinions are based on raw, unedited experience witnessing and documenting our crises on a microlevel.
I have interviewed the poor and the very rich and famous. I’ve reported on dozens of elections and campaigns from local to national. I’ve documented the celebration of human triumphs and the gut-wrenching pain of the worst tragedies. But most importantly, I have been a witness to people feeling like there was a real-time demise of the American Dream and erosion of the middle class that my parents so desperately wanted to be a part of.
In the 1970s, the middle-class earners represented more than 60% of our country’s aggregate income, they were the backbone, while the upper class had 29% of the income. Today, middle-income earners are down to less than 43% while the upper class’s paychecks represent nearly half the income earned. What’s worse, just 10% of families in the U.S. hold nearly 70% of our country’s wealth today. The gap between the rich and the poor is getting worse and worse, and as a reporter, I witnessed this continuous demise in the last decade in real-time.
The amount of times I reported on a crazy amount of public money being allocated to some issue only to watch it mushroom and balloon through the years still boggles my mind. Every politician claimed to be different, and they’d all eagerly agree to share their talking points on camera, promising to fix the problem the “other guy” or other team created. Rarely, if ever, did I see the problem fixed and I know this because I’d be back reporting on the same issue over and over from one city to the next.
I came to distrust politicians regardless of party and saw the power of journalism serving the role of a watchdog. In my very first on-air news market, I reported and helped uncover a scandal involving the local mayor and a cozy pay-to-play relationship with a real estate developer. I exposed corrupt deals that fleeced local business owners and eventually the people involved were indicted on more than 30 counts of public corruption. Interestingly, fast forward seven years, and I covered a very similar story recently out of Los Angeles involving the same pay-to-play absurdity.
It’s no wonder a huge chunk of the American public has such a negative view of politicians and their intentions at every level of government. How did we get to a place where the average person suspects the decisions by their representatives are driven more by whose pocket they are in for their election campaigns than by the spirit and duty of public service? This feeling seems to cut through red and blue. I’m not saying all politicians are untrustworthy or malicious, in fact, I’m sure many have or at least start with the best of intentions. But the system is designed to bring out the worst of human nature and reward ineffectiveness. Politicians often amount to false prophets.
Some of my peers and colleagues were shocked when Donald Trump won in 2016. But their surprise was the only thing shocking to me about that election. Why did Donald Trump win? Hate him or love him, he struck a nerve with tens of millions of voters by calling out a “swamp” of rich politicians (many of whom had been in office 30+ years) and saying that while America was indeed once great, in many ways it wasn’t anymore, not for the little guy. People were angry, they were fed up, and they were crying out for change. Whether he was the right or wrong choice misses the entire point.
When I interview “the little guy,” I always think of my parents. When you break issues down to the microlevel of basic human experience, most of us share a lot in common. We crave connection, a sense of belonging, a chance to make our situations better, and we want to feel respected and equal. Most people I’ve met have zero aspiration to become the next Jeff Bezos, but everyone I’ve met wants to make things better for their kids and leave this world a better place for everyone’s kids. So why do many people feel like that isn’t happening, or that it is harder than it should be in the U.S.?
I feel it is because our system of money is badly broken. There’s an unlimited supply but it pools with a small percent. Our money is slowly rotting, getting sick to the core, and the civil unrest and division it sows are symptoms that can no longer be ignored. We’re creating more money, more billionaires, but we’re not creating more abundance and opportunity for the majority of people. And only a system of manipulated money, fed by artificially low interest rates and the devaluing of the world’s reserve currency, can do this kind of harm.
This isn’t a red or blue issue. Those stimulus checks you received are crumbs in the grand buffet of money malfeasance and we were shown the reality in March 2020 that we live in a country where families and businesses have such little savings that the government must swoop in with promises of free checks to keep the engines running. The pandemic exposed and exacerbated our country’s financial issues, but the problems were glaring even before it. Our nerve endings are exposed and being activated in shockwaves with every news story that ripples through social media.
But let’s not forget what we all have in common. We all want better education, safe communities, more diversity, a place we’re proud to call home, and for the time we put into our jobs to be valued and fairly compensated. We want a sense of peace that the future will be okay. So the solution is in making sure the money we earn holds its value into the future and isn’t stolen out from under us.
I believe that we are divided and restless because we are hurting. We are fighting among each other in Flea Bottom while Cersei drinks wine in the Red Keep. And if you’re lucky enough to be among those who never stress about your future finances, maybe you’ve encountered struggles along the way or made personal sacrifices in health or relationships in order to achieve that success and financial freedom. Or maybe you just sympathize with the hurt of the collective of those who feel stressed about money and their future.
It was 2017, in one of my local news markets working in a state capital, that I first learned about Bitcoin. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate its incredible potential to be a vehicle for equality and abundance. Some of my colleagues were confused why I would even pursue stories on some volatile internet funny money. But I was very much intrigued and even bought some.
All I really knew is it was programmed to ensure only 21 million bitcoin would ever be created, and there was a decentralized network of people around the world that maintained a record of all Bitcoin transactions in a transparent and carefully engineered system of verification. There was no government controlling the supply and no third parties involved in any of the transactions. Oh, and I also noticed the value and amount of users rising exponentially. What I didn’t realize was that, subconsciously, I was predisposed to the principles Bitcoin stands for. I was on a quest for the Renaissance of the American Dream and didn’t realize I had stumbled upon the solution.
March 2020 sent me down the “rabbit hole” as Bitcoiners affectionately call it. We were on the precipice of what felt like the fourth turning confronting this pandemic and the economy came to a screeching halt. That’s when I picked up “The Bitcoin Standard” by Saifedean Ammous, encouraged by a longtime friend and mentor. Suddenly, the veil began lifting from my eyes. I saw clearly for the first time the problem, manifesting in all the issues I had been covering in my reporting, as well as a possible solution. I began to devour every resource on economics and Bitcoin I could find, spending hours before and after my news shifts and on weekends to learn and contact the legends in the space to share their knowledge.
There are very real reasons why your food and gas are getting more expensive, why a four-year tuition costs more than homes, why retirement is harder to plan for, and why you’re taxed more than ever while everything those taxes are supposed to address, from roads to schools to homelessness, is just getting worse. And isn’t it funny when politicians slosh the public’s money around and offer their public relations sound bites, always blaming something or someone else, and get promoted despite incompetence and lack of measured progress? Meanwhile, their public salaries, their benefits packages and their privileges to cozy up with those with money reflect the polar opposite of what is happening with society at large.
Bitcoin returns us to an economic system based on value and sound, incorruptible money. But until you realize our current money is broken, you will be blind to see how Bitcoin fixes it and the myriad of issues money touches. If you focus on its metaphysical nature of being solely digital and hold on to the false safety of “cash” in your bank account, you will be doing the equivalent of rejecting the internet at its infancy. Do you want to cling to snail mail while people are communicating at lightning speed by email already? The world has gone digital. And what’s wonderful is you don’t have to understand how the internet is technically engineered and coded to appreciate it and get tremendous value out of its use.
I truly believe America is in a situation of such division and angst because most people can’t envision anything outside the current system. We are trapped in a paradigm and have built walls around ourselves and our tribes as a defense mechanism and we don’t realize these walls aren’t real. Bitcoin challenges you to justify these walls by offering a consciousness of what can exist outside the current construct of governance and society. Bitcoiners realized there is a rich, abundant world outside the walls of the current system and Bitcoin showed them there’s no reason to stay and fight among one another for the scraps left within the walls when we can build something outside them that is far greater, more prosperous and more accessible to everyone who wants to take part.
So in many ways Bitcoiners appear unfazed, operating on a wavelength of lightness, astute awareness and hope, because we have opted out of the broken system and are inviting everyone to join.
I, like many of you reading this, didn’t realize so many of these problems center on our system of money and government’s power to make as much of it as they want or deem necessary. The rich benefit, of course, and so do the politicians. If you own assets like real estate and stocks and you’re close to the money printer, that brrrrr actually feels pretty warm. But can your kids afford the same real estate on their salaries? The truth is the current system leaves the little guy robbed. My family was robbed for decades.
Your money isn’t worth what it was even a few years ago. I no longer feel that it is backed by anything but debt and a military, which I would argue is just the threat of pointless violence. If you want to argue that it’s backed by the full faith and credit of the government, ask how many people around you have full faith in today’s government. Everything around us is getting more expensive. America went from being the world’s largest creditor nation to the world’s largest debtor nation and we’ve only gotten away with our money printing addiction for as long as we have because of the post-WWII decision to make the U.S. dollar the global reserve currency. Everyone else is now addicted along with us.
At one time in America, we built real wealth and dominance. But ever since we removed the U.S. dollar’s gold backing (WTFhappenedin1971.com), it empowered and fueled something destructive: the rapid debasement of the world’s reserve currency. We began to produce the type of imaginary wealth we see today where everything we buy is from China, hardly anyone owns their home or car outright, credit cards are candy, and even two incomes aren’t always enough. We are a nation in a pandemic of debt.
Sharing the perils of money printing, inflation and our Federal Reserve’s interference in the economy is something I will go into in content independent of this article. Suffice it to say, when I learned about Bitcoin, it wasn’t so much Bitcoin that opened my eyes, but the spotlight it shined on the problems that had affected my life and the problems I saw playing out in my stories every day. If we didn’t need Bitcoin, that would be great, but we do. We desperately need money that can’t be tampered with or inflated by any government or bureaucrat. And when we come out of this COVID-19 pandemic, we will be confronted with the consequences of the stacks of money we created out of thin air, digging us further into debt, and we need to prepare for it.
Government money fuels crony and phony capitalism. That’s the term for when bureaucrats and even pundits and journalists blame capitalism for a situation in which they artificially suppress interest rates (opposite of capitalism), encourage debt (opposite of capitalism), debase the dollar (opposite of capitalism), create bubbles (opposite of capitalism) and ultimately bail out the big banks and companies from the very problems easy government money created in the first place (you get my point).
We need fewer bailouts funded by hardworking Americans that shield irresponsible central bankers of their recklessness. We need more Bitcoin, a bailout for us all.
And so it was in the last year that I realized I have a new calling and a new purpose: to help wake people up to why their quality of life is deteriorating and why you can’t just put your money in the bank if you want to save for your future … and most importantly that there is a life raft. It turns out that I had been unknowingly preparing for this very moment, this financial revolution, over the last 10 years, and it also represents what I hope to be the eventual realization of my family’s American Dream. They will live it through me, and I hope to justify their sacrifices of coming here and starting over so selflessly. How can I be doing anything else?
Bitcoin isn’t internet funny money. It’s not a Ponzi scheme and it’s not a scam. It uses less electricity than your washing machines and your Christmas tree lights. Buy or don’t buy it, but I urge you to learn about it and how it’s trying to immunize us from the financial virus that has overtaken our country.
I have spent more than a thousand hours studying Bitcoin and the history of money. I have probably done some good in the stories I’ve reported over the years, but the good I believe I can do by helping spread financial literacy is far greater. Your money should be enough. The time, your most precious and finite resource, that you spend earning your money should be enough.
Bitcoin is enough. Bitcoin has given me back the ability to dream a new American Dream.
This is a solution for the people, by the people. It isn’t funded by big corporations or venture capitalists or Big Government. It’s 100% organic. When is the last time that has happened? It offers the promise of people controlling their money and wealth and reorganizing ourselves around value. It’s nonpartisan, it’s multinational. It doesn’t benefit any race over another. It’s egalitarian. In my eyes, it’s the purest expression of freedom, self-determination.
I am not rich on Bitcoin. I didn’t buy enough, early enough. But I am not in Bitcoin to get rich. I don’t need a yacht or a closet full of red-soled shoes. I’m in Bitcoin so that I can start thinking about my future again without worrying so much. I’m in Bitcoin so that I don’t feel like I have to work until I’m dead.
You should want Bitcoin to survive, because if it does, it will harness technology and innovation to create a future of financial security, social mobility, connectivity, equality and prosperity that we have never experienced as a nation and as a world.
I could continue reporting on the issues I care most about as an impartial witness, pretending I don’t know what’s contributing to them, or I could stand up, use the voice and skills I built over the last decade and take the kind of risk that propelled my family to a new country with nothing but a dream. I hope if nothing else, I inspire others to dig deeper into why their money is losing its power and look into a brilliantly engineered open-source financial network designed to give power back to people over their future.
But the risk isn’t in Bitcoin. It’s in jumping out on my own with no support, no assistance, no guarantees and no formal education in an emerging industry. I’m building an airplane on the way down that I hope will carry me to a future in which I help myself and, more importantly, help many others. It feels so much like what my mother did 30 years ago when she convinced my dad to move our family here, asking for nothing but the freedom to start over and create a future full of opportunity for her children.
This is a guest post by Natalie Brunell. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC, Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.