Patrick Byrne says the zombie apocalypse is coming, and there's one thing that can save us: bitcoin.
He tells me this during a phone call from his car, a black Tesla Model S that's winding its way through the mountains above Salt Lake City, on its way to Byrne's home in the Utah ski country. Byrne is the CEO and chairman of Salt Lake's Overstock.com, one of the world's largest online retailers with more than $1.3 billion a year in sales, and he's about to place an enormous bet on bitcoin, the digital currency that exists only on the internet.
In the estimation of many leading economists, bitcoin is a fatally flawed idea shaped by people who don't really understand how money works. But Byrne is an unorthodox thinker, a three-time cancer survivor with a PhD in philosophy who's never been afraid to fight for what the rest of the world sees as complete madness. Though he runs a company that's publicly traded on Wall Street, he spent much of the last decade accusing Wall Street's biggest brokers of widespread corruption – not to mention Wall Street hedge funds, analysts, reporters, and government regulators – arguing in the most grandiloquent terms that their greed would eventually bring the country crashing down. It's no surprise that his maverick career would collide with the equally iconoclastic bitcoin. It's as if his whole life has been leading to this.
As he drives to his mountain cabin, Byrne reveals that his company is a week away from accepting payments in bitcoin, and he sees this as a small but important step toward a financial revolution the world so desperately needs. He has long warned that our economy is hurtling toward another massive recession – what he calls the zombie apocalypse – and he believes bitcoin can shelter us from the fallout.
If the digital currency reaches its true potential, he tells me, it might even avert this apocalypse all-together. "Someday, either zombies walk the Earth or something close to that," says Byrne, the son of the man who built the GEICO insurance empire, Jack Byrne, and a protege of Warren Buffet, the most successful investor in the history of Wall Street. "Bitcoin is the solution."
In recent months, countless others have floated bitcoin as a panacea for the world's financial ills. But like Marc Andreessen, one of the founding fathers of the web browser, who has also put his weight behind the digital currency, Byrne brings more than highfalutin metaphors to the table. The 51-year-old has proven that, beneath his wonderfully entertaining and often perplexing way of describing the world, he has a knack for seeing where things are going before others do.