Archive for the 'cryptocurrency' Category

Why Bitcoin (or another deflationary currency) will lead to an economic revolution

In the 1500s, a turning point occurred in humanity. The British and Dutch empires adopted a new concept, that enabled them to take over the world and change it in the process. Their powerful new weapon? The notion of credit, where they abandoned the idea that the old was sacred. By “borrowing” against future prosperity — through credit — they overtook their rivals.

In our lifetimes, we are about to see another transformation. And ironically, due to the opposite reason: where borrowing against the future will be stopped. What’s that got to do with Bitcoin? A lot.

Every man and his dog is talking about Bitcoin and crypto currency. But one thing few people seem to talk about, let alone understand, is that Bitcoin has a fixed supply — specifically, 21 million. Which means that one day, unlike fiat currency, there will be no more “Bitcoins” printed out for the world, which makes it deflationary. If Bitcoin becomes the Store of Value in the world like I optimistically predict,  what will a deflationary world look like? A world where prices, like what you pay for in shops and what you get paid as salary, are decreasing? What’s that going to do to the economy? Four years ago, I made an attempt at saying deflation was a good thing (or rather, didn’t matter) but I didn’t get to the meat. I’m going to make another attempt at it this time (although many other people are still convinced it’s a problem).

Let’s unpack it. First let’s start with the concept of inflation itself.

Inflation
Here’s a question most people don’t seem to be able to explain. Why do governments, like my tax masters the US and Australia, make 2% inflation a “target”.

Inflation is basically when prices rise and there is a corresponding decrease in value of your cash to purchase — so the US and Australia have it as official economic policy to see prices rises by 2% each year. Short term, it means producers of output get more money, which makes economic output higher. But eventually, labour costs catch up so it’s a neutral impact on the economy. That is, in a best case scenario.

If expectations are managed, this can help jump start an economy short term, useful for elections. But really what’s happening is that long term inflation erodes the value of people’s savings (as their purchasing parity drops) while at the same time it reduces the effective value of debt (for a similar reason). So basically, for a long term “neutral impact” on the economy, debt holders are rewarded and hoarders of cash are penalised.

Debt funds consumption and investment, which grows output in an economy. Savings are a leakage from the economy which do the opposite. So in this sense, this political philosophy broadly speaking, is aligned with growing the system.

Meaning, inflation is evil, but in a good kind of way so we encourage it if we can control it.

Let’s now look at the real question: what’s economic growth?

Economic output
How do you grow an economy? The easy answer is that exports bring cash into an economy, but what about actual global output? If we take out this artificial growth, which is a transfer of cash between economies through trade, what actually creates net growth?

It basically comes down to two things: productivity improvements, which is doing the same thing cheaper (so that extra cash can go to other things), and population growth, which means there are now more people to consume in the economy. More people also means more workers, and remember, labour is a factor of production so the more available people (and time we have), the more we can produce. If we can pair productivity growth to population growth, we get economic growth: as we have more available cash to hire more people, they in turn can produce more output (if we assume the marginal output of labour put to work is higher than the marginal saving from productivity). By the definition of GDP, which is based on consumption, more goods being output and more people consuming means voila: more economic activity.

But that’s not the only thing that can brings cash into a system to fund consumption. Enter debt.

Debt
The invention of credit created the world we know today. But a thing that makes me scratch my head is how every government and citizen in this world seems to be in debt. If you look at the estimates, there isn’t one “bank” — every government seems to be in debt. Which basically implies one thing: we are borrowing money that will be paid by future tax, or the future income of citizens.

In the present, this is great: we have another form of cash injection into the economy, but for the future generations, this is effectively a leakage as their earnings are taxed.

Which brings us to the magic of inflation: that debt will get eroded, by a compounding amount, so that it’s practically non existent 2-3 generations from today. Assuming of course, the highway robbery from cash holders continues and inflation is constant.

But not with Bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s economic impact
With a deflationary currency that rules the world, cash holders will get rewarded for saving, as sitting on their economic value will increase with time. Inflation targets will now become deflation targets, but for the same goal of price stability. Instead of prices creeping up each year, they will creep down each year. More significantly,  debt will no longer be in the equation: as debt will only get more expensive over time (due to its purchasing parity) and it’s utilisation will drop.

Shock! Horror! The Kenyesian’s approach by Governments around the world to boost the economy will be eliminated! However, not all is lost. If investments can return a higher rate than what a saver would get hoarding their cash, then investment will still occur in the economy. And with investment, comes not just more cash into a system but also innovation, which might spark productivity improvements. This increases economic output.

Governments will be forced to stop abusing their position to borrow money to be paid by future generations, and instead, investment managers and entrepreneurs who can execute a higher return than deflationary returns, will instead be the custodians of increased economic output.

Which puts creativity, risk taking, and ingenuity, as the sole creator of economic prosperity. Which is how it should be: it’s making the competition of good ideas the thing the drives us forward.

In the process, this will make creativity the new scarcity, which is a powerful concept because it is less scarce than gold or fiat currency today. If Bitcoin or another currency with a fixed supply becomes the Store of Value in the world, this will usher in a new economic age that will be more pronounced than what the invention of credit did for the world.

Contrary to what people say, Bitcoin doesn’t have a deflationary problem: it’s actually got a built-in feature to unlock human potential, by strapping a rocket ship to our economy.

Bitcoin as Store of Value

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, on the back of China’s announcement to throttle cryptocurrency, made comments yesterday that shook the market.  (It’s not the first time he’s done this.)

He supported blockchain technology for tracking payments but then goes onto to say it’s illegal to trade Bitcoin at the bank and that’s it’s a currency that is associated with criminal activities.

It’s comical to hear this. How can the CEO of a Bank, both support Blockchain (the thing that Bitcoin invented) but trash Bitcoin? To me it points to one very obvious fact: Bitcoin itself is a threat and he’s on a consistent PR smear campaign.

Why Bitcoin is a threat
Customer deposits, where people store their money for protection, is the basis of banking. Banks use those deposits to then do lending activities that actually make them money, such as lending up to 10x what they hold as deposits in the forms of mortgages. Those same lending activities, not only make them money but can also be packaged into new financial products, such as mortgages bundled into securities (like the ones that created the 2008 credit-crisis).

Why is Bitcoin a threat? Because it has the potential to fulfill a function that only government fiat currency and gold have every achieved and that now banks are the custodians for: store of value.

If Bitcoin becomes the Store of Value in the world, people would move their customer deposits to Bitcoin. And the affect of that would be catastrophic to today’s banks.

Does Bitcoin have a fighting chance to be this?
Well, first of all its achieved an adoption that I think is irreversible. The only thing that could stop Bitcoin now is if governments make it illegal — but even then, it would require every government around the world to act in unison. Because all you need is one island nation, acting an a clearing house, to fulfill the needs of Bitcoin. (And the nation that realises this will become a new financial centre of the world.)

Secondly, the characteristics of Bitcoin are remarkable. What’s going on right now is real work is being generated, to create a hash. That hash and encryption function, will continue to be generated until 21 million Bitcoins are created. And then the supply stays constant!

The significance of this is there is a fixed supply: which means inflation will not exist (rather deflation), a pretty critical feature of where you want your Store of Value. Real work, and hence, value is behind it; and the token itself has a real use beyond being a string of characters — such as acting as a token to authenticate a Blockchain network which will underlay the future Internet.

I agree that there is a bubble right now: the hype driving it makes the price unstable. But I also believe that Bitcoin itself will get to $10,000 in value, without a doubt purely due to human psychology. But that’s not all, it should one day equal in my opinion  all the narrow money of the world which is $29 trillion  (if you want to be conservative, I’ll accept Gold which is $7.8 trillion). So if Bitcoin right now is worth $64,406,377,384 on 16,563,637 coins in supply, it’s price should be $3,888.42 but calculated on all the coins it will ever issue (21m), it’s $3066. But if the market value reaches $29 trillion, then 1 BTC will one day be worth $1, 380, 952 which is a 450x multiple on current prices ($371k if you use gold).

The question about Bitcoin is not about should it exist or not: the truth is, no one can control it. If you believe all the governments of the world will ban it, then maybe — but I believe human’s aren’t that capable on something that isn’t life threatening.

The question about it being a better store of value in the world is also not really a question: by design, it’s superior. (But admittedly the governance mechanisms behind it to create a secure system, are still being worked out and being tested– such as the SegWit2 rollout in November which put this question in doubt.)

Which leads to  the ultimate question, in lIght of the above:  do you accept it to be the Store of Value in the world? And that is the million dollar question (or, ahem, $1.381m question).

How any country can leap frog in technology

What if I told you we could time travel to 1989 — and be given a forecast of what a new implementation of the Hypertext technology (called the World Wide Web) could do. Would you jump at doing whatever you could to be on top of this trend? Smart phones (Apple’s came out 10 years ago), a technology like Hypertext, also made us rethink how we can use the Internet and recreated the world. Well, it’s 1989 and there is a technology that is poised to do this again.

I’m passionate about the future of health, and I can’t ignore what’s going on with cryptography, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and Virtual/augmented reality. But if I had to pick one thing right now, which is ripe for government leadership to leapfrog even silicon valley, it’s this: Focus on blockchain.

It’s a specific technology that’s matured unlike most of these other trends. Its got a hacker community innovating like how I can only imagine when the web started. Its got significant investor interest. It has consumer awareness. It has all the things ready for this to blow up.

This is how you do that:

  1. Make cryptocurrency the same status as any currency. For example, in the US  Bitcoin’s are considered a capital asset which makes it impractical to use unlike regular currency which is treated on the income account. We need to remove this impediment as it makes it not practical.
  2. Offer incentives to businesses working on blockchain. Create a tax free corridor: anyone that that operations in an area is exempt for any taxation. This isn’t to just get the world’s best employing people locally and building technology which will together create an economy of agglomeration, but it will have a flow on affect on other cryptographic matters, such as cyber security which has now become the scariest frontier of warfare right now. Silicon Valley prospered because of technologies building off technologies. 
  3. Force the adoption of cryptocurrency. Require banks to offer it as a service and make all EFT terminals compliant. The moment the economy offers blockchain integrated into the economy — first with currency — we will see an acceleration of blockchain’s potential on the things that are truly exciting (such as Smart Contracts and Distributed Autonomous Organisations)

Implement these three simple policy concepts and it will make that economy the ground zero for blockchain innovation.

As I have already alluded, I don’t think Bitcoin is long term the goal of doing this: it’s the infrastructure that Bitcoin provides that is the exciting thing (ie, the block chain technology which is one of the four technologies that make Bitcoin outside of peer-to-peer, PGP and proof-of-work). The use cases go far and wide: not just for currency, but for things we take for granted like how websites are resolved (like DNS), contracts likes wills, voting, and anything else involving trust (such as simple but critical title deeds).  Blockchain is basically a decentralised database which is in line with the original design goal of the Internet. Efforts like Ethereum are effectively building a computer on top of the Blockchain concept. It’s a whole new paradigm in computing that goes far beyond currency.

But leave that to the entrepreneurs, who are already working on that — I could write many more posts on those ideas alone. But with leadership, anyone one of the three suggestions I’ve made could be legislated into law this year and overnight make that territory a global leader. 

This is what any  country could do to create the world’s best environment to foster this disruptive technology, which I am convinced will create a transformation like what the web did less than 30 years ago. 

 

A decentralised future

Ethereum, a newcomer this year on the Bitcoin scene caught my eye this weekend. What I like about it is that it’s talking about the future block-chain enabled world that has been introduced by Bitcoin, the true innovation of Bitcoin. If you know nothing about Bitcoin or want to get a update on the latest state of the industry,  I highly recommend you read the white paper.

But the reason I am posting about this is because it talks about one of my other favourite new concepts for the future world: liquid democracy. And it combines it together, under the topic of Decentralised Autonomous Corporations (DAC’s), which I often hear in Bitcoin literature but I’ve only come to appreciate today how they would practically work.

In short, mind blown. Liquid democracy and DAC’s represent two of the most groundbreaking advances in the fields of governance in the last decade.

Scenario
Let me give you a scenario of how these three inventions: Blockchain, liquid democracy, and DAC’s would work.

Imagine an organisation such as a government district representing you or the local supermarket store. Now continue this thought experiment and that you and 999 other people are ‘stakeholders’: as a citizen that can elect a representative or you are a member of the organisation that can elect a board of directors, like how non-profits and as for-profits do as shareholders.

Every one of these stakeholders has a “key” and under the principles of DAC’s, if any one of the 551  of the 1000 stakeholders make a vote, it creates a binding decision on the organisation. That itself isn’t the remarkable thing: what’s mind-blowing is that it’s done automatically through “secure multiparty computation”, allowing real time decisions to be processed by computers reflecting the will of the stakeholders.

Now combine that with the concepts under liquid democracy, where these stakeholders can directly vote on any issue — but can also delegate their vote to someone. This concept is called “delegative democracy” and is like a hybrid of the concepts of direct democracy (where citizens get a direct vote) and representative democracy (where citizens elect a representative) — hence the apt term liquid as the direct vote can be delegated to a representative and reverted back to the actual voter in a very fluid way.

And finally, let’s tie this to the blockchain that Bitcoin has introduced to the world: a way to validate decisions.

So let’s say one day, you get an email from your community saying you need to vote on whether to allow a new super market in the area. Or a vote to determine if the super market should sell alcohol. Currently, these decisions are made by shareholders and citizens by their representatives such as management who are appointed by the elected board of directors or elected representatives.

But under the above scenario, you get a direct vote on the matter — along with your 999 other stakeholders. However,  assuming you don’t want to vote, you can allocate your vote to someone else which generalise’s the concept of a board of directors.

Mind blown

If the above doesn’t rattle your brain with its possibilities from how Fortune 500’s operate to the federal government could transform the way they operate from dictatorships disguised as fake democracy where elections simply give the perception of democracy, then it’s because you need to better understand the concepts.

That the (Bitcoin-invented) Block chain is a like decentralised receipt book of transactions that can prove decisions without the need for lawyers, liquid democracy is a new way to make decisions that evolves our current concepts behind direct and representative democracy, and the principles behind DAC’s means we cut the need for people making decisions on our behalf as cryptography has invented a way to determine a group of people (who are pre-authorised) to make decisions in real time.

The significance of Bitcoin is not that it invented this future, but it inspired it as it’s a the first version of  DAC in existence today. Where an entire financial system is controlled by the people, not a government or bank. Humans are replaced by computer algorithms and therefore enabling a decentralisation of power to the very people who are meant to have that power: you and me.

Secondary value is what is holding back Bitcoin

A few nights ago I woke up in the middle night not knowing where I was. It was pitch dark, I couldn’t breathe. In shock, I jumped out of my bed and  found a door before realising what had happened. Gasping for air, all I could think was “Bitcoin liquidity crisis”.
Freshly jet lagged into a summer Australian night that I was still acclimatising  to,  I probably was impacted by the humidity, dehydrated and still confused from all the travel. But the fact I was thinking of the Bitcoin liquidity crisis, I’m going to call  this a premonition of what’s to come.
According to Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Bitcoin is a bubble. I agree.
Greenspace: Bitcoin is a bubble
What makes it a bubble, is unsustainable prices and to which Greenspan says no ‘intrinsic’ value. This is where I disagree, but does point to a real challenge with any crypto-currency.

While the innovation right now is on establishing exchanges which create a base level of liquidity, Bitcoin suffers from one critical weakness in its design. Fixable I might add, but critical.

Secondary value
On a base level, the creation of exchanges will solve the liquidity problem: more banks, more currencies, faster conversions, lower fees — will allow more people to convert their government-backed fiat-currency into Bitcoins. This will help in developing the maturity of the currency.

But it doesn’t solve the confidence issue that will impact ultimately its liquidity. This is because Bitcoin or any other crypto-currency has no secondary use if the value falls. It’s going to collapse when the social compact loses confidence. Greenspan is wrong in saying Bitcoin’s doesn’t have any intrinsic value because the algorithms developing the hashes’s are the result of mathematically complex equations ‘mined’ by a global network of  brute force computing. But he is partly right, in that those outputs in the algorithm’s don’t have any secondary value. Unlike gold which has been used as a form of currency as well as a metal for jewelry, Bitcoin’s cryptographic puzzles currently don’t have a secondary use aside from validating the blockchain.

Arguably you can say the same about any other fiat currency: if a government and society didn’t think the USD has value, the pieces of paper would be useless. But unlike the USD, Bitcoin does not have a government guaranteeing the value of the currency.

Long term this won’t be as big a deal, because if you look at the USD, no one questions the liquidity of the US government. Though with a lack of confidence, the same issues would happen if everyone in the world cashed in their Greenback (and yes, the US government wouldn’t handle that crisis and the world would lose confidence). This issue however will hold back the initial foundation of the system as it will be the basis behind a liquidity crisis due to confidence.
Which is partly why we need a Bitcoin bubble: it will lay down an infrastructure that will be a sunk cost that will result in future use “because it’s there”. But if we could invent a way to give Bitcoin secondary value by finding a way to leverage the block chain to give value elsewhere in the world (possibly the mathematical puzzles become a source of validation for the world?) then this would inject much needed confidence in the system to make this a true global currency.